Recalibrate: 10 Steps Every Church Must Take

Happy New Year! In my message this past weekend, I referenced an article from Christianity Today by Karl Vaters. Here is the article – I truly believe it is worth reading. As we can only publish in part, the entire piece can be viewed on the link below.

God Bless each of you.



Everything but Jesus and the Bible must be on the table.

The church is not dying. It’s in fine shape.

Jesus said he’d build it, and he is. Relentlessly and beautifully.

But individual congregations, denominations and ideologies? Now that’s another story.

While the church of Jesus around the world continues to move forward, chasing away the darkness with the light of Jesus, many local expressions of the church are watching their candles flicker in recent years.

Recalibrate Church

I believe the next decade or two will be critical for the western church. The culture around us is experiencing a once-in-a-millennium shift right now. A recalibration of the way we think about everything from our morality, to our sexuality, to our identity, and our theology.

It’s only just beginning. And the pace of it is being propelled into hyper-speed by new technology.

So what’s the local church to do? We must hold two seemingly competing ideals in our hands at the same time.

Ideal #1: Stand strong on the unchanging principles of God’s Word.

Ideal #2: Adapt our methods to a fast-changing world.

If we hope to do these two things well, local congregations must reinforce the following 10 principles. And the sooner we get to work on them, the better.

Read the entire article at:

Thailand Reflections

In the fall of 2005, Woodside was challenged and felt led by the Lord to do something to address the human trafficking crisis in Thailand. Long story short – it involved the purchase of 16 acres, developing a foundation and building an orphanage and a wonderful ministry partnership with pastor Akha John. The orphanage led to the building of a dining hall, library and a leadership training center.

Carolyn and I were in Chiang Rai nine years ago for the dedication of the orphanage, and then just returned to Thailand to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the church and the dedication of a church building that can accommodate 1000 worshipers.

As I left Thailand last week to return to Michigan, I jotted down several reflections on this project and partnerships.

The blessing of a team and its leaders. Over the years, we have sent many teams to work on this project, involving: construction, medical, dental, teaching, etc. The projects all have challenges with heat, transportation, inadequate resources, and the list goes on. The Lord, through it all, works in the lives of the team so that serving is both a privilege and a joy. On this recent trip, 44 people used their vacation time to invest in reaching the Akha people. It truly was a joy to be part of this amazing team. Thank you, Jim Bedor and Brian Bauer, for your outstanding work as team leaders.

The humble, faithful and visionary leadership of Pastor John. My friend Pastor John is a very intelligent, well-educated servant of God. His heart is large enough to minister to 70 children in the orphanage, pastor a large and growing church and reach two million of the Akha tribe in Thailand, China, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. It is breathtaking to realize all that has been accomplished and yet pastor John would be very quick to deflect all glory to God while acknowledging the major investment of his wife, Nut.

The development of a young warrior. Drew Clarkson is a young man from Woodside who is finishing his college studies while being an intern at Woodside. Drew has spent these past several months with the work in Thailand as a helper for Pastor John. It was so good to reconnect with Drew and watch a young man transition to a great warrior for Christ. Truly Pastor John would say of Drew, “He was very valuable to me for the ministry.”

A son coming of age. For the last six or seven years, my wife, along with four other Woodside families, have sponsored a young man in the orphanage named Saman. His name has been in our prayers and his picture on our refrigerator. He has met our other children. We had some special times talking and eating with this young man who refers to us as “Daddy and Mummy.” Saman now is 20 years old and finishing his first year of Bible college in Bangkok. He has a tender heart for God and upon graduation would love to return to work in the church and in the orphanage. Praise God!

A God who is awesome and worthy of our praise. I am thankful to God who connected people separated by language, culture and 8000 miles. I am thankful to the Lord for all the indescribable things he has done in Thailand and in our hearts. I am thankful to God for allowing us to be a part of changed lives. This partnership has been such a blessing and we give God all the glory! Thanks be to God!

A Puritan Prayer for 2017

Years ago, I discovered a book of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision. I have found great value in the prayers and devotions of the Puritans.
I read this New Year’s prayer and I thought you may like it. If you do, make it your New Year’s prayer for 2017.


Length of days does not profit me except the days are passed in thy presence, in thy service, to thy glory.

Give me a grace that precedes, follows, guides, sustains, sanctifies, aids every hour, that I may not be one moment apart from thee, but may rely on thy Spirit to supply every thought, speak in every word, direct every step, prosper every work, build up every mote of faith, and give me a desire to show forth thy praise, testify thy love, advance thy kingdom.

I launch my bark on the unknown waters of this year, with thee, O Father, as my harbour; thee, O Son, at my helm; thee, O Holy Spirit, filling my sails.

Guide me to heaven with my loins girt, my lamp burning, my ears open to thy calls, my heart full of love, my soul free.

Give me thy grace to sanctify me, thy comforts to cheer, thy wisdom to teach, thy right hand to guide, thy counsel to instruct, thy law to judge, thy presence to stabilize.

May thy fear be my awe, thy triumphs my joy.

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#6 – Lessons from a Failed King

So many leadership lessons can be learned from the life of King Saul; unfortunately, most of them are from his failures and mistakes. He was head and shoulders above all others. Chosen by God and wanted by the people, and yet he was a colossal failure as a leader. When it came to his public coronation as the first king of Israel, he was found hiding in the luggage of the nation who had gathered together to honor and support him. On first glance you might assume that was extreme humility. And yet when we shrink from what God has called us to do, hiding is not humility but rather fear or disobedience.

Saul lacked patience and offered a sacrifice rather than waiting for the prophet Samuel to arrive, thus disobeying the Lord. Later he was to destroy the Amalekites. Rather than doing so, he kept the King alive and saved some of the spoils that were to be destroyed. The story is told in 1 Samuel 15. In spite of his disobedience, Saul built a monument to himself. When the prophet Samuel confronted King Saul with his disobedience to God, Saul was quick to blame the people.

Ryan, leaders have to take extreme ownership of their failures and resist the temptation to blame it on others. The blame game is an old one that dates back to the Garden. The blame game does not work, because God is never fooled and most people can see right through it. When leaders own their failures and mistakes, they are ready to grow and lead with more credibility.

Another lesson came as Samuel related to Saul the words of the Lord in 1 Samuel 15:17, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you the king over Israel. The Lord sent you on a mission.” Again “little in your own eyes” may seem like humility, but when we focus on how we see ourselves rather than how God sees us, we have lost focus and perspective.

We must see ourselves from the perspective of God’s calling on our lives and step up to the task and the mission he has called us to do. Otherwise we will constantly be focusing on our limitations rather than the presence and power of God. Viewing ourselves the way God views us should never lead us to pride, but rather to gratitude and dependence.

When our identity is found in him we should never feel offended because we have no rights. We should never be afraid of failure because our identity is based on Him and not our performance.

Finally, Saul comes clean and admits he sinned by disobeying God. We can learn a lot from the reason he gave for disobeying, “I feared the people and obeyed their voice.” This is a temptation that is common to every spiritual leader. We want to please people and yet we must please the One who has called us and placed us in a position to lead, no matter the cost.

Saul looked the part of a leader but that could not make him one. Spiritual leadership involves building legacies for God in the lives of people rather than building monuments to ourselves. Spiritual leadership involves stepping up to what God has called us to do. Spiritual leadership involves taking extreme ownership for our sins and failures before God and the people he has called us to lead. Spiritual leadership involves having a deep reverence for God that delivers us from the fear of people.

Ryan, let’s pray that God would help us to learn these lessons so that we can be the leaders that He wants us to be.

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#5 – Leaders Love

Ryan, I read recently in my devotional time a wonderful section from 1 Samuel. In chapter 12 God powerfully got the attention of his people and they properly responded with reverential fear. Then they ask Samuel the prophet and priest of Israel to pray to the Lord for them. After Samuel took the opportunity to comfort and challenge them, he says something that powerfully got my attention, “Moreover, as for me, far be it from me I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and right way.” (1 Samuel 12:23)

Samuel was a great leader in that he loved the people he was leading by not ceasing to pray for them. In fact, he raises the bar by saying that he would be sinning against the Lord by ceasing to pray for them. Praying for people may seem like a “no-brainer” in spiritual leadership, and yet this discipline can easily get lost with the myriad of other things a leader must do.

Leaders can easily focus on the things that are visible in the eyes of men and neglect the things that are visible only to the eyes of God.

Jesus set a wonderful example for us in that he repeatedly prayed for the people that he was called to lead and to love (1 John 17). The Apostle Paul followed suit.

I heard years ago that some pastors use people to build the ministry while others use the ministry to build people. Ryan, I encourage you to love people enough to regularly pray for them. This seems to be the practice of spiritual leaders in the Bible and the expectation of the God who called us to lead.

On a practical level, be very careful how you use the words, “I will be praying for you.” Those words can be as easily forgotten as they are stated. When you say those words, either pray there on the spot or write the name and request down to remind you to pray later.
Ryan, love people enough to pray regularly for them.

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#4 – Be Silent … The Lord Will Fight for You

Leadership is not always supported by positive public opinion polls. Ryan, as a leader you will be criticized, people will complain about you and you will be misunderstood – you can count on it! Unfortunately, this will often come, not from the enemy, but from the people you love and lead.

Years ago one author referred to these people as well-intentioned dragons. Friendly fire is the most painful for a leader. The natural tendency will be self-defense or even to attack your critics. There is a better way.

Exodus 14 tells the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt and bondage. When the Israelites saw the pursuing Egyptians they complained to Moses about Moses. “Why didn’t you leave us in Egypt? You brought us out of here to die…” Moses wisely redirected their attention to their God who would bring them salvation. And then he said to them, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14)

The advice Moses gave to the Israelites is excellent advice for any leader who is criticized and misunderstood. Keep in mind these words are not a command nor are they to be applied to every situation. When the apostle Paul was attacked and his critics questioned his apostolic authority, Paul vehemently defended himself and his calling. Sometimes you will have to go to battle as a leader, but choose your battles prayerfully and carefully.

There have been times in my leadership journey where I have had to defend myself and my actions. There have been other times I have had to apologize. But there have been many times I’ve kept silent and let the Lord fight for me.

Ryan, you cannot go to battle every time you’re misunderstood. In fact, many times you will not even know that you are misunderstood. Too many leaders will get into food fights believing they are defending God’s honor when in reality they are trying to protect their fragile image.

Lean often on the wise advice of Moses. By the way, God did fight for the Israelites by opening up the Red Sea to deliver them and then closed it to swallow the Egyptian army.

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#3 – When God calls you to do something, don’t focus on what you can or cannot do, but focus on what he can do through you.

A good driver’s training instructor will stress the importance of focus as he/she prepares the young driver. If you keep your focus straight ahead, the car will typically move straight ahead. But if your focus begins to wander, the car will likely wander as well. We see this all the time with drivers on their cell phones, talking or texting – and the car begins to drift. Focus is really important in life and in leadership.

God was about to do an amazing work by delivering the Israelites from 400 years of bondage in Egypt. In Exodus 3 the call comes to Moses to be a part of God’s incredible plan. Before Moses could lead in this great task, God wanted to make sure his focus was in the right place.

It appears that Moses lacked confidence and he gave excuses for why he could not do what God was calling him to do.

Moses: “But I am a nobody. Who am I that I should go against Pharaoh?”
God: “I am a somebody and I will always be with you.”
Moses: “But I don’t know what to say.”
God: “Tell them the Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me to you.”
Moses: “But what if they don’t believe me?”
God: “I will give you all the power you need.” (God gave Moses three powerful signs.)
Moses: “But I don’t speak well.”
God: “I will give you words to say. Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the Lord?”
Moses: “Please, send somebody else!”
God: “I will send Aaron to help you.”

Ryan, when we focus on ourselves, our own gifts, strengths, limitations or liabilities we will never be able to fulfill the leadership responsibilities that the Lord gives us. Ryan, what excuse or objection could ever stand up to the promise of God’s dynamic presence and power? If God is calling and sending you out to be a part of His redemptive work in the world – and reassures you of His presence and power – what’s to stop you?

This encounter that Moses had with God seemed for the most part to set Moses’ focus on God and not on his own ability or lack of it.

Moses became a good leader because he learned: “When God calls you to do something, don’t focus on what you can or can’t do, but focus on what he can do through you.”

Ryan, you will find that God’s call on your life will take you places where you are over your head. God doesn’t make mistakes. He loves to stretch us so that our focus, confidence and dependence is on Him not us. As you begin your leadership journey, I am in the last stretch of mine. I can tell you honestly, I have spent the last 40 years “over my head,” but God has been faithful in His presence and power. I would not have wanted it any other way.

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#2 – Whom Will I Please?

Early in your leadership journey you will need to answer a very important, foundation question: Whom will I please? Called by God to be a spiritual leader, the answer should be easy. Of course you would want to please the one who called you and placed you in leadership. However, the question will have to be answered many times on your leadership journey with the pressures becoming stronger – even from familiar voices.

During a very corrupt time in human history God called Noah to lead. The Scriptures remind us that “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” (Genesis 6:8)

God told Noah to build an ark that could survive a flood, saving him and his family. He believed God and built it in reverent fear. I can only imagine the pressure and ridicule he faced at the hands of an unbelieving world. And yet Noah, determined to please God, did all that God commanded him.

Every spiritual leader in biblical history, through to today, faced pressure to please the crowds, the culture, a person or a congregation. You may ask, “Is it possible to please both God and man?” Yes – at times. But when a choice has to be made – you must choose God!

Ryan, there will be pressure to change the message of the gospel. You will hear, “Soften it to become more palatable to our culture.” “Change your views, you are out of touch.” “The Bible may have been good for a people a long time ago – not today.” The apostle Paul addressed the false teachers who had changed the gospel with extremely strong words in Galatians 1 and he closed that section with personal words of clear commitment: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

Your commitment to please God does not mean that you will not have to be accountable to the authorities God has placed over you. Too many young men have declared they are accountable only to God and not their boss, a church board or a congregation.

Ryan, ultimately you will stand before Jesus to give an account as a spiritual leader (James 3). I pray that early on in your leadership journey you will make the unwavering commitment to please Christ. I pray that commitment will be reaffirmed countless times on the journey. In the face of potential job loss, departure of friends, persecution, ridicule, standing alone or even death, your steadfast words will echo the apostles’ (Acts 5:29): “We must obey God rather than men.”

If you do this, I promise the leadership journey may not always be easy, but it will be right and you will be used of God to make a difference. And one day you may hear those words from the one who called, “Well done Ryan!”

The Leadership Journey – Letters to an Intern

#1 – So, You Want to Be a Leader

Ryan, today you leave the classroom of Moody Bible Institute to begin an internship in leadership development. Your journey will be focused on spiritual leadership. You will lead people to find Jesus, become more like Jesus and serve Jesus.

This journey never really ends. You will keep growing and learning while God keeps stretching and refining you. God’s track for you will undoubtedly take you to mountaintops of achievements and accomplishments. But, you will find yourself as well in the valleys of discouragement, rejection and failure. While there will be refreshing times along mountain streams, don’t be surprised to find yourself in desert places, parched and empty.

At times people will sing your praises while at other times people’s comments and criticism could drive you to question your calling.

Your preparation in the private spaces will prepare you for effective, spiritual influence in the public spaces. Without the former, you are an accident waiting to happen in the latter.

One of the greatest spiritual leaders of all time once wrote to his followers, “… my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” (Galatians 4:19)

I have it on good report that “anguish of childbirth” is not enjoyable. So Ryan, why would you want to be a spiritual leader if you are almost guaranteed to have your heart broken, be frequently misunderstood and have pains equivalent to childbirth? On your leadership journey you will discover a thousand reasons to be on that journey and to stay on it.

The reason that supersedes them all is that this is the journey God has called you to. He will be with you every step of the way!

Train Leaders or Feed the Poor

I am so glad that the Lord seems to be opening the door to a retreat center for Woodside. We have prayed and looked for this for over 20 years. You can read about the three major purposes for the retreat center on the website ( Simply stated, the retreat center is for marriage enrichment, leadership training (team building, neighborhood group retreats, departmental leadership development, campus pastor alignment, etc.), and pastors’ enrichment (for area pastors and staffs).

I rejoice in that not only are we getting a great deal on the property, the entire amount of $800,000 has been donated by a few Woodside families who see the importance of this to strengthening our mission.

Recently someone asked the question, why would we not just give all the money to feed the poor instead of purchasing a retreat center. Let me answer the question in several ways.

First, it is not a question of either/or. At Woodside, we have the capacity to feed the poor and minister to the physical as well as the spiritual needs of people. We have spent a lot of money on the dream centers (locally) where we serve hundreds of hot meals every week. Additionally, we do food boxes for families, providing several meals in each box.

Second, we must understand how priorities fit together. Which is more important – training leaders or feeding the poor? Yes – they are both important. Priorities don’t have to work against each other, but with each other.

Third, it is necessary to build our base. The stronger our base, the greater our reach. Before we built the present Troy campus, there were critics who thought we could better spend the money evangelizing a particular group of people. I explained then the importance of strengthening our base so that we could do multiple times more evangelism. We have seen that come true. Eleven years later we are reaching many more people worldwide. We have international partnerships, orphanages, Bible translation projects, dream centers, multiple campuses, home builds, job training, etc. Remember – the stronger our base, the greater our reach.

We believe that the answer for the world today is Jesus and the task of communicating the gospel of Christ has been given to the church. And yet the church, its leaders and its marriages are under major attack. Christian marriages are struggling and over 1,000 pastors every month leave ministry (see our website for statistics). The purposes of the retreat center take a long-term approach of strengthening these areas so the church can be all that God intended it to be.

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