Oct 25th 2014

On Halloween, Don’t Be That Parent

So it’s Halloween and parents everywhere are finalizing their plans for next week. Candy is purchased and placed in the requisite pumpkin bucket near the front door. Costumes are selected and purchased. And evangelical car trunks stand ready to be decorated for the church parking lot. It’s go time.

But before you venture out at the end of this week, make sure you are ready, as a parent, for the holiday. To get you ready I’m here with some important things not to do.

1) Don’t Be That Parent Who Judges What the Other Parents Do. 

Regardless of your parenting posture on Halloween (and if you need help, here’s a helpful guide from Russell Moore), don’t be the parent who either self-righteously talks about how you shield your kids from the devil’s holiday or how you are so much more enlightened than the parents who shield their kids from the devil’s holiday. Follow 1 Corinthians 8.

2) Don’t Be a Candy Killjoy

There are several ways to be a candy killjoy. Maybe you are the healthy parent (not that there’s anything wrong with that) who will only accept gluten-free, free-range, grass-fed, no-hormone candy. I’m exempting here parents who have kids with allergies. Those are serious and we should do whatever we can to make those kids get candy they can enjoy that doesn’t make them sick. But with that caveat out of the way, don’t be the parent who lectures on “all the chemicals in the candy” and “how kids are so obese these days.” Those are important discussions, but can we let the kids have some fun and save those discussion for another day? And, for the sake of all that is good and holy, don’t put carrot sticks in some poor kid’s candy bag. Just don’t do it.

The other way to be a Halloween candy killjoy is to not allow your kids to indulge the candy on the first night. Our rule of thumb is that we allow them to go a little bit crazy the night of collection, then my wife Angela rations the candy like the food rationing during World War II. This allows them to enjoy candy in moderation the rest of the year.

3) Don’t Be a Gospel Killjoy

When we grew up, we didn’t trick or treat–that was my parent’s conviction–but we did give candy to the kids who did. We also handed out gospel tracts. I think gospel tracts are great evangelism tools during this season. I know of several people who came to faith in Christ after receiving a gospel tract. However, don’t make the really big evangelistic fail of handing out tracts without candy. Don’t do this. First of all it’s cruel and unusual punishment for kids who are coming to the door for candy and not pamphlets. Secondly, it says all kinds of unintentional things about the God whose love you are trying to communicate.

Another way to be a gospel killjoy is to work a “light and darkness” Bible reference into every other sentence when you are trick or treating with your kids or discussing Halloween with friends. Yes, this is a great moment to talk about spiritual warfare, light and darkness. Yes, yes. We do this with our kids every year at this time. But don’t be obnoxious. Don’t be a killjoy. Have fun and let your kids have fun.

4) Don’t let your daughters wear sexy costumes 

Somewhere along the line Halloween grew from a holiday where kids dress up and go get candy from neighbors to a holiday where adults dress up in increasingly inappropriate and creepy costumes. I’m amazed when I look at the sales fliers at how these sexy costumes are increasingly being marketed to young girls. I have three young girls and this disturbs me on many levels. As parents, we need to resist the culture and make sure we practice modesty give our kids a young and wholesome time on Halloween. As a father I feel a weighty responsibility to protect my kids’ innocence.

5) Don’t be too cool for your church’s events. 

I’ve noticed a kind of elitism when it comes to church’s attempts to do outreach on Halloween. Ok, Judgement Houses are a colossally bad idea. But don’t be too cool for your church’s Trunk or Treat or Harvest Fest. Yes, you are missional and will do trick or treating to meet your neighbors for gospel conversations, but you can also do your church’s events as well. Participate, encourage the body of Christ and, if you are smart, set up two nights of candy for your kid’s consumption.

6) Don’t be too churchy to not use Halloween to build relationships in your community. 

On the flipside, I think Halloween presents a wonderful opportunity to get to know your neighbors. It’s hard to reach people with the gospel if you don’t actually know them. And you should attempt to get to know them in a long-term friendship kind of way, not in a “I’m being nice to you so I can get you to my church” kind of way. Be genuine. Be friendly. Be human. Your unchurched neighbor probably doesn’t really need to hear about the supposed Satanic origins of Halloween the first time you meet him.

7) Don’t forget the 10% Daddy tax

I saved my best tip for last. A universal rule of parenting is the 10% Daddy tax. In exchange for your wandering around dark streets with plastic pumpkin buckets with your kids, you have the right to skim at least 10% of the candy they collect. The best time to do this is after they are in bed and will not notice a few missing 100 Grand bars or Kit Kats. You shouldn’t feel bad about this. This is how the world works. Your parents took 10% of the candy you collected when you were a kid and now this is you completing the cycle. Plus, they really aren’t old enough to appreciate the rich chocolate and caramel of a Rolo.

Oct 11th 2014

Multigenerational churches and offering plates

I’ve been writing recently about the shape of worship in our churches.

First, a piece for Christianity.com about the importance of multi-generational churches:

I recently said goodbye to one of my dearest friends, who taught me more about ministry than anyone else I knew. He recently succumbed to cancer in his early eighties. Until this quick-moving disease ushered Him home, Bill was a font of wisdom about how to do ministry. It was timeless wisdom good for dealing with every generation.

Another of my close friends is a Boomer. I can’t tell you how many lengthy phone conversations I’ve had with Rich over the years, gleaning precious insights on family and church life.

I’ve seen this dynamic played out in church life if the leaders are willing to embrace a multi-generational approach. Churches that worship at the altar of relevance, who are constantly chasing the next trend might be tempted to so vigorously divide ministry into age-graded demographics that they create little churches within their church. However, churches who balance generational needs with a multi-generational dynamic foster a rich, other-worldly kind of body life.

Read the entire article here.

Secondly, I write a piece for Faithstreet about offering plates and why I still like them, even in a digital world:

Ever since I’ve been a child, I’ve enjoyed the passing of the plate in church. Maybe it’s because I had a father who never failed to put money in the plate, in good financial seasons and in bad. Maybe it’s because I’ve been tithing ever since I earned my first allowance. Or maybe it’s because I still feel the joy and the grace of that moment in the service when we stop and say, “We will follow Jesus” Sermons compel us to devotion. Music reflects our devotion. But the offering plate is the moment in the week when we stand up and say, “I’m in. Not just with my words, but with that thing that is so precious to my existence.”

Read the entire article here.

 

Oct 8th 2014

Why I’m Thankful for Christian Music

This headline seems a bit redundant. After all, I’m a Christian and, of course, I’d love Christian music. But this is not always the case. In fact if you listen to a lot of the conversations young Christians are having today, you’d find that Christian music is a kind of punching bag. It’s fashionable for us to take a sledgehammer and bash, with great glee, the art that our brothers and sisters are creating.

To be sure, there are songs for the Christian that are worth rejecting. Songs that have little or no theological teeth and songs that create a kind of Christian subculture, yada, yada, yada. But I think we’re often really, really unfair to Christian music artists. Peter Chin’s recent article at Christianity Today is a good place to start. Sometimes our critiques are legitimate. Other times, I suspect, we’re out to prove how sophisticated we are or how “unlike those other kinds of Christians” we are.

Christian music has had a powerful effect on my own heart. I’ll give a couple of examples.

Several years ago I endured perhaps the most significant trial of my life. I was in the midst of my pastorate in the Chicago suburbs. I had been unfairly and unjustly attacked by people I loved and respected. Not only did they betray me, they publically slandered me, threatened my ministry, and attacked my character. To make matters worse, my wife was out of town with our kids, helping a friend whose husband had just died from cancer. I have never felt so low in my life.

After a meeting in which things went really badly, I retreated to my office at the church, stunned, angry, and unsure of what to do. The first thing I did was turn on a Pandora channel on my laptop. The first song that played was Chris Rice’s song, “Come to Jesus.” I don’t know if you like this song or not. I don’t know if you think it’s shallow or brilliant or whatever. But this song, in that moment, ministered to my heart in a way that I will never forget. I will never forget the tears that ran down my face and the reassurance the Holy Spirit gave me in that moment, reminding me that this wasn’t Jesus attacking me, this was Christians. So I ran to Jesus and found life, away from the hurt caused by people I loved.

I don’t know what was going through Chris Rice’s mind when he sat down to pen those lyrics. I don’t know what his motivation was. But I do know that his application of his heart and mind to music was a gift to me at that time.

To write music, to produce any kind of art, is difficult. The artist is vulnerable in that moment, when he puts pen to paper and exposes his thoughts to the world. He can be subject to endless critiques and mockery. But he also has the potential to be used by the Spirit of God to minister to people he will never meet. We should be grateful for artists who write songs for the Church.

Another example, this time a hymn. One of the things I love about growing up in a more traditional church was the singing of hymns. They come back to me, time and time again, in my adulthood. One in particular is “Jesus Paid it All.” This is my father’s favorite hymn. My dad is a pretty stoic, hard-working, blue collar guy. I’ve rarely seen him cry. But every time he described the words in Jesus Paid it All, he cried. That hymn makes me think of my father. In 1865, Elvina M. Hall sat down and wrote this hymn, not knowing the impact it would have on people she never met. I’m grateful she did.

Finally, one more. This week in church we closed with the simple revival chorus, “I have decided to follow Jesus.” It was the appropriate ending for a sermon that focused on what it means to follow Jesus. I needed this sermon this week. When we stood to sing, I was overcome with emotion. “I have decided” brings me back to wooden benches at camp meetings in my youth and the decision to walk forward and commit my life to Christ. It brings me back to campfires and key moments of discipleship. According to this story, this simple chorus has a remarkable story behind it that I’m not sure is verified. Regardless, for me, this song has powerful meaning.

I could go on. I could talk about how “Amazing Grace” and “There is a Fountain” and “A Mighty Fortress” stir up thoughts of worship and praise. I could talk about singing “The Power of the Cross” by the Gettys with thousands of people in a room and feeling like I was in Heaven. I could muse about Michael W. Smith’s recent “Sovereign Over Us” and a song our church sings during communion whose title escapes me.

The point is that I’m grateful for artists who continue to put pen to paper, who compose the notes and give us a way to sing about the God we love.

Sep 12th 2014

Why Leaders Fail

Recently I had a discussion with some friends about some public leadership fails in the news. I could name them, but you likely already know who they are. Our conversation turned to a general topic of leadership and things we’ve observed. What struck us was how these things evolve from little, seemingly insignificant decisions that form the culture out of which unhealthy leadership grows. In other words, nobody wakes up one day and says to himself, “I’m going to strive to be an authoritarian leader who wreaks havoc on the people I serve.” It just doesn’t happen that way. Leaders start with good intentions. They start as “normal” people. So how do leaders fail? I think there are five basic mistakes leaders make:

1) Leaders Fail to Build Healthy Accountability Structures for Themselves Early On

So nobody wakes up one day and says, “I’d like to be a jerk who doesn’t listen to anyone.” Instead, it begins slowly, early on, when leaders fail to intentionally build honest voices into their lives. By “honest voices” I mean friends, mentors, family who are given permission to tell us when we are out of line. We always think this needs to happen when we “make it big” but that’s a mistake. We should do this when nobody knows who we are. And it begins by receiving healthy criticism from people we love instead of adopting a “haters gonna hate” mentality. It’s important to do this early on because once we “make it big” (whatever that means), we’ll be less resistant to criticism. Leaders who surround themselves with sycophants who fawn at their every move–this builds the culture that breeds authoritarian leadership. So, it’s important for us to have one or two people in our organizations, in our circle of friends, in our families who can tell us, at times, “Dude, you were a jerk to that person” or “Hey, I don’t think this is a good move.” David had Nathan. Who is your Nathan? I think we should not only do this intentionally, but organizations should be structured with this kind of accountability. This is why ecclesiology (church governance and structure) matters. This is why organizational structure matters. The “I’m a CEO/King and nobody tells me what to do” model breeds leaders who fail.

2) Leaders Fail to Move Beyond Personal Grudges and Hurts 

I’m a fan of reading biographies, particularly biographies of political leaders. These are the books I bring to the beach (I know, it’s pathetic). In my reading across a wide variety of leaders, I’ve found a singular trait that characterizes leaders who could best be described as “tyrants.” This is the inability to forgive. Look closely at dictators who have ravaged countries and continents. Almost every one of them was operating off a hurt early in their lives that they never got over. I’ve seen this with presidents, CEOS, and pastors. If part of the motivation for assuming leadership is the opportunity to “prove everyone wrong” or “strike back at those who hurt me”, this is a recipe for an authoritarian leader. Leaders who forgive are leaders are able to use their past as a catalyst for serving others and helping them through their hurt and pain. I think of Joseph, who rose to leadership in Egypt and instead of using his power to get vengeance on his betraying brothers, left justice in the hands of God and instead offered forgiveness (Genesis 50:20).

3) Leaders Stop Serving the Mission and Start Serving Themselves

This one is closely related to the first point. Unhealthy leaders begins when organizations allow or foster a kind of “leadership bubble” where the goals of the organization are simply to advance to the leader’s personal interests. This can get complicated, because a good leader will have a reputation and a brand, so to speak, that will bring attention and honor to the organization he serves. But good leaders build a deep and wide organization and are unafraid to let others in the organization get attention if need be. Unhealthy leaders constantly monitor what is being said about them and wake up every day worried more about themselves than about serving the organizations they’ve been entrusted with. Good leaders are humble, confident, winsome in their approach. And they are motivated not by building their own platform but by serving those God has called them to serve.

4) Leaders Stop Growing and Listening

Most people think this is a function of age, that older leaders stop thinking they need to grow and change and learn. But I have not found this to be true. I’ve met young leaders who think they are the experts in everything and I’ve met older leaders who surprise me by their desire to grow. This is more of an ego/pride thing. Success is a difficult thing to handle, more so than failure. And without the patient work of the Holy Spirit sanctifying us we all tend to drift toward lethargy and pride. Good leaders constantly seek out new opportunities, new relationships, new coalitions that will help them grow as a leader and as a person. Bad leaders refuse to listen, grow jealous of other’s expertise, and guard their reputation so strongly that they can’t ever admit they don’t know everything. I’m reminded of the maxim in Scripture that God “resists the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).

5) Leaders Think That “This Couldn’t Happen to Me.” 

What strikes me most in our conversations about failed leadership is that almost none of us think it could happen to us. I think this is dangerous. It’s very possible that someone tweeting/blogging/talking about some famous and terrible leadership crisis today could be the subject of a similar crisis in five years. The more we cringe and feign disgust at the examples we keep reading about, the more likely it is that we’ll repeat the same mistakes. This is because the instinct that says, “How could this guy do this to his church. I would never do that” is the very instinct that leads to our downfall. We should all treat others’ mistakes like Paul treated the failures of Israel in the Old Testament. We should “take heed, lest we fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). I’m amazed at the pride we all have when someone falls and falls big, at the celebration of their demise and the virtual chest-beating we do on social media. This shows that we’re just as susceptible to making the same mistakes. Instead, like Paul, we should treat every sad story of leadership failure as a cautionary tale.

Aug 29th 2014

Victoria Osteen and Our Conservative Prosperity Gospel

Last night, Christian Twitter was alive with the ridiculous and sad clip of Victoria Osteen’s blatant prosperity gospel declaration. “We go to church, not for God, but for us.” I especially liked the enterprising blogger who affixed Bill Cosby’s “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” to the end of the clip. Well done.

But before we conservatives get too cocky in our outrage, we’d we wise to admit to our own version of the prosperity gospel, a kind of false message that creeps into our gospel proclamation.

None of us are offering people paradise like the Osteens, especially those of us who have travelled to third-world countries and have seen first-hand the crippling poverty experienced by people with faith much greater than our own. Nor would we dare to tell our persecuted brothers and sisters in the Middle East that with just a bit more faith they might be able to outrun their ISIS persecutors. To do that would not just make us modern-day friends of Job, it would make us false prophets.

What we might be tempted to do, those of us with our airtight theology, is offer a subtler version of the prosperity message in the way we talk about sanctification in this life.

I grew up hearing that what the troubled and broken world really needs is Jesus. I still believe this, even more so now than I did as a child. But what I heard then and what I hear now about our need for Jesus is markedly different.

My ears heard then, “If only the drunkard would walk forward and trust Christ, he’d find relief for his addiction” or “If only the depressed or mentally ill (we didn’t use that word, actually) would know Jesus, they’d find happiness.”

But what I hear now from the gospel is different. I hear now: “Come to Jesus and he’ll begin the process of making who you whole, but the full work of restoration won’t happen until He consummates His kingdom.”

There’s a big difference between the two. One says that upon salvation, all of the Fall’s crush upon your soul will be unraveled. Everything will be made new—now. But is this true? We know this doesn’t happen, even from our own lives. Many years after salvation, we still struggle with sins that “so easily beset us” (Hebrews 12:1). As a pastor, I saw first-hand the pervasive effects of the Fall, how the curse so gnarled up human lives. Some of those knots will be unwound in this life. Most will have to wait until Heaven to see full restoration.

Is this not what Paul was saying when he talks in 2 Corinthians 4 about “treasure in earthen vessels” that is “crushed, perplexed, and persecuted.” The treasure is Jesus, but the vessel—body, mind, soul—is fragile and broken. Christ is doing an ongoing work in us, but it’s a work that is far from finished. Our “outer self is wasting away” but our “inner self is being renewed day by day.” Sanctification—not a one-time event that happens when we walk the aisle—is an ongoing work within. There is, Paul says, “an eternal weight of glory” that awaits us. Our full, final, and complete restoration.

At first glance, recognizing and accepting that we’ll not be perfected in this life might seem cause for despair. Having to get up every single day and “run, with patience, the race set before us” (Hebrews 12:1) might cause us to lose heart.

But instead it should move us to joy, because we look not at the “things that are seen” but the “things that are unseen” (2 Corinthians 4:18). In other words, we don’t despair at the continual struggle with sin, the pervasive physical and mental effects of the fall, or the problems that never seem to unwind in our lives and in the lives of those we love. Instead, we rejoice and look to Jesus, the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1), who has already secured our full final restoration. This struggle will soon be over and Christ will finish his work in us.

Understanding sanctification guards us, then, against over-selling immediate, tangible gospel effects. Yes, genuine salvation does result in life change, but these fruits may often be small in this life, faint glimmers of the glory we’ll see in the New Jerusalem. Understanding sanctification also gives us a mechanism to help others who struggle with sin, with mental illness, with sickness and pain. Rather than offering hyperbolic promises of “victory” and “spiritual success” we might enter into in their pain and walk with them in their despair, pointing them to comfort in the eschatological hope of a full, final renewal that awaits them in glory. Understanding sanctification allows us to mend the broken without expecting people to be perfectly whole in this life.

Rejecting our subtle prosperity gospels moves us from people-fixing to burden-bearing.

We should still say to the seeking, the hurt, and the lost, “You need Jesus,” because they do. But let’s not give them the false Jesus of quick spiritual fixes, but the real Jesus who guides us through the storms and walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death and leads us ultimately to Himself.

Aug 29th 2014

Two Things We Need: Comedy and Rest

I want to highlight two recent articles that are related to each other, I think. First, I wrote a column for Christianity.com about the need for comedy. I thought of this in light of the death of Robin Williams. Here’s an excerpt:

The Scriptures tell us that laughter is a kind of medicine for the soul (Proverbs 17:22). The very fact that God made us as creatures who have the capacity for laughter, who instilled in us the very desire for joy should tell us that laughter matters and matters more than we might think it does. This is why, I think, the writer of Ecclesiastes, perhaps Solomon, reminded us that there is indeed a time to laugh.

Of course there are darker types of laughter or laughing at things God hates or laughing so as to mock and disrespect someone. Comedy at the expense of someone’s dignity isn’t really comedy at all. It’s a kind of rhetorical assault.

But I’m talking about genuine, hilarious, soul-refreshing laughter. This is good for us, good for our well-being. It helps us get through difficult days and it, often, humbles us enough to be vulnerable to let someone see us as human.

You can read the whole thing here:

Next, this week’s Friday Five Interview at Leadership Journal featured Brady Boyd, pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs. Brady took over this church during tremendous turmoil. Now he’s out with a new book on the need for rest. Here’s an excerpt of that interview that I especially liked:

I think most people who are too busy realize this, but wonder if there is a way out of it, given the crushing demands of life. What do you say to them?

I certainly understand that most people have a tremendous amount of stress because of seemingly unending responsibilities. The truth is, though, we all have wasted space in our lives. At some point, we have to stop and evaluate what is really important and make hard choices to stop things that are simply not fruitful. Even the healthiest, holiest people have some rhythms that don’t serve them well.

Maybe you need to be needed and chronically sign up for more than what your soul’s capacity will allow. Maybe you consistently neglect to carve out time to spend with God each day, or you “come down” from a work week in a less-than-stellar way. Think about your own life-your own daily ebbs and flows. What rhythms aren’t serving you well? Which could stand to be adjusted or altogether removed? On a sheet of paper or in your journal, jot down the unhealthy rhythms that come to mind.

Next, beside each rhythm you’ve noted, record the toll each one is taking on your life. For example, if you don’t spend daily time reading the Scriptures or praying, you may feel your days lack purpose or that a pervasive spirit of anxiety hovers over you like a cloud. Or, if you tend to relax after a long work week by drinking too much or neglecting quality time with your family, you may feel disconnected from those you love most. If you struggle to count the cost for each unhealthy rhythm you jotted down, try asking the question, “What would be working better in my life if I could shift this rhythm from unhealthy to healthy?” The answer to that question just might reveal to you what it is you presently lack.

You can read the entire interview here

Aug 23rd 2014

On Losing a Close Friend

37414

I just found out that my close friend and mentor, Bill Swanger, went to be with the Lord this morning at around 6:00 am. It’s really hard to put into words how much I loved Bill and how much he helped me in my ministry and in growing as a husband and father.

I met Bill almost by chance. In 2007, I accepted a volunteer position as a youth pastor at Gages Lake Bible Church, a small church in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. The church was in a transition. It’s last -full-time pastor had retired a few years earlier and the last interim pastor left to go to the mission field. Bill was a retired pastor who was close friends with one of the key families at GLBC. This was a season of interim pastorates for him and so he agreed to serve.

I really didn’t have to get to know Bill. My instructions were to simply see what I could do with a floundering youth group, to help give a small church a ministry for some of its young people. But I had the idea that it might not be a bad idea to meet the interim senior pastor and see where we could work together. So I got his email and we agreed to meet at one of his favorite fast-food places: Burger King.

I was also in a period of transition myself, rethinking my ministry philosophy and theological positions. I was looking for mentors, leaders who could show me a better style of leadership than I had experienced. What I didn’t know was that my lunch date with this man I didn’t know would be used by God to dramatically shape my life and ministry.

I saw something in Bill that was refreshing. He was a pastor really took the idea of pastoring seriously, but didn’t take himself too seriously. He was gentle, kind, and wanting to teach young guys like me about ministry. I had always questioned my leadership abilities only because I was never the kind of frenetic, Type-A type guy I thought I had to be. Meeting Bill, whose personality was much like mine, gave me the confidence to know God could use me with the gifts He gave me.

Bill and I quickly became good friends. What’s more, he looked at me and told me that I could be a good pastor. He encouraged the church at Gages Lake to pursue me for the senior pastorate, even though I was young and unproven. He also coached me on pastoral ministry, sharing me things that I’d never heard or seen.

Early in my pastorate, there were several confrontations that he helped me to navigate. Actually, he saved me from myself more times than not. I can’t remember how many times he would say, over the phone, “You can’t say things that way.” or “Here’s how you need to handle this.” or “Here’s what I would say.” Any time I encountered something difficult in the ministry, I would call him up and ask him what to do. Any time I had a critical decision to make, Bill was my first counsel.

Bill navigated me through many crises, both in my family, professionally, and in other areas. When my character and leadership were attached once, it was Bill who stood up beside me and with me, who assured me that this was part of leadership and that God would get me through it. I distinctly remember one afternoon when I was completely and totally discouraged. My wife was out of town with the kids and I had just been unfairly attacked. I remember eating dinner with Bill and his wife, Donna on their porch and being loved and cared for by them.

He was unafraid to share from his own failures and successes, sharing rich detail about so much of his life and ministry. I relished our regular, early morning breakfasts. He told me his story of finding Christ through the ministry of Billy Graham and his calling into ministry, first enrolling at Moody Bible Institute in the 1950’s and meeting his wife Donna there. He shared insights from his pastorates. In the last part of his ministry career, Bill become somewhat of a specialist for hurting churches. He would come in and serve as an interim, healing divisions, preaching the Word, and setting them up for their next season in life. He was a master at this. He could diffuse tensions and bring peace where few could. And he tried his best to teach me to lead like this as well.

Bill was also so proud of me. Every time I got published somewhere. Every book, every media interview, every accomplishment–he cheered me on.

In early August, we heard about Bill’s diagnosis of esophageal cancer. I was shocked and stunned, really. Bill was in his early eighties, but was as healthy as someone half his age. You didn’t even think he was eighty years old. I wasn’t sure how much longer Bill had, but I knew I had to see him. I’m so thankful that I had a chance to visit him last week, to hear him whisper to me, from his hospital bed, “I love you. I’m so proud of you.”

Bill was a man of grit and grace, a kind soul, who loved Jesus, love the Word of God and was especially gifted at mentoring and teaching.

I will always miss this man, Bill Swanger. I know Heaven is richer, though, because of his presence.

More about Bill: 

A profile in Decision Magazine (published by Billy Graham Association)

My article about him for Leadership Journal

 

 

 

Aug 23rd 2014

What We Can Learn from the #icebucketchallenge

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have undoubtedly had your Facebook timeline inundated with friends, family, and celebrities doing the #icebucketchallenge. Everyone from people you don’t know to Mitt Romney (in a suit!), former President George W. Bush, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell have dumped large buckets of water on their head to raise awareness and support to fight ALS. I recommend a short article by my ERLC colleagues Andrew Walker and Joe Carter to help you discern where to allocate funding for ALS research.

But I want to think through what helpful things we can learn about why this successful viral campaign worked.

1) It was easy to understand and easy to execute.  Very simple. Take a bucket of water and pour it over your head (or have someone pour it over your head), record it, post it, and tag someone else who has 24 hours to do the same thing. It’s easy to do, costs no money, and takes a few minutes to execute.

2) It humanized people. Think about it. Because of the cause behind the campaign, we saw famous people doing to themselves what we would not ordinarily see them do. There is a curiosity of seeing a politician in a suit drenched with water. #icebucketchallenge gave people an excuse to do a fun quirky thing and support a good cause.

3) It raised awareness in a non-traditional way. Regardless of what you think about this viral trend, you have to admit that more people know about ALS now than they did a few weeks ago. “What is ALS?” has been a conversation in offices, backyards, and church lobbies around the country. How many people opened up their smart phones and said to someone else, “Did you see ____ do the ice bucket challenge?” It proved you can advocate serious issues without taking yourself too seriously.

4) It leveraged new media well. This campaign leveraged new media tools everyone has: a smartphone with video and social media accounts. This type of campaign would have been difficult to execute ten years ago. But today, everyone knows how to capture video on their phones and everyone is online. Most of all, it was painfully easy to do, requiring little technical expertise (however, it did require some . . . bucket expertise. See this link for all the challenges gone wrong!)

5) It was original. So many social media campaigns that “try to go viral” don’t because they are copycats of other campaigns. No doubt there will be many who will try to ape the #icebucketchallenge and a) be less successful and b) annoy everyone with a lame copycat. Being first and being original and being creative always wins.

6) It asked for money without doing the standard “ask.” This campaign invited people to participate in the campaign and actually become fundraisers without even realizing it. Each time someone accepted the challenge and then nominated someone else, they were, in effect, asking them to support a cause financially. People are more willing to give of their time and resources when they feel empowered and invited rather than accepting a typical, top-down appeal for money.