What Google Images Teaches Me about My Faith

Maybe it is me, but I find myself troubled by the things that Google Image shows me about the faith that I claim. This is significant in my opinion because google will push those things that are referenced or used the most to the top because they have been deemed as having the most worth & credibility for that particular search. I would put the bible in this thought captured in image, but it is boringly predictable. So..


I probably have the most issue with worship.. Seriously, these black silouette hands raised is the predominate image for worship?.. really?..


Doctrine doesn’t get a good rap with the image folks. It also gets mixed up with politics and other cultural items.. Is that telling us something?


I’m glad to know that God is pretty much the same yesterday, today and forever. Except for that muscle character HE is some nice shining lights with a white beard.


I must say, I liked the motivation theology poster a whole lot. contemplated making that my laptop wallpaper. It is intriguing the images constructed to try to explain theology. Throwing out the 10 commandments makes for a limited theology in ways, might not be a bad thing though.


This one kinda freaked me out…


I like the safe pastor look better.. Except for maybe that guy in the top right.. Or the movie Troy, not a very good movie.


I suppose another arms up in the air type image is suitable. I did find that infant baptism rising to the top in so majority of images to be interesting. But maybe those are just baby dedications..


I suppose with two or three Sermon on the Mount images we can call this legit. At least there isn’t a benny hinn pic.


Boy am I glad my mommy taught me to fold my hands together and hid in dark lit rooms because apparently that is the way to go about praying to God.


The gothic nature of all these images has me shaking my head.. Maybe justice is just for goth people.


I like how there are no people in the churches. That’s nice.. Wait a second….


I could have chosen Eucharist, but those results were too catholic. Reminds me of the Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. “You must choose wisely.” Looking at these, we seem to want to choose poorly.

Last but not least


I like my white soft skinned Jesus. Especially the contemplative sensitive type. But when I go out on Friday night I want Buddy Christ!

NOTE: If you are curious, I didn’t do any scrolling for these. This is the first set of results in each case.

So what does this tell you about your faith?


3 Ways for Churches to Improve their Brand

The other week I heard a speaker say that the church needs to be a “go-to people” place versus a “come-to us” place. It has me thinking of  1) our overall ethos as an American church & 2) what can we do about it?

Our overall ethos as a church in America is probably different depending on the people who are in the church versus the people outside the church, so for purposes of this conversation we’ll let you answer that question for yourself. I’m thinking of answering question #2.

To change the “brand” of a church, which I wrap around as the market place identity of an institution or person, and that identity if what others communicate to each other what/who you are. So let’s take ahold of three principles to help drive our churches to change their brands. Note: this is more of a get out and do list, not a bible proof texting list, but if you want that there is plenty of scripture that doesn’t referencing ‘stay in your temple’ (God actually destroyed one because he didn’t like the idea of being contained to a place) or ‘just tend to your own people.’

1) Sharing of Resources: This may seem strange, but sharing and giving of resources is the new goodwill and positive energy generator. People love to lift you up when they feel you are freely giving. Ideas on making this happen: freely giving use of your building to weddings, community events, after school programs, meetings, etc. that do not fall within the ‘ministries’ of the church. People know when you have open, versus locked, doors. Share resources you have from your teaching education set ups, projectors/screens, chairs, etc. Maybe all you have people, that works even better, have your people on an email list that are willing to commit to showing up and helping set up/clean up or just be present to community events. One might say, well how to do recoup an item if it was broken or not returned?.. My retort is, how has a generation of scarcity model treated our church identity?..

2) Participate in Everything: Community events, fundraisers, golf tournaments, high school musicals, whatever it is have your people there and let them be the folks that represent you going out. Make it part of your membership training “We keep a community calendar and we expect you to participate in things that beyond your personal interests. That is a sacrifice and that is serving.” I have gotten used to saying yes to every yearbook and high school sports program that came across my desk. It was/is important to participate and show support to the things that were important to the people of the community I was called to. Being you are reading this digitally, that goes for all the digital mediums. Participate in the community Facebook accounts (not one? create it). Be active in those areas.

3) Recommend Others is Your PR: Be about others and what their interests are. Share what others are doing. This gives them a reason to think of you as someone who cares (which isn’t always an identity churches have, they should, but don’t). Think of this rule of saying/sharing 12 things about someone else before you promote or talk about your own church. That could be digital or in public forum. It is also the new way of networking. In the past the value was to be the hub of a network where everyone had to come through you to get to valuable information. No more, a valuable networker shares their networks freely, connecting folks who compliment other, resources, information, etc.

So there are the talking points and they really do not sound like much, but trust me, they are culture changing and will take intentionality to mobilize if your folks have grown up tending to within the walls of the building.

What to do with Giving?

I was intrigued by this news across the newswire.

A struggling Baltimore parish received a surprising donation two Sundays ago, when a Maryland Lottery Cash Craze Crossword scratch-off arrived in the collection plate. The ticket, which was already scratched revealing the win, was discovered by the church’s pastor when tallying the day’s contributions. “I’m not too familiar with these tickets,” said the pastor. “I asked somebody if it was a winner.” The response was “It looks like it’s a winner to me.” With this affirmation, the 55-year-old church leader brought the ticket to Lottery Headquarters, where the largesse of an anonymous individual was confirmed.

“I have no idea who did this,” the pastor declared. “I really have no clue.” The church, which has been experiencing financial difficulties, will use the money toward operating expenses, but the pastor also wishes to give some back to the people. “We have a lot of people in need,” he said. “Hopefully, we can give some back, especially since this is the way we received it.”

Although this unexpected windfall is much-appreciated, the church still faces financial challenges. With that in mind, the smiling pastor said that he intends to buy $5 worth of Mega Millions tickets for Friday night’s drawing which has a jackpot of $312 million.

I know my United Methodist tradition has issues with lotteries. I remember when I was in Alabama, back in the 90’s, our church went against the lottery legislation then as well. That one never passed surprisingly.

The axe to grind against the lottery is one that says that they prey on those who are in poverty situations. Statistics can be bent around to prove this true or not true. In my anecdotal experiences it seems true to me that it is the case more than not. Maybe some folks playing the lottery may not be in abject poverty, but you generally do not see those who have solid financial positions playing games of chance where the odds of winning are astronomical.

With that in mind, is there an issue with taking lottery money if it is against the mission of the church? Obviously this pastor does not have a problem with it and will have his go at the scratch game sometime in the future at least once. Would it have been more of a story if the church refused $30k because of the method of it being attained from the people?

Is there another story here that has to do with someone capturing the imagination of the news giving away $30k to a church in the form of a lottery ticket?

Or is it that someone has bad luck and didn’t realize that they had a winner? I know I wouldn’t know, those things are just confusing to me.



branding your YOUth ministry

I wrote up this posting for YouthWorker Movement & encapsulates some of my ‘short session’ from Perkins School of Youth Ministry last month.

Last month I did a session at Perkins School of Youth Ministry on “branding” ones youth ministry (the image above is my whiteboard, minus that “revitalize church” not sure what that’s from).

Brand, is a very ambiguous term. In many ways its best to understand what some brands are. Mac/Apple, has the bitten apple logo. McDonald’s has the big yellow ‘M.’ Nike has it swoosh. Beyond just a logo though, Coca-Cola has a very distinct and branded glass bottle, so much so that it was designed to be recognized even when broken (true story). ‘Your’ brand is more than just a logo. So how does one identify and move forward developing a brand in the church environment?

Well, this is how I see it happening.

Acts 2: “..because each one heard their own language being spoken..”

I have this idea of Pentecost being about the enabling of effective communicating to the masses through the power of the Holy Spirit. Read the story, that scene was a mess before the Holy Spirit came to inspire & enable the leaders. Today it is a present reality that we speak and understand in brands, that combination of who we are along with our sensory identifiers. My opinion is that we need the Holy Spirit in finding out who we are and what we are about to us and others to be able to accurately and adequately communicate to others about our ministries.

Matthew 16: “When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

I love this scripture, in part because I feel this is all about identity and many of us, our teens especially, struggle with identity. Christ outlines those cores questions we need to answer for ourselves & our ministries. Ourselves? Yes, as I’ve highlighted in Christ’s responses, he renames Simon to Peter, which translated is “rock” and so “on this ‘rock’ I will build my church” telling me that we are integral to the identity and ‘brand’ of our ministries. Are our ministries all about us, heck no! but they are very much a part of us and many times take over traits and gifts unique to us. That isn’t a bad thing. God gifts us & enables us for ministry. We bring that to whatever ministry we enter and lead.

So, how do we go about answering the questions?

I have a process of discernment that I feel has value to help us open to the Holy Spirit and find the answers. Only after this can we move forward in doing the ‘things’ of branding our ministries.


Prayer – Emptying Prayer, get rid of all the junk in you head about what could be, what the Baptists are doing, or what the big mega church in your area is doing. Certainly get rid of those advertising ideas from some national chain that you think are cool. (Do this first as individual, then as a group)

Prayer – Return to prayer after you are rid of all that junk and ask God to give you clarity as to “who you are?” and “what do others say you are?”  (Do this first as individual, then as a group)

Reading – Because God doesn’t give answers immediately (that’s my experience, maybe it isn’t yours). Spend time in reading, read scripture (Searching the Scriptures), art books, local newspapers and magazines, read poetry and creative writing, etc.  Stay away from church growth books are my suggestion, they don’t translate often and confuse, plus you need to go back to that emptying prayer exercise.

Conversations – Begin conversations with a myriad of people. Those involved in your ministry and those outside your ministry. Ask those people the two questions, be okay with whatever responses you get.

Visualize – At some point around here you will see some themes emerging. Start to jot them down and then organize the themes of your ministries identity. What do you want to change? What do you want to emphasize? What do you want to be about? Vizual how you might want to get there.

This becomes then a planning process where you want to go back to many of those people you had conversations with. As you present you leadings from the Spirit you will find that others will understand as well and jump in to help making this new branding a reality.

At this point you might have some specific planning options to help along the way.

  • What is your name? I can’t example that one for you
  • What is our visual identifier, ie. logo? How to create it?
  • What is our language?
  • What do we do? Mission, Discipleship, Worship?.. I’m a fan of identifying three key words, forget mission statements, they are useless and communicate nothing to teenagers. imho
  • What do we do best? Discipleship?..
  • How are we going to do this? Detailed plan for reshaping or building your culture
  • What do we want others to know us by? How to share that; email, outreach projects, community events, etc?
  • How to keep doing that? I call it the, rinse and repeat

In our workshop session on of the participants brought up how Gatorade was re-branding itself. Which brought up for me an important example of jumping this process and mis-branding your ministry. Note: I have this information on good knowledge because my brother-in-law is a national sales member to the Gatorade team. A few years back Gatorade heard that Tiger Woods was entertaining a new brand of Powerade line with his name on it. Someone in Gatorade felt, and enough others agreed, that they couldn’t allow this to happen so they rushed to jump over Powerade and sign Tiger to a huge endorsement and created a whole line of favorite Tiger flavors of Gatorade. Well, the whole line was a super flop (financially speaking) and when Tiger got into trouble it was a fortunate circumstance to break from that failed venture. Gatorade got away from “who they are” and more into who they wanted to beat. It failed for them & will fail for any of us who go that route in ministry as well.

Do you have any questions about branding a ministry?

Naming it.. We’re stuck in between Pastor Roles

The other month I was a church communications conference and had the privilege to meet Dr. Craig van Gelder. Now, Craig (cause we are close buds now) wasn’t on my radar per se, but we were both speaker peeps at this thing and he sat in on my session & I on his and we got to chatting in between times. I really enjoyed the guy.

Anyways, his main keynote went through a history of roles for the pastors of churches. It was rather fascinating to see how he broke it down. How I’ll break it down for you is this, in the earliest histories of the church the pastor was a “resident theologian” (the guy who did all the study and translation for the individual church) or maybe the “civic leader” (you see this in movies how the pastor is always one of the town leaders, or main leader). Fast forward and you get into the 20th century and the pastor role has shifted to the “pastoral counselor” (we want mainly pastoral care as well as a good sermon). But today’s church has moved into more of this “entrepreneurial pastor” role (we want a pastor who can build, and build big.. as well as give a good sermon).

All this swirled in my head as I started reading this posting by Mark Meyer on what the church can learn from business. Mark has some fine points for record, I wouldn’t argue out that they are thoughtless or anything like that. I will say, they do reflect this new culture of pastoral leadership, this ‘entrepreneurial pastor’ type.

The problem here is that many of our pastors and those who have grown up to be a pastor came into the calling with a ‘pastoral counselor’ identity. They want to give guidance and assistance to people, they were not necessarily called to build big temples and have huge audiences (though some believe they were, that’s fine). The trip here is that our congregations are stuck in some limbo that they can not name. And it is that tension that exists because people don’t know how to examine and name that cultural set up we have.

Truth be told, business is taking over way more church practices than church needs to take from business (the base of Stick Sheep, go read it!). Churches are already well versed in business world practices, they’ve been around for a few centuries or more.. not sure many businesses that can claim that. Mark’s issue & many others is just that the church doesn’t want to become entrepreneurial again..

So I’m naming it, in my own UMC we’re stuck in this in between of a culture of pastors taught to be pastoral counselor when yet, our culture is telling our congregations that we want a pastor who will come in an be an entrepreneur. It’s a real pickle to be in and has been the torture of some really great pastors.. that unfortunately were not called to an entrepreneur.

Have an outflow to sustain Life : Lesson from a Dead Sea

This post originally written for Sticky Sheep

The Dead Sea is one of those iconic sites to check out with a visit to the Holy Land. It isn’t dead in the aspect that it does have some benefits (translation = products) that it is able to provide for its surrounding community. However, in all aspects it is a void of life and production of vitality for the range it covers. What makes this sea, so dead?..

It goes no where.

You may know that the famed Jordan River flows into the Dead Sea & there are some small waters that filter into the sea. But remarkably there isn’t an outflow of water.

Whether you are a business or a church, non-profit or fortune 500. There needs to be outflow from your entity. I am not just talking about an outflow of product, but all the energies and collection of talent in a company need to be pouring out into the community. So I ask, what are you doing that flows out into the community? What nutrients, positive energy, inner life, etc does your company/church give to build the greater good? Or, do you just hold everything within the walls for just the company/church?

As I mentioned, this isn’t an outflow of product, but allowing the passions & personalities of the company/church to move outward, beyond the current boundaries, to do and be a part of things that are not for a bottom line. Flowing outward to be a service to the surrounding community. It is in this spirit though that your company/church can ensure its future life. It is in this spirit that people will stick to who you are & what you are about. It is in this spirit that your innards will be revitalized by a movement that goes somewhere.

It is Not just the Gay Kids

This Post Originally Written for YouthWorker Movement

bullied kidMuch has been made out in the news of late with the suicide deaths of gay teenagers and young adults due to ongoing bullying. I am, in part, am upset by all the media coverage because it is not just the gay teens who are committing suicide due to bullying, we have have straight teens & young adults who are bullied to the point of suicide as well. So let us take a little time amongst this conversation to highlight many of our “least of these” who are persecuted incessantly.

I carry this paraphrased quote with me from Tony Campolo, “democracy isn’t where the majority rules, but where the minority is safe.” This quote might be based around a politics of the country, but walk with me here & you’ll see, it extends deeper.

Bullying can be defined as a habitual badgering and intimidation of smaller or weaker people. And to me that hits on not just a cultural thing, but a spiritual & relational ministry issue. Jesus Christ, as I understand him was not about the high & mighty folks, in fact was (dare I say bullied) crucified by a stronger (earthly) entity. Jesus was about showing compassion and standing up for the “least of” the people in society. Check out that incident with the adulterous woman. So as a Christian man, a follower of the Way of Christ, I cannot help but feel compelled to stand up & be on the look out for the least of these in my community.

What takes us in the wrong direction?

Coming back to the majority/minority quotation. To me that has a profound effect on how we live our lives together in the USA. We have a polarized political climate, wrought with winners/losers and examples of putting people down. It is not hard to imagine that we actually promote a culture where bullying is accepted among our adult communities. We utilize/victims of mob behaviors to excite fear to scare individuals into brutish behaviors. What do our children see, hear, and learn from us? Is it a Christ like strength that stands before the mob on behalf of the beaten down & bullied?

Kasserian Ingera?

The Masai, and African tribe, is noted sociologically for unusual greeting (considering they were a fairly fearsome fighting tribe) of “Kasserian Ingera” or translate “How are the Children?” This question permeated the land and became a marker for the health of that tribe. If the children were living in a peaceful, safe, and provided for environment then they were considered to be a thriving tribe.

How are our children? In regards to bullying in suicides, they are two linked epidemics (along with depression a third player in the epidemic) which threaten the mental health & lives of so many of our teenagers & young people. Suicide can account for around 4,500 deaths a year in teenagers, some 100 attempts for each “success” and 1 in 6 of those suicides are related to bullying directly. So how are our children?

My hope..

My hope is writing this is not to denigrate peoples efforts to raise awareness about the bullying of gay teenagers & young people. In fact, I hope you see a spiritual reasoning to educate and strengthen yourself & your youth community into standing up for those in minority positions, whether that be sexuality, gender, idealism, religion, social standing, race, etc. (the scenarios of a person/s in a position of power over a weaker person/s is vast). I’m concerned that in speaking so vocally about gay teens & young adults we gloss over those others who are bullied.

One group that I’ve worked with the past in educating our teenagers about suicide and the breakdown of their piers that led to suicide as ‘the option’ is the Jason Foundation. Here is a list of resources to educate yourself on & tips as a youth worker. Check out the US Health Service & Resources initiative of “Stop Bullying Now” to help educate on bullying. Facebook is also chipping in to help stop cyber-bullying.

What are your thoughts, suggestions, resources for helping bullied kids

@stickysheep : new venture from the brilliant mind of @johnwellis & myself

Stickysheep.com by John W Ellis & Gavin Richardson john ellis and i started hanging out about two years ago and chatting on all things business, church, marketing, web, technology, family and more. eventually some of our thoughts and conversations about the business church marketing technology stuff had us thinking, "we need to write this stuff down. there might be two or three people who want to hear this." so we started writing a book (scary i know). as we are developing the book we have gone and launched "sticky sheep" our concepts home portal. so if you are interested in some of the new ventures of me and/or want to get a glimpse of this collision of business and church then subscribe. i plan on doing a weekly wrap up, such as this, of what have been my musings over there as well.

this week in sticky sheep

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