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Retreat & Conversation for Pastors, Priests, and Worship Leaders



Hello pastor, priest, and worship leader friends…

If you are exploring the intersection of ancient practices with the modern world, please join us.
If you desire to live unforced rhythms of Grace and invite your church to do the same, please join us.
If you often feel alone on this journey and long to meet others asking similar questions, please join us.

On February 14-16, The Practice Team, Fr Michael Sparough SJ, and Jonathan Martin are hosting a small retreat & conversation for pastors, priests, and worship leaders who don’t just want to exhaust themselves building church programs, but who deeply desire to learn how to align their lives and communities with the eternal, redemptive rhythms of God. We’ll practice together (guided masterfully in a half day retreat by Fr Michael Sparough SJ), engage meaningful conversation (lead by The Practice Team), gather around the communion table (pastored by Jonathan Martin), and spend all of Tuesday morning dreaming about how to tangibly invite our church communities into these unforced rhythms of Grace.

The Story, Details, and Registration

Finally, if you need any more motivation, Chicago is BEAUTIFUL in February. (That is a lie.)

Grace and peace to you all,


To all my pastor friends on Holy Week

Filed under: church,Discipleship,God's movement,leadership — 7:47 am

Hi pastor friends,

It is possible to work so hard helping a community connect with God, that we wind up disconnected from God. I’ve done this many times. And so in the middle of Holy Week – often the craziest time of the year for pastors – may I share these prophetically freeing words from Dallas Willard…

“The easy yoke is to lay aside your projects and mine and to take up God’s projects.  I will say that again.
Taking the easy yoke is to lay aside your projects or my projects, which are crushing…and this is
where leaders come under intolerable pressure. It is because they are carrying their projects; they have presumed to take God’s projects and make them their projects.

“The great temptation is to try to make it happen, whatever it is.  That’s where we need to step out of
our yoke and into Jesus’ yoke and let him carry the burden.  This is true as parents, this is true as pastors,
and in every way.  We feel like we have to make it happen, and that’s what we have to lay down. We don’t make it happen.  We turn it loose.  Whatever we are doing for the Lord, we let him carry through with it.
We do our best, but we don’t trust our best.”

(Dallas Willard, Living in Christ’s Presence)


Peacemaking often Begins as Troublemaking.

Filed under: God's movement,leadership — 4:07 pm


Yesterday, after sharing Lynne’s powerful words about peacemaking in the Middle East, I stumbled upon my friend Austin Channing Brown‘s killer post called “Making Peace”.  So if you’d be so kind to allow me back-to-back peacemaking posts, check out Austin’s gloriously subversive perspective.  She’s pushing us beyond the idea that peacemakers are “hippies that just want everyone to get along”…and into the boldly prophetic picture the scriptures paint of the Prince of Peace.  Here’s where she really gets rolling…

“If we really look at the lives of the people we have dubbed peacemakers, it would be glaringly obvious that peacemakers are seeking something far more profound than a lack of conflict. We are calling people to pursue justice and equity no matter the cost. We are calling people to rebel, to protest, to organize. We are calling people to a life of speaking truth to power, a life of prophetic speech, a life that may stand in direct opposition to the status quo your church, your neighborhood, your community is trying to maintain. I’ll be your peacemaker, but remember that means I have to tear some stuff down first and it won’t look or feel very peaceful.

The life of our Prince of Peace showed us a new way…”

Preach it!  The whole post is HERE.  Austin is obviously navigating a tension here, but I think it’s helpful to honestly dig into the depth and grit and reality of what it might look like to follow Jesus into the work of helping peace flourish on this earth.




Filed under: God's movement,leadership — 7:00 am


About a year ago, I had the opportunity to visit South Africa for the first time. When not working (partnering with fantastic musicians around Johannesburg), our group got to visit Soweto. We attended a church, toured Nelson Mandela’s childhood home, and then spent a few heart-wrenching hours in the Apartheid museum. Deeply moved, quite messed up, and painfully aware of my ignorance to what had happened, I immediately bought Mandela’s book “Long Walk to Freedom” and dove into it. I can’t begin to tell you how moving and upsetting and inspiring it was and continues to be.

On the day of Mandela’s funeral, there are so many things to say. But Friday, President Obama articulated something that has been burning in my heart ever since…

“The day that he (Mandela) was released from prison gave me a sense of what human beings can do when they’re guided by their hopes and not by their fears…

O God, may that be true of me.  And every one of us.  May we all let our fears take a back seat while our hopes launch us into a more beautiful future.


Learning from a Barefoot Movement

Filed under: creativity,leadership — 6:18 pm

This is brilliant.  The story is wildly inspiring, but I can’t help wondering about the implications for the future…


Oh no…my hero is jerk!

Filed under: God's movement,leadership,music — 3:47 pm

I recently came across these video clips of one of my life heroes, Keith Green, acting like a bit of a jerk to his audience…

How self-important an artist do you have to be to yell at your audience for clapping along to your songs?  It’s pretty outrageous and if I’m honest, makes me a little sad to watch.

The reality is that God used Keith Green to radically transform my life in high school.  Keith’s music and teaching ignited a spiritual fire in me that changed everything and launched me on a new path.  I’ve always held him up as a super-spiritual, other-wordly, heroic, modern-day saint.  But that’s not entirely true.

Keith Green was a flawed person with some serious edges.  And yet, God used him powerfully.

This messes with me and has the potential to push me one of two ways.  First, I could become a cynic and say “See, he was just a fake!  Behind all those christian words was a cocky heart!  I can’t believe I was duped by such a hypocrite.”  OR, second, I could humbly realize that “If God can use a screw-up like Keith Green, then maybe God can use a screw-up like me.  Grace, grace, grace.  All is grace.”

I choose option two.

I no longer believe that there are a few super-spritual people that God uses to change the world, and then there are the rest of us.  This distinction is false.  There is one group of people on earth – the broken – and we all belong to it.  Even Billy Graham.  Even your hero.  Even your next door neighbor.  Even you.  Even me.

Now certainly, when we choose to follow God in the way of Jesus, God begins to heal and transform us into the people we were made to be.  And I think God can more easily use a person that’s already walking in His ways.  But we never get to the point where we deserve the Almighty Creator of the Universe to work through us.  Not even close.  It’s all grace.  Grace, grace, grace.

And so I’m trying to not get so upset when one of my heroes or leaders or respected friends disappoint me. And I’m trying not to get too upset when I mess up…again.  What about you?


Everything I believe about the Church (in 1000 words or less)

Filed under: God's movement,leadership — 11:54 am

For the last couple weeks, I’ve been working on an article for about the Church.
I don’t claim to be a church expert in any way, but the process of trying to collect some thoughts and ramblings into 1000 words or less was both difficult and thrilling.  I loved it.  And my heart for what the Church can be is bursting out of my chest right now.  The piece went live today…

You can read the whole thing HERE.  If you have some thoughts, definitely leave a comment and join the conversation.  Blessings…


The Church OF the People rather than The Church FOR the People

Filed under: God's movement,leadership,worship — 1:31 pm

Van Gogh

Yesterday, while dreaming and journaling about 2012, and stumbled upon some passionate feelings about the Christian church. This is hardly an original thought, but since it grabbed a hold of me so deeply, here it is:

I am way more compelled by a church OF the people
than a church FOR the people.

This is not to say that one is right and the other is wrong, but I’m becoming increasingly captured by the idea of the priesthood of all believers. Church as a movement rather than an institution. A church created by the people rather than consumed by the people.

A few examples…

In a church TO the people, Worship means: Come hear our most gifted artists provide a worship experience that will inspire and bless you. When it’s done, you’ll want to give them a round of applause, thank God, and be glad you attended.

In a church OF the people, Worship becomes: Prayerful, intentional space that empowers the people to co-create a worship experience – both as individuals and as a body, both at home and when together. The church helps people connect with God and each other, and then gets out of the way.

In a church TO the people, Evangelism means: Bring your friend to church to hear the pastor (who they will never meet) explain to them the truth. It is exporting evangelism to the expert, and reducing the sweeping Story of God to disembodied information.

In a church OF the people, Evangelism becomes: Training up disciples and launching them out to serve the world and share their story…and helping foster a community so alive and beautiful that people can’t wait to join.

In a church TO the people, Mission means: Give your money to the church so it can build a ministry to the poor. You write a check and they’ll take it from there.

But a church OF the people declares: “No one knows the poor in your town better than you. Let us help you serve them. And if you don’t know the poor in your town, following Jesus means that you’ll need to make some changes. Please let us help you humbly engage and learn from and serve the poor in your town.”

Obviously, these are exaggerated examples for clarity. Most churches I’ve been a part of are both, but tend to lean one way or the other. And it’s my personal hope that in this next year, every faith community will inch a bit more in the Church OF the People direction – developing and unleashing the supernatural potential of every woman, man, and kid.

And this year I commit to humbly and constructively use any opportunity I’m given to help and get swept up in this Movement. What an honor and responsibility it is to be (like EVERY one of us) the potential hands and feet of God!

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:11-13)




Session 5 of the Summit

Filed under: God's movement,leadership,willow — 11:55 am

Wow, session 5 of the Leadership Summit (called “Tough Callings”) just finished, and it messed me up.  Something is stirring deep inside.

right before session 5

I had the opportunity to help lead the first few minutes of the session (reading from Colossians 1, the Charlie Hall song “Center,” and the classic “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus”) with a killer team of some of my favorite people.  I love our team.  And I’m not sure how it sounded around the country, but the people here in South Barrington sang their hearts out.

After a few more songs, I found my seat and got ambushed by the stories, songs, and prayers of people who have received hard callings…people who have given up everything to serve the poor and most forgotten people on earth.  One after another, these stories pushed and pulled me into some deep and uncomfortable places, and I’m still feeling it.  Here’s the question I can’t get beyond…

Am I in the place I am in, doing what I’m doing, because God
has called me?  Or is this the best gig I can find?

Am I following Jesus into the life he’s made me to live, or am I just unconsciously drifting from “what I think is best” to “what feels right” to “what makes the most sense?”  Is it possible that I’m living the kind of comfortable life I’ve always wanted to live, but just overlaying spiritual language on top of it?  When I pray “God, what do you want me to do?,” am I actually saying “God, here’s what I’m going to do…please bless it?”  I’m not sure.  These are heavy questions that I need to keep digging into.

Thanks for the grace to let me wrestle with all this out loud.  What do you think?  Do you ever feel a similar tension in your life?


Bill Hybels, Starbucks, and the anti-gay label…

Filed under: God's movement,leadership,willow — 5:41 pm

A couple hours ago, Bill addressed some drama that has been brewing about Willow’s Leadership Summit.
I love how he handled it and feel really proud…


What the world needs now (especially me)

Filed under: God's movement,leadership,Palestine / Israel — 10:50 am

“The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago

I often think about this quote in terms of the Israeli-Palestinian mess, or any kind of religious conflict, but can you imagine if our country’s political leaders believed this? What would Washington look like if each person was so aware of their own contradictions that they could disagree passionately without ever demonizing “the other side”?

But that’s easy. Here’s a more difficult question: What would MY life look like if I could fully internalize this truth and let it infuse every part of me? What if I could pursue what I thought was right without having to prove the other wrong? What if I could learn to see and value the good and beauty inside ‘my enemies’? What if I became an absolute expert on the evil corners of my own heart, and instead of wallowing or denying, I humbly held on to grace?

I have resorted to “either/or” “bad vs good” thinking way too many times in my life. (And wouldn’t you know it, but I always happen to find myself on the “good” side. What a coincidence!). There is a time to stand up and courageously speak the truth as we see it, but I’m really tired of all the sawdust in my eyes getting in the way. (M 7) There must be a better path.

O God, please have mercy on us all. Give us eyes to really see, ears to really hear, and hearts to take it all in.


why women should rule the world

Filed under: God's movement,leadership — 12:08 pm


I had a huge realization today:  Almost every idea and perspective that feels fresh and future-oriented (to me) is from a woman (or a man who healthily embraces both his masculine and feminine sides).  The days of the alpha male are over. The world they have lead is a mess.  And one of the central, reoccurring stories of history is arrogant, childish men grabbing power, not listening to anyone else, and allowing their swaggering hubris to crash their lives and hurt everyone around them.  This is painful to watch when it’s a father wrecking his family, or a CEO bringing down his company.  And it’s painful to watch when it’s a world leader hurting his country.

Male dominance has taken us as far as it can, and we need the future to be co-created by the feminine. Not just “let some women play along with men’s rules”, but a true partnership that re-writes the rules.

Before going any further, I must acknowledge that I am a male in a leadership position who has benefited from the system in so many ways.  And although many wise people have been talking about gender issues for years (my brilliant wife being one of them!), I am embarrassingly late to this conversation.  So in the humility of just beginning this journey, here are a few perspectives that are helping me.

Noreena Hertz ended her brilliant TED talk with…

“If we challenge experts, devolve authority, and keep our independent thinking strong…
but also, if we become much more comfortable with nuance, uncertainty, and doubt, and if we allow our experts using those terms too, we will set ourselves up much better for the challenges of the 21st century.”

When’s the last time you heard a male president, prime minister, CEO, leader, or football coach arguing for nuance, uncertainty, and doubt?  It’s very rare.  Usually, it’s about power and certainty and “smoking the bad guys out of their caves”.  But this bravado doesn’t often get to the heart (and then solution) of such a complicated world. And even when it is victorious, the collateral damage is painful to watch.

(My second favorite band Elbow sings “The leaders of the free world are just little boys throwing stones.  And it’s easy to ignore them till they’re knocking on the doors of our homes.”  listen here.)

Nice Girls

My mother-in-law Lynne is an incredible example of a brave woman who is wading into the most intense issues on planet earth (first HIV/AIDS, then the Congo, and now the Palestinian/Israeli conflict) with both strength and grace.  She’s strong enough to stand up and speak the truth, but humble enough to appeal for a compromise where both sides can win.  She can hold her own in a line of powerful male speakers, but she also listens to you (no matter who you are) like you’re the most important person on earth.  Is it strange to admit that I’d like to be more like my mother-in-law?  (read more here.)

Finally, the lovingly provocative Father Rohr suggests:

“All this “women-stuff” is not only important; it is half of conversion, half of salvation, half of wholeness, half of God’s work of art.  …The world is tired of Pentagons and pyramids, empires and corporations that only abort God’s child.  This women-stuff is very important, and it has always been important;  more than this white male priest ever imagined or desired!  My God was too small and too male. Much that the feminists have said is very prophetic and necessary for the Church and the world.  It is time for the woman to come out of her desert refuge and for the men to welcome her.” (Adapted from The Maternal Face of God )

What do you think about this? How do you think the world/country/church/government most needs to shift to a better balance of masculine and feminine?  Where have you seen this already happening?  What have you found helpful in your own journey?


The Antidote to Apathy

Filed under: creativity,leadership — 9:53 am

I found this short TED talk – The Antidote to Apathy – wildly inspiring and fresh. He packs an hour of killer insights into seven quick minutes…


the strangest and most inspiring story…

Filed under: books,leadership,life — 8:09 pm

future golf pro?

I just had to share this.

On his 30th birthday (in 2009), Dan McLaughlin quit his job as a photographer to become a professional golfer.  But here’s the thing:  Dan didn’t play or really even like golf. However, inspired by the 10,000-hour theory from Malcolm Gladwell’s brilliant book Outliers, he decided to test this theory (that anyone can become great at something by putting in 10,000 hours) and create “The Dan Plan.”  Dan will practice golf six hours a day, six days a week, for six years…and then attempt to join the PGA tour.  Seriously.  Read the story here.

Dan is either a genius or certifiably insane.
But either way, I must admit, his commitment is both inspiring and challenging.

Just imagine what your life could be 10,000 hours of disciplined work from now….

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