Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Right as Heaven Hard as Hell.

Hey there! It's me. 2018 is here and some of you are thinking now is the time.

Now is the time to respond to the opioid epidemic and the subsequent surge in foster care placements.

Now is the time to get your foster license and make family available either temporarily or more permanently to some kids who haven't had a very easy go of it.

I'm your biggest fan. If you go down this road, you can be a literal world changer for the kid or kids you welcome into your home. The numbers are staggering regarding how many kids in the system end up dropping out of high school, experiencing teenage pregnancy and ending up in prison. You can help rewrite stories, break toxic cycles, restore nuclear families, help a kid feel loved, safe and at home.

As someone who has gotten my feet wet in this crisis, I think I can offer a piece of advice as you head down this road:


Don't do it.

It's hard as hell.

You're committing to open your home, your marriage, your kids up to total strangers. Strangers who have often been neglected. Often abused. Often undisciplined. Often underfed. Often overmedicated. Often terrified. Often pissed off that they got taken from their home. Often distrusting because the last placement gave up on them or hurt them or didn't want them.

They will disrupt your routine, your sleep, your systems.

They will rock the boat. They will sabotage the one thing you and they both know they need. They will sabotage the love you are trying to give them. They will self destruct.

So don't do it. Because if you have stars in your eyes that it will be a happy story or an instant connection and if you think they will be compliant and grateful, you will be crushed...devastated when reality sets in.

They've been ripped from their home and in many ways their hearts ripped from their chests. You will be near the top of their list of people to blame for this.

I know. I know. You had nothing to do with that. You're just opening your home out of the goodness of your heart. They don't see it that way.

So again...Don't do it.

There is a surprising number of foster homes who take one placement and then never do it again or after a very short time with a placement realize how disruptive the foster kids are and ask for removal. It's hard as hell.

Getting a stranger to let down their guard enough to even begin considering the prospects of family is brutal. Even if you are consistent and persistent, it may never take. Even if you have predictable patterns and clarified expectations, it may never translate to trust.

Don't do it.

That's the advice I'd give you. It's also probably the advice I'd have given God. Don't bother with these wicked, destructive, self-centered humans. They will seek to sabotage the very thing God wants to lavish on them. And yet God takes the road less traveled. Sent from Heaven to save from Hell. He looked at the mess of our rebellion and chose restoration and redemption at substantial cost. Where it seemed He had multiple choices, He saw only one. He couldn't not engage the people He loved. He chose it, knowing full well that the story, filled with betrayal and desertion and denial and rejection would be hard as hell. But He also knew this road was right as Heaven. He couldn't not engage.

So hear me, you would be heroes of foster kids, all I can tell you is don't do it. The risks you'd be taking on your marriage and your family and your routine and your mental health and your freedom and flexibility in your schedule...its costly. Don't do it.

Unless you absolutely can't not do it.

Then do it with everything you've got.

It will be hard as hell. But you know with every fiber of your being, its right as Heaven.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Do you value a Discipleship Culture

I recently asked my staff team and some of the key people at City Campus Church how often they thought I should preach in 2018. I'm the leader of this thing. I've logged the most hours and experience preaching and communicating. My family's story and C3's story are interwoven...made of the same fabric. I'm wired with vision and called in general to champion that vision and invite others to champion it with me.

In a typical church, the lead pastor is likely north (in many cases, FAR north) of 80% of the yearly preaching. This is almost a no-brainer in many settings. They are paid to lead the thing. They should be the voice of the thing.

Delivery matters. If you're a good, growing, gifted communicator, you should hone the gift.

Preach, evaluate, grow. Preach again.

Delivery matters.

But development matters more.

Replication is one of our five values as a church. We want to see it happen at every level. Disciples making disciples who make disciples. Leaders making leaders who make leaders. Missional Communities who make Missional Communities who make Missional Communities. And yes, churches launching churches who launch churches. If we really believe that the church is a body and that every cell will run its course and die, all the while new cells are being made, then the quicker we align ourselves to the desire to activate more cells to realize the fullness of their potential.

Jim Winkler did it for me. I was a young gun who thought I knew how to lead and preach and I was like third or fourth on the depth chart at the church. But he kept letting me give it a go there. And when I fumbled the ball, he didn't take me out of the game, he put me back out there and gave me another shot. The highest calling of a leader is to see what others can't or won't see in themselves and then do what is necessary to tease that potential into existence. This is discipleship in a nutshell. Choosing development over delivery.

If you feel pressure to do 90% of the preaching, all that is doing is guaranteeing that your church will likely die or largely turn over when you try to turn it over to the next person because they won't deliver the way you delivered.

Delivery is a good servant, but a horrible master. We should want to do our best and inspire and encourage hearts. But not at the expense of teaching and developing others around us to do the same thing.

So? Back to the question I posed. I was getting a sense that the answer I was to swing at this year was between 60 and 70 percent. The church still needs my leadership, but they need it up front and through the painstaking work of developing others.

The staff I asked all said the same thing.

And the key people of C3 I spoke to said the same thing too. And many of them said that it wasn't because they were tired of me (I think they would tell me if they were), and they admitted that if I wasn't preaching, their posture in hearing and engaging the message often times would diminish. But they all came back to this same idea that if we really are about replication, then, we need to represent that in our culture and let the fumbles happen. It was one of the coolest moments in leadership for me. I usually feel like I have to convince people if it isn't the normal way...But in this instance, they were already largely there. They believe in a culture of development.

And that is a thrilling place to be.

Believe it or not this principle applies 100% to the corporate world and even to family/parenting dynamics. You develop people to be able to deliver as well or better than you, then the potentiality of your company skyrockets compared to managing a team and making sure they deliver of the tasks set before them.

Don't get me wrong. We don't throw delivery out with the bathwater. Delivery matters. Development matters more.

Our Staff Team has some maxims that we try to filter our decisions, our attitudes and our leadership through. They are:
1. Where is God in this? (What's Jesus saying?)
2. Make it better. (What are we going to do about it?)
3. Same Team. (A win for you is a win for me.)
4. Who's Next? (Always look for who can replace you and invest there.)
5. Stay Curious. (Ask more questions than you give solutions.)

It feels like a posture as a team that allows us to feel the freedom of chasing development while still being attentive to delivery. Fumbles are likely the way our people learn to hold on to the ball the best. And once they have grown in competence and confidence in holding onto the ball, then they can start handing the ball off to others.

Each person who preaches at C3, myself included does a run through of their message on Sunday morning. They are all working off the same preaching grid, that I've tried to download to them so that we know what effective communication is and can hold people accountable to it. After the run through, everyone there gives feedback. Its a pretty vulnerable place because we've all fumbled a time or two, but knowing we are on the same team and seeking to make it better and support the next person up on the depth chart has been an absolute game changer in our culture.

After talking to all these guys, I felt pretty good about the 60-70% range for the sake of developing an arsenal of dynamic communicators. I talked to one of the more important leadership voices I know of in the Church, Mike Breen and asked him what his approach to preaching was. At one time he was leading one of the largest churches in England and his approach to discipleship has impacted literally tens of thousands of lives across the globe. He has lived as a movement leader. His answer? 50%!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Samantha...aka the day a what became a who

Sundays are nuts right now. Between normal church responsibilities, having a new baby added to the mix with our other two children and having our house listed for sale and having open houses the last few Sundays, it seems like a pretty hectic/insane day.

Today was no exception. Baby dedication Sunday. Many additional moving parts. Interviewing a couple courageous ladies who are making a difference in our city. Preaching on an important topic that is literally killing a generation. There isn't a shortage to do.

But as great and important as all those things seemed at the outset of the day, they don't matter much at all to me after what happened.

Typical Sunday morning. I go in to the middle school around 5:30 and get the air conditioners set up and spend time in prayer and preaching my sermon to an empty room to hear what it sounds like out loud. This is holy ground...sacred space for me. I'm typically alone until 8:30 when some of the C3 team comes and hears the sermon and we give constructive feedback to seek to make it better.

That went fine.

After that around 9:15 I go to get my older two kids and bring them back to C3 so that Shaina can have about an hour to go through the house and make sure it is ready to go for the open house.

I get the kids, all the stuff we needed for the day and I go out to take our other car, the one with car seats in it back to church to continue to get ready for the service. My hands are full and I walk the kids to the door and they open it and begin climbing in. As they are heading to their seats in the third row of the flex, I see her. Sitting in the drivers seat...hunched...pale. I can tell by the look on her face that this is more than a homeless person finding a warm spot for the night. She was an addict. And she was not in good shape. (Yes we leave our doors unlocked. We keep nothing of value in the car and would rather them take a few pennies than break out a window.)

I calmly told the kids to get out of the car and go back to the porch and let mommy know we weren't going to be leaving quite yet. Chaia, the oldest, ever the compliant one, listened. Marquis got out of the car, walked around to the other side and got back in the car and was horsing around in the back seat. I looked for needles and didn't see any. The girl started to stir a little.

Hi, I'm Ben. You're in my car. Have you been using heroin?


Did you overdose?


Do you need help?


Ok I'm going to call for help.

She phased back out of it.

911 What's the location of your emergency. (I share my address.) What's the nature of the emergency?

I have a female potential heroin overdose. She is semi-responsive and admitted to using.

How old is she? (By now the girl is semi-coherent again. Moving around, appearing like everything she was doing was both painful and haphazard.) I ask her her age.


I tell the dispatcher. They assure me help is on the way. Meanwhile, the girl tries to stand up. I've got Chaia now back with me and her and Marquis are both watching. I ask them to go to the porch. They aren't budging. The girl starts walking around. She has a pathetic, already been smoked cigarette butt that she is frantically trying to find a way to relight. She can't find her lighter. I tell her I can help her. I have no lighter, so I come out with one of those big torch things that you light candles with. I light it for her and ask her her name.


She is 80, maybe 90 pounds. She has layers of clothing on including full fledged winter gloves that she'd left in the car. That seemed an odd choice since its to be a high of 93 today. She is emaciated. Not well.

I tell her help is on the way and it is as if she suddenly is able to piece together all that this help meant. She panicked and started walking down the alley away from our house and away from our street.

I can hear the sirens in the near distance. So can she.

I have a warrant out on me right now. I can't go to jail for this.

She begins an awkward but urgent jog. She is still not in good shape. So I keep up with her. But I feel tension because I don't want her to end up in worse shape physically than she already was trying to run from me and I had no way of letting the police know where I'd gone. So I watched her go behind a house and then I ran back to my street as the first police cruisers arrived. I gave a quick description and gave the address two streets up of the house she had gone behind.

I have no idea how the story unfolds after that. I don't know if the police found her. I don't know if she will find the help she needs.

All I know is that an opioid crisis that I've seen on the news and even watched a documentary on this past weekend, and have even brought up in sermons as I share about the foster care crisis that is a direct result of the opioid crisis...all of that went from a thing I heard about to a person I knew.


Hanging out in a place between euphoric bliss and cardiac arrest in my Ford Flex when I'm supposed to be heading to church to preach about...get this...what it means to really be the church.

And my mind goes a mile a minute. I wonder if she has kids. If so, do they know where their mom is? Have they already been taken from her? Does she have a family? Does she remember what hope feels like? How do you get to a place where you end up alone and overdosed in a total stranger's car?

I'm not angry. I wasn't scared. I wasn't even bothered by my kids witnessing it. (Can you say "teachable moment"?) What I was is incredibly sad. I don't want her to die. I feel the tension of imprisonment being a deterrent for people seeking help and maybe the only way she might get clean.

But for the first time, I didn't have a line of statistics to highlight the crisis of the overdose culture. Instead I had a face and a name.

It makes me desperate for people to feel seen...to feel safe...and to feel satisfied. I think we as a church could do a much better job of doing those three things to a world who needs good news.

I don't know where to begin with solving this crisis or even helping it a little bit, but what I do know is that this matters more to me now than it did yesterday.

Over 4000 died of overdoses in Ohio in 2016 and signs point to outpacing that number in 2017. Something must change.

What can we do?

Where do we begin?