Archives For executive pastor


“Yes!  Popcorn!  THAT is it – right there.”

There’s a moment that I love – I live for it.  It’s common in ministry life when God is moving.  It’s the moment when you are planning, praying, brainstorming, visioneering, dreaming with another God-servant, and the lightbulb goes on.  God moves.  The Spirit whispers and something that has been hazy is now crystal clear.  Yesterday we had that moment as I sat across the coffee shop table from my Senior Pastor.


At Living Hope Church we are becoming.  I suppose every church family on the planet is, as well.  None of us have “arrived,” and there is an unending list of ministry tweaking to do as God works in our leaders to shape our local faith community.  Some days are dry, hard work.  But it is a rush to experience God making an idea clear when you are struggling with a ministry roadblock or closed door.

Our struggle dejour was about a new perspective on the way our church should function in our community.  We have embraced a “Simple Church” mindset… Focus on an end-game picture of maturity in Christ, and create environments that help promote movement toward that biblical picture.  In other words, we are trying to figure out what ministry energy will be most effective in promoting actual growth toward Christ-likeness.  If the environment/activity/ministry doesn’t help people grow (we call it “changed lives”), we don’t do it.

In trying to clarify what it means to be “simple” in this regard (think “clear, focused, intentional”), we have been concerned that people sometimes misunderstand what we mean.  Some have thought that by “simple” we just mean, “we don’t do much stuff.”  That’s not the point at all.  And that’s where the popcorn picture came into play.

As Executive Pastor I have been a strong voice over the years of “protecting our calendar.”  I have seen other churches struggle under the weight of a menu-style model of ministry… each new ministry or program trying to meet a specific felt need in the community.  In popcorn terms, it would be like taking a poll in your community and finding out that several people are dying for some caramel corn, while other groups are clamoring for cheese popcorn, kettle corn, butter, or Orville Redenbacher’s Tender White (our family favorite).  So, said local church decides that they better get crackin’ and start up some ministries to provide each kind of popcorn.  Otherwise, someone’s felt need may go unmet, and we lose a chance to minister to that group of people. 

Only, most local churches are not equipped to handle every popcorn preference in the neighborhood.  But they are driven by the felt needs around them – to be all to all.  So ministries are started, slots are filled, and cheese popcorn people end up trying to create caramel corn because there just wasn’t a caramel corn person available to do the job.  And the job must get done!  Or…  or… something bad.  Further, once a ministry or program is started, there is often a reluctance to ever STOP it… whether it is effective or not.

Living Hope wants to meet the needs of our neighbors.  We long to be Christ’s hands and feet to hurting people, needy people, and even comfortable people who don’t realize their perilous spiritual condition without Jesus.  We pray to have the deepest impact possible on our community.  But we don’t serve every type of popcorn under the sun.  We wait for people in our church to pop.  And then we see what we’ve got.  And THEN we offer what we have.

One of our Stewardship Team members has popped.  Lucus is a corporate accountant by day.  But he has heard God’s voice, and he knows with a fire in his belly what he wants to do with his life.  He wants to help people manage their personal finances in a God-honoring way – in a healthy way.  And talking to Lucus about money makes me feel like ANYTHING is possible.  He’s a tall pitcher of encouragement and biblical wisdom in this area, and he’s longing to serve God and serve people with his knowledge and experience.  Lucus has popped.  Let’s call him… cheese corn.

Now… Living Hope has been given a gift.  God saw fit to include Lucus in our church family.  We now have a viable “cheese corn” ministry, because God has lit the fire of a cheese corn leader, who can gather other cheese corn people around him, and serve cheese corn to all kinds of people in our neighborhood in need of financial guidance.  And just maybe, when God opens a door for Lucus, he can invite one of those cheesy neighbors to attend a weekend gathering or LifeGroup at Living Hope.  And just maybe, some of those cheesy friends of Lucus may find God.  And just maybe, some day down the road THEY will pop.  And then we can start that caramel corn ministry we’ve been dreaming of and praying for.

Popcorn leadership.  Providing the popped goodness God has blessed us with to our surrounding community – when He chooses to do the work.  We can teach and preach and lead worship and organize small groups… we can provide the heat.  But God always does the popping.  Being “simple” means figuring out how to empower the already popped, while not burdening the unpopped kernels in the hopper with ministry responsibilities God has not equipped us to take on.

Yesterday was a good day.  A lightbulb day.  A popcorn day.  I’m excited to see how God fleshes this out in our church family.

Does this resonate with you?  Is your church serving up the already popped, or forcing kernels to fill slots on the menu?  And what’s your favorite kind of popcorn?


Creative Commons License
“popcorn leadership :: outreach orville redenbacher style” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

The Levites_effects

It’s a mystery.  How do I get to do this?

I don’t deserve to love my work this deeply.  It’s a God-gift that keeps rewrapping itself.  I love leading Living Hope Church’s staff and arts teams.  I love designing the “look and feel” of a local church.  I eat up music-making, arranging, drumming, rehearsals…  But what I am most grateful for beyond my redemption in Jesus is my brothers.

My team of Levites.  Called to handle the Holy things, and assist the church family in coming before the throne room of the King.  Musicians, yes.  But mostly facilitators – in deep relationship with God and with each other.

Worship Leaders, Pastors, Executive Pastors hear this:  It takes TIME and ENERGY to build your teams DEEP (not just wide), but the payoff for your Team and for your Church is incalculable.

Last night’s rehearsal was electric.  Leading a rehearsal is always work, but often I leave them energized rather than drained.  Last night left me buzzing.  Jeremy’s Keyboard licks (and that TASTY organ patch for the intro on our opener) kept popping into the mix – making me smile big.  Jordan? The Edge.  Edge?  Jordan.  Zen picks up and owns bass licks like… as fast as I can THINK them, let alone sing them.  Andy somehow channels every mood shift, every chord change, every touch.  Just give him the key and he seems to intuitively know the music.  Nate and Lucus chatter patiently while the band works out the details, and then they soar when we run the music.

So – musically fulfilling.  Check.

What makes all the difference in the depth of the experience is our back story.  The relational bonds.

I’ve wept with Jeremy through his cancer diagnosis and treatment.  He knows he can call me @ 3AM asking for prayer (actually, that has happened…), and I can call him.  And we’ve been on mountaintops together.  Figuratively and literally.  A true brother, fellow thinker, artist, heart.

Jason (@churchrd) started playing bass with me early in my first church music job.  The drummer-bass brotherhood is no small thing.  He used to record every rehearsal on a cassette tape player, and go through his music with a pencil to write in the note names.  Committment and discipline leads to skill that leads to art.  And he’s gone through viral cardiomyopathy that severely weakened his heart.  So have I.  Miraculously, God healed him.  Miraculously, me too.

Jordan (@jordan_cd) has that rare mix of outstanding technical skill -and- the humble confidence that marks a mature Christ follower.  He and Andy working together are magic.  Humble, dependable, exceptional.  It’s a joy to play and lead with him every time.

Nate (@n8anderson) and Lucus (@luanders) both have been prayer partners, consistent encouragers, my sounding boards when I have had doubts and worries.  On multiple occasions, these two guys have been my “let’s have lunch and talk about it” friends when I needed my church to be my church.  They know stuff about me that no one else does.  I would take a bullet for these guys.

Andy (@andy_guitar_guy) thinks with my mind.  I have never met anyone with as parallel a ministry philosophy as Andy shares with me.  His heroes are my heroes.  The art that moves him moves me.  He is musical, visual, sensitive to moments and repelled (as I am) by pretense and the sacharine, mind-numbing “Christian art” that represents our faith poorly.  We have the same heart.

I have similar stories and bonds with several others who weren’t scheduled for this week – weren’t at last night’s epic rehearsal.  My team of Levites.  It takes TIME.  It takes contact beyond rehearsal.  It takes investment of energy, resources, intentionality.  But the effort leads to deeper relationships.  Deeper relationships lead to deeper shared experience.  And when we go before the throne of Heaven and invite our church family to come with us, we truly go TOGETHER.  Deeply together.  One heart and one mind, with one shared purpose. (ala Philippians 2:2)

Worship Leaders, Team builders… make the effort.  Invest the time.  View team building as a “long-haul” process.  Deep and wide.  With an emphasis on DEEP.  As Nancy Beach wrote in “An Hour on Sunday…”

“When it’s all said and done, I want to cross the finish line knowing that I was a part of a Team who loved one another outrageously and did ministry side by side until the end.”

Amen and amen.  Have YOU experienced “TEAM” ministry like this?

Band of Levites from Joshua Skogerboe on Vimeo.


Creative Commons License
“band of brothers :: my team of levites” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


This weekend I floated in the lake behind my parent’s home north of Bemidji, MN.  Sunshine.  Waves lapping against the boat.  Kids splashing.  Very little stress.  Very little tension.

Those “unplugged” moments are priceless – not just because they bring us pleasure, but because we are wired to NEED rest.  But today, I’m back in real life.  And it’s full of healthy tension.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here’s what I’m saying…  Living in the difficult middle ground is often the BEST and MOST REWARDING choice.  Anything that deeply matters requires diligence, discipline, effort… and usually a healthy dose of tension.  This is true in life, in leadership, and in worship.  Examples:

(1) In PARENTING: there are two “easy” roads.  You can be a Dictator, or a Buddy.  As I’ve often said (more than once to my own kids), a dictatorship is the most efficient form of government.  There’s no time wasted on frivolous discussion.  Quick, easy, and authoritarian.  (click here to see my last blog post)  On the other hand, many parents treat their tantrum-throwing pint-sized narcissists in training as little buddies.  Rules-shmules.  What matters is that they are happy. Read “coddled” or “spoiled…” (I know, I’m revealing my inner Kim Jong Il.)

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = Attempting to raise kids who respect your authority whether they like your decisions or not, while being flexible enough to really listen, make nuanced judgements, and build rewarding relationships with them.  That’s hard.  But good.

(2) With TIME management: there is often tension between the demands of family-life and work-life.  In ministry, this tension is especially difficult to manage, because the nature of our jobs often allows significant flexibility.  On the one hand, it would be easy to abuse this freedom because of a love for family time, and the ministry needs right in our own household.  On the other hand, many pastors and ministry leaders suffer from the opposite problem: workaholism.  The truth is, for anyone who loves their job, workaholism is a danger.

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = Working out and sticking to healthy BOUNDARIES between the pull of home and the pull of the office.  Is there anything you are willing to say “no” to your boss for?  Is there any regular time in your schedule where you are just home, not on call, and not plugged in?  That’s hard.  But good.

(3) In a local CHURCH: there often seems to be either a gravitational pull toward “Social Club” status (it’s all about the church family, bible study, and being “fed”) -or- a leadership driven push for “Social Justice” (being hands-on Jesus to hurting people, without much regard for “doctrine,” and a hunger to be “used” by God in the best sense of the word.)  This divide breaks my heart.  (click here for an earlier post on this stuff…)  One side stands their ground as righteous defenders of the fort, looking over the walls at the dangers of our culture, hoping to keep everyone on the inside happy and protected.  On the other side, passionate people who put their faith into action serving the poor and underpriviledged, but may be skeptical (or even critical) of anyone who declares Biblical truth in absolute terms.

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = I long to be a part of a local church that is equally passionate about FEEDING our flock -and- about SERVING those on the outside.  About WINNING the lost -and- about BUILDING UP the believers.  We are struggling, trying hard to embrace this spilt-personality at Living Hope.   That’s hard.  But good.

(4) When it comes to WORSHIP LEADING: there are alone-with-God, come-with-me-if you-want-but-I’m-in-the-zone, God-and-God-alone “lead worshippers” who abdicate their responsibility as LEADERS.  And there are “faster-louder-higher,” listen-to-my-awesomeness, cheerleader-for-Jesus type “music leaders” who abdicate their responsibility to model WORSHIP.  The cheerleaders have always driven me a little crazy, but my temptaion is to go whole-hog the other way.  I think I spent a couple of years in my younger worship leading days with an “I’m worshipping here, all y’all church people, and whether you join me or not is up to you” attitude.  That’s not leading.  That’s self absorbed.

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = I want to model AND lead.  “God, You are awesome.  Isn’t He awesome?  I love You Jesus, and everything in my life is for You alone.  Are you with me, church?”  Back and forth.  Pointing to Jesus and singing to Him.  “Spurring on the saints…”  That’s hard.  But good.

(5)  In MENTORING other leaders:  If you are a manager (in church work or otherwise) of other leaders, there is TENSION in letting leaders lead while guiding their leadership decisions.  One one hand, you can hire/recruit someone who is unproven but shows potential and give them all the leash in the world.  “Here’s your budget!  Go play!  Do stuff!”  On the other hand, managers by position are often “micro-managers” by nature.  This can kill confidence and stuff creativity in a young or new leader.

>> Healthy TENSION of the middle road = As Executive Pastor I operate under the principal of EARNED TRUST with our staff and ministry leaders at Living Hope.  That means that I try to stay in close contact and give frequent guidance to our new ministry leaders, but as soon as they demonstrate leadership skills and consistent decision-making that furthers our church’s core mission, I want to let out the reigns.  Let them lead.  Earned trust.  That’s hard.  But good.

Think about your life – your areas of influence – your church family.  Do you need to embrace TENSION on purpose?  Is there somewhere you have been taking the easy road?  Anything that deeply matters requires diligence, discipline, effort… and usually a healthy dose of tension.

Creative Commons License
“i choose tension, thank you very much” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.