“I’m just tired of hearing all these success stories. For once I just want to hear somebody get up and say it’s not working.” A pastor friend of mine said that to me when we were talking on the phone one day.

I believe we live in the greatest country in the world, but let’s admit it, Americans love success. Sometimes all the success stories cause us to not take action because we fear failure. We don’t want to admit things aren’t working well when it seems they are working for other people. I really believe that we learn more from our failures than our successes.

That’s true in my life, is it true in yours? I am a huge football fan, anyone that knows me knows this. An offense will never be dynamic if it never takes risks. So many of us like to throw short screen passes and play it safe because we fear failure. We are afraid of something not working.

In coaching some of our Missional Action Group leaders, and some of the churches that I work with, I sometimes feel like people spin their wheels and don’t have any new and fresh stories. Part of this is that fear of failure paralyzes us from taking any sort of action. If we are to learn, progress forward, and really make a difference, we need to take action and fail a bunch.

I can’t emphasize enough, if you come back and say, “we tried 10 different things to engage people that didn’t know Jesus and none of them worked,” I would be thrilled! You seriously tried 10 different things to engage people who don’t know Jesus? That’s amazing! What did you learn? What is God teaching you? What would you do differently next time?

Stepping out and attempting things even if they don’t work is part of how God grows us. We must create a culture of action, experimentation, and freedom to fail. As followers of Jesus, we are all about grace, right?

I think the bigger thing we should fear isn’t failure, it’s not attempting great things for the kingdom of God because we sat back with a list of, “what if’s.” Step out of the boat and look at Jesus…. You’ll sink and you’ll learn. There’s grace for that.

Jesus built his church on people that failed and learned. Let’s create cultures where that’s the norm. Experiment, Grow, engage the lost, be creative, and be OK with things not working the first 10 times. Let’s re-embrace adventure together!

At Narrow Road Church we regularly talk about what isn’t working, and on Sunday mornings have celebrated stories of failure because people took leaps of faith and risks for the kingdom. Do you highlight people who take risks even when they don’t work? Do people feel intimidated because they think they have to get it right all the time? How might God be calling you to create a culture of faith, risk, and adventure knowing that we have the safety net of God’s grace?


Mike Jarrell was a youth director in the Philadelphia area for a few years and loves teens. He left youth ministry convinced that the best way to impact teens is to reach families. Mike then became the senior lead pastor at Cornerstone Christian Church in Duncannon PA. After about 5 years at Cornerstone, Mike and his family followed God to start a missional church in Enola, PA. The Narrow Road Church has been around for 3 years. NRC is a movement of missional communities that follow Jesus on mission and grow in community.



One of the most basic questions that we all ask is, “Who am I?” This question is usually followed by another question that goes something like this, “Do I matter?” Everyone wants and needs to feel valued and accepted. We have an innate desire to know that who we are and what we do counts for something or someone bigger than ourselves. And so we do, strive, work to become someone who contributes something to someone. 

We want to matter. I wanted to matter.


For much of my life I struggled to believe I had worth and value, and hid my struggle really well. I had loving parents, but often felt as though I couldn’t measure up. And so my identity became deeply rooted in a desire to perform and please. I needed that “A” in EVERY subject. I needed to be the captain of the basketball team and the president of the club. I needed to be the Resident Assistant in my dorm and the leader of the Youth for Christ intern team. It was more than using gifts and abilities, I needed to lead and to achieve because I placed my identity in my achievements. Graciously, God still used the talents He had given me and, graciously, He kept prompting me to face my own false thinking.

The more He prompted me, the more I became aware of the false identity I had created. I realized that I was living out of a false sense of self and that I believed the lie that God loved me more when I was good, successful, serving, and “put together.”  

My first real step toward a true understanding of identity was when I truly believed that I was loved no matter what I did or didn’t do. As I surrendered my need for approval and accepted that I already had God’s approval, I began to see myself differently. I began to believe that who I was could best be explained by seeing myself through God’s eyes, and I began to live from a deep sense of wholeness. God began to integrate every part of me into one complete person. I accepted His identity for me. I am His beloved daughter, no matter what.

Identity does matter. The Creator of the universe desires to be our Father and give us our identity which is far greater than any identity I can create on my own. Will you give Him permission to “poke and prod” at your thoughts and beliefs? Will you then allow Him to transform and change your very identity?  You are a new person in Christ; live that way!


Deb Hinkel is the Director of Spiritual Formation and Family Ministry at Hershey Free Church. She joined the church’s staff in 2015 after spending fourteen years as an assistant professor in the Church and Ministry Leadership department at Lancaster Bible College. Deb holds a Master of Arts degree in Ministry from Lancaster Bible College; and prior to her work there, she spent fifteen years in church ministry, developing programs in Christian education, children’s ministry, and women’s ministry.


I’ve been deeply committed to growth as a leader for more than 20 years. Admittedly, I haven’t always had the same idea of what kind of leader I should be. This has often looked different to me, according to whatever stage of ministry or season of life I was in at a given time.

For example, in my earliest years as a pastor, I would often say that John Maxwell was helping me pastor my church. I read everything he published, listened to every cassette (it was the mid-late 90’s!) or CD he released, and I took dozens of church members and staff with me to his conferences. Sp, for about 3 years my two biggest influencers were Jesus and John Maxwell. Jesus was certainly my Lord, but John was my leadership guru. It was a great season and I grew a lot.

As time progressed I found myself being deeply influenced by other leaders with more Church-specific expertise, such as Tim Keller, Jim Cymbala and many other lesser-known but incredible leaders.

Reflecting on this makes me recognize that the objectives of the organization and needs of the people I lead determine what kind of personal growth I should invest in at any given point. 

Because I knew very little about providing clear and concrete leadership, John Maxwell was perfect for me in those early days. When I moved to Staten Island, NY I needed to build on that knowledge base and get more specific to NYC so I could effectively lead there. I chose to learn from other very gifted, more experienced local leaders.    

One thing is certain and unchanging – leaders need to be committed to grow in character and in skill at every stage and in every season of life. And we need help from others on the journey.

Where are you leading others to in 2018? What are your God-given goals? What are your plans to accomplish them? Who are you learning from?

Below are five characteristics that should be true of every Christian leader. You will also see some related blog posts. You may want to subscribe to one or more of them in order to help you grow in 2018. The right blog posts often prick my mind regarding important things and connect me to other pieces of information that I might not know about. Take a look…

Holy: 10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year

Humble: 5 Bad Habits to Break for a Better New Year

Hungry: Ten Critical Trends for Churches in 2018

Hopeful: 19 Leadership Hacks to Start the New Year

Helpful: Hero or Hero Maker: Which Will You Be?

I hope God makes 2018 the most fruitful year of our lives as we become the kind of leaders He wants us to become.

Blessings to you and those you lead!



Years ago I heard RC Sproul say that Christmas can be a time of anxiety for pastors/teachers. Teachers and preachers deal with the same stressors as everyone else, but are also tasked with teaching on an incredibly familiar story. Because of its familiarity, teachers can overthink it and get too fancy with it instead of simply letting the biblical story speak for itself. This anxiety can even be worse for teachers who’ve been in the same church for many years.

It’s a little crazy that Christmas can cause this angst, but it does. I know because I’ve experienced it myself.

In light of this, I want to share some words, first from John Calvin, and then a few of my personal thoughts to help those of you who may be dealing with this anxiety right now.

In 2 Timothy 2:15, where Paul tells Timothy to “rightly divide” the Word, John Calvin explains that Paul,

“…advises Timothy to ‘cut aright,’ lest, when he is employed in cutting the surface, as unskillful people are wont to do, he leave the pith and marrow untouched. Yet by this term I understand generally, an allotment of the word which is judicious, and which is well suited for the profit of the hearers. Some mutilate it, others tear it, others torture it, others break it in pieces, others, keeping by the outside never come to the soul of the doctrine. To all these faults he (Paul) contrasts the ‘dividing aright,’ that is, the manner of explaining which is adapted for edification; for that is the rule by which we must try all interpretation of scripture.” 

Said simply, teachers should aim to teach the Word to edify the listeners. The seasonal task, then, is to build our listeners up with the great truths of Christmas.

Here a a few suggestions to keep anxiety down and yourself on track this Advent season:

  1. FOCUS: Commit extra time to be quiet for prayer, study and worship. This season is so filled with Christmas “stuff” that you can end up filled with the stuff of Christmas and not filled with the Holy Spirit. The people you influence need YOU to be a stabilizing reminder that Christmas is supposed to be about Jesus.
  2. SIMPLIFY: Instead of preaching or teaching to other teachers or to find a new angle on an old story for people who’ve heard the Christmas story for decades, speak in simple terms about Jesus and why His birth STILL matters. It’s the greatest story the world has ever heard and it’s interwoven with the story of every individual in the room. 
  3. ENCOURAGE: Statistically, the holiday season has a higher rate of depression than any other. It’s impossible to understand everyone’s pain, but you can encourage them that we have a Savior who does and who will one day wipe away every tear. His first coming should encourage every heart to remember that the Gospel promises He’s coming again.

Believing Him for You,


Americans have recently witnessed the fall of some media giants. Wow, these stories have been disheartening to say the least.

Amidst my sadness over these stories, however, I’m actually glad about a couple of things:

  1. I’m glad that some of the wounded women have found their voices and mustered up the courage to speak up and say something. Because they did, though they were victimized, they are no longer victims; they are overcomers. They might not feel that way yet, but they are in my eyes. I applaud their strength and I hope each woman who was assaulted finds help toward healing and moving forward with peace.
  2. I’m also glad that people who seemingly got pass after pass to behave badly because of their position and power are finally being held accountable. Talent and profit should always be trumped by truth and character. Maybe accountability among the powerful will become more commonplace as a result of these events. I’m hopeful that is the case.

Speaking of accountability, the truth is, we all need it. We may not be high profile predators but we all have struggles and temptations. But we don’t just need accountability because of the possibility of how badly things can go without it – we need it to help us reach our potential. A little accountability can go a long way in keeping us on the right track toward reaching our goals.

Inviting accountability into our spiritual lives is absolutely essential. The beloved Howard Hendricks (aka, “Prof”) from Dallas Theological Seminary used to say that we are all headed to an ultimate final exam and because of that we need to check in on one another and see that we’re staying on track, getting ready for that moment.

The ultimate judgment is not in the eyes of public opinion; it’s in the presence of God. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”

According to scriptures, judgment will be different for those who do not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and for those who place their faith in Him.  In the end, unbelievers will ultimately receive judgement for their sin (Rev. 20:15).

On the other hand, believers will be welcomed into His glory. There, in His glory, believers will give account and receive rewards for deeds of service done for His kingdom. This is what Paul was referring to in 2 Corinthians 5:9, “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”

Before God is where each of us will have our ultimate moment of accountability. When I think about that moment I don’t look with disdain at fallen media figures, I look with absolute awe at the Savior who made a way for me to be forgiven of my sin.  And I thank God for my family and friends who encourage me and hold me accountable to stay the course of faith.

For His Glory,