Those who know me know I am a huge fan of "The Why" over "The What." I'll get on a kick where I study an individual or a particular organization, not necessarily because I love WHAT they do, but because I'm fascinated by WHY it works. Several years ago I moonlighted as a medical equipment technician during a tough time in ministry. Part of that job required being able to disassemble power wheelchairs and hospital beds and fix the broken pieces. One principle I came to understand quickly is that if you don't know why something works when it works, you won't know how to fix it when it breaks.

Christianity. The Church. Both operate under this same principle. We love the joyous user experience when it has that new-car smell and requires no maintenance. For a time, these vehicles transport our spirit to great places and we have no problem recruiting others to hop on board with us. But with mileage plus some wear and tear, pieces start to malfunction. Because we never studied WHY they worked, we fail to truly diagnose what has gone wrong.

A few months ago I stepped into my fifth "church flip" project. As a consulting pastor, when a church is struggling to navigate transitions of all sorts, they require some intentional coaching and Christ-filled TLC. I'm sure we will walk through many of the lessons here in the coming days, but one stood out to me in particular today.

In this facility, one of the first places a guest stepped foot in, especially if they were dropping off children, was a long room. In it was mostly storage, junk, dingy paint, and tile from your grandma's house. Decades ago, it was the "social hall" for this assembly prior to multiple additional building phases. So, when people referred to this space, many called it "The Old Social Hall." Buildings matter because people matter. And names affect perception. So, we began an overhaul of this highly important space, and with the renovations came a new name: "The Commons."

The Commons will be equipped with couches for fellowship, lighting for enjoyment, coffee for non-morning people, and decor that says "welcome home" to anyone who walks through the door. Makes perfect sense to you and I, though for many there was an uproar! One even complained about the fact that they believed in the Holy Spirit inspired name: "The Old Social Hall." (Sarcasm added for emphasis....though its not far from the truth.) So, if you're a pastor facing a situation like this, I'd like to give you the reason we have a commons and no longer have a "social hall."

Because true Christ followers would rather be a part of a church where the mission is for everyone to know Christ rather than go to a church where everyone knows each other.

I love church dinners and anything that involves free dessert as much as anybody! Don't get me wrong, I'm not despising the history that brought us to where we are today. But it is my earnest desire that the church grow so deep in discipleship that the width of their small group reach could not fit combined into a social hall. When our focus is on BEING the church rather than GOING to church we view the church house as a starting point, a gas station if you will rather than a rest area destination.  "Back in the day," it was through church socials and Sunday School classes that discipleship was done effectively, families did life together, and souls were reached for Christ and plugged into the church.  But decades of unmonitored use and undiagnosed depletion turned what was the means to the end into "the end."  That which was the vehicle for the commission became our great focus.  In other words,  "social" took the place of "salvation" in most churches.

So, If you're looking for a social hall gathering, I'd like to recommend Bingo night at the community center or karoke at Applebees. But as for me and my house, we want to create environments that draw people into a passionate journey of new life in Christ. Welcome to the Commons, where rich or poor, old or young, black or white, we have a common taste for coffee and donuts. A common problem with sin. A common solution in salvation. And a common community of souls to win.

An Open Letter to Barron Trump...PK to PK

Dear Barron,

You have been the brunt of several jokes lately and the topic of many gossip columns and targeted tweets.  On behalf of the American people,  I apologize for this.  My dad has never been the president of the United States,  but I’ve grown up in a spotlight very similar to yours.  So PK to PK (pastor’s kid to president’s kid) I hope to shed a little light on the struggles you currently face, and the road ahead.

1.  You’ve got to let people be people…
A pastor once gave this little nugget of wisdom to my dad, and followed that phrase by saying “…and most of them are stupid.”  We all know the intended sarcasm but, at times, truthful humor in that sentence. I used to see on television that people are generous and understanding at their core.  And while I know that each human was created to be that way, I’ve come to understand that we live in a fallen world where people deal with a carnal, sin nature.  We are often the product of our context.  So, considering that people have been raised the past couple generations in a world of participation trophies, “everybody wins” sports,  low academic standards,  hand-outs, and mostly poor parenting,  it makes complete sense to me that people are attacking you.  Poor leadership/upbringing combined with an unredeemed soul will lead to the type of comments you’ve received.  People forget that we are all people…and you’ll have to just let people be people.

2. “The first homeschool shooter”
First of all, let me say… “WHAT THE???!!!” This was completely unacceptable.  The very same crowd that jeered at your father for making blanket statements about particular types of people are the ones who make those exact same comments about you.  Politics aside, you did not vote.  You did not choose in which family to be born.  You said nothing.  You did nothing.  Because of your perceived personality on public television, they want to label you and mock at you.  Its ignorant talk filled with malicious intent. 

3.  “Mini Donald”
I know that this phrase comes from your mother and has been/will be used both to praise you and put you down.  I can easily recall dozens of accounts where I was mocked because of my similarities to my father and grandfather.  At times I ran full-force toward that persona; at other times I ran as fast as I could away from it.  Ultimately,  who you are is your decision to make.  It is no one else’s business.  It is your parent’s job to raise you and train you, but no one gets to decide your future for you.  I, like you, was raised in an environment that gave me advantages to step quickly into a particular occupation.  I HATED being told that I would probably follow in my father/grandfather/great-grandfather’s footsteps.  I had not yet decided whether or not I could or would assume that type of role in leading the lives of hundreds, now thousands of people.   Cliché as this phrase has become,  allow me to say,  “Barron… You do you.”  Figure out what you are passionate about.  Spend your growing up years learning what makes you tick. What are the things that wake you up in the morning and motivate you to live.  Then,  when the opportunity to pursue those things presents itself,  take it.  But don’t live in anyone else’s shadow or feel intimidated to do anything you don’t want to do.  You’re not “mini Donald.”  You’re not the next “Donald Trump.” You are the first Barron Trump. You be the best you that you can be.

4.  Living in the Spotlight
I’ve touched on this a little bit already,  but let me express how much I completely understand what’s going through your mind right now.  The struggle is real.  You had no idea a year ago that your dad would be in charge of the fate of the world.  In many cases, I had no idea which direction my family would go and who they would be leading.  It’s a big deal knowing that your parents make decisions that affect the lives of other’s… I get it.  And for that,  many will try to buy your friendship in hopes of getting to your parents.  Many will hate you because they hate your parents.  But there are a few who genuinely love just you for you.  Cling to those people.  Don’t let someone become your “friend” and then prove himself to you.  Let him first prove himself a friend before you let your guard down and allow him into that emotional safe space.  People watch every yawn.  They scrutinize every facial expression.  They judge parenting skills.  And they largely use you as a pawn in their political game to gain leverage over your dad.  You may not have yawned because you didn’t want to be there,  maybe it was because you stayed up late playing video games with friends.  Or, maybe you didn’t want to appear on national television with your father while he was on work related duty.  Who cares?!  We’ll never know… and its none of our business.

5.  You have an important job
Being a PK comes with great privilege and power, therefore it comes with its share of responsibility.  I know you’re just ten years old, but hear me out.  Your job is equally as important as your dad’s.  People will never know the stress of being a PK…because they’ve never been one.  Your dad carries work home with him; he’s never off the clock.  People watch you.  People judge you.  But take a moment to realize the great advantages we share.  We get to sit at tables with powerful men in our fields of influence and hear their stories and form bonds of friendship because of our dad’s job.  We have insider access into the workings of our organizations, and because of our family,  we have the opportunity to do more, faster than anyone else ever could.  The day you are allowed to step into the world of social media,  you’re already an instant celebrity.  Kid’s parents may be fixated on yours,  but their kids who are still too young to vote will be largely influenced by you in your teenager years in the White House.  Make every post, tweet, photo, and video count.  Use your platform to encourage kids to be kids.  Take this life-changing opportunity and run with it to change the world for kids all over our country.  They’re looking at you… and they’re waiting with expectant ears to hear from you in the coming days.  Show them that you aren’t a stereotype.

Ultimately,  work on those facial expressions.  You’re going to be on television a whole lot more in the coming days.  Even when your dad’s speeches are boring or crazy (believe me, I speak from experience) pretend to be all in to whatever he’s saying.  Don’t take any heat over not holding your mom’s hand…she should have known better than to try that stunt with a pre-teen.  Don’t let people look down on you because of your dad’s failures… and don’t let people try to be your friend just because of his success.  You’re our “first kid” now… so don’t forget to be one.  I know you’ll mess up, and having people waiting to watch you do so doesn’t make life easier.  But learn to laugh it off.  People view you differently because of your dad,  and people will learn to view your dad differently because of you.  I can’t wait to see what you do to change the world.

Your friend,

Jon Leighton Groves, II

P.S.  If you ever need someone to talk to,  your dad’s the president….I’m pretty sure he can get my number for you.