Hot air, bright colors & hype … is there more?

Loud, hot, colorful, bright, impressive – but just gas and flash.

By Scott Linscott

“What you win them with, you win them to.”

The flame heats up the air, the air fills the balloon, the balloon lifts the basket of passengers into the sky.

I’m attending a conference online. It’s giving me things to consider: things to think about.

It’s about starting new churches. Some appear to be cloning existing churches, some are trying very hard to be different and some just seem to be what I can best describe as “organic.” All want to help people discover life, purpose and meaning in Christ.

A rabbit trail between sessions led me to the quote above, “what you win them with, you win them to.”

Marketing hype, worship “experiences” and production are key now. Door hangers promise “the biggest,” lawn signs tell of helicopters dropping eggs and others advertise prizes and gas cards for those who visit. We can buy 10 second countdowns to add to our PowerPoint slides to build anticipation for the band’s big opener.

Every time the balloon pilot pulls on the gas valve, out comes a loud burst of flame and heat. It’s impressive. The show is spectacular.

When the gas is gone and the balloon deflates, a crew of workers roll it up and pack it away for the next event. The crowds head home wowwed and anxious to return for the next experience until the experience no longer gives them goose bumps.

I think of the depth of worship I’ve witnessed in third world settings. The carefully manufacted “experience” is lacking, the sound is usually bad and the musicians untrained. The buildings are bare and the acoustics are terrible. Plastic chairs, wooden benches and stumps have no holders for designer coffees in eco-friendly, recyclable cups.

Without fail, I leave feeling like our American churches are missing something. We come to get our experience tingles and pep talks. They come to meet with God and worship him. We leave trying to decide on a restaurant. They leave praying for enough to feed their children.

I don’t want a programmed, manufacted experience. I don’t want to be calling for more hot air for our most impressive balloon in town.

I want organic, natural encounters with the gospel that saves … sometimes loudly, sometimes in stillness, sometimes in plenty and sometimes in scarcity.

I long for organic. I long for the unproduced and raw. Messy is okay with me.

I don’t want to be a hot air balloon captain. I want to be a friend, a shepherd, a mentor, a coach and an encourager. I want to be a team member and partner in sharing life and living the gospel. I want to teach and I want to learn from others.

I enjoy the attraction of the large, brightly-colored, floating air balloon as much as the next guy but, in life and ministry, the hype and hot air of manufactured experiences eventually cools off and fades or lasts only until the next truck pulls in with bigger and more impressive balloons to inflate.
“Worship has to do with real life. It’s not just a mythical interlude in a week of reality.” John Piper

Amos 5:21-24


REThink Leadership?



Powerful main sessions with challenging speakers and excellent music refreshed me.

I spent last week at a conference in Atlanta. My goal was to come away with practical ideas of how to approach developing leadership teams in this new era of ministry, especially in a church going through revitalization. My expectation with the “REthink” title was for new, outside the box, approaches to leadership that are proving effective in churches that are working hard to realign and readjust to changing culture. While the conference was very well organized and flowed smoothly, I am coming home with none of what I went to find. It’s not a total loss though. I’m coming home inspired and energized in other ways.

What happened?

You who know me will probably not be surprised at the epiphany I had at this conference. As I filed in with 750 other “lead pastors” I was uncomfortable from the start. Though the promotional material described the dress code as “very casual” and relaxed, only 3 of us were in shorts and t-shirts. And only one of those, me, was wearing red sneakers. The rest of the crowd was mostly in sharp, button-down shirts and what I would call dress jeans pulled up high on the waist with nice leather belts. My epiphany? These are not my people. I don’t fit. Table exchanges were mostly brief, professional, pleasantries.

For the next two days I sat in a room that I will call “corporate church America.” The talk centered on managing our staff members, meetings and structure. At one point my table discussion focused on how often staff meetings should occur at each staff level. I didn’t have much to offer.

I told Robin I felt like I was at a fish-care conference representing my little glass bowl with a single goldfish swimming around while the rest of these guys were in positions overseeing aquariums like Sea World and the Boston Aquarium. I went to one breakout session that promised to help lead an established church from the old to the new. Point one was to not change anything for six months in order to learn the systems. Point two was helpful information for firing staff members not in line with the vision and point three focused on how to make quality hires for open positions. I left to try another workshop. As I walked in they were laughing about a pastor that gave his congregation his home phone number and how crazy that is. (My cell number is on the back of our bulletin.)

My mind kept darting through scripture about servant leadership, shepherding, gospel partnerships and teams. I don’t want to judge harshly. Maybe the corporate model of the CEO pastor is the way it has to be in giant churches. All I can tell you is I have no desire for that whatsoever!

Thankfully, the main sessions were where I found encouragement for servant leadership, personal soul care and investing in relationshìps. I had some excellent speakers pour into me and encourage my spirit. I got some excellent evaluation questions to consider in working to improve my own leadership style. I think that was the talk that got me thinking the most.

“What is it like to be on the other side of me?”  (Brad Lomenick)

He pointed out that every leader brings a climite to his organization and that most times the leader has little idea what that climate actually is. Old leadership models stress fear based leadership to bring results. Thankfully most in the church have abandoned that approach. But, Brad told a story about growing the organization he was working with to the point of losing his personality and becoming a demanding, workaholic, task master. His team was afraid to be truthful with him and hesitant to approach him with new ideas or feedback. The climate he was creating was unhealthy and he wasn’t even aware how much he had changed. Brad challenged us to return to our churches and ask, “What is it like to be on the other side of me?” The goal is honest feedback to help us be better leaders.

I wonder what kind of climate I bring? What is it like to be on the other side of me? For the past 3 years I’ve been trying to navigate leading the rebuilding of a church after it had been through decades of decline. On a number of occasions I’ve been pretty sure that I’m not the right person for the job. I’ve made some painful mistakes, hurt some people and had some things I wish I had done differently. But, thankfully, most of the time, I’ve been able to look at the fruit of growth and changed lives and thank God for putting imperfect me in this position and working despite my numerous shortcomings.

Most of the conference was great, especially when we went across the street to join with the 8,000 youth and children’s workers at their conference. Of course, they were relaxed, friendly, smiling and there was no sense of the structure of corporate America. The level of joy was refreshing. The “professionals” disappeared and the business vibe evaporated. Not that the serious crowd on the other side of the street loved Jesus any less, there was just less freedom and spontaneity there. It was guarded.

My soul was refreshed in singing loudly with hands in the air. My tablet filled with notes and quotes of both encouragement and self-improvement. My ideas vault expanded. Andy Stanley, Jon Acuff, Reggie Joiner,Doug Fields and Perry Noble poured into me and refreshed me.

My conclusion, even after two “are you interested in a move” conversations, was that God placed me right where I am in a faith family that I love with the longing the Paul writes about in the first chapter of Philippians. I have no desire for a big staff or becoming the biggest church in Maine. I am not Corporate Carl and have no desire to live his life. I love the team approach where we are all ministers together. I love that changed lives is our measuring stick rather than numbers. I love that loving others is our heart and that we are simple and uncomplicated.

I am not called to Guatemala. I am not called to Pennsylvania or to be on a staff of 18 in North Carolina. I am more convinced than ever that God has me right where he wants me in little, old, Westbrook, Maine. I am beyond blessed to be serving with friends I love dearly.

If we do grow to a multi, fulltime staff level, I’m not ever going to be Corporate Carl and the big cheese. Instead I pray for a team working together, loving each other and serving together where each of us will sharpen the others regardless of position or title. My prayer is that we will continue to grow together as family, building one another up, forgiving one another and pushing forward together.



Only sheep make more sheep.

shiftBy Scott Linscott

Statistics tells us that the church in America has been in decline for more than 30 years. Even while the number of mega-churches has enlarged, the church has shrunk.

I came across this cartoon that seems to sum up the American Church phenomenon fairly well…

True evangelism efforts focus on reaching unreached people groups whereas sheep shifting increases attendance by recruiting Christians from other churches.

Imagine an area where 10 shepherds watch over ten separate flocks of 100 each. The area has 1000 sheep. If the shepherd in pasture #1 manages to attract 20 sheep from the other 9 flocks his flock grows to 280 and is easily the largest flock around. Without the sheep doing their job and making other sheep, the number of sheep in the area remains at 1000. Shepherd number 1 could build his flock to 500 by offering more perks to attract more sheep at the expense of the other flocks. Is shepherd number 1 a success? If the goal is to have the largest flock he is a tremendous success but if the goal is to increase the number of sheep overall? No, nothing has changed.

My understanding of what Jesus has called us to is not shifting sheep but multiplying sheep. As God revitalizes our body and brings new life to our gathering one thing is for certain, we will see faces that are new to us. We’ll see some sheep wander into our flock attracted by the preaching style, the format of our services and the flavor of our music. Some sheep will find greener grass with us while some of our sheep simultaneously head for the greener grass of the pasture in the next town over. We’ll be excited about the faces that are new to us and we will give a warm and genuine welcome.

But what should we really want? We want to bring in faces that are new to Him!

We can focus on attracting sheep with a rocking worship team, cool mission trips and we can do all the stuff Christians are shopping for. We can invite our Christian friends to check out our new pastor or come hear the big speaker we are bringing in. We can build an event-driven, attractional ministry with a great show week after week complete with all the hype we can muster. But one thing to remember? Attracting sheep is not what Jesus has called us to. Jesus called us to make sheep.

The Great Commission doesn’t to go to Christian friends with, “come see what we’re all about.” Instead it tells us to go to those who don’t know. We are to go, live in the culture, rub shoulders and share life in Christ and invite. Shepherds don’t make sheep. Only sheep make new sheep.

As I wrestle with church revitalization and planting, I’m not really interested in spending big bucks to send out glossy mailers, put out lawn signs, hang invitations on doorknobs and hype up a big show that attracts Christians. I’m more interested in building a community of people loving and serving the people around them, praying earnestly to reach unreached people for Jesus.

Let’s not put on a show. Let’s follow after Jesus with everything we have and invite people along for the journey. Only sheep make sheep.

One of my favorite songs based on Amos 5:21-24.