How Special Should Easter Services Be?

Easter is just days away and, by now, most church leaders are pretty squared away on what their Easter services will look like. At least I would hope so.

Easter Services

Though Easter is undoubtedly special, as it celebrates the resurrection of Jesus, churches should beware of making their Easter services too special — or more specifically — too different.

My philosophy is that the Easter service should be a very good version of what you normally do.

If Easter really goes well, then many of the guests who came will come back the next week. But what if they did? Would they recognize the church?

  • If they really liked the 10 minute sermon, how will they feel about the 35 minute one?
  • If they really liked the 30-person chorale, how will they feel about the 5 piece band?
  • If they really liked all the extra fun for kids, how will they feel about it going away?

This is also why I don’t think it’s wise for churches to meet at another location on Easter, renting out an amphitheater or a hotel. It’s just too foreign of an experience from what you typically do to make it very enticing for guests to return.

Additionally, some churches spend so much energy on Easter that they’re out of gas the next week.

Now, to be honest, I probably broke this rule last year I did a 25-minute sermon that was only memorized Scripture. It was more of a dramatic presentation with art work displayed on the screens. The next week was surely a letdown. At the same time, I felt comfortable doing it because I thought it would communicate our commitment to God’s word, one of our values.

Easter is a special day, but it’s got to move the ball down the field for the church. And making it too special will actually be counter-productive.

What I Learned from 10 Churches in 4 Days

This past week was crazy. I took our five Pastoral Residents on our first annual “church tour.” We decided to stay close to home and see what we could learn from the Church (or part of it) in Phoenix.

We interacted with 10 churches, met with 7 leaders, participated in 6 worship services, heard 2 sermons on Galatians 3:15-26 (at different churches!) and drove 339 miles — all in 4 days.

The first two days (Thursday-Friday), we arranged seven meetings with church and ministry leaders. Then over the weekend, we visited six different services.

I took many pages of notes, especially in our meetings, so for this post I want to share the single biggest lesson I took away from each of the seven meetings and then share some general lessons from visiting all the church services.

INTERVIEWS

Randy Thomas

1. Randy Thomas, Executive Pastor of Mercy, Mission Community Church

It was a treat to spend time with Randy and his assistant Shelly. Randy was humble, gracious and remarkably transparent with a group of guys he didn’t really know well. Made me excited for Mission’s future.

BIGGEST LESSON: The church is not a counseling center — it’s much more. When it comes to people in pain and crisis, the church can offer something that nobody else can: a Christ-centered community.

Terry Crist2. Terry Crist, Lead Pastor, City of Grace

Terry and his team were remarkably hospitable, serving us a nice, catered lunch and going out of their way to welcome us.

BIGGEST LESSON: Never lose the smell of sheep. As a church grows, it’s crucial to continue to work hard to know, care for, and invest in people. And don’t be a hireling. 

Bill Borinstein3. Bill Borinstein, Lead Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel North Phoenix

Bill has been a wonderful blessing to me and our staff for a number of years. This is the second or third time I’ve taken folks to learn from him and it’s been wonderful each time.

BIGGEST LESSON: If your leadership isn’t fueled by closeness to Jesus, you have nothing to say and nowhere to go. Don’t trade intimacy with Jesus for leading others into intimacy with Jesus.

Jeff Gokee4. Jeff Gokee, Executive Director, PhoenixONE

Jeff’s ministry is unique in that he doesn’t lead a church, but leads a ministry that works to connect 20-somethings with local churches.

BIGGEST LESSON: If we’re honest, most churches are geared to young families. So churches need to work hard to acknowledge 20-somethings and intentionally create environments to connect them with older people who will love–not criticize–them.

Brian Kruckenberg5. Brian Kruckenberg, Lead Pastor, New City Church

It’s been fun to watch Brian’s ministry grow rapidly in the last few years, from a small church re-plant to now over 900 people in the heart of the city.

BIGGEST LESSON: Because you’re the leader you often think you know best. But everything is stronger if you let artists create, let writers write, and let all the people do what they are better than you at doing.

Neil Pitchel6. Neil Pitchel, Pastor of Administration, Redemption Church

Neil’s leadership and financial expertise is a big reason why Redemption has been able to be so strong in the midst of expanding.

BIGGEST LESSON: One of the biggest mistake a pastor can make is not knowing how money works and ignoring the financial aspects of church leadership.

Scott Maxwell7. Scott Maxwell, Elder of Preaching, Grace Bible Church

Grace has a reputation for training men and developing people, and spending time with Scott made it clear why this is such a strength.

BIGGEST LESSON: Don’t leapfrog over your heart. You can’t assume that you or the people you are training have hearts that are close to God. So focus on the heart before you focus on the head and the hands.

LESSONS FROM 6 CHURCH SERVICES

We visited Mission and Sun Valley on Saturday night and then went to New City, Church of the Cross, Mars Hill and Impact on Sunday. Here’s what I learned:

1. Preaching really matters a lot. The sermon is the longest part of any service and, as a result, plays a huge role in the effectiveness of the service. The services I enjoyed the most had the best, most engaging, most gospel-centered preaching and the services I enjoyed least had the weakest preaching.

2. Worship leaders need to lead. Everywhere we went had music. None of it was awful. Some of it was tremendous. But the best places were places where the worship leaders actually led. They prayed, they exhorted, they helped you engage. Anyone can play a gig. But we need worship leaders to lead.

3. Every church as a vibe that communicates strongly. As we would debrief each place, you could tell that much of how each guy interpreted his experience was through the “vibe” of the church. You could call the “vibe” culture, feel, or something else. You can write whatever you want on a website, but the vibe more strongly communicates who you really are.

4. I will hire some secret shoppers. Having this experience convinced me that I need to hire/recruit some secret shoppers who will intentionally visit our church and give us feedback on key elements of the experience. When you’re in it every week, you just get blind to so much.

I had a blast with the guys on our trip. And I’m encouraged by how different the body of Christ can be.

It’s Not (Just) About the Model

My last few posts have dealt in depth with multi-site models. First I shared how we do it at Redemption, then I argued that our model is stronger than video multi-site, and finally I offered some advantages that video multi-site has.

Throughout those posts, there was a lot of discussion about models. How things are done. Systems, structures, etc.

Models matter. Each model has inherent strengths and weaknesses.

But models aren’t everything. Culture is much more important.

NotAboutTheModel

You see, Redemption Church isn’t thriving primarily because of our model, as strong as I think the model is. So in this post I want to share the fuel — the culture — that allows our model to work.

1. We take God seriously, but not ourselves.

This is a phrase you hear quite a bit among the leadership. And it’s not just wishful thinking or an aspiration. It’s actually lived out. Our pastors and elders at every congregation are serious about God. They love him, read his word, pray, fast, repent, and strive to know him. But they don’t take themselves very seriously. They make fun of themselves and each other. They laugh. A lot.

As a result, there’s not striving or jockeying for position or attention — rather, there’s humility.

2. We have strong relationships among leadership.

The model of multi-congregational church only works when the leaders have strong relationships. With relationship comes trust and this trust enables us to work together in unity while celebrating the differences that each leader and congregation has.

Our leaders like being together. They are friends. They believe the best about each other.

I can’t imagine doing ministry in an environment without these kinds of relationships.

3. We really believe the gospel (most of the time).

That may sound pretentious to say “We really believe the gospel” as if other people don’t. That’s not my point.

The gospel is hard to believe. It’s especially hard to believe at a functional level when temptations for power, security, control, and approval lurk nearby.

Through the gospel, we have nothing to prove and nobody to impress.

I think our church is healthy and strong because we have many pastors and people who are doing the hard heart-work of believing this good news. As a result, we’re free to celebrate one other, love one another, rejoice with one another, and care for one another.

4. We value the little guy.

Because of the things above, we really esteem the little guy. We are thrilled to invest in people and places that are often overlooked or forgotten.

This is why we can have congregations of various size with leaders of various giftedness without jealousy, unhealthy competition, or infighting. In our leadership, the pastors of congregations over 1,000 people genuinely love and appreciate the pastors of congregations under 200 people (and vice versa). I love that.

5. We develop leaders and give them opportunities to lead.

One time I heard John Bryson say that he often has churches come to him and ask where they can find young, godly, mature, gifted, courageous leaders for their churches. His response: “They’re out there with Bigfoot, the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny.” He said that everyone wants these leaders but few people make them.

We are committed to making them.

We train leaders formally and informally. I think it flows out of our commitment to disciple-making and also out of the freedom from needing to build your own kingdom. If you’re trying to build your brand or your name, you won’t develop leaders. Or you’ll do it only for them to serve you. Some of our greatest joys are when we’ve sent out a young leader who we’ve had a chance to develop and grow.

I could do a long post on the things we could improve. My point is not to toot our own horn as much as it is that culture trumps model all the time. As Peter Drucker has said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Now, strategy and model can reinforce or undermine your culture, but the core of what has made our ministry a blessing to be part of is this culture.

Thank you, Jesus.

4 Advantages of Video Multi-Site

My last few posts have been about Redemption Church’s multi-congregational model and then about why I believe this model is better than the video multi-site model. (Note: I didn’t say that our church is better than the video multi-site churches, but that our model is better).

multi-site church

In this post, I want to discuss four advantages that the video multi-site model has over the multi-congregational model.

1. Video multi-site leverages the significant strengths of a proven leader.

Churches that can even consider doing video multi-site are led by dynamic, gifted preachers who are often also gifted visionaries. These are often uncommonly gifted men whose gifts create parking problems and crowded rooms.

Whether a video multi-site starts in order to handle numerical growth or to reach a new community (or both), it has an advantage in starting with a proven, gifted leader doing most of the talking rather than a new church planter. While these churches still need good leadership to direct the ministry at the video campuses, there’s a huge advantage to having your teaching pastor be Andy Stanley, Mark Driscoll, James MacDonald, or Matt Chandler.

2. Video multi-site is much simpler.

Notice, I didn’t say that video multi-site is simple. It’s not. Any kind of multi-site is shockingly complicated. But video multi-site is much simpler than multi-congregational (read this post to see my definitions).

  • It’s simpler to have one message given by one person via video than to have multiple pastors preaching the same passages.
  • It’s simpler to reproduce your ministry to a new community than to shape every aspect of your ministry to a new community.
  • It’s simpler to rally everyone around the vision and teaching of one Lead Pastor than multiple key leaders.
  • It’s simpler to find a campus pastor who can shepherd and organize people but doesn’t need to preach than to find a church planter who can do all of it.
  • It’s simpler to have a campus pastor with limited autonomy than to have a visionary congregation Lead Pastor who can significantly shape the culture and nuanced vision of his congregation.
  • It’s simpler to have one visionary leader who calls the shots than to have a plurality of strong leaders who have to work together.

 

3. Video multi-site more easily creates unified, multi-campus momentum.

There’s a continuum in all multi-site ministry: on one end is “we’re one church,” and on the other is “with multiple locations.” The video multi-site model tend to emphasize “one church” and the multi-congregational model tends to emphasize “multiple locations.”

If the goal is to create a lot of unified synergy, video multi-site is the way to go. Because the preaching comes from one main voice (or few voices) and the ministry is highly unified or even centralized, it’s much easier to create unified momentum. It’s easier to get people at one campus to identify with and rally around the other campuses. This sometimes even allows some video multi-sites to raise money on behalf of other campuses, which would be really hard in a multi-congregational model.

4. Video multi-site can launch and grow new sites faster.

Because of the factors above, video multi-sites can reproduce with much greater speed than multi-congregational churches. For instance, we recently had a church approach us about giving us their property for a new Redemption location. Unfortunately we had to decline. While we have a number of exciting young leaders who are developing, we did not have somebody at the moment ready to carry the leadership and preaching burden. If, on the other hand, we could get one of our associate, staff-level pastors who can shepherd and organize people and put him with video preaching of a highly gifted preacher, we could make that happen quickly.

Additionally, video multi-site churches can often grow faster. One of the major attractions to a church is the quality of the preaching and, with video preaching, the quality is superb. A church like Mars Hill can plant new campuses in cities where they already get many sermon downloads and quickly attract a strong following. Many church people are familiar with big-name preachers and transfer and many unchurched people are impressed with the high-quality communication and check it out.

There are a number of other strengths that video multi-sites and multi-congregations would have in common (reaching new people, multiplying ministry, leveraging administrative strengths and branding, etc.). But these are the places where I think video multi-sites have an edge.

In my next post, I’ll discuss what I think is at the heart of Redemption’s multi-congregational approach. It’s much more than just a “model,” and there are a few crucial elements worth highlighting.

What are some other advantages that you’d add to video multi-site?

5 Reasons Why Multi-Congregational Church is Better Than Video Multi-Site

In my last post I explained how our church does multi-congregational ministry. In this post, I want to flesh out how it’s different from “typical” video multi-site church and why I think our approach is better.

multi-congregational church

What’s the difference?

Technically, a multi-site church is one church meeting in multiple locations. The term multi-site is a bit like the term automobile. Just like there are different kinds of automobiles (cars, trucks, vans), there are different kinds of multi-site churches. For this discussion, I’m comparing multi-congregational churches with video multi-site churches.

A multi-congregational church is one church (one 501c3, payroll, employer ID, etc) with multiple congregations, each led by a Lead Pastor and elders who oversee the ministry, preach live, lead the vision and shape the culture of the local congregation in very specific and customized ways. Examples would be Redemption Church, Harbor PresbyterianExodus Church, and Redeemer Presbyterian (kind of).

A video multi-site church is also one church with multiple locations (usually called “campuses). In video multi-site, there is a highly gifted preacher (or team) who provide the sermons via video each week and lead the vision of the church. Local campuses are led by a Campus Pastor who reports to a centralized overseer from the main or original campus. While each campus has some distinct flavor, the branding, naming of ministries, culture and identity are highly similar between campuses. In some cases, even the service is planned identically (same songs, order of service, etc.). Examples would be North Point Community Church, LifeChurch.tv, Mars Hill, The Village Church and dozens of other nationally known churches.

Many churches are some kind of hybrid or something else altogether — these are not the only two kinds. However, video multi-site is the typical kind of multi-site church (amazing that anything could be typical that is still so historically new), and I want to compare that to our less-typical approach.

Why compare?

Some might ask, “Why talk about what’s better? Can’t we just say they are different? Aren’t we all trying to reach people for Jesus?” I appreciate that kind of question.

Let me state very clearly: I am not against video multi-site. I don’t think it’s wrong or bad. I actually think video multi-site is a good thing. It’s awesome when a church has a such a vibrant ministry that it can even consider expanding into video multi-site and reaching more people.

Let me also state very clearly: I’m not saying video multi-site doesn’t work. It works amazingly well. People are coming to Christ in droves as effective ministry gets pushed into new communities.

Video multi-site is good and it works. But I still think it’s weaker than multi-congregational church. And, since many of my readers are church leaders and pastors — some of whom are considering expanding their ministry to some kind of multi-site approach — I think it’s worth making a case for why our model is stronger.

5 reasons why multi-congregational is better.

1. All ministry is truly local.

I was recently at a gathering of larger church pastors and some were explaining how they do video multi-site. They emphasized a crucial phrase: All ministry is local. Their point was that if everything at a campus has to come from the mothership, it’s a bad thing. Local leaders have to be strong.

I agree that all ministry is local. But in a multi-congregational model, we actually believe it.

At a video multi-site, all ministry is local except the preaching. All ministry is local, except the primary catalyst for instruction, culture-setting, and vision.

You can call your kids ministry the same thing and have the same signage, but you can’t tell me that the culture in Edmond, OK is so similar to Wellington, FL that it makes no difference where the preaching comes from. I know that television, technology and pop culture unite us more than ever, but you can’t convince me that the culture in Bellevue, WA is the same as Olympia, WA — let alone the same as Huntington Beach, CA.

For example, LifeChurch.tv previously had a few campuses here in Phoenix. When I spoke to one of their leaders prior to launch, he was unaware that our suburban community has a 25%+ Mormon population. Additionally, they were surprised when their southern-accented preacher didn’t thrive out here in wanna-be-California. I was not surprised.

In multi-congregational church, sermons are preached, vision is cast and culture is shaped totally by leaders who are in the community where they are ministering. Lead Pastors have the opportunity to think through and address the issues that face their people and their neighbors in a way that video-preaching cannot.

2. Every level and kind of ministry is multiplied.

Video multi-sites are incredible at multiplication. Prior to going multi-site, they grew by multiplying services, small groups, and leaders. Then they grew by multiplying campuses and ministries. To do any kind of multi-site well, you have to multiply like crazy. But in video multi-site, everything gets multiplied except the preachers and the visionary leaders.

On the other hand, in a multi-congregational model (like a church plant) even the senior leaders get multiplied. This strengthens not only the congregations that get started but the body of Christ as a whole.

Now, some video multi-site pastors, like Mark Driscoll, have argued that he does multiply preachers because when he’s out of the pulpit he’s giving 15 preachers the chance to preach live. This means if he’s out of the pulpit 10 weeks a year, he’s giving 150 opportunities to preach. That is truly impressive. But while video multi-site gives a man the chance to preach, it never gives him the chance to be the preacher. Which leads to my next point…

3. Gifted young leaders want to stay.

I have no scientific data or research to point to, but from being quite connected in the ministry world, I can tell you that turnover among video multi-site Campus Pastors is very high. Additionally, many churches are having a hard time finding the kinds of leaders they need to be Campus Pastors.

In some cases, one wonders whether the turnover is because of the unhealthy culture of the particular church or because of the model itself. I’m not sure, but I know that gifted, visionary, leaders (especially with preaching gifts) are initially attracted to these visionary video multi-sites to receive training and growth, but often end up leaving when they realize there will not be a real opportunity to lead (North Point seems to be an exception).

On the other hand, we are attracting and keeping many young leaders who see that they can lead a congregation, have and cast a vision, and preach regularly while still having the benefits of being part of a healthy, visionary movement.

4. There is real freedom and real team.

My favorite part of being a Lead Pastor at a multi-congregational church is that I have the real freedom to lead with a real sense of team, friendship, and accountability.

I have a friend who was a Campus Pastor at a big video multi-site church that told me his boss came to town one day, didn’t like a song they sang (not on theological grounds, but stylistic) and told him, “We don’t sing that song here. You may not play that again.” Forget that the song fit his context better than the mothership’s context. It wasn’t allowed.

That would never happen for me. Instead, I can shape our ministry in ways that fit our context but still not be alone. I have real friendships with real peers who are in the same role as me and understand the same pressure I feel. We can carry each other’s burdens and help one another deeply.

5. It’s less dependent on one visionary leader.

All churches are personality driven to some degree. This is normal because people follow people. This is inevitable.

What nobody knows, however, is what will happen to the video multi-site movement when the visionary leaders go. The movement is too new to know. I’ve heard an assortment of ideas and plans for how things will be handled and many of them sound promising. But it concerns me to think that so much is riding on one leader.

In our model, the church as a whole is riding on a number of people. We’ve even lost our two best preachers (one to plant in San Francisco and the other to retirement) and have thrived despite the loss. This is partly because our model communicates that nobody is that important. As a result, the environment tends to be more humble and healthy.

Some video multi-site pastors scratch their heads when we tell them what we’re doing. They can’t imagine that something like this could work without a person like them calling the shots. It defies their categories.

Which makes me think we’re on a really good track.

These are some reasons why I prefer our model. In the next post, I’ll share some of the down sides and explain the advantages that video multi-site has over what we’re doing.

Any questions?

How Our Multi-Congregational Church Model Works

I am a Lead Pastor and part of the Leadership Team of Redemption Church, a growing multi-congregational church in Arizona. Our model of doing church is quite different from what most people have experienced. Especially among church leaders, we get a lot of questions about how and why we do what we do. This post will answer some of the common questions we get about our model.

multi-congregational church

How is Multi-Congregational Church different from Multi-Site Church?

Though we are technically “multi-site” (one church/multiple locations), this phrase often brings to mind video multi-site and is, thus, unhelpful in describing what we do. We also avoid the phrase “multi-campus” as it carries many of the same connotations. We will occasionally refer to a Redemption “campus” if we’re talking about the physical location. Otherwise we use the term “congregation.”

This is because we think the term “multi-congregational” most accurately describes what we’re doing. We are one church with multiple congregations.

We are one organization, with one employee ID number, one tax ID number, and one bank account. While united around theology, vision and values, each congregation has a very real opportunity to customize ministry to its particular context with its particular leadership.

How Does the Leadership Structure Work?

Each local congregation has a team of elders (staff and non-staff) that shepherd the congregation, oversee its ministry, set its budget, carry out discipline, hire its staff and lead the mission in its community. While these elders care deeply about the overall vision of Redemption Church, their authority and oversight extends only to the congregation they are leading.

There is also a Redemption-wide Leadership Team that oversees the church as a whole and make decisions that impact all congregations. This team consists of the Lead Pastors from each congregation as well as other strategic leaders including the CFO and Communications Pastor.

The Leadership Team is not focused on congregation specific issues (what music to play, how to get more small groups in Tempe, etc.), but is focused on Redemption-wide issues. These include policy, vision, acquiring property, and planting new churches or congregations.

Is There a Leader of Leaders?

Yes. Tyler Johnson is currently the Lead Pastor of Redemption Church. What makes this unique is that Tyler does not lead one of the congregations. Rather, he is a pastor to the pastors, often visiting different congregations, leading the Leadership Team, and forging relationships and partnerships between Redemption and outside organizations. This is only possible because Tyler is humble, trustworthy, and highly relational. He has apostolic gifting that allows other gifted leaders to follow and trust him.

How Do Finances Work?

Each congregation is expected to be self-supporting (obviously, this takes time for new plants).

At this point, each congregation gives roughly 10% to a centralized Outward Focused fund that supports church-planting and community ministry.

Each congregation also pays roughly 10% to Central Operations for accounting, payroll, communication, website, graphics, and facility maintenance services. This percentage could change in the future if the Leadership Team decides that more resources need to be devoted to Central Operations.

The remaining 80% is available for the local congregation to budget and spend as needed. These funds pay for facilities, staff salaries, and ministry expenses. In a very real way, this allows those giving at a local congregation to know that every dollar they give is supporting the mission of their local congregation, as even the Outward Focused and Central Ops monies are used to extend and support the ministry of the local congregation.

How Does Preaching Work?

Each congregation has regular live preaching, overseen by the congregation’s Lead Pastor. Most of the time (~45 weeks) each congregation is preaching on the same biblical text or topic. This allows the preachers to study in advance together (we have a weekly Preaching Collective for all preachers) and share resources. It also builds unity across our congregations as everybody is tethered to the same text. When necessary, the Lead Pastor has the freedom to set the scheduled sermon aside and address an issue he deems important.

How Much Unity is There? How Much Freedom?

These questions have been and continue to be the most challenging part of multi-congregational ministry. There is no set-it and forget-it approach. Based on personality and gifting, some leaders push for more unity and uniformity, while others push for more freedom and individuality. It’s a constant tension to manage and having this diversity of leaders forces us to a healthier place.

Additionally, one of the most confusing aspects early on was for pastors, staff, and volunteers to have clarity on chain-of-command, who had jurisdiction over what, and what ministry efforts were or should have been centralized or decentralized. To address this challenge, we introduced the following categories: Centralized, Unified, and Decentralized.

1. Centralized = Things done the same way, overseen by a centralized department. Right now, this category includes finance, accounting, HR, facility maintenance, media and communications, pastoral residencies and Outward Focused Ministries.

2. Unified = Things done the same way, overseen by the local leadership. Right now, this category includes communities (small groups), preaching, membership, classes, elder processes, church discipline, biblical counseling, and benevolence.

3. Decentralized = Things done in different ways, overseen by local leadership. Right now, many things are decentralized, including guest services, kids, students, worship, assimilation, internships and ministries for men and women.

How Does it Actually Make Everyone Better?

We don’t have a comprehensive list, but…

  • Lead Pastors are better because they have a team of other men in the same role who are supporting and encouraging them.
  • Staff are better because they have associates at other congregations who are doing similar work.
  • Volunteer leaders and new staff are especially helped by the experience surrounding them in other congregations.
  • Preachers are better because they sharpen each other and share ideas weekly.
  • Members are better because they have more places to invite friends and co-workers who live in other parts of town to attend.
  • Each congregation is strengthened by the overall reputation of Redemption.
  • Church planters are better because they don’t have to reinvent the wheel (especially with admin) and they have the support and strength of a movement behind them.
  • Newer congregations are better because financing is available that wouldn’t be available if they were on their own.
What other questions do you have about multi-congregational ministry?

 

 

What I Admire About Mormon Missions

mormonmissionaries

I have a number of LDS friends and, living in Phoenix’s Southeast Valley, meet LDS folks on a regular basis. I often ask them about their experiences serving on a mission, as it always leads to interesting stories and conversation.

While I disagree with the core of LDS theology, I admire a number of things about the two-year missions that many Mormons serve.

There are surely things I could critique and, as an outsider, there are probably things I don’t understand and might not like if I knew more. However, for this post, I want to share a number of things I appreciate.

1. They are explicitly missionaries.

No identity confusion here. When you see the young men with white shirts and ties, you know what they’re there for. They want to serve people and talk to them about faith.

They don’t call themselves “english teachers,” “tour guides,” “businessmen,” or some other identity that doesn’t actually represent who they are, what they come to do, and where their money comes from. They claim to be what they are.

2. They work hard to fund their mission experience.

The vast majority of missions are funded by the individual or his/her family. In many cases, young people work and save for many years in preparation for their mission. This gives them a sense of ownership to the experience that likely makes it a more valuable experience. When I see young men pedaling their bikes in the brutal heat of an Arizona summer and realize that, in many cases, they paid their own way there–I’m impressed.

3. They spend two of their most formative years committing to serving others.

We all know that the two years after high school are crucial for determining your personal values and identity. This is valuable, prime-of-your-life years. I admire that these missionaries are using those best years to serve others and share their beliefs. I have to think that this creates a pattern and perspective of serving others and owning your faith.

4. They learn lessons (and sometimes languages) that help them for a lifetime.

Because these two years are so crucial for life development, missionaries learn incredible life lessons through their service. They learn how to talk with people. They learn how to knock on doors and work hard. They learn how to face rejection and failure. They learn teamwork. In many cases, they learn a new language.

All these lessons serve them for the rest of their lives. It’s no wonder that so many LDS folks are excellent in business, good with people, and hard working.

5. They involve the local, permanent church members in the mission.

Because missionaries are away from home and rarely see their families (another admirable thing), the local congregations rally around them. I often see people in restaurants treating missionaries to a meal and loving on them. When I’ve had conversations with LDS missionaries, they often invite me to connect with a local church leader. This rallies the local ward to own the mission with the missionaries and it also ensures that anybody who converts has a natural relational connection to the church.

6. They solidify their theological beliefs.

The best way to learn something is to teach it. I think many Christians never develop their theological and spiritual muscles because they often aren’t in a position to have to teach and defend their faith. Not so for Mormon missionaries. They spend every day talking with skeptics about their beliefs. That is an effective way to develop strong convictions.