3 ways clarity transforms a pastor’s role

Coming up this Thursday March 28 at 2:30(EST) sign-up and participate in the next NavXP with Jenni Catron. Out topic is Alignment: getting everyone to pull in the same direction.

Brian McGown is the Executive Pastor at Faithbridge church in Spring, TX. In out recent NavXP webinar hangout, he shared his story about how vision clarity radically changes his role, church staff alignment, and ministry impact.

It’s easy to listen to his story and still miss how clarity is a game-changer for pastors. Clarity isn’t everything, but it changes everything. Brian’s story echoes what I hear over and over from pastors who really invest in what it takes to get clear.

>>From the treadmill to the triathlon – Clarity Makes Focus Sustainable
As a pastor, do you every feel like you’re running and running endlessly pushing forward, but never really getting anywhere; or paddling as hard as you can, but the river bank isn’t moving. Brian shares how being clear about who they are as a church and what they’re supposed to be doing creates sustainable ministry.
“When we are clear about something – the Lord has given us the vision…it’s almost like just getting in the river and moving down the right way – being in the Mississippi and heading down toward Louisiana instead of trying to paddle upriver.” I wonder if Brian watches Duck Dynasty…

When you’re clear about exactly what you’re called to do as a church, it provides the leadership credibility to say “no” for the sake of a larger “yes”. All of the wasted effort of paddling upstream is transformed into forward momentum as God sweeps us along in His vision for us. “Clarity makes our job as leaders so much easier!” Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard work, but it’s exponentially more fruitful when it’s focused.

>>Endless tasks to eternal transformation – Clarity makes work meaningful
As pastors, we often feel like ministry has been reduced to wrestling with an overfilled calendar, meetings, research, damage control, and email elimination – especially for Executive Pastors. In the tyranny of tasks we end up with no margin for more meaningful things. Our role gets reduced to time and task management. But clarity gives a framework and compass that points us relentlessly toward our mission. Brian tells the story of how being clear about their mission as a church leads them into ministry that is eternally transforming the lives of people in Houston and beyond. “Our church is playing a big role in Love146, which is fighting the exploitation and trafficking of children around the world…”

>>From beggar to abundantly blessed – Clarity makes enthusiasm transferable
At some point, every pastor feels like we’re begging – whether it’s getting people to volunteer, endlessly asking for resources to complete a project, or trying to convince people to join a small-group. Whatever it is, we seem to always be trying to pull something out of our people.

Many times enthusiasm only comes with clarity. There is a moment of contagious excitement when a follower gets it. When we connect who we are called to be and our God-breathed mission to an opportunity to serve, it captures a person’s hearts and makes them want to share it. But the ease of sharing it is directly proportional to clarity. Brian tells the story of partnering with a local school to provide food for kids who were faced with the choice of stealing it from school or going hungry. “We presented it to the church and literally just had an overabundance of giving to that. We had to adopt three other schools just to provide enough children for the amount of food and resources we could bring…”

Brian and the other leaders at Faithbridge make a compelling case for clarity, and the way it changes the nature of ministry and church life.

>>Do you want to get clear? Start a conversation with Auxano or just contact me. Auxano is a non-profit that serves churches by navigating leaders through growth challenges with vision clarity.

Coming up this Thursday March 28 at 2:30(EST) sign-up and participate in the next NavXP with Jenni Catron. Out topic is Alignment: getting everyone to pull in the same direction.

4 signs of misalignment in your church

4 Signs of Misalignment in Your Church

>>excessive fatigue: when parts in any active system are not aligned there is additional wear-and-tear. Parts and people (like tires) get worn out faster when not aligned.
>>wasted resources: misalignment in an organization causes energy to be expended laterally or even in opposition of the missional goals.
>>unhealthy tension: lack of alignment causes different parts of a system to work at odds with one another – pursing self-created goals in competition with each another and the larger mission.
>>unsteady rhythm: an engine with parts out of alignment causes timing issues resulting in wobbles or vibration in the rhythm of parts moving together. A staff with people out of alignment often misses the healthy rhythm of events and communication as they march to a different beat.

This month on Thursday March 28 at 1:30(CST)
webinars for Executive PastorsAlignment: Getting your staff all pulling in the same direction.

Jenni Catron will be joining us to share her experiences and wisdom about the importance of alignment. We’ll talk about how alignment can throw off everything you’re doing, or multiply your impact. We’ll hear some stories from Jenni about her experiences as an Executive Director at the multicampus Cross Point Church. We’d love you to join the conversation. Leave us questions in the comments below that you’d like Jenni to answer in the live webinar.

We’ll also hear a little bit about Jenni and Sherry Surrat’s new book Just Lead, just released and available in bookstores now!

Just Lead: a no whining, no complaining, no nonsense practical guide for women leaders in the churchJenni is a phenomenal blogger, with a steady stream of practical and encouraging content for leaders! You can keep up with her at her blog JenniCatron.tv which was just listed in Church Relevance’s Top 200 Ministry Blogs of 2013.

Jenni CatronJenni Catron serves as the Executive Director of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN, a 10-year old multi-site church. She leads the staff of Cross Point and oversees the ministry of its five campuses. Prior to joining the staff of Cross Point, she worked as Artist Development Director in the Christian music industry for 9 years.

Jenni’s passion is to lead well and to inspire, equip and encourage others to do the same.  She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently in the different spheres of influence God has granted them. Jenni blogs at www.jennicatron.tv and contributes to a number of other online publications as well.

Jenni loves a fabulous cup of tea, great books, learning the game of tennis and hanging out with her husband and their border collie.

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>>watch other NavXP webinars here
>>leave questions for Jenni to address in the webinar on Thu March 28th in the comments below.

3 clues to uncovering your church’s ultimate purpose

3 clues to the unique purpose of your churchThis past Sunday, I had the privilege to work with a church leadership team in Texas. They are passionately seeking clear answers from God about who He intends them to be as a church. As we are uncover how God has crafted them uniquely, we’re examining 3 overlapping areas to give us a better understanding of our church identity.

>>place: The distinctive nature of the area where God has planted a church has a lot of do with the kind of ministry that will thrive there. The people and needs in the area immediately around a church, give us clues to how a church can effectively reach out, how they should communicate and invite, what kind of community service they engage in, and a whole host of other implications. This particular church exists in an economically diverse (but declining), highly transitional area, where many people from all over the world come to live for 6 months to several years. 

>>people: Who God brings to a church body is directly connected to what your unique strengths, resources, and potential capacity. In the heart of this particular church’s leadership team, I’m not sure how convinced they really were of their uniqueness. But as I worshiped with them and studied the data, an outsider’s strategic perspective brought to light the fact they they have more than 10 different nationalities regularly represented at their church. They have attenders converted from Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism! They have a vast range of economic diversity, from disaster refugees to CEOs. This church is so naturally comfortable being multi-cultural that they never considered it as a potentially unique opportunity. It is not a conscious effort on their part, it is a powerful natural expression of who they are. They are so used to it, they wrestled considerably to consider it as anything unusual. I actually had to pause all progress until we had truly wrestled through some of what it meant for them as a church.

>>passion: The excitement and burden that God plants in a leader’s heart tells a lot about the direction that He’s taking a church body. From Abraham to the Apostles, we see God directing His people through the heart of who He calls to lead them for a season. As we began unpacking the passions and heartbreak of these particular leaders, what God revealed is a relentless passion for missions and reproducing disciples. It doesn’t take a genius to see how God is setting up this church to have a massive impact for His kingdom where they are and around the world!

A diverse, multicultural church body with a passion for missions and discipleship in an area with a lot of international families transitioning in and out. I think God is connecting the dots for them.

It is an amazing, God-revealing blessing to navigate leadership teams through uncovering and articulating what God is doing, and how He has intricately prepared them to become epicenters of His redemptive movement. There is such a confidence and sturdy faith that comes from seeing with clarity, who God has made us to be – then we can begin wrestling through the unique expression of what He is calling us to do!

>>would your church benefit from an outside perspective in uncovering this with your team?

Contact me:


Giving up on God 3 seconds too soon

>>one of the illustrations that I use as a coach/consultant with leadership teams is called “The Tunnel of Chaos”. It is represented as a spiral. We start on the outside limit, with our work together curving inward toward clear vision. When we’re traveling along the outward boundary slowly curving inward, there is a lot of distance covered, a lot of activity, and a LOT of hard work. Even though we expend all this energy to move forward, we don’t feel like we’re getting much closer to the center. Our desire is to travel a straight line right toward a clear answer.

tunnel of chaosThis is a critical time, when we are most tempted to doubt our investment and abandon our journey toward a clear picture of God’s unique vision for us. The farther we go though, the tighter the spiral becomes, and the more rapidly we move toward that center-point of confident clarity.

When I am in the middle of the Tunnel of Chaos, just like when I sat watching this video clip, I find myself judging the artist’s activity in ways that arrogantly assume that I know more than He does. When I doubt His activity and what He’s revealing, what I’m really doing is presuming that my perspective is the most important one – that I know more than God.

>>in the words of the judge “We sat here giving you such a hard time saying, “This is rubbish!”; “What’s it gonna be?”; “He’s never going to do it in time.” Wow! How many times have similar thoughts run through my heart? How many times have I heard leaders express those thoughts about God’s activity (but in our falsely humble, Sunday School words).

When the team invites God to take center-stage in our Vision Pathway process and we feel like things are moving forward because we are committed and doing the hard work, sometimes the picture that begins to emerge seems to be less clear than ever! We see the result of our collaborative God-ward activity, but it appears like random strokes of the brush. We see God moving things forward and uncovering truth, but somehow it just doesn’t connect as a larger picture.

>>my secret heart begins to whisper, just connect the dots yourself. You’re smart enough to find the meaning in this, and God’s not saying anything else. Rely on your own ingenuity. What comes out will be good enough. It seems that right before God turns our perspective upside down is when so many of us give up on God’s leading. We take over and make our meaning in what has been revealed. We are expecting God to add more to the picture until it becomes clear and when He doesn’t we feel compelled to take over. Instead, He’s waiting to shift us so that our perspective snaps into sync with the artist and we see what He sees. All along, it wasn’t a problem with the picture, it was a problem with my perspective.

>>in my secret life when I’m pursuing God, I can get doubtful that what I’m seeing is from Him, and not just my random brain-noise mixed with my desire to find meaning and direction, and like Anderson, “I gotta say, I thought it was like a weird potato.”

We all travel along the Tunnel of Chaos. Somewhere in our daily search for clarity God is actively revealing something – and what God used this 3 minute video to remind me of is vital. Don’t give up on God too quickly. 3 seconds can make all the difference. One thing that I know with confidence: the picture that He’s painting is clear – it’s my vision that needs adjustment.

>>what do you need God to make clear to you right now?

How to escape the tyranny of being Everything to Everyone!

Recently I had the privilege of having Dr. David Fletcher, founder of XPastor.org talk with us on a NavXP webinar, “How to grow ministry with less money”. He shared his wisdom, struggles, and stories of how vision clarity has been the guiding light for navigating seasons of shrinking resources.

This is an amazing perspective from a man with a rich history of Executive Pastoral ministry, as well as providing resources and learning to the XP community. David talks about a time of having to reduce the church’s budget by $700,000+ during the recession. He makes an incredibly powerful statement:

Vision is what releases you to focus. If you don’t have a vision on where you want to go, every road seems perfectly acceptable. You pursue a hundred different rabbit trails and none of them are very effective.

David talks about vision leading the way to creativity and focus that narrows the field of ministry for greater impact. One of the principles that Auxano Navigators lead with is that “focus expands”. It seems counter-intuitive that narrowing our focus gives us the opportunity to increase our impact, but time and again I hear stories that illustrate this principle. A quote from Peter Drucker continues to bounce around in my head, “without a concentration of resources, there are no results“. It excites me to help churches uncover that God-given strength – we call it a church’s Kingdom Concept.

As David talked with us about vision and focus, another insightful encouragement that rang particularly true for XP’s was:

“It’s never about money – it’s about vision. When your people are mobilized, there’s going to be enough money to do the right kind of ministry… Most people are trying to do too much. Skinny it down. Do a few things exceedingly well. Most churches think they can do everything well. Focus on the things you can do best, and let go of the other things. Do the things that God has blessed you and given you the resources to do.”

I love David’s commitment to focus and vision. His track record as an XP, and his generous support of the church community illustrate how effective a vision-based leader can be. Vision clarity and focus unlocks the church’s ability to do so much more with less. We can only have that kind of far-reaching impact when we stop trying to be everything to everyone and focus on what God is calling us to do above everything else.

To read more about David’s experiences in how a church’s vision impact resources, check out his articles on XPastor.org.

Check out the NavXP video with Dr. Josh Whitehead: Is a Shrinking Budget You Best Blessing?

Is a shrinking budget your best blessing?

In the recent NavXP webinar, Dr Josh Whitehead shared how he has learned to grow ministry with less money. Through the course of our conversation, something amazing occurred to me – his perspective seemed to indicate that every time they faced financial struggles, it was a blessing that expanded the scope of the ministry at Faith Promise.

As Josh spoke about times of shrinking budget and financial downturn he said things like:
“When your resources get limited, you are forced to determine what really matters.”

“If we can’t do anything else, these are the things we are going to do!”

“We don’t really evaluate ministries and determine whether they are really accomplishing what we need them to.”

These are powerful statements about how God used financial struggles to refine the clarity and focus of vision at Faith Promise. And the result is growth and expanded ministry impact!

We can learn a lot from Josh. Typically, we see financial hardship in such a negative light. Josh’s story really turns that on its head. Could God be trying to bless our ministry by restricting our resources? With the right process, reducing available resources could be the catalyst to a healthier, more missionally focused church.

And we all know – we rarely change until the pain is so great we can’t stand to remain where we are.

The role of an XP like Josh can really impact God’s church in amazing ways as he turned a shrinking budget into one of their best blessings.

I am thankful for Josh sharing his wisdom and showing us how God is using the unique role and gifts of XP’s to make church work.

>>see Dr. David Fletcher’s webinar How to escape the tyranny of being everything to everyone.

You can watch the other NavXP webinars here.


Why PRAXIS? You made up this word, right?

>>Praxis is not, in fact, a new word. It comes from Medieval Latin, and originally from Greek. Outside the etymology of the word, it just sounds cool, right? Not the kind of cool that you’d name your car or your dog, but more the kind of cool that you’d name a blog…maybe.

There’s a lot of loaded meaning in praxis. It’s been around for a while, and it’s been associated with the movement of God before as well. Even though, I don’t mean to completely divorce it from that aspect, I am taking some license and using it more in its ancient connotation.  Praxis basically means the practice of a theory, lesson, or skill. I like to think of it as the embodiment of information. Praxis is a word that represents how something as ephemeral and conceptual as informational translates into reality. More specifically in my context, it’s the resulting action of the machine built by our thoughts, biases, beliefs, and heredity. It is the observable action that shows itself in the repetition and daily practice of living life. Wait, maybe I’d better read that again!

>>the praxis engine

In one aspect, Praxis is the expression of true belief. Imagine your life as a machine – some incredibly complex construct built of individual parts. Each part represents an experience, or inclination, or fear, or hope, or motivation. All of these parts interact with one another and connect in ways that impact the others. All these construct the machinery of self. We’re aware of some of them, but they all have an effect. As we crank it up each morning when we awaken – the praxis of this life motor is revealed in our actions, habits, and interactions throughout the day. This complex internal machinery results in some expression of action or movement. That expression of our internal life machinery is our Praxis.

praxis of movement

The natural praxis of this engine is movement!

At its heart, Praxis is a natural expression of what exists, as opposed to a more artificial, forced expression. Just like any machine’s natural action can be countered with enough effort, a Praxis can be overcome with enough effort.

Imagine a 67 Pontiac GTO. The sole purpose of that machine is to get the pedal to the floor and awaken all 368 of the horses under the hood in order to move forward faster! But even the 438 ft·lb force of that engine can be countered with enough chains holding it to a bridge pylon or a battleship or something. The engine stil roars, and the tires spin, but the Praxis of forward movement is countered.

Imagine a more personal example. My Praxis should be to encourage and build up my wife on a daily basis – for her good, for my own good, and for the sake of God’s kingdom. I’ve just stated three good reasons to promote this idea, and there are a hundred more. I can have a perfectly rational understanding of all those reasons, yet if I frequently speak harshly to her, or say things that tear her down, or ignore her needs and desires – my Praxis is something different. Despite all my flawless reasoning and understanding of what I should do, the praxis of my life produces something different.

>>clarity changes everything

Imagine that my life engine is cluttered with so many conflicting experiences, motivations, misunderstanding, and fears that there appears to be no action at all. The motive forces of my life pull me in conflicting directions that cancel out and I become paralyzed, or it’s simply so complex that the simplest actions are predicated on complex mechanisms like a Rube Goldberg Machine (you should watch this YouTube video if you haven’t seen it). These Praxes show massive activity but little end result.

The organization that I work with, Auxano has a mantra, “Clarity isn’t everything, but it changes everything.” And when it comes to Praxis, that must be the starting point. What are you here to do? There are 4 other questions that must follow that one, but for the sake of simplicity I’ll hold them for another conversation. If I am not stunningly clear about my purpose, how can I even begin to evaluate the effectiveness of my life and ministry?

So my goal as an individual (and for this blog) is to learn to adopt healthy, God-designed structures in my life that result in a Praxis that equals effectual success – in all the broad context of that word (healthy spiritual, physical, intellectual, and relational movement). I will posit that to gain a different result, different thinking is needed – and thus again the reason for this blog. I want to share what I have gained through error and good teaching, and learn from you in the same context.

Do you share the same hunger for carnivorous learning? Leave your comments in the section below – and answer the following question for yourself:

What are three significant experiences in my life that I see forming my Praxis?



Who are you, Tony Bowick: Thought Leadership in Faith and Life Principles

>>So, this is the requisite intro post that tells my readers a little bit about who I am and what I mean by thought leadership. It won’t be funny, I guarantee, because I’m a boring guy. You may ask (and you probably should):

“Why should you read what I write?”

Because I’m boring in such a valuable way! Think back on the care-free days of High School. Do you remember all those things you were forced to learn in school, that you sardonically asked, “When am I ever going to use this?!” It usually happened to me in math classes. For you engineers out there, it probably happened around grammar rules in English class.

Just Recompense

Well, as I moved beyond the caricature of high school melodrama, it turns out that most people who want to do more than wait on tables, need to know a lot of the stuff that just seemed so superflous and boring at the time. All that jazz in high school (no…not the glee kind of jazz) seemed so out of touch and pointless because it didn’t address my felt needs. It had nothing to do with relationships – which is the majority of what the felt needs of school revolve around. So most of those obscure mathematical principles or MLA bibliographical guidelines never showed up on my radar. I’m willing to bet most people share that sentiment.

>>what i learned

The most valuable thing I learned in school (second only to: milk left alone in your locker becomes yogurt) is, if I’m only valuing things that address my felt needs, I’ll always be in a reactive mode, and will rarely be equipped for the future. Think about that for a minute. If the lion’s share of my energy is wrestling with trying to wring clarity and meaning from a challenging present, I’ll always be struggling with the present. It’s like a person who never learns to live beyond paycheck-to-paycheck mode – they never have the economy to prepare for the future. I’ve been exposed to some great thinkers and thought leaders – and I’ve come to realize that I’d much rather struggle with the future and enjoy the present – no matter what it is.

CS Lewis expresses a concept that when we are happy, we are fully in the moment, and that as soon as we begin to examine our happiness, we’re no longer in that happy state, we have shifted to an analytical state of mind – that to recognize our happy state, we must by necessity disconnect from it somewhat in order to examine it. I want to experience my present as fully as possible, and to do that I must be more analytical about the future. This blog will be about thought leadership, about recognizing and discussing principles that just make life work better! I want to discuss some of what I’ve seen others model, some of what I’ve learned, and some of what I hope will become part of my praxis in the future. Because I am a highly spiritual man, and a pastor – a lot of that will revolve around what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and how that plays into the church.

>>what would he do?

For instance, consider Jesus going about his daily ministry. He was often surrounded by crowds of people, some needing healing, some guidance, some provision – all of them needing salvation (from sin, from stifling Jewish legality, from Roman oppression). Jesus’ ministry was on mission – it had crystal clarity, and he exemplifies thought leadership. He did not spend all his time addressing felt needs. It must have broken his heart to walk by people and leave their needs unmet, but he did for the sake of accomplishing his father’s mission. He rejected opportunities because he was addressing the tumultuous present with the future in mind. Mat 8:18-22

So this is the end of the boring introduction, in which I try to excuse my lack of entertainment value by convincing you that there are things worth spending time considering and discussing, that pay big dividends in the future. The problem is, my teachers were never able to convince me of that – I had to wrestle with the troubling and confusing present, lacking clarity for years before I began to think differently.

So…if you’re a thought wrestler – maybe we should get to know each other. Maybe this blog is for you. I know that I want to learn from you. Take a minute and answer this question in the comments below:

What one thing have you wrestled with because you were not equipped when it appeared in your life?

Next up: >>Why PRAXIS?