8.5 of My Favorite Mistakes of the Year

“Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” – G. K. Chesterton


I take a bit of time at the end of each year to take an honest, deep look into how the year gone by has gone. I group these together as “Mistakes” that are as positive as possible – I try to see them as stepping stones going into the new year.

As much as I know that my memorable mistakes will lead to learning opportunities that will propel me into the coming year.

I tend to have short-term memory problems with what I learned in previous years. It is important that I take a to heart the AA saying that launches the 12 Steps.

“I choose to take a fearless, moral inventory” of how things have gone, where they are now, and where I hope they will go from here.

It is easy to fall into the opposite belief of the Chesterton quote above.

We can fall into the false belief that a successful life is built on the appearance of outward success. Jesus’ hand picked mentees, the Twelve, make it clear that God sees mistakes as key elements that will lead to personal growth and spiritual health.

Why call them my “Favorite” mistakes? These are the ones that have taught me the most over the past year. Without mistakes we won’t have traction we need in order to move forward. Mistakes are the rough surface that allows us to grip the wall in front of us.

Unless we make some great mistakes, we are destined to stay stuck in the ditch we’ve built from the false belief that perfection is the goal. The only difference between a ditch and a grave is the depth of each.

We tend to run from our mistakes – treat mistakes as though they were a sign of our incompetence.

We tend to hide our mistakes from our for fear they will categorize us as incompetent or immature. If others see our mistakes that draw that conclusion they need to rethink their view of an effective life versus one that only looks successful on the surface.

These are my “Favorite” mistakes of the year. Believe it or not I had to pare my list down in order that this post won’t become too lengthy! As you read through these a button or two might connect with you and maybe even help you see more clearly about your life. Continue reading 8.5 of My Favorite Mistakes of the Year

Heaven’s Lessons by Steve Sjogren

What happens when you knock on death’s door not once, but twice?

As Steve Sjogren opened his eyes during surgery, the people around his bed didn’t look familiar. They didn’t look like any people he had ever seen before—they were transparent. No words were spoken, but he knew in an instant they were present to support him, to urge him not give up his desperate fight for life.

Steve had gone into the hospital for a planned forty-five-minute “simple surgery” to remove his gallbladder. But things went haywire that day as the surgeon accidentally cut his aorta and caused his heart to stop for several minutes. He did not go home that night as was scheduled. In fact, he feels like he has been in the recovery room for more than twelve years since that procedure.

In Heaven’s Lessons, Steve Sjogren talks about his encounters with the other side and the priceless lessons God taught him during his journey.

Find out what Steve learned about things such as:

  • Suffering
  • God’s voice
  • Conflict
  • Desperation

Come along on the journey as Steve reveals what it’s like to bottom out at all levels—physically, emotionally, and even spiritually—and slowly make a recovery back to normalcy.

5 Ways To Enhance Outreach Momentum by Steve Sjogren

Momentum is a holy thing. It can be blessed to increase or it can be messed with and diminish if we take it for granted. When it’s happening we all smile, we celebrate and look pretty smart. If we are wise we will learn to walk in tune with God’s Spirit regardless of ever-changing external factors.

It is the will of God that his church be continually marked with the presence of his Spirit, which is the force of outreach momentum. Here are some barriers to our momentum.

Momentum is impaired when we allow scaredy cats to speak up.

You can avoid this by going out after an outreach and spending time doing a downloading time.

Momentum is impaired when there is too much talk about money.

A spirit of fear will kill enthusiasm for outreach. Church leadership can begin to think they can’t afford to reach out.

Momentum is impaired when we talk or plan incessantly.

Momentum is impaired when we model outreach with only people who are highly gifted.

Put forward people who are highly gifted and you will intimidate the majority of your congregation.

Momentum is impaired when we do outreach that is too costly.

If what we do is out of the reach of our people we are going to perpetuate a model that only pushes people away from usefulness.
Let’s switch gears a bit. How can we move toward the positive and launch out into what will stir up momentum?

1. Let’s show what’s happening through outreach.

  • Video
  • Website
  • Pictures

2. Let’s gossip what’s happening through outreach.

  • Convey stories throughout the church.

3. Let’s convey the doable-ness of kindness outreach as creatively as you can.

4. Let’s play with words.

  • The “E” word intimidates many. Consider using the term “Kindness Outreach.”

5. Let’s give testimony about former fearful who risked by reaching out and found outreach surprisingly fun.

  • Stories are powerful, especially when conveyed by people others have known to be timid.


Why I Use Outreach Connect Cards… And Think You Should Too!

We hope that each time you connect with those in your city with acts of kindness, generosity, and practical love you are giving out a “Connect Card.”  Many well meaning folks ask, “Why use any sort of card at all?  Isn’t that a ‘string’ when you say ‘no strings attached’?”  The reality is that people may have questions or want to connect with you after being served by an act of kindness. This is a longer discussion than we have the space for here, but in short think of this:

  • If all churches in your city were filled with the sense of God’s presence,
  • That newcomers would be able to consistently experience the love and welcoming, accepting embrace of the members of that place;
  • And those newcomers would consistently walk away from their weekend experience with the idea that they have been in God’s renewing presence, then indeed there would be no need for cards with any specific churches on them.

But alas, this is not the case in any city, or even small town that we know of.  Thus there is a need to connect with people we are touching in a tactful way as we serve, love, nudge forward toward the kingdom of Jesus.  The key word here is “tactful.”

When we first began using cards they read, “If we can be of more help, give us a call.”  Now, over 20 years later and literally millions of cards, in several languages, those exact words are far from ideal.  As of today, let’s move forward with a slight, but vital edit on that sentence.

Inaccurate Expressions of the Heart

The word that is way off in that sentence is “if.”  We really don’t mean “if,” were we to sit down and chat for a bit.  “If” implies, “You probably have a great life with very few problems, maybe no problems whatsoever…”  And on it goes.  The truth is, none of us / none of them are having a great time in life for the most part.  We are all fellow strugglers.  In Christ we have a deep, abiding peace.  But life is difficult for all of us.

The following is a much better phrase for our cards:

“Call us when we can serve you next.”


“Give us a call when your next need arises.”


“Please call us when you have another need.  Our aim is to show love, not simply talk love.” 


“We look forward to connecting with you again soon!” 

These differences may seem like slight variations to you, but they are huge to those who read closely.  By removing the word “if” we are saying with each card, “You really do have pain in life like all of us.  When that pain occurs again, we’ll be around.  We are here for the long haul.  Give us a call, we’ll be here!”

There are ways to charge up your connect cards and make them more effective. Getting rid of the “IF” word helps open the door for people who need help.  Take the following tips to heart and put a caffeinated surge of momentum into your connect cards!

Avoid Super Cutesy

Not-yet believers roll their eyes at a ten meter distance when in the presence of anything “church cute” though, most believers are used to it and thus don’t notice.  Often it is at a ridiculous level.  Think of the $50 fake tip tract, “Do I have a tip for you!…”  then with real money, they leave a 1% tip.  Disgusting!

Some general rules:

  • If it rhymes, don’t use it!
  • No acrostics!
  • Never, ever use a picture of the Bible with text saying, “Fight truth decay…”

This is a bit tongue-in-cheek but you get the message.

Do Convey Passion

People are hungry beyond words for passion.  Not raving, nutty, holding a bullhorn stuff.  That’s not passion.  That’s often someone in need of a Thorazine drip.

Here is the mental picture you are shooting for… An invitation to a great party that is happening in town.  The “Jesus party” that is happening at your weekend celebration, where all who come are being accepted, loved and celebrated regardless of their background and baggage.  Acceptance is step one toward change.  You were accepted into change whether you realized it or not.  While we were “yet sinners,” Jesus was literally dying to obtain God’s acceptance of us.  We love, we hug.  Most importantly, we serve and invite!  No questions asked.  God’s Sprit does the changing.  People either change or they grow weary of the presence of God’s Spirit and leave until later.

Give Away Your Number

The phone number printed on your connect cards is a very precious gateway into a connection with Jesus.  People bold enough and ready enough to actually dial the number on the card that a was given to them by a follower of Jesus do not want to listen to your church’s automated phone menu or talk to the volunteer church receptionist.  They want to talk to a pastor, the pastor.  For over 25 years, I has been putting his personal cell number on connect cards.  There are two things to realize:

  1. People do not call.  Really, they don’t.  The volume of calls coming from connect cards has been very low.  Besides, it is not as though you have to answer your phone at all hours of the day and night.
  2. The people who do call are in real need.  The people who take the risk of calling the number on your connect card have done so because they are desperate for help.  They are the people you got into the ministry to reach in the first place!

Ready, Fire! Aim

There are numerous opportunities in your community right now where you can begin to show God’s love in practical ways.  God’s Spirit is already at work and He is inviting you to join Him right now.  So let’s get out there and show some love!  And while you are at it, give the people you serve the opportunity to connect with you by putting a connect card in their hand when you serve them.  If you don’t have a supplier yet for your connect cards, my team over at Kindness Resources has put together some great designs that get the message across well.

Living in the Outflow Mindset

Stop Trying, Start Living
“You know Steve, it’s tough to teach an old dog new tricks…” This is the line I got from a pastor (who was a number of years younger than me!) in the middle of a coaching conversation concerning turning his congregation outward.

Outflow is not about learning a new approach to sharing Jesus. Outflow is returning to what has been in our hearts from the beginning – giving language and feet to the Spirit’s presence. Doing and saying the very things that Jesus did. In short, the stuff anyone can easily do.

I told him, “This isn’t about finding a new blueprint. This is going back to where you started. Isn’t it true that as we talk about “living in the Outflow” that most of what we are touching on is completely natural – it is harkening back to where you started with Jesus?”

He admitted indeed it was. As we spoke he admitted the challenge for him was “unlearning” things. It was like removing “Saul’s armor” – similar to what David did before meeting up with Goliath. King Saul in his desire to “help” which would have no doubt ended in David’s demise if he had taken the complicated course.

“Living” – the key idea 

Absorbing a new language. 
In this case the language we were first inclined to speak was the one placed in our hearts when we initially encountered Jesus. After speaking with many hundreds in in-depth conversations I have found a consistent pattern that upon initially encountering Jesus we found it natural to love our friends into relationship with the Master.

Somewhere along the way, a well-intentioned, apparently “More mature” believer (AKA ‘Mumic’) happened along and attempted to “disciple” us forward to make us more effective. What we didn’t know was that this person(s) had virtually no experience in ushering not-yet believers to Jesus. Without getting into statistical depth here, suffice it to say, stats consistently show that of those that consider themselves the most committed “evangelistic” believers, only 5% will dare to share their faith even once in their lifetimes. That not only makes me cry, but it certainly makes Jesus cry.

Total Fluency – the ability to think in a new language without hesitation. 
I am a big fan of the “immersion” approach to picking up a new language. Schooling is great. Audio labs – you can have ‘em. I say, toss a newcomer into the deep end with a new language. Force them to speak the new lingo and they will out of necessity become fluent as fast as possible. That was my experience with Swedish and Norwegian. I spent 5 days at a “culture camp” with people from all over the world in an exchange program in college. We memorized a number of phrases (which we took by faith meant a certain thing) then jumped in with both feet with families who didn’t speak English. Scary? You bet! But after a few weeks of realizing that people are people are people, it was a blast! Five times a day I heard someone give me their best imitation of Clint Eastwood saying, “Make my day!”

Within 3 months I was fluent enough that I was no longer thinking in English – then translating to Norwegian – then opening my mouth. Most who say they have studied another language have never gotten to that point. I know numbers of people with Master’s Degrees – that’s high school, plus four years of undergradate schooling, plus at least 2 years of grad school – and they still aren’t even nearly fluent as described above.

Once fluency is attained one thinks, speaks and moves all in syncronicity. When it comes to outwardness, the challenge comes here: Very few in our generation ever become comfortable enough in living in the presence of Jesus – living like Jesus – as though his life is the norm that we attain “traction” with not-yet believers in our culture. The difficulty is that we are satisfied with a shellac coating of the appearance of change – the appearance of Jesus’ life in us. Nothing could be further from the truth in many cases. We are salt and light – first to the Church – then to the culture.

Fluent, Walking, Talking, Noticing Jesus Inviters
Let’s drop the idea of trying to “do something for Jesus” from this point forward. The very idea of looking for the next big thing that will open closed hearts is out of sync with the way Jesus conducted life all of his days. Be yourself. Live your life by being yourself as you are walking in God’s Spirit. Clearly what we do will resemble what Jesus did / how he lived. Peter said it very well and to the point: “Jesus went about doing good to all kinds of people…” Acts 10:38. Look for the next invitation. It is on God’s calendar for you today I suspect. Maybe in the next few minutes.

Relax, listen to God’s voice as you listen to those in your path and see the great things God places in front of you! This is more fun than a herd of hamsters!

Outflow Essentials: You Don’t Have To Start On The First Floor

In one sense, spiritual matters are matters of growth with discipline and practice like all else in life. Just as a seed is planted in the ground, then grows slowly, matures, and eventually bears fruit, so it is with new skills in our lives – whether they are spiritual or intellectual.

On the other hand, some spiritual matters are a combination of both skill sets and “anointing.” Anointing is that vertical dynamic that can come only from God into our lives. It is the difficult to account for part of the equations in our lives that explains how we gained momentum or success. Some call it the “God factor.”

When it comes to building a culture with the dynamic of serving, there are lots of lessons that are necessary to learn if we are to be successful. How do we avoid the wasting of time that is inevitable if we take the journey on our own as a single local church?


However there is great, good news here too!

Just read on…

There Is A Spiritual Dynamic To This

With the serving dynamic there is something happening here that is going on, that cannot be described with words, it must be experienced. In this sense, the servant evangelism / Outflow culture is unique in the church world. It is an “Experience first… explain later” dynamic.

There Is A Process Of Growth Involved

One factor that has been troublesome that we as leaders in the Outflow movement have dealt with for years is the tendency for newcomers to oversimplify the message present here. To some newcomers this appears to be as simple as, “We just give away some water and smile – that’s it…” This message is in fact simple – but not single dimensioned in the least. In a day when so many messages being sent are indeed that cooked down, this message is not in that quadrant in the least. Those who catch on to the Outflow culture are teachable ones who are flexible, open-hearted and willing to change in order to be effective.

As You Jump Onboard With This Living, Learning Dynamic You Can Skip Over Some Rudimentary Steps

Ponder this: 

  1. When we join in with others who are going the same direction as us, we are able to benefit tremendously from the spiritual momentum that is going on as a whole…
  2. We are able to gain from the momentum that has been and is being accomplished by those we are connecting with spiritually. This is not a reference to being a part of a “denomination” – merely connecting with those we are connected with, heart to heart, in something as simple as serving our way into the heart of our city for example.
  3. It makes brilliant sense to join in on the momentum that is available by joining forces with those we can link arms with.

In short, this is a good deal! All who are thirsty, come and drink. Let’s serve our way into the hearts of our cities and see Jesus transform all that is going on around us.

Scattering, Watering, and then…Waiting

“So how many of those we served yesterday came today?”

That was the question Big Dave Cain asked in July of 1985, a couple of weeks after we had gone “public.” In the weeks prior to our launch we had a weekly group of what I affectionately termed the “Rambos.” They were up for literally any and all outreach ideas I came up with – never once was any of my ideas resisted in the least!…It takes a special breed of person to pioneer this sort of outreach.

After going out every single Saturday from 11:00 until 1:00 with a team of 10 to 15 we had served a cumulative group of maybe 10,000. We were learning our “riffs” in the serving game. Since then, if high volume is the goal, we have learned to serve as many as 10,000 in 90 minutes with a group of 15 – no kidding!

“Well, of the 50 people who came today, I think there might have been 3 people we served, but I’m not absolutely certain.

As you read this you might be discouraged at the sheer numbers involved – 10,000 seeds and several weeks or months later 3 people show up on a Sunday. But you might be surprised that we were both ecstatic at what was happening in our midst.

Keep in mind, we were the very first church in the world that we were aware of that was taking this approach to sharing Christ’s love to our city. We had nothing by which to measure our success or lack thereof. We were simply utterly convinced that we were slowly, bit by bit, in this city that had been objectively measured as the “Crabbiest City” in the US, changing the spiritual atmosphere. We were convinced that as we did the deeds of Jesus we were going to see the Holy Spirit change our city.

Since the first edition of this ezine, I have received 99.9% absolutely super positive, enthusiastic responses from readers. Comments have come in like, “Wow! This is exactly what I have been looking for!” and “Thanks SO MUCH for taking the time and effort to put together the stories and encouraging ideas that challenge me and my people to aim out – this is just what the doctor ordered.” On the other hand I have received a couple of dissenting emails. My “favorite” one was from a guy who “confronted” me personally as the “leader of this thing.”

“I don’t believe one bit in this kindness and generosity garbage. I believe in confronting people just like Jesus did.” I asked this guy exactly where did Jesus confront people other than the Pharisees? Jesus went from person to person meeting needs, showing generosity in abundance – at least a hundred individual times in the four gospels.

I’ve spoken with scads of people with “strong convictions” about how evangelism should and shouldn’t be done. I literally have yet to meet one such highly opinionated person who strongly reacts to our stories of kindness and generosity who had done any attempt at evangelism in many years – sometimes never in their life.

I Scattered, Watered… and Waited

Jesus said that the Holy Spirit is like the wind – he (not IT – please, never refer to the Holy Spirit as “it” – that is incredibly offensive to him) is not one who can be controlled. We see the effect of wind on the trees when the wind blows, but where it comes from or where it goes, we do not know (John 3). Lasting conversions are wrought by the power of the Spirit, not by a slick sounding, win-the-argument approach. How many of you have won the argument but lost the battle? Lasting, deep down conversions are very rarely quick. Don’t fret about the waiting period between scattering your seeds of generosity and what is going to take place once the Holy Spirit begins to shape people’s hearts in a large-scale fashion. That’s God’s business. You keep on scattering your seeds – ideally with your people living a lifestyle of generosity and kindness. Sooner or later your crops will come in…as Jude writes, “Walk by love.”

Billy Graham’s Words of Encouragement

A couple of years ago I had occasion to spend time with Billy Graham for an extended time with just him and a couple of his associates in his hotel room. It’s a long story as to how this came about that I’ll tell some other time, but suffice it to say that Billy was very curious about our outward focused approach to sharing Christ and living out the message of the kingdom. The day he arrived in town for a 90 minute event we had organized with about 300 churches locally that touched around 350,000 with God’s kindness. Billy was blown away. He asked for a special meeting with me. When asked if I could make it I told the Graham people, “I think I can clear my schedule for that!”

Billy told me: “I have been praying for years upon end for what seemed until today in vain… that God would raise up people – many people who would see the value of planting in the evangelism process. If the Church doesn’t begin to grab onto the value of planting as part of the evangelism process – and get that value rather quickly – I fear for the future of evangelism in the US. We are going to end up with everything harvested and no new crops in process – on their way toward the harvest.”

Then he finished out his intense impartation to me with a charge that I will no doubt go to my grave pondering… “Promise me one thing Steve…That you will spend the rest of your life not just planting seeds as Jesus did – the seeds of the kingdom that will lead ultimately to the harvest – but that you will stir up many, many around the world who will get the value for this idea that Paul wrote of ‘Planting – Watering – Harvesting’ (1 Cor. 3:6).”

I told him, “Billy, I will spend the rest of my life doing this – I’ll gather, I’ll connect, I’ll write, talk, whatever it takes.”

I don’t know if Billy believes in or would be comfortable using the word “prophecy” as some reading this would, but as one who has received many prophecies in my decades as a Christ-follower, what Billy spoke over me that day had all the elements of a life-changing prophecy.

He spoke not just to me, but – and here’s the most important line of this issue of Serve! for this month – Billy was speaking to each of you! It is highly likely that Jesus is calling you too to spend your life carrying this message of seed-flinging of generosity, kindness, practical love – living as Jesus lived – loving as Jesus loved. We are out to change the world. Talking is a part of it, but the lion’s share is going to be spent with us first living, showing, walking it out with a gigantic smile on our faces!