Hello, Eastside

Eastside LogoIn October I said goodbye to the friends and the church that had become family in DC and headed west to be closer to my mom, my in-laws, and sunshine. After serving on staff at National Community Church for over six years I decided to take some time to write about the things I had learned during my time in DC.

By the time I got to California, Rachel, my wife, had already been there for three months. She began searching for a church to attend before I arrived and had landed at a place called Eastside Christian Church. She received a mailer from the church, and, seeing that it was less than five minutes away from our apartment, decided to check it out.

Having tried a handful of churches that weren’t quite the right fit, she was struck by how Eastside had a rare combination of friendliness and excellence.

The second weekend that I visited Eastside, there was a dinner following the Saturday night service. They wanted to feed everyone barbecue and cast vision for the church, much of which revolved around the plan to start more Eastside locations.

While we were waiting in line for food, Rachel heard a familiar voice behind us. Andie had hosted Rachel’s table at First Step with Gene, an event Eastside does for guests. They hadn’t kept in touch since then, but Andie was pretty much the only person at church who Rachel knew.

We started talking, and Andie asked what I did for a living. At this point I was not advertising the fact that I had been a pastor. In fact, I was hiding it. I was looking to be a normal church member while I pursued writing. So I just told her that I was an author. And naturally, she asked what type of writing I did.

I decided it’s probably not good to lie about what you do for a living, especially when what you do is write about how to bring people together in community to help them become more like Jesus, so I told her that I used to be a small groups pastor at our church in DC and that I wrote about small groups.

Her response?

“Oh, we’re looking for some help with our small groups.”

It turns out Andie is one of the elders at Eastside. Exactly what I was trying to avoid.

I kinda stumbled through a reply that went something like, “Uh, um, I really am just pursuing writing right now."

A couple of months go by, and Rachel and I are joining Andie and her husband Keith for lunch after church. When we walk up she introduces us to Greg and Dave who are both on staff on the Build Community team at Eastside, which is the team responsible for groups, among other things.

Later that week I have lunch with Greg and Dave where I learn that they’re moving to a small group model called “free market” and want to hire someone to run groups, although they haven't yet advertised the position or begun a candidate search.

Let’s recap.

My wife gets a mailer for a church five minutes away from our apartment and starts attending. The second weekend I’m there they have a dinner. Of the 5000 people who attend Eastside, the one person my wife knows ends up in line behind us. She just happens to be an elder who introduces us to two members of the team responsible for small groups who tell me that they’re looking to hire someone to run groups. It also just so happens that the church model (multi-site) and the small group model (free market) are the same church model and group model we used at NCC.

I’m not someone who sees the hand of God in every coincidence or random encounter, but I find it hard to chalk up that series of events to chance.

After a number of further conversations and interviews, it truly seems that this is something God has been orchestrating, and so I start my new role as the Director of Build Community at Eastside Christian Church this Saturday.

There are a lot of words to describe how I’m feeling: humbled, honored, a bit nervous. But I think most of all I’m excited to be joining a team that has both a passion and a plan to transform homes, communities, and the world for Jesus.


Five Things I Learned While Touring Frederick Douglass’ House

Frederick Douglass, ca. 1879.  George K. Warren. (National Archives Gift Collection) Exact Date Shot Unknown NARA FILE #:  200-FL-22 WAR & CONFLICT BOOK #:113
Frederick Douglass' Study

I'll be honest, before touring Fredrick Douglass' house as part of my #dcfarewelltour, I didn't know a lot about the man.  He was quite an incredible and successful individual who accomplished more than most of us would in two lifetimes.

Here are five interesting facts that I learned:

  1. Frederick Douglass had no formal education and not only taught himself to read and write, he later learned French and German.
  2. As an escaped slave Frederick Douglass was chased by US Marshalls.  He later became the first black US Marshall.
  3. Anacostia, the iconic African-American community in Washington DC where Frederick Douglass lived, was founded as Uniontown.  The developer of Uniontown explicitly excluded blacks and Irish immigrants from living there in the property deeds.
  4. Frederick Douglass served as ambassador to Haiti.
  5. Douglass not only fought to end slavery, he worked alongside Susan B. Anthony in the struggle for women's suffrage.

A Farewell Tour

2015 is the year of no regrets.

For a couple of years Rachel and I have been thinking and praying about moving to California to be closer to family and because... well... it's California.  In January we realized that if we didn't want to wake up in ten years saying, "I wish we would have..." we needed to just do it, so Rachel started work in Orange County a few weeks ago, and I'm joining her in October.

Will Truman Bowling Alley
Will Fourth Of July White House

I've done and experienced a lot of what DC has to offer in the decade that I've lived here.  I've had the privilege of rolling a few frames in the Truman Bowling Alley, had the Speaker of the House show up at my office Christmas party, and celebrated the Fourth of July on the South Lawn of the White House.

But there are still adventures left to be had before I go, and keeping with this years theme, I don't want to leave DC saying, "I wish I would have..."  So here's what I still have left to do over the next seven weeks.  Let me know if you'd like to join me for any of it!

  • Frederick Douglass House - 8/24
  • National Building Museum/The Beach - 8/26
  • Marine Barracks 8th & I Evening Parade - 8/28
  • Supreme Court Tour - 8/31
  • Phillips Collection - 9/5 (Tentative)
  • Lunch in the Senators' Dining Room - 9/7
  • Vietnam Memorial - 9/12
  • Congressional Cemetery - These next four will probably just be Rachel and I while she's in town.
  • Lincoln Memorial
  • Lincoln's Cottage
  • Roosevelt Island
  • lunch in the House Members' Dining Room - 9/21
  • Newseum - 9/26 (Tentative)
  • National Archives - 9/28
  • Supreme Court Oral Arguments - 10/5

Teacher or Learner?

I had a phone meeting on Tuesday with Tim Ferrell, a small groups pastor at a local church and staff member with the Navigators discipleship ministry.  He wanted some insight into how we do small groups at National Community Church.

I take calls like this all of the time.  Our pastor, Mark Batterson, is a well-known author and speaker, and by extension, we are a well-known church, the result of which is, people want to know how we do ministry.  The fact that people are interested in our small groups has little to do with my skills or abilities.  I'm really just in demand by association.

On most of these calls, I do a lot of talking, and the folks on the other end of the phone do a lot of listening, which makes sense, since they reached out because they wanted to learn more about how and why we do what we do.  In fact, I talk about our methods and models so much, I can almost do it in my sleep.

A few weeks ago I was interviewing a young woman who applied for a position with us.  She's finishing up a fellowship program with another church (her first post-college job) and looking for what's next.  During her interview she talked about something she's doing in her current role that we thought was a great idea and intend to replicate.

And this morning I was reading A Trip Around the Sun, in which Dick Foth writes:

Engage people and life ramps up. I can learn from anyone: a ninety-three-year-old or a three-year-old, a street sweeper or a scientist.  When I make a friend, I get smarter, when I make a friend, I get richer.

I consider myself someone who's willing to learn from anyone.  Some of our best ideas, such as our Small Group Expo, have come from volunteers and staff who report to me.  And I'd like to think that I'm quick to give credit where credit is due for those successes.

But Dick, Tim, and this young woman are teaching me a valuable lesson.

Tim is in his 50s or 60s and has been in vocational ministry longer than I've been alive.  The fact is that he knows way more about small groups than I do.  That he is not just willing to learn from someone half his age but actually sought out my advice speaks volumes about both his humility and his desire to learn.

While I've been willing to learn from anyone, I usually spend more time teaching and less time learning.  I'm starting to realize that I need to move beyond willingness and begin actively seeking to learn from every person, every interaction, and every conversation.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Gentleness

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

Christine Caine made an assertion when introducing an individual Scripture passage: “The story starts where every story starts, before the story starts, and the story ends where every story ends, after the story ends.” Insomuch as we are involved in the stories of others, I think that loving them with a spirit of gentleness requires a similar acknowledgement.

I’ve struggled with putting my finger on how to conceptualize gentleness – seeking God for a strong, tangible illustration to share. But I was missing the lesson He was trying to teach me. Gentleness is found in the day to day and the moments that barely hit our radars.

I guess this means that I get to practice gentleness with my professional peer who doesn’t pull her weight and with the boy who was unknowingly hurtful in our last interaction. It means that He’s challenging me to practice gentleness in a way that recognizes that I’m involved in only a small part of each of their stories. Funny – I was kind of hoping for something that seemed more earth shattering since honestly I think that might be easier.

But the fact that opportunities to practice gentleness are so pervasive leads me to realize that in cultivating gentleness, I really can impact many others wherever they are in their stories.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Thoughts on Faithfulness

The depth of your impact is determined by the duration of your investment.

I get bored with stuff after about 18 months. Jobs, hobbies, whatever. After 18 months, I’ve kinda figured it out, looked it over, and I’m ready for what’s next.

About a year-and-a-half after coming on board at NCC I got a call about a job opportunity from a friend of mine. It was a similar role to the one I was in, but it was at a much larger church, and there was a good chance I could get a promotion within six months.

It was an agonizingly difficult decision. Bigger organization, more responsibility, and I’m guessing I would have made more money, but as Rachel and I prayed and fasted, we felt God calling us to stay right where we were.

That experience taught me a lesson I’ll never forget: the depth of your impact is determined by the duration of your investment. There is something about pressing through, about going deeper, going further, about being faithful, that leaves a mark.

Faithfulness breeds trust, and trust breeds strong relationships. This, of course, has qualitative impact on the people nearest us, but it also has a quantitative impact. When you’ve been around a job for a while, you’re able to get things done that you can’t when you’re new. You get a longer leash, more latitude; people buy in to your ideas more easily because you’ve already proven yourself. This in turn increases your level of productivity.

Faithfulness also allows us to move from aptitude to excellence. We rarely achieve excellence in the short term. Sure we may be a good friend, a good employee, a good musician, but only a long term investment in a person, a position, or a passion will allow us to be a great friend, a great employee, a great musician.

It’s really tough to practice faithfulness for a week. Faithfulness inherently takes a lot longer than seven days. So this week, let’s ask God if there are any areas where we know we are called to be faithful but haven’t been acting faithfully. Let’s ask Him if there are any places where we’re looking for a change but He is calling us to be faithful. And let’s ask Him for the strength to remain faithful.

Fruit of the Spirit Challenge: Reflections on Goodness

This is a guest post by Susannah Cafardi, NCC Barracks Row Saturday Small Group Director.

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
-Galatians 6:9-10

I tried to live this out this past Thanksgiving weekend. On the upside, I had plenty of opportunities to be a blessing to those around me. There were diapers to change, dishes to wash, babies to carry, and photos to take. My parents were thrilled, and my brother was thankful. I found that looking for opportunities to bless others really can be fun and can make great memories. But, I had moments where I really struggled with my attitude, and I came home exhausted. I realized that I had walked into the weekend with self-centered desires and I hadn’t carved out sufficient quiet time (well, at least not until the buildup of sniffly toddlers, sleeping on the floor, a few social curveballs, and seven people and two cats under one roof dropped me to my knees).

While I’m thankful for the opportunity I had to serve, I hope I learned a valuable lesson. Doing good without becoming weary can only be accomplished when I am releasing my desires for acknowledgement and attention and I am not forgoing time in the Word and in prayer just because I’ve become focused on performing good actions.

DC-Chicago EPIC Roadtrip

Leo Lestino and I spent today on an EPIC roadtrip from DC to Chicago for the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit.  Here are a few highlights... and if you do nothing else, scroll all the way to the bottom of the post and watch the last video.  It's well worth your two minutes :)

We began the EPIC 736 mile journey very, very early... 5:30 AM.

Of course, we soon had to make a very important pit stop:

We discovered a nuclear warhead...

...questioned authority...

...and made a short detour to visit the Oberlin College Underground Railroad Memorial. To be honest, it was a bit underwhelming... the memorial, not the Underground Railroad itself.

Leo stopped by the bookstore and got all "Asian Invasion"...

...so on on our way out of town, we did a quick international tour:

And for our final act before our arrival... We created an EPIC and BALLER video just for you. You don't want to miss this.

Excited for the Summit tomorrow, and now I've got to get some sleep!

Bad Week

It's been a bad week.

For the past few weeks I'd been trying to repair my '88 Honda Civic. Last week I finally gave it up, took it into a mechanic who told me the timing belt had snapped... and valves may have been bent. I was looking at $450-500 with a possibility of $1700-1800 to repair a car older than some of my coworkers.

This week I purchased a 2002 Nissan Altima that was supposedly in good shape and had less than 100k miles on it. I test drove it and had a couple of hesitations but got it for a decent price so I figured I'd go for it.

The day after I got it home I the check engine light came on and I took it to a mechanic. The verdict?

  • Leaks oil
  • Needs new exhaust
  • Needs new brakes
  • Needs two new tires
  • Needs floorboards replaced
  • Needs motor mounts replaced
  • Needs air conditioner recharge
  • Needs door hinge

And there's probably some other stuff I'm forgetting.  There's $3900 down the drain.

Let's just say I haven't had the joy of the Lord for the past few days.

But today I forgave the guy who sold me the car, who I'm pretty sure knew what the problems were when he sold it to me.

I was trying to think if there's anything I could do to get back at the guy, any way I could sue him in small claims court.  But today I forgave him.

And while I'm still hoping to get some of my money back, I'm also hoping I can somehow witness to him about Christ.

Hopefully the weekend will be better.

Catch You Later

Four years ago I joined Twitter.

Three-and-a-half years ago I started a blog.

Three years ago God taught me a big lesson in humility.

Sometime in the last 18 months I forgot it.

I began to focus on my own personal success. I wanted to be one of the cool pastors, speaking at conferences and writing books.  I've been using Twitter and this blog and twitter to grow my platform and increase my influence.  I've wanted to meet people simply because they were influential and could help me further my career.

At some point I became more focused on the number of people following me than the number of people following Christ

Five weeks ago God began convicting me of my pride.

Rachel and I were on vacation in Seattle, and we visited Mars Hill Church.  The sermon that week was based on Luke 22:24-30, wherein the disciples begin arguing about which of them is the greatest.

Mars Hill is preaching through the book of Luke over the course of two years, and I just happen to be on vacation in Seattle the weekend they preach on pride?  I guess you could chalk it up to coincidence.

The previous weekend we began a sermon series at NCC called "The Three Headed Dragon" in which the first sermon addressed—you guessed it—the sin of pride.

So two weekends in a row I hear two sermons on pride from two different pastors on opposite sides of the country?

God was trying to tell me something, something I really didn't want to hear.

In his sermon at Mars Hill Mark Driscoll posed seven questions that we can ask ourselves to help us determine if we're pursuing Godly greatness or worldly greatness.  I think the last one was the most convicting.

Would you rather achieve a status or make a difference?

Would you rather have a real impact or just get noticed, have the title, the promotion, the recognition?

I realized that I wasn't sure I could honestly answer that question the way it should be answered.

What a fun thing to think about on the first day of vacation, huh?

As our vacation continued I began to question if maybe I needed to give up blogging for a while, but thought "I can't do it now. The Catalyst conference is coming up, and I need to be able to make connections and get more blog readers and Twitter followers while I'm there."

And so I didn't do it, and I went into Catalyst more focused on making connections than listening for what God wants to do in my ministry.

But these thoughts, this idea of fasting from my blog, stuck with me, and God has a way of breaking through.

The first day at Catalyst I went to a session by Michael Hyatt on the heart of a leader, and God went to work on my heart.

Suddenly Catalyst became not primarily about making connections and not even primarily about my ministry.  It became about the condition of my own heart.  And as I listened to speaker after speaker God continued to show me not how I could use their messages to change my ministry but rather how I could use them to change my heart.

Tied in with all of this is an awareness that over the past few months I have become more judgmental, hypercritical, and less happy.  I've been getting angry far to easily and far too often.  It's hard to explain exactly how this is related to my pride and desire for self-promotion, but it is.

At the end of Catalyst they asked us to write down two things that we needed to take away from the conference.  I wrote:

  • Lead and pastor out of overflow of my relationship with Christ.
  • Seek to make God's name famous, not my own.

And so in an effort to combat my pride and soften my calloused heart, I have made the decision to take a step back from Twitter and blogging for a while, as they have been two of the biggest outlets for my pride.

Deciding to give them up started as a very difficult decision but after being made became a very obvious one.  Even though I haven't actually begun the fast, just making the decision is already changing my heart.  I've started having all of these ideas for new blog posts, but rather than my primary motivation to write them being to draw attention to myself, I genuinely want them to to help others learn and grow.

Alas, those posts will have to wait for another time, as I'll be off of Twitter and blogging for about a month.  At that point I plan to re-evaluate the condition of my heart and see if I need to continue the fast.

During these weeks I'll be putting a renewed emphasis on growing my relationship with Christ, and I'll probably write some stuff that you guys won't see for a little while.  I might even tackle a couple of projects that have been rolling around in my head.  I'd covet your prayers during this period.

If you typically talk with me on Twitter and want to get in touch with me, just drop a comment here, and I'll shoot you an e-mail.  I'll also still be on Facebook, so you can hit me up there.

While this is the story of my struggle with pride, I'd encourage you to use it as an opportunity to examine your own heart and motivations.  Ask yourself those seven questions I mentioned, and if my story sounds like your story, fight the battle with pride now.  The longer you wait the more damage it will do.