10 Questions for Navigating Life’s Transitions


Transitions seem to come more often than they used to — or is it just me? This invites thoughtful reflection to be built into our lives. Reflection can be difficult. Waiting is hard. Here’s how I said it in a recent sermon: “Not only do we want to read the Bible but we also want the Bible to read us.” This involves thoughtfulness and sensitivity. Consistent reflection invites us to regularly “check in” on the state of our spiritual and emotional lives. It’s an honest look at ourselves to consider both our strengths and giftings as well as our growth areas and strongest temptations. The Latin phrase for living in God’s presence is coram Deo, which is translated “in the presence of God” and summarizes the idea of Christians living in the presence of, under the authority of, and to the honor and glory of God. Reflection makes room for us to be on the lookout for God — in our own lives, in the lives of those around us (Christian or not), in our church, and in our world. Reflecting on who we are, who God is making us to be, how God is working in us, and how God is working around us will allow us to live more fully thoughtful and focused lives.

Reflecting means that for the moment we turn from reading to understand to asking questions to understand. One set of questions that I have returned to through the years are the following ten. Consider taking some time in the next few days to get alone with God and reflect honestly and pray through them.

I adapted this exercise from an interview H.B. London conducted with Bobb Biehl. The interview was on the topic of leadership. Biehl described a leader as one who knows three things:

  1. What to do next? (What do you need to do next?)
  2. Why it is important? (Why do you need to do that?)
  3. How to appropriate the resources to bear on the need at hand? (What will it cost? Hint: It’s not always about the money.)

Reflect in the following ways:

Stage one: Write down everything you know you need to accomplish in the next 3-6 months. Make two lists, combining work and personal objectives.

Stage two: Ask yourself, “What brings me joy?”  There are big joys and there are small joys.  What are those — big and small?  Add joy to your schedule.

Stage three: Walk through these questions prayerfully and with determination. Ask for input from trusted friends as/if needed.

  1. What is my single greatest strength? What do I do best? What is that one thing?
  2. What three (upcoming) decisions are causing me the greatest stress?
  3. What tends to overwhelm me? (Be specific)
  4. What seemingly impassable roadblock has me stuck?
  5. If I could only do three things in my lifetime (Either three goals I wish to accomplish or three problem’s I’d like to solve), what three things would I do?
  6. Is there anything that I need to stop doing or resign from? (Remember the definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the result to be different each time.) Remember, knowing what NOT to do is just as important as knowing what TO do!
  7. What may need to be postponed? The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty. –Proverbs 21:5
  8. What things on my to do list could others do 80% as well? Let them do it.
  9. What are the elephants in the room? Either at work or at home, what are we not talking about that needs to be addressed? Addressing these issues will take some thoughtful and careful planning. Communicate your desire and go into the meeting with a humble heart and listening ear. Seek first to understand and then to be understood.
  10. What are the three things I could do in the next sixty days to make a 50% difference?

Reflect, pray, plan, pray, and lovingly lead your life.

[God], You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand.  –Psalm 16:11

To him [God] who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.  –Jude 1:2-5

Relax, God’s got this.

The Church I Would Join: Implicit Values From Acts 1-2



When VitalChurch Ministry has the opportunity to come alongside a church, one of the things we almost always do is conduct a series of all-church workshops to help a church reaffirm their values, mission, and vision. In the last several years we have also seen the need for a church to clarify their theological stances, particularly on secondary issues.  The workshops generally seek to accomplish three things:

  1. To help a church look back and ask, what have we done well? As well as ask what could we have done better?
  2. To help a church embrace their current reality. Think of Revelation 2-3, where Jesus addresses seven churches. There is both affirmation and rebuke in His diagnostic of each church. Churches need to ask, what would Jesus affirm at this church? What would He rebuke?
  3. To look forward. I would say that for the vast majority of churches, their best days are ahead of them IF they’re honest, humble, and open to God’s leading.

Every family has dysfunctions. Social scientists tell us that approximately 96% of all families suffer from mild to severe dysfunction. Churches are extended families and suffer from various dysfunctions as well.  Will a church be able to “fix” all of their dysfunctions? Heavens no. But once we’re aware of them we can make adjustments more quickly.  For instance, one of my dysfunctions is that I am a reactor on a lifelong journey to become a responder. I know I need accountability in this area and I have grown enough to understand when I’m more prone to react.

A few years ago I began to ask the question, “What were the core values of the first church that launched in the Book of Acts? What are the underlying concepts, or principles that fostered this NT Church to be successfully launched and to flourish?” That is what I’d like to consider in this article.

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Strategic Success Factors For Organizational Excellence


A critical success factor is a performance area of crucial importance in achieving organizational excellence. There are at least two broad categories of critical success factors that are common to virtually all organizations: 1) systems processes, and 2) human processes. The focus of this post is on the human process areas, yet this is not to imply that they are more important than the systems processes. Both are essential to building great organizations.

To a large extent, every human process issue is a critical success factor. Every person has been important since people first formed organizations to accomplish tasks too big to be performed by individuals working alone—and every person will continue to present unique challenges as long as people work together. The shape each person takes is constantly evolving to fit changing circumstances, but every once in awhile, major shifts occur which dramatically change what’s required in each of these critical areas. We’re experiencing such a shift right now—moving deeper into a knowledge-based economy.

Globalization and information technology are placing different, challenging demands on leaders and organizations in virtually every performance area. Following are some highlights of these changes…

  1. Leadership/Management: “Command and control” leadership carried many organizations to very high levels of financial performance during periods when competition was not so great and things didn’t change very fast, but its time has passed. The demands on the total organization are too great for a few people at the top to call all the shots.
  2. Communication: In most organizations, there have been 3 pervasive patterns that will no longer work in knowledge-based organizations: a) the primary flow of information was vertical — within departmental walls that were often impermeable, b) information was hoarded and used as a source of power over others, and c) people at the top often withheld crucial strategic information from those lower in the organization in the belief they couldn’t handle it.
  3. Teamwork: Teamwork is more crucial to producing results today than ever before, and at the same time, the very nature of teams and their functions are changing rapidly. In the past it was typical to go for long periods — even an entire career — as the member of one functional team. Today, membership on more than one team is the norm, and it is unlikely that anyone entering the workforce will remain on the first team they join for more than a year at most.
  4. Alignment: Process reengineering and systems thinking are moving strategic alignment back to the top of many organizational agendas. It has become crystal clear that many of the greatest opportunities for productivity improvement lie at the interfaces of the processes used to achieve organizational goals — and it is fruitless to excel in one process while lagging in others.
  5. Conflict Management: The new economy increases the potential for conflict in virtually every area of organizational life. Stakeholders are more informed and frequently more demanding. Staff are being asked to do more with less — without the promise of job security that existed in the past; aligning self-interests with corporate interests is not as simple as it used to be. Different cultures are constantly being reintroduced and set the stage for major internal conflicts and power struggles. Developing good conflict resolution skills needs to be high on everyone’s personal and corporate agendas.
  6. Embracing Change: Individuals and organizations that change before they have to will be the winners in this new organizational season. People vary a lot in their tolerance of change and in the degree to which they actively seek change in their lives. It is difficult to grasp the potential for the continuing acceleration of change on a global scale. With more people having more access to information, it is reasonable to expect more innovation and more competition on a daily basis. Merely accepting change and learning to tolerate it will not be enough to successfully engage the opportunities that present themselves. We must become eager seekers of change.
  7. Organizational Learning (Life-long Development): Leaders and managers have always given lip service to the notion of people being their most important asset and to the need for continuous training and development. In most organizations, however, it has been no more than a notion. Most have not been consistent in this crucial area. The same organization that will spend $5,000 a year to maintain a copy machine will not spend $500 to develop a staff member. Of all the key success areas, this one is changing the most. The future belongs to learners — to individuals that take responsibility for updating their skills and knowledge, to teams that consciously develop the deep dialogue that enables team members to learn from one another, and to organizations that continuously improve their ability to transform data into value-added, actionable information to serve stakeholders.

Fake Or Real News?


Former Supreme Court Justice Jeff Souter in a 2012 interview: “[Republic] government wasn’t threatened by foreign invasion or a military coup, but by civic ignorance…What I worry about is, when problems are not addressed and the people do not know who is responsible…some one person will come forward and say, ‘Give me total power and I will solve this problem.’  That is how the Roman Republic fell…That is the way democracy dies.”

One the ways we can reverse “civic ignorance” is to learn to distinguish between fake news and real news.  Fake news got its start by advertisers seeking to drive traffic to websites in order to earn ad revenue. Tragically, there is a lack of civic and media literacy in our world that causes people to be vulnerable to “fake news,” which includes sponsored content and traditional corporate advertisements. To strengthen your ability to tell real news from fake news, begin by asking the five most common interrogatives of any stated news item:

  1. Who wrote it? Real news contains a real byline of a legit journalist dedicated to reporting facts. Once you find the byline, look at the writer’s bio. This can help identify whether the story is a reported news article (written by a journalist with the intent to inform), a persuasive opinion piece (written by an industry expert with a point of view), or something else entirely.
  2. What claims does it make? Real news will include multiple authentic sources when making a controversial claim. Fake news may include false or out of context sources that can be disproven through some basic research. When in doubt, dig a bit deeper. Real facts can be verified.
  3. When was it published? If it’s “breaking news,” be extra careful.
  4. Where was it published? Real news is published by trustworthy media outlets with a strong fact-check record. If you get your news from social media, verify that the information is accurate before you share it.
  5. How does it make you feel? Fake news, like all propaganda, is designed to elicit strong emotions. So if you read a news story that makes you feel angry, double-check the claims by comparing it to the news on other “trusted” outlets. Weigh and investigate the angles of each outlet to determine the legitimacy of the news. There is no substitute for critical thinking.

If you consistently ask all five of these questions whenever you read a news article, then your basic news literacy and civic awareness will grow stronger.

Linda’s Prayer for King’s Harbor Church


Linda spent most of the last two years working three days a week in Santa Barbara and then driving to Torrance/Redondo to be with me and with King’s Harbor Church on the weekends.  She was fully present when she was there and at the conclusion of our season of serving she wrote the following prayer that unfurls the beauty, faithfulness, mercy, grace, and majesty of God…

Dearest Father,

In our weakness, Your devoted love was stirred up on our behalf and You surrounded us with pastoral guardians from throughout the South Bay. Looking back, we now see that Your power is indeed made more perfect in our weakness. You have searched our hearts and answered prayers for healing through confession, repentance, and reconciliation by drawing us back to the Good Shepherd. You have disciplined us for our good, assuring us that in Your light we see light, we are forgiven, and find true liberty. Lord Jesus, refresh the souls of all who have walked together through this transition. Honor the volunteers, friends, and families who have sacrificed behind the scenes in less visible roles. May the faithfulness with which You have pursued us give us confidence that we are prepared for this next season of fruitful ministry.

Holy Spirit, grant King’s Harbor Church a time of green pastures and continued spiritual restoration as we live into the gospel together. Stir us to pray and teach us to discern good from evil, that we might fix our mind on the things that are above, growing a heart of wisdom for the times in which we live. We are grateful for our new pastor, Mike Dsane, and his wife, Sky. May they wear Your yoke, Lord Jesus, and not the yoke of our expectations.

Now may the good hand of God be evident in the King’s Harbor Church community both in word and in deed as we supremely treasure Jesus, our Lord and Savior. For from Him originates this Good News which is for all people and in which we stand! We ask these things in the glorious name of Jesus. Amen.

With love from Linda (and Gregg) Caruso

April 30, 2017

References to Scripture (in order from left to right)

Ps 125:2    2Cor 12:9a    Ps 139:23-24    John 10:11a    Heb 12:11    Ps 36:9b

1Cor 12:14    Ps 23:2a    Heb 5:14b    Zech 12:10    Col 3:2  Ps 90:12

Matt 11:30    Neh 2:18    Rom 11:36    Rom 5:2

What To Expect From A New Pastor

Ephesians 4:7-16


Contemporary pastors are expected to have:

  • The entrepreneurial skills of Bill Gates
  • The counseling skills of Dr. Phil
  • The organizational abilities of Stephen Covey
  • The authenticity of Oprah
  • The compassion of Mother Teresa
  • The courage of William Wallace (Braveheart)
  • And the humor of Robin Williams.”[1]

A good pastor is hard to find!

Stats related to Pastors:[2]

  • 1,500 pastors leave the ministry each month due to moral failure, spiritual burnout, or contention in their churches.
  • 50% of pastors’ marriages will end in divorce.
  • 80% of pastors and 84% of their spouses feel unqualified and discouraged in their roles.
  • 50% of pastors are so discouraged that they would leave the ministry if they could, but have no other way of making a living.
  • 80% of seminary and Bible school graduates who enter the ministry will leave the ministry within the first five years.
  • 70% of pastors constantly fight depression.
  • Almost 40% polled said they have had an extra-marital affair since beginning their ministry.
  • 70% said the only time they spend studying the Bible is when they are preparing their sermons.

Stats related to Pastors’ Wives

  • 80% of pastors’ spouses feel their spouse is overworked.
  • 80% of pastors’ spouses wish their spouse would choose another profession.
  • The majority of pastor’s wives surveyed said that the most destructive event that has occurred in their marriage and family was the day they entered the ministry.

Overview of Ephesians

The first three chapters of Ephesians address the theological foundations of the Church.  Paul’s letters contain — Declarations and Commands, Theology and Ethics, Indicatives and Imperatives.

  • The Indicative: Informs us of an accomplished fact; it is what has already been declared about you. It’s related to our justification…
  • The Imperative: Is a command or direction – and is related to walking out the indicative and is related to our sanctification.

The second three chapters contain instruction, or input, on the practical outworking of the theological foundations of the Church.

Chap 4 contrasts our unity of being with our diversity of calling.

Vs 1-6 describe this unity as a oneness, or equality of Spirit, among all believers.

In v. 7 Paul turns a corner and begins to instruct the church regarding those who are to have authority within the Church…and this is where we begin our study today…


Today we asking the question: “What to expect from a new pastor?” from this text.  I’d like to highlight 5 characteristics from these 10 verses…

1.  A Man of Grace. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. (v. 7)  

  • Not A measure, but THE measure.
  • Everyone of us has been given grace according to Christ’s measure.  Every church needs a pastor who understands this concept.
  • Grace, here, is not speaking of the grace that saves us (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace in this context is God’s impartation of ability to accomplish God’s will (imperative grace not indicative grace), specifically as it relates to ministry within the Church.
  • Churches, this church, needs a pastor who understands that the grace of God, without measure, is available for our sanctification…

2. A Team Player.  And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers (v. 11) ‘Ascension Gifts’

  • Jesus was THE Apostle, THE Prophet, THE Evangelist, THE Pastor, and THE Teacher – and when He ascended into heaven He sent us His Holy Spirit as well as multiplying leadership of the Church into team ministry – a plurality of leaders (plurality means plural, or more than one).
  • A man who understands who he is and who he is not.
  • Apostle – Sent one
  • Prophet – Discernment (telescope)
  • Evangelist – A missional heart for the lost
  • Pastor – A shepherd’s heart
  • Teacher – A passion for God’s Word (microscope)

 3. An Equipper (vs. 12-13)

  • Greek word: katartismos, which means to adjust (as in a carburetor) or to mend.
  • Too repair and prepare God’s people.
  • Equippers set up systems that lead people to maturity.  How do we define maturity?
  • Unity of the faith
  • Knowledge of the Son of God
  • (A mature man)
  • Measure of the stature that belongs to the fullness of Christ (always room for growth – we never arrive this side of heaven).
  • D.L. Moody had an equipping perspective: He once said that he would rather put a thousand men to work than do the work of a thousand men.

4. A Man Who Will Speak the Truth In Love (v. 15)

  • Truth – A passion for God’s Truth…
  • Love – A shepherd’s heart…

5.  A Man Who Builds Unity Through Understanding Diversity (“Whole Body” thinker…) (v. 16)

  • Systems thinker.  Consider the human body…
  • Disease vs. Dis-ease…a systems issue
  • Unity is not a goal, it’s a fruit…

CONCLUSION  — What is a pastor looking for in you?

1. A congregation whose members live their lives as active, intentional followers of Jesus Christ. (Philip­pians 2:2-3):

2. Here’s what I always ask for from church leaders:

  • Humble
  • Own your own issues
  • Team player

3. Ask God everyday to give you His heart for lost and broken people. Jesus never says to the poor, “Go find the church,” but He says to those of us in the church, “Go out and find the poor, lost, sick, and broken hearted” and bring them to the church.

Besides this, consider the following three specific sugges­tions to build your pastor up and increase the fruitfulness of SBF’s ministry.

a. Pray for him every day. Write it down so you don’t forget. And don’t just say, “God bless the pastor.” Be specific. Pray for his health, his messages, his family, his flaws and weaknesses. Put yourself in his place and try to feel with him as you pray.

b. Go out of your way to communicate gracious words of encouragement. Don’t lie or embellish, but seek to identify encouraging attributes.  Write him a note on the registration card, send a thank you note or email; call him up on the phone. Get him alone sometime, look him right in the face, and say, “I appreciate your work and I am praying for you every day.” Don’t be satisfied with platitudes at the door after Sunday services.

c. Speak truth in love. No one is completely satisfied with his or her pastor. The reason is that all people are imperfect. Some people never seem to learn this and hop from church to church in search of the flawless pastor. That’s a hopeless endeavor. It is far better to find a church where you feel at home and to consider it your life­long responsibility to help the pastor grow. Everyone would like to change something about his or her pastor, but how many of us have devoted ourselves to earnest prayer about our pastor’s areas of growth and development? And how many of us have spent sufficient time in prayer and substantive encouragement, so that when it is time to share a concern that it is sincerely spoken in love (Eph 3:15).

[1] Kara Powell, quoted in The Church in Transition.

[2] LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention: 2010.