Church Conference

I work with and talk with a ton of churches. The ones that struggle the most are the ones most isolated and living on an island, not paying attention to what’s going on around them. They have very few relationships with pastors and churches within or outside of their community.

Churches that are growing on the other hand always begin conversations by telling me who they know, who, they’re learning from, and what they are learning.

Learning churches are growing churches! Is your church a learning church? Learning churches are growing churches. That’s just the bottom line.

Characteristics of Learning Churches:

Learning Churches Don’t Try To Recreate The Wheel.

When a learning church experiences a tension or is trying to solve a problem, they don’t immediately set out to solve it or resolve it on their own.

Instead, they pause long enough to ask: “How have some other churches addressed this tension?” They assume that they are not the only church experiencing this tension and learn from churches who have addressed the same tensions successfully. In doing so, they skip over years of wandering in the wilderness.

Learning Churches Don’t Compare or Criticize.

Learning churches aren’t critical of every church that’s…

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I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I ask God for a word that will keep me focused on what he has for me that year. On the first day of 2017, he gave me my word:


I like that alignment is a noun. It’s tangible, yet not something you can reach out and touch. You can’t hold it in your hands, but you know it’s powerful — much like faith, which was my word in 2016.

Last year, I stretched out wide and long in my faith. I stepped out of my comfort zone and trusted God in big ways and watched him move. This week, I curled up warm and cozy, on my friend Faith’s couch with a big cup of coffee that lasted more than four hours. I love that she is like me. We don’t do surface chat; a cup of coffee feels more like a long (and much-needed) spiritual therapy session.

As we hunkered in, with the rain washing the outdoors fresh for the new year, our conversation washed our souls new. We settled on variations of one topic for most of the time: ambition.

Both of us are late in…

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“They’re here! I can’t believe it — but they’re really here!”

It was a beautiful, sunny Easter Sunday morning in Southern California, and Saddleback Valley Community Church officially launched. For 12 weeks, we and a small band of believers had met together in our home to dream, plan, and organize this launch day. We had hand-addressed and hand-stamped 15,000 letters to the community, introducing ourselves and our new church. We scoured yard sales and swap meets for used nursery equipment. We copied pages from coloring books for toddlers. We searched through lists of students from a local college to find childcare workers. I practiced the hymns (complete with updated lyrics to a few) on the piano to be certain my nervous fingers didn’t hit the wrong notes. We rented a portable sound system for the Laguna Hills High School Performing Arts Theater. Rick poured over the Bible for weeks, praying for God’s words to speak to the folks that might show up. We prayed. We fasted. We believed in faith. On April 6, 1980, we stood at the gates to Laguna Hills High School and waited nervously, hoping and praying that at least a…

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If you’re going to make a fresh start with faith in your life, you must face your fears. Fear has an incredible ability to paralyze our potential, to keep us from launching out, to keep us from having faith in our lives.

Giving into our fear makes us skeptical. We become afraid of trying anything new when we’re afraid.

Remember the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10 in the Bible? He faced a fear that most of us face: the fear of rejection and disapproval.

He was blind and in need of healing. Jesus was walking by, but Bartimaeus knew that to shout out at Jesus in that crowd wasn’t the culturally acceptable thing to do. He knew that people would look down on him for it, but he was desperate.

And he knew that Jesus Christ was the only one that could help him.

Bartimaeus shouted. And sure enough, people in the crowd criticized him for it. When he shouted out to Jesus, the Bible says in Mark 10:48, “Many scolded him to get him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’” (NET).

When he shouted out, everyone around said things to him like, Don’t do…

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Hello, my name is Harmony and I am a grateful believer in Jesus Christ that struggles with codependency and I am no longer in a relationship with a sexually addicted man.

I grew up in a violent home in a violent neighborhood. My mother struggled with addiction to cocaine, and my father left before I was a year old. One of my earliest memories is of him watching porn in the bed next to me during one of my weekend visits. I couldn’t have been older than 3 or 4.

After that, I was sexually abused by multiple people throughout my life, both men and women. One of my abusers was my mother’s boyfriend. I finally stood up for myself and ran away from home to get away from him. My mother eventually kicked him out and convinced me to come home. Soon after, when I was 13, my mother left me alone with my 8-year-old brother for three months. We had to fend for ourselves while she chased after her boyfriend. She left us with $20 and a book of food stamps.

I started stealing from the liquor store to feed us. I…

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Comfort Zone

By Cheryl Baker

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4 NIV).

I was sitting in church with my family and friends when I heard the announcement: Saddleback Church was going to host a conference about sex trafficking. I felt this overwhelming thought: “Was I supposed to go to that conference?” Immediately, my practical side kicked in. “No, I wouldn’t belong there.” I felt as though I didn’t have any solutions to contribute to this worldwide epidemic. In fact, I was a little scared to learn too much about an issue I could do nothing to help solve.

I’ve been a part of Celebrate Recovery for 25 years. In that time, we’ve seen men and women turn their lives over to Jesus Christ and find freedom from anger, codependency, drug addiction, food addiction, and sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and we’ve seen adult children experience recovery in their relationships with addicts. God uses…

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I have been a pastor’s wife for 20 years. I was 19 years young when I married my husband, right after he had accepted his first pastorate.

Looking back now, I realize I knew nothing then.

I knew how to stand at the back of the church dutifully by my husband’s side and shake hands with sweet people who really didn’t know me. I did this for many, many years.

Throughout those early years in ministry, I tried really hard to be a supportive, strong, encouraging leader in our churches. I really wanted people to like me. So in order to get people to like me, I needed to dress the part, serve in every area effortlessly, and make sure they didn’t know any of my deep struggles or, God forbid, any of my sins.

It was exhausting and lonely, and I was stuck.

While recently sharing part of my story with some friends in a Bible study, I found myself marveling at the changes God has made in me.

God has been so faithful to draw me out, change my heart, and, in the process, prove his faithfulness in so many lives. When we moved from Arkansas to Southern California…

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This year my husband, John, and I are celebrating 20 years in full-time ministry. Twenty years! (Cue the confetti and horn blowers!) During those years we have had the joy of serving on staff at churches in New England and in Southern California. While the places look nothing like each other from the outside, I have found that the experiences are similar in many ways. Building bridges and a culture of love is always in style. There is joy in collaborating with a team, and there is tension when leading through change. Watching people walk through the doors of your church for the first time never gets old, and it is thrilling to step out of your comfort zone and into a new part of the world with the Gospel.

In New Hampshire, I learned about The PEACE Plan for the first time. Our church took teams to Rwanda regularly. We saw ordinary people with ordinary giftings become a part of something so much bigger than themselves or their region. My husband and I went on PEACE trips to Rwanda with our church on the East Coast and then…

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I grew up with parents who were evangelists. What that meant, in the 1960s and ’70s, is that my dad, along with three brothers, traveled as a quartet and held revivals all over the country.

Here’s a clip of them appearing on the old TV show “I’ve Got a Secret”:

My mom and aunts often went with their husbands and sang with them.

My parents are the second couple from the right in this photo:


My husband, Tim, grew up with a father who was a preacher, and both of his parents were singers as well. Our kids were blessed to have so many potential musical genes! Tim’s sweet father was quite a hard worker in ministry, to the point of being a workaholic (as my dad and other men of that generation were, too). Pressure was put on ministers in those days to work all the time and be on call around the clock.

Sadly, some ministry kids grow up resenting the church, and I’d love to help you avoid that situation. I’ve heard my parents say many times how awful it’d be if they won to Christ thousands of people but not their own children,…

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Coffee Meeting

Somehow we’ve gotten a little confused about the essence of leadership. If you think it’s all about getting bigger, going higher, and commanding more respect and attention from others, you’ve missed the point.

Leadership is all about giving everything we’ve got to others. If we have knowledge, wisdom, and insight, we lead by giving it away. We grow by investing in others.

There is an entire generation of up-and-coming leaders who need elders. They need fathers, models, mentors, and friends. And leadership is, among many other things, the willingness to lead the next generation of leaders.

Becoming obsolete is easy. All you have to do is stay on the path of least resistance, pay the least cost, and think only about yourself and your own success.

To avoid becoming obsolete, try one of these tips for leading the next generation…

Grab Coffee

Can you lead from a distance? Sure. But if all you do is lead from a distance, you are severely limiting your opportunity to lead to your fullest potential.

And that’s why coffee is so important (and espresso is even better!). Keith Ferrazzi’s book Never Eat Alone makes a pretty excellent…

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I’ve said many times that I want everyone on my staff to make at least one mistake a week.

Through Saddleback, I’ve learned that if you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not trying anything new. If you’re not trying anything new, then you’re not learning, and if you’re not learning, then you’re already out of date.

I want my staff members taking risks and making mistakes. That means they’re being innovative, and it means they’re not afraid to try.

Now, I don’t want them making the same mistake every week — that means they’re not learning. But I tell them, “Make a new mistake each week.” I also tell them, “Show the innovation and creativity to do something that you’ve never done before.”

Nothing great is ever done without talking risks, and I want a staff full of leaders. Leaders take risks. There’s another word for risk-taking: faith. Faith is a critical element in the success of your ministry. Will you believe God for big things?

One day I asked my staff to flip to Mark 10:27 in their Bibles. It’s the verse that says, “All things are possible with God” (NIV). I asked my staff to circle…

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Exponential Groups Allen WhiteExponential Groups is less of a strategy or model and more of a focus and an attitude. Your focus determines your result. Exponential results require exponential thinking. What are you thinking about?

1. Are You Focused on Group Members?

If your focus is connecting people into groups, you are not thinking exponentially. Your groups are growing by addition. Think about it. You handpick the leaders and train them. You collect signup cards or have a website to connect people into groups. It’s not a bad way to go, except that you work hard to start a few groups at a time or to plug people into groups only to realize the leader doesn’t call the prospective members, the new members don’t show, or they do show but don’t stick with the group.

Now, you can arrange the connections by geography, affinity, age, hobby, and so on, but let’s face it: Growth by addition is a lot of work with very few results. Just the administrative task of processing all of those signup cards is nightmare enough. Then you face the heartbreaking…

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