On this week’s podcast episode, Doug is interviewing Curry Pikkaart, Classis Leader for the Southwest Michigan Classis. The topic of their conversation is based on Curry’s blog post, To Catch the Wind, Hoist Your Sails, about how to persevere through trying and empty times while waiting for the Holy Spirit’s wind in our sails.
[0:00:25] The Story Behind the Blog Post
When Curry was asked to become a Classis Leader, his first response was not to consider it too carefully. But after getting multiple signs from the Holy Spirit, he decided to go for the position. If he had not already hoisted his sail, so to speak, then even though the Holy Spirit had been trying to speak to him, he would not have been pushed in the right direction. When Curry talks about hoisting the sail, he means to be prepared for the Spirit’s leading. Some ways he did this was through devotionals and the reading of God’s Word. All in all, hoisting your sail requires perseverance and dedication.
[0:07:11] Spiritual Vitamins
During the spiritual doldrums, how can you keep your sail hoisted? Take your spiritual vitamins. Although it may seem like just checking off the boxes at times, being intentional about reading the bible, praying, and spending time with God is the way to keep your sail hoisted. It’s like taking your vitamins, you can’t really see what good it’s doing right away, but you know that it’s good for you.
[0:13:35] The Spiritual Diet
In regard to spiritual diet, what are some disciplines that we can do? Some examples are: bible reading, praying, being in God’s presence, praising, fasting, and staying in accountability with each other. The last one (accountability) is important because that’s how you can help each other to stay on track with your spiritual diets.
[0:18:36] Varying Disciplines
Different people, churches, and denominations vary in their spiritual disciplines. By studying and trying out other ways of doing spiritual disciplines, it can stretch you in your spiritual journey. It’s good to be able to learn about other people’s ways of doing things but also good to keep your foot on the firm ground of theology.
[0:25:20] When the Going Gets Tough
What about when it’s so difficult to pray? Curry shares a time in his life when he was pastoring a church but his family was going through a very tough time. Although he would be preaching and teaching about God every Sunday, he would not be experiencing God in the same way. It was difficult for him to pray and get up every Sunday morning, but he still did. Although he believed it, he didn’t feel it. And that’s why faith is so much more important than feelings.
So, hoist the sail whether it’s windy, whether it’s rainy, or whether it’s a light breeze, or it’s just the dog days. Hoist the sail.
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EPISODE 8 V.1 [0:25]
DOUG: Well, welcome once again to the Luminex Podcast and today we have Curry Pikkaart. Welcome to the program Curry.
CURRY: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
DOUG: So Curry, tell us about your current ministry role.
CURRY: I’m currently the Classis leader for the Classis of Southwest Michigan on a part-time basis. I retired about two years now from full time pastoral ministry within the context of the local church and had planned to just see how things developed – had nothing in the fire, so to speak, and there are some very unique circumstances. An opportunity came along, and Classis leadership turned to me and asked if I would help them implement some changes that they were going through and proposing to the Classis for restructuring and asked if I could lend some guidance and time to that. So I told them, thinking that the answer would be no, I said, “Well, let me pray about it.” Sounded like a good safe answer, it always is. So, I went home and my first test was simply to share it with my wife and figured that she would say, “Are you sure you want to do this?” which would be my first sign that “No, I probably shouldn’t.” Went home and told her and she said, “I can see exactly why they want you to do this.” And I said, “Well, then maybe I better give this a little more serious look.” Next Sunday in church, the pastor preached on the talents and how we can hide our talents. And then I read a devotional shortly after that that it said, ‘Sometime we spend our time looking for an answer when in reality the one we have got is the only one we are going to get.’ And I realized the answer was already there. So here we are. I have been working with them for about a year and probably have another year and a half to go.
DOUG: Well, that’s wonderful. Thanks for sharing that journey and it relates to the topic we are going to talk about in some very important ways. For those of our listeners who are not members of the Reformed Church in America, a Classis is local group of churches, in this case right around 30 churches or so. It would be analogous to a Presbyterian and the Presbyterian Church or a district in some other denominations. And so Curry has those kinds of responsibilities to help coordinate the mission and witness of those congregations in the Kalamazoo area, Southwest Michigan area. So it’s just great to have you on the program. Curry has also been a pretty frequent contributor to the Luminex blog and we’re going to talk about a blog post from a while back and we’ll have a link back to that post in the show notes called ‘Hoist the Sail’ and tell us what you were thinking about as you titled that blog.
CURRY: Well, it’s probably actually at the time it was written thinking about how I came into the Classis leader job partially. I think I had hoisted a sail and if I hadn’t hoisted the sail, I would have missed the wind of the Spirit. The thought that went through my mind and what I learned slowly, and probably not as quickly as I should have over the course of years in ministry, was just the importance of carving out regular time, spiritual disciplines, whatever name you want to put on it, but regular time of spiritual input and listening. And the reason that’s important is because that’s what hoists the sail to catch the wind. And it involves a lot, it involves persistence. Personally, gaps in my life when we did but that was the thrust was we just need to keep at it and keep doing it in order that the sail could be up because we don’t know when the wind is going to blow.
DOUG: Yeah, and it really takes off with the scripture or metaphor of the Holy Spirit, the Ruach of God in Hebrew.
DOUG: The wind of God and then also the idea of casting out that sheet that sail, putting ourselves in the way of the Spirit so that we could be led by him. So, as you think about that, what are some of the sail casting things that you’ve done in your life and that you’ve found helpful particularly for church leaders [00:05:00]? Some ways to make sure that sail is trim and tight and hoisted to the top of the mast.
CURRY: Experimentation is kind of at the top of the list, which maybe sounds funny when it comes to thinking of disciplines, but I suppose it can be parallel to an athlete who straight out of the gate doesn’t know what his regiment is going to be but in the course of years figures out that’s what’s best. And as they grow older and muscle tone changes, they change their routines as well. And I think that’s very much true. There would be times when I couldn’t get enough of just taking extra time aside from sermon preparation, aside from a class teaching, to just read the word. Now the hard part was always reading the word and then saying that’s a great sermon idea and writing things down but that’s okay. The important thing was to read it. Then I would go into cycles where I would seem like I read every day and nothing would be there and then earlier in my ministry I would say well, I guess just I will stop then. then I would stop doing for a while and the realized: I’m losing my edge and need to get back to something so I would try something different and eventually I would be back and it would be scripture again. But there would be times when I read devotionals Oswald Chambers, and there was a time I read things from the some of the Puritans, and there was a time I read Max Lucado. Just forcing the issue of: each day there needs to be some time set aside when I’m not going to think about the business of ministry, when I’m not going to think about business or family, and I’m just going to let something get into me even when I don’t realize it’s getting in me.
DOUG: Yeah and it goes back to the metaphor of sail hoisting, that even if the wind is a breeze or if you are not feeling much wind, the good sailor puts that sail up, tries to trim it to catch as much of the wind as possible.
Episode 8 V. 2 [7:11]
CURRY: Exactly. Living where we do right next to Lake Michigan. Often when my wife and I will walk at night, going on the peer and we’ll lookout and we’ll be well, there aren’t many sailboats out tonight or there aren’t many sailboats out tonight and all that imagery comes back into play. If all you do is wait for the wind and a sailboat, you may spend a lot of nights out on the lake and not get back to shore and I think that’s an apt analogy. And again it ties to Jesus’s words to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it will.” And we don’t know when, we don’t know from what direction or how hard and so just be ready, just to persist in doing something and giving that time.
DOUG: Yeah. I think as a Christian now I have been walking with the Lord for over 40 years and many people have been walking with the Lord longer, many for decades, many for just a few days. The spiritual doldrums happen at times, where you don’t feel as connected with God or under sail, so to speak, with the Holy Spirit blowing strongly at your back and yet trimming that sail through scripture reading, through prayer, through the spiritual disciplines is so important even in the times when the wind isn’t strong and stiff behind you.
CURRY: I think of Jesus talking about the Holy Spirit and saying the Holy Spirit will bring to remembrance all that I have said to you. And when I read that passage and those words to the disciples who heard a lot of words from Jesus, none of them remembered all of them but they were with him. And so when they would find themselves in a situation where they needed that word, the promise of the Holy Spirit is, “I’ll being you to remembrance.” But if it’s not in there to begin with, there’s nothing to bring to remembrance. And so during some of those drier seasons where, boy, this is really work they do this discipline that becomes a reminder that some point in time something went through me. It’s like taking vitamins, I don’t feel what they do but they do some good and I just trust that and then history shows that indeed that’s been the case and the same thing is true spiritually.
DOUG: Yeah, and even to take it further that sometimes the sail needs to be repaired, sewing up, and cleaned up and you’re preparing for something that is going to happen, not necessarily always needing it to happen during the time of spiritual discipline and preparation.
CURRY: Exactly. In fact that brings to mind a good friend of ours who [00:10:00] just one night a week when they do local sailboat races out on the lake, and for the first one this year, his sail broke and he was talking about what it took to sew it back up rather than take it somewhere and have to wait a few weeks, he spent the next week sewing it back up together and doing what he had to do and talking about all the work he had to do and how sore his fingers were and that when you say that that brings a great analogy. Sometimes it is hard work and sometimes it hurts but if you want to get ready to sail, then that’s what you need to do.
DOUG: Yeah. I think about those times where it’s just been easy and it seems like you can’t get enough of prayer and the Word, and just times of refreshing from the Lord and worship seem very vivid, and all of that and then there are those times when it seems like work. It seems like I’m just checking the box, I’m just doing it because it’s a discipline. How would you encourage a Christian who is going through those times?
CURRY: That’s a good question and I think as simple as it sounds, I think the word perseverance is the best word I can use that it will pay its dividends. As I study the life of Jesus, there was a structure to it. We love the spontaneous part of Jesus, but he could only be spontaneous because he had the structured time all the times he went away. It would have been easy for him to keep doing what he was doing and deal with the press of the demands but he made sure that he took those times away. And so the just in those moments when it doesn’t feel like it’s doing any good or when life doesn’t seem to be bearing that fruit, to have that belief that would the promise is truth that the Spirit will blow, the wind will blow and if the sail is hoisted we will be able to catch the wind. And just force yourself. Do the hard work. Many of the best things in life don’t come free. Grace is, but beyond that it takes time and so just do the work and if something is not working, ask somebody else that you admire or somebody else you respect What do we do? What are resources that you use? And find it out and try them and something will fit for a season and something else will fit for another season. One of the times that I turned the corner and learning how to persevere was I had gotten pretty regular at making at least a few minutes in the morning whether it was at home or when I got into the office before I would start the work but I felt like the days got long and so I found a book that I had ordered of Celtic [ph] literature and prayer. It has prayers for morning, noon, and evening and just forced myself at the beginnings to say, I’m going to take five minutes morning, noon and before I go to bed. This then led me to a book by Phyllis Tickle which had prayer for morning, noon and night. And that helped me turn a real corner and to recognize that some days maybe there are some situations where time just isn’t there. But as I am driving home for lunch or as I’m driving to the next appointment, subconsciously and maybe even semi-consciously there’s still that opportunity just to stop and to make sure you do something and give God the honor and give him the chance to speak.
Episode 8 V.3 13:35
DOUG: That’s so important. Earlier you talked about experimentation and I think often particularly in more of the conservative Evangelical Christian circles, there is a lack of understanding the breadth of spiritual disciplines and so take us through some of those. What are some of the things that – they may not have been your main diet throughout your life but that might be helpful for a Christian to experiment with?
CURRY: Well, one and probably the most obvious is reading of scripture, and of course there’s as many as the grains of the sands but there are many other ways you can choose to read scripture through the Bible in a year, and I’ve done that numerous times or some particular book in scripture grabs others. Just a lot of different ways but finding a way to do that. I even spent time I remember Billy Graham say he would read Psalm a day, a Proverb a day. And so I did that for a very long time maybe be above and over other things. but certainly the reading of scripture is primary, prayer is primary. And by prayer I mean not always saying something but maybe the solitude and the silence and sometimes the Spirit would fill my mind with some thoughts, sometimes he wouldn’t but at least I entered into the presence [00:15:00]. It’s like my wife and I are together for an evening, sometimes we may not say much. She may be reading, I may be reading, she may be doing something else, I may be doing something else but at least we are together in each other’s presence and if we want to speak we can. And to be able to give sometime for God if he wants to and for me to speak with him I think that works well that Father-Abba relationship is there. I think an avenue which I would have liked to have done more of and really didn’t largely because I didn’t come across it till later with sometime to praise. And that may be singing, it may be reading a hymn, it may be just talking prayer of thanks or praising. But there is a whole discipline of praise which – and if you get into singing or if you into hymns or to music. I don’t want to exclude lots of contemporary music whether it would be listening to song, whether it would be reading the words, whether it would be singing the words somebody is gifted enough to play the piano. If it means sitting at the piano, playing, and letting your spirit soar. But a way of praising I think is important. I certainly think fasting can be important. I personally did not do that a whole lot and I don’t say that with any pride or defiance. I just found it for me difficult and then I also had some medical issues which made that a little more difficult for me to do. So rather than a strict fast, my fasting might be that I would spend an extra 10 minutes in prayer, or in praise, or in the reading recognizing that it maybe could compensate that way. I think part of spiritual discipline is also even though it may not be listed, as one is some kind of accountability – whether it would be to a coach, to a mentor, to a friend. And again it’s all varying degree in that. It can be regular and in-depth or it can be as casual as somebody who just says, “Are you keeping up with it? How are you doing with the disciplines?” And be that in an individual or a group, we all need and I know somebody is going to be checking up on me I much more apt to do it than if nobody knows of course God knows but no other human knows. Easy for me to say I can slip by today. I think those would at least some of the top ones that I found that were helpful.
DOUG: Yeah. That’s a wide variety of things. So, I think about the accountability piece and the whole Christian tradition throughout history of the confessor the confidant. Today we might call it accountability partner, or a disciple, or as you say a coach that can a great discipline to share your journey with one or two other people and perhaps a mutuality to that accountability.
CURRY: If there is anything, rather there would be more than one thing, but if there’s one major thing that I, looking back, realize would have been really helpful particularly in my early years, it would have been a much more regular accountability partner or coach or mentor. I was blessed with some good friends, I was blessed with some good pastors who pastored me in my earlier in my life that I could always call if I needed to and some people in the congregation here and there. But in terms of a regular face, or a regular ear or voice for a number of years there was none and I was not wise enough at that point in time to say I really ought to have that. God was gracious but I look back now and realize how much richer my life could have been with that at that point already.
Episode 8 V. 4 [18:36]
DOUG: I found in talking with people that are working with their spiritual disciplines, that your personality and sort of the way that you learn, they way that you’re wired can often play a factor. For some people sitting still or praying for a whole day, or going on a retreat of silence or that some of that kind of thing just makes them break out in hives. It makes them feel like wow! That just doesn’t sound good. What are some ways that you’ve tried some things that kind of stretched you out of your comfort zone and what are some of the ways that you’ve adapted to your own bent, to your own personality?
CURRY: One of the things that stretched me was – I’m using the wrong word because I’m going blank but the prayer maze…
DOUG: The labyrinth.
CURRY: The labyrinth. Thank you. There it is, yes. And I always admired it, I always said it’s a good idea for those whom it worked but it was not my personality and then I found myself as lead pastor in a congregation where we had a girl who was really sold on it and wanted to develop it. So I said to her, “why don’t you develop it?” And so I encouraged her to do that. Well of course, anything that any staff person or organization who wants to sell in a church seen your pastor needs to put stamp of approval on it, people need to know you’ve done it and so I force myself to. It was not painful, it was uncomfortable but it was not a painful and uncomfortableness and still won’t be my favorite thing but I experienced enough of it to recognize it has some tremendous beauty to it and I’ve seen what it’s done to others. So for that was one of those areas if somebody said, “Do you want to do it?” I would say “No” “But will you do it for this sake?” “Yes” “and, it is good?” “Yes. I think it has its place.” So that’s certainly was one. I think the other is and again this is my personality is just flipping open a scripture and whatever falls you look at it and you meditate on it and it was say something to you. Now, I believe that can be beneficial but my mind is structured in such a way that I like the flow, I like to fit in the flow and sort of have some continuity. So the times I tried that, maybe because it was disrupting my continuity, was part of my security. But the spontaneous kinds of things for me didn’t seem to be as helpful. But on the other hand again I know people for whom that is a tremendous way to do it and I’m not about to stand here and say, “Well, I’m richer than you because I’ve done it my way.”
DOUG: Yeah. And of course, texts come in context so we want to be careful. You know the old irony of the person who opened the Bible and it said, ‘Judas went out and hanged himself.’ And he said, “Well, that can’t be God’s word for me.” So he turned it to another page and it said, “Go and do likewise” and he is, “Well, that can’t be right.” And then he turned to another page and it said, “What thou must do, do quickly.” Are all in the scripture but certainly, if you relate them to one another, that’s certainly not what God has in mind for us. And so that brings up the question of theology and spiritual disciplines. There do seem to be theological streams that are focused on one set of disciplines, other theological streams that focus on another set of disciplines, etcetera. How have you found your ability to adapt your coming from the reformed perspective but you may use a discipline for a pre-reformed era in Christian history? How have you experience that?
CURRY: I’ve actually found it at times very helpful and particularly in the devotional and prayer realm. As an illustration, when I was in ministry, I would order numerous old religious magazines but I just didn’t stick to our denominational magazines. When Woody Monthly was around, I would do Woody Monthly. I also do Charisma Magazines. Two very different perspectives, both every good and very rich and there were things in-between there as well and so I would always try to read something it might make me uncomfortable even angry at some point in time just because it might solidify me, it might also challenge me and change me along the way. And so prayer traditions, I mentioned the Celtic prayer book that I used which I think was helpful. I even used a book of common prayer for a while and the richness in there even though both of those are more formal than what I might tend to be. And it stretches me, and it also helps me appreciate others who are on a different kind of journey but who, in many cases, are probably much more deeply rooted than what I am.
DOUG: Yeah. And having a good solid theological framework helps you to see the limitations of certain disciplines or the strength of certain disciplines but it also can challenge you to appreciate a greater depth of the universality and the ancientness of the Christian tradition as well.
CURRY: Exactly. And you mentioned coming out of a tradition, in our case the Reformed tradition. One of the dangers of reading others answers and viewpoints and styles is that you wind up with none yourself but if indeed, you have a background out of which to evaluate things and or you challenge or you go back to is very helpful. And so I’ve always been grateful to my Reformed heritage. I was literally born into the Reformed church and I’ve always been a part of it and it’s given me a structure, it’s given me a people, it’s given me so much that whatever I do winds up being balanced [00:25:00] over against that or evaluated by that. And So I think that’s critical as well, which I guess means it might be a little harder for someone new to the Christian faith who might not have the deep seed of theology and that’s where I think a mentor or a coach who can help start to build that would be very critical and important.
Episode 8 V.5 [25:20]
DOUG: I think the things that happen to us in life if I can getting back to the sailing analogy, the storms that come up when our sail is out there, there are winds blowing but there are other forces, there are other things going on that might not be the Ruach, the wind of God, going on. In your life I’m sure you’ve had trials and tribulations. Have you had a time where it was just difficult to pray, it was just difficult to keep your sail trimmed? And how did you get through that?
CURRY: Its got to be God’s timing at this point because I just – they preached a little bit about that this past Sunday. It was in the Psalms and I was captured by the phrase and God had led the Israelites where there were no footprints. And so my whole analogy was for many years the footprints in the sand was the big saying and held the truth that sometimes he carries us where there is only one set of footprints. What about where there are no footprints to be seen? And the basis of me sharing that was the experience we had with our one son when he was in the 6th grade. He probably attended a week or two of school his entire 6th grade year because of a constant painful headache that he had and everything we went through and they couldn’t find what it was, were ready to do brain surgery and last minute they did the procedure and long story short that did correct it. It was a ventricle that was too full and so he woke from the surgery headache-free for the first time. And then a month later they started to come back only they were a little bit different it had to do with had the surgery. But through that whole time, here I am trying to lead a congregation, preaching every week, teaching every week. So I’m speaking about God, I’m teaching about God and I can’t say I never really doubted God but I was not experiencing him at the level I was preaching about. I could say God does this, God does that but I go home and say but he is not doing it here. And there were some pretty dry times at that point. I remember reading mail that we could get or cards that we would get and just going in the other room and weeping and he couldn’t see that I was doing that because it was just so painful to say hey – as we, all say in those time, “Let it be me and not him.” So that was certainly one of those times when prayer was very difficult, and I probably also without realizing at the time, when I was in 3rd grade I had a sister who was in 9th grade was hit by a car. She was crossing the street on her way to school and died three days later and so I, at some level, I experienced watching my parents go through that and friends of the family. And also have tremendous memories of how the church family came through at that point in time. So and I thought of that sometimes during that year of we all have something similar along the way and certainly there had been some things but that was a big one for us. It was difficult to pray and it was difficult to get up on a Sunday morning and be positive and pronounce the Word because I believed it but I sure didn’t feel it.
DOUG: Wow! Well, thank for sharing that with us. I hope that’s an encouragement to one of our listeners that might be going through at time where it’s just you feel like your prayers are bouncing off the ceiling so to speak or you just don’t feel like doing it and that persistence of keeping that sail ready to go can be really helpful.
CURRY: And probably also just the thought that that’s why we should not run our lives by feelings. Because if I had gone with what I felt, I would have done none of those things and I would have asked for time away in all of that. And the richness I would have missed out on because I decided to follow my belief and not what I was feeling inside myself.
DOUG: Our feelings sometimes get confused with our faith.
DOUG: But our faith precedes our feelings. It’s important. So, we’re pretty seasoned you and I as Christians, we’ve been doing this for a while. Talk to the person who’s just starting out just getting their [00:30:00] feet under them, in terms of their devotional life, their spiritual life, really pursuing God, spending time with him. What’s one bit of advice that you would give to a newbie just starting out.
CURRY: One bit. Wow! I think it would be: take the time to get your spiritual life organized. And by that I mean now is the time to say some kind of regular spiritual discipline is important. It’s going to take maybe some significant time to figure out what that is going to be for you but make the decision to do that and start it now. It’s no different than if you are starting a new job, the first thing you do is figure out, what’s here, what’s before me and how do I get this organized? Or if you move into a new house, how do I organize it? Get the core of your life organized so that the rest can grow out of that so it’s not a helter skelter growing.
DOUG: Yeah. I remember a mentor of mine as a young Christian encourage me to make an appointment with God and just to keep that appointment no matter what and that intentionality is key, isn’t it?
CURRY: Absolutely. And there again in those times when maybe keeping the appointment, I don’t feel anything, but think of the honor it gives to God that I kept the appointment.
DOUG: And it goes back to what you said earlier, the analogy of just sitting at home with your spouse, you may not be talking the whole time but you’re available to one another, you’re in each other’s presence…
DOUG: …you’re enjoying one another in some ways and I think people that have had that kind of a significant relationship with someone or children or siblings or others, it’s just great to be together and keeping that appointment and just being with God is almost more important than the words that are said or read during that time.
CURRY: It’s well put. Absolutely. I agree with that 100%.
DOUG: So, hoist the sail whether it’s windy, whether it’s rainy, or whether it’s a light breeze, or it’s just the dog days. Hoist the sail. That’s the great message that we’re talking about today. Any last thoughts for a listeners Curry before we wrap it up?
CURRY: Probably one final encouragement to stick at it, believe that it will pay, trust the words I will bring to your remembrance and it has to be something there to remember. And so hang in there and do it and find someone who can help you or someone you admire, someone who’s spiritual life you look at and say wow! “ I’d like to be there.” Go and ask him, say, “How did you get there?”
DOUG: Yeah. That’s great. And I’d add that if you’re a mature Christian and you’re meeting some new people, ask if you can help them in anyway.
CURRY: Great thought. Absolutely.
DOUG: Yeah. That’s great. Well, it’s been a pleasure to have you here Curry and thankful for your life, for your ministry and we’re praying for you and it’s been a blessing for our listeners. So thanks for being here.
CURRY: Thanks for the honor. I’ve enjoyed it, I’ve appreciated it and it’s been a blessing.
DOUG: Until next time in Luminex podcast, this is Doug McClintic along with Curry Pikkaart and we wish you God’s blessing as you multiply the light of Christ.
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