Edwin Gabriel Vargas

Here are two questions I’ve been meditating on the last couple of months:

How do some leaders stay fresh and relevant, while others live at the cutting edge of mediocrity?

Who will tell me truths I need to hear?

We all have blind spots. One of the attributes of a good leader is that he/she has someone in his life who is willing to:

Tell the truth

Stand by you and help you grow.

Public success does not always mean pure intentions. Lies may get you to the top faster, but only the pure unadulterated truth will take you AND keep you there.

We need people that have our best intentions in mind to keep us honest in our professional journey. If you don’t, you will suffer from three things:

*You will coast instead of soar.

*You will repeat mistakes instead of improve.

*You will grow irrelevant instead of impactful.

Here are three principles:

  1. Understand the difference between harmful critic and helpful truth-teller

Both tell you something you may not want to hear, a hard uncomfortable truth. The difference is between them is that the harmful critic throws a stone at you and stands back. The helpful truth teller will throw a stone at the problem and stays until the issue improves, however long it takes. We need to be able to distinguish between the two.

  1. The more successful you become, the less truth tellers you will have.

This is called the CEO disease. People around you will hesitate to confront you, especially if there are outward signs of success. Here is an article that explains the term CEO disease: http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/stories/1991-03-31/ceo-disease Since loving truth tellers are few and far between, you must be intentional in creating a culture that values truth telling.

  1. How to get a friendly truth teller on your team.

Create that culture through words, print and practice. We don’t want to be toxic, but we do want to be truthful.

Pray for discernment.

Seek them out.

Give them permission.

My wife and I have a practice in our home. We sit our kids down once in a while and ask them to tell us where we are coming up short as parents. Instead of making us weaker, it has improved our parenting and taught them a valuable lesson: transparency in the atmosphere of acceptance always leads to growth.

So, who tells you the truth, lovingly?

Leaving well

imprrh@gmail.com —  September 9, 2015 — 1 Comment

Eventually we all leave. No matter the reason, there is a good way to leave and a bad way to leave. Even after a messy divorce from your previous employer there are things to keep in mind to make the transition to the new position a smoother one:

  1. Prepare the people around you for your exit.

You can prepare the people around you. Here are two examples:

  1. One pastor I know sat with his board and told them: “a new pastor is coming. He/she is probably going to change some things I did. I want you to know I am ok with it and I am praying that you will be supportive of his vision.”
  2. Another pastor got to a district and found a previous pastor in his members’ homes, attending birthdays, and lending an ear. He excused by saying he can’t help in people see him out. Yes you can, dude, yes you can.
  1. Prepare yourself for the exit.

No matter where you go, news from that previous assignment will make their way to you. Prepare by making a solemn promise to yourself that you will not intervene, help, or get depressed because of what is happening. You did your time, and the people where you are deserve your undivided attention. You don’t need to keep in touch, don’t need to perform weddings and Quiceaneras unless it’s your sister and even then think twice.

  1. Resist the urge.

Don’t be bitter, don’t throw social media bombs, and don’t do the passive aggressive song and dance. Just leave. No one repented from angry words they never got a chance to say. If you were reassigned or let go unjustly time has a way of showing it and vindicating you. If you were the one mistaken, angry outburst and bitter posts only complicates things.

Leave well.

What are some recommendations you have found helpful as you have left?

A couple of years back my good friend Jose Cortes Jr organized a march against violence in New York. I always wondered what it would look like to do the same in other cities. Thanks to his template, last Sabbath afternoon the members of over 40 churches in the Atlanta area totaling close to 1,000 people gathered in Plaza Fiesta in Atlanta to walk together and align ourselves with peace and not violence. We were able to impact thousands of onlookers, get over 25k hits on social media in one day because of press coverage, and let the community know we care.

This was part of concerted effort in Atlanta where we finished a SEASON of SERVICE with thousands of acts of kindness with eternal impact. (http://www.mycitysos.com)

Here are the benefits I saw:

  1. Changes perceptions of the community.

The comments on the Facebook page from the news outlet reveal the positive impact that the community had towards the church. Comments like “it’s about time the church did something that matters” and “thank you Adventist church” were common. In case you had not heard, Christianity has an image problem, specifically with millennials. This helped the community see we care about what they are going through.

  1. Changes lives of victims.

Without revealing too much as a result of the activity a life was saved, a victim of domestic abuse was delivered from a horrible situation and when they saw hundreds marching felt empowered to say enough. I’m pretty sure they are not the only ones.

  1. Changes perspectives of our members.

Some members were hesitant but at the end saw the impact we did. We were able to pray, build relationships with law enforcement as well as the media and property owners of the mall we walked around. The owners which were skeptical at first, invited us back for a Christmas concert or other similar activities.

Here is the process we used in 10 steps:

  1. Pick a date 3-6 months in advance.
  2. Pick the cause. We chose End it Now campaign because its worldwide, recognizable and a felt need in our community. Here is the website for artwork, videos etc. http://www.enditnow.org/
  3. Secure permits. At least 3 months before. Talk to the police and if applicable the property owners of where the march will take place.
  4. Promote like crazy. Ask people to bring posters that say our name. The Youth Federation (UJAM) was instrumental. Check out all the pictures of the event as well as videos here https://www.facebook.com/ujam.atlanta?fref=nf  
  5. Expect some pushback. Any idea that matters will. Don’t let it disturb you.
  6. Wear similar colors. (Check out the sea of white above)
  7. Let the media know through press release at least one month prior, then 2 weeks, then the week of.
  8. March. Usually 1-1.5 miles is great. Have flyers available with information of upcoming events you may want to promote that help the community.
  9. Have a short ceremony to end. Pray, a short speech and thanks, maybe an instrumental number.
  10. Clean up your area.


Any questions, please let me know.

I know what you’re asking. What is GSC? It stands for Gulf States Conference. It’s one of the smallest conferences in NAD.

Last weekend I had the privilege to be one the speakers at their Hispanic camp meeting on a sweltering upper 90’s humid Alabama countryside with no air conditioning in the main meeting space. This was no ordinary camp meeting. This was different from many of the others I attend. Here are three principles I observed:

  1. Intentionality.

In preparation for the camp meeting called “Sharing Hope” all the churches had evangelistic series. That resulted in over 60 new members to be baptized at camp meeting. That’s probably happened in other places, but I’ve never heard of it! As my good friend Richie Halversen likes to say: Evangelism works if you work it.”

Take away is this: when you plan events, what outcome are you after? I believe interesting programs are important, but they are not an end in themselves. Why have speakers that don’t call for people to follow the Jesus they are talking about?

  1. Excellence.

You have to understand something. Only some short years ago, the GSC had around 200 Hispanic members. Today they have close to 3,000. The influx of new members can provide challenges. One of them is the lack of experience in implementation of programming. This was not the case. From the professionally designed color coded programs, the awesome (and I mean awesome) food, decoration, quality of speakers, and so many millions of details others usually miss, the organizers proved you don’t have to have a multimillion dollar budget to provide excellence. Sara Garcia was superb in this. Three cheers for spouses that love ministry.

Take away: Excellence honors God and inspires people. Don’t slack on the details, because details matter. (and nothing beats great food!)

  1. Follow-up.

The camp meeting was not the end. That only led to the next stage that lasts until December. One of our weak areas in the Adventist church is retention. GSC has learned that the greatest apostasy preventer is to provide the new members with an opportunity to work. They are planning Season of Service fueled by Compassion for the fall and will finish the year with another reaping event.

Take away: in what ways are you providing the new believers in your sphere of influence and opportunity to serve?

If you want more information about the plan, the process and the purpose please contact the Hispanic Ministries Director Pastor Nilton Garcia, a young up and coming leader in our denomination.

I have always wanted to use a mystery guest, and it finally came true! I paid a young adult (in Thai food) to attend a church and fill out a survey (see below) about the experience. It opened my eyes about the benefits of having a mystery guest attend church. Here is why:

  1. Because it increases self-awareness.

After 23 years of working with churches of every size I have found that self-assessment only doesn’t work very well. We all have blind spots. The longer you’re at a congregation, the less you notice the imperfections, bad smells, and overtly quirky personalities that can drive people away. After a while deficiencies become normative and that’s not the best way to grow the kingdom. A mystery guest will provide a set of new eyes. Check out the reviews in the aforementioned church

Strong: Well-kept facilities, internet presence.

Growth: No one at the door greeting, no one sat by me all service. (Interesting because I was preaching about the importance of connecting with visitors, people said loud amens, and no one connected with the visitor they were saying amen about!)

  1. Because it can facilitate change:

It can help your case as a leader, as another voice pointing out areas of improvement as well as areas of strength. People in churches tend to be all or nothing many times. It’s either we are terrible or “nothing to see here everything is fine”. The assessment gives you areas to celebrate as well as confirmation where help is needed. Not everything can be fixed in a day, but several details can be fixed very quickly and that starts the momentum rolling the right way.

  1. Because it can help you track your improvements.

If I were to go back to a local church (believe me, it’s very much in my radar) I would have a mystery guest come twice a year, every year. It would be helpful to see how much we have grown in an area where a clear deficiency was present and what areas still need to markedly improve.


I’m a fan. Hope you can catch the bug.

Here are some resources that might be helpful:

Here is a sample form for a mystery guest. My thanks to Adam Flint for sending it to me.


Here is a company that does that sort of thing. Haven’t used it, would like some feedback if someone has: https://www.faithperceptions.com/MysteryGuestProgram.aspx

Here is a short version I created myself


Recently a study came out about diversity and faith communities. This followed another report a couple years ago about the fastest growing denomination in North America. Guess who’s at the top?



Does our church have areas it must improve? Sure, but it also has areas where we can praise the Lord and rejoice. I see three attitudes (or groups) that prevail in our midst:

1.The sky is falling, woe unto us, we can’t do anything right, camp.

2.The we are the remnant church and nothing is wrong, ever, and if there is we ignore it, avoid it or explain it away, camp.

  1. The we have issues, as well as inspiring stories, camp. One of the best ones is pictured above, when I baptized my mother in law, who 25 years ago said: I will never leave my catholic church. (famous last words :)

I don’t know where you would be right now. I pray to be in the third camp. I guess the best place to live  is within a healthy tension where in one hand you rejoice when you see God working and in the other hand you address deficiencies valiantly and decidedly. That’s why we need evangelists to draw us in, pastors to encourage us with good news, and prophets to call us out when we stray.

As I read the news of the diversity I felt three things:

  1. I rejoiced.

I never want to become so jaded with tragedy that I fail to enjoy the triumphs. Do we have a long way to go? Yes. Have we come a long way? Amen!

  1. I celebrated.

All is not awesome. All is not awful. It’s ok to rejoice. We don’t need “yes, but” attitudes. Maybe “yes. But” It’s ok to celebrate what God has done.

  1. I loved it.

We have all given the church grief. Our actions have been less than holy, our words have been less than kind. Conservatives and contemporaries, pastors and laypeople, young and old have fallen short of the glory of God. Yet God gently rebukes while making sure we know how special we are. What if we did the same? What about loving on the church for a while?

What if we used social media this week to speak about a positive story? What if we prayed for our leaders every day? What if we decided that its OK to celebrate God’s sovereignty and blessing?

Let’s give the church some love.

By Brandon Mowry (@miamimusicman)


I am not a pastor, but I have been called to ministry.

For all of my life, I’ve been connected to the world of Adventism. I grew up in the church. I attended Adventist schools. I’ve even taken collegiate Bible classes with a room full of future pastors.

I love the church, and I want to serve God.

My calling is different, though.

I’m a minister also, though my set of skills means that my area of ministry is not pastoral care.

I am a musician. And I believe that musicians and pastors must work hand in hand in the spiritual care of the church.

After all, that’s how the children of Israel did it.

The tribe of Levi included both priests and musicians. Both were deemed important enough to the spiritual life of Israel to be supported by the other tribes.

Thus, here are some things I wish pastors would understand.

  1. We can help you.

Everyone has areas of strengths and weaknesses. Pastors are good at preaching and pastoral care. Church musicians are good at knowing what music works for worship. A pastor might find a hymn or praise song that they believe complements their message. However, it may not be right for the congregation. The notes may be unfamiliar. The song may require more vocal technique than the amateur singers in the church can handle (ex.: does one need the range of Pavarotti to sing this song?). If you let us, we can help you find music that fits the theme AND the congregation.

  1. We need details.


On a related note, we will be able to better assist you in music selection if we know what the key points of your message are going to be. Rather than giving us a vague topic (ex.: “Our February messages will be about love.”), give us some details about what you want the congregation to take home with them. It will help us immensely as we plan to know what direction you want to take the church in the worship experience. It will also help us feel as though our contribution matters and helps to further the overall direction of the service instead of merely being “entertainment” that is unrelated to the theme.

By the way, we also need to know more information about the service than is often found in the bulletin. Is there going to be an altar call? A baptism at the end? A baby dedication? Do you need “walking music” as the children come forward for their story? Knowing these things in advance can help us to have music ready for these occasions.

  1. Give us enough time to prepare.

It takes time to learn music, especially for amateur musicians. A choir of volunteers cannot simply pick up a sheet of music and sing it perfectly. A praise team needs time to learn vocal parts and figure out the right notes to play. Telling us on Thursday night that you would like a specific song for the Sabbath service is usually going to end up with sub-par results. We want to give our best for God; help us by giving us enough time to prepare.

  1. We should be compensated.

Pastors have spent many years studying ministry techniques, biblical languages, interpretation, theology, and so on. Musicians have likewise spent many years learning about the structure of music, interpretation (classical music should sound different than contemporary music), and how to sing or play our instrument. For many of us, the practice room is our second home (sometimes, it feels like our first home!). We are dedicating a great deal of time to support the ministry of the church. The church should help us put food on our table as well. Pastors are not usually asked to volunteer; musicians shouldn’t be asked to either.


  1. Please don’t ask us to break the law.

Many churches today use modern praise music (sometimes known as Contemporary Christian Music, or CCM). Most, if not all, of these songs are still under copyright. Appropriate licenses need to be secured before performing these songs in church. Additional licensing needs to be arranged if the service is to be streamed live over the internet. Please don’t make us steal from our brother and sister musicians who are trying to pay their mortgages based on the royalties that writing these songs provide!

Also, please don’t ask us to photocopy printed music that is still under copyright. It doesn’t save that much money anyway (good paper is expensive), it takes a lot of time (not only are most church copiers VERY slow, one must then organize and staple fifty copies of music), and it’s still stealing, after all.

  1. We need a budget for music ministry.

Many churches set aside a little money for music. Most of the time, it is not enough. Make sure that in your church budget you are including money for licensing fees (see #5), instrument maintenance (when was the last time the pianos in your children’s Sabbath School rooms were tuned?), honorariums for regular or guest musicians (see #4), and sheet music acquisition.


  1. We need you to be a model for the congregation.

Picture the scene: the praise team is leading in worship. However, the platform participants behind them are sitting looking bored. The pastor is conferring with the elder next to him about something that may or may not be urgent. What message is the congregation receiving? Most likely, it is that the praise and worship time is not that important. David advises us to make a joyful noise to the Lord. If that’s all you can do, do it with gusto and a smile! Your congregation is looking to you to model worship for them. (PS: This applies to the rest of the service too. An appearance of disinterest will cause the congregation to feel the same.)

We’re not asking for much, right?

Most church musicians want to help fulfill the mission God has given the church using the gifts and talents He gave us.

And, the church will be greatly blessed by having pastors and musicians on the same team.

I love music. I consider myself a supporter of musicians in the church. I don’t subscribe to the doctrine of “you’re doing it for God, so you should give your music and talent away for free”. I also believe musicians, singers, praise and worship leaders can improve. Next week we will have a musician share their side. This week I speak as a pastor, about five things I wish music people would keep in mind:

  1. Please participate in the rest of the service.

I have seen it countless times. The praise team or special music presenter finishes their assignment and instead of sitting down and listening, participating and growing they go outside, set up the sales table, or hang out backstage. I have even had praise and worship leaders start to put away their instruments as I am starting to preach. It’s not over because your part is finished. Stay. Pray. Listen. Grow.

  1. Please don’t preach.

Let’s make a deal. I won’t sing, you don’t preach. This is especially important at events such as camp-meetings, evangelistic series or pretty much every event where there is a time constraint.

  1. Please be clear on what a “love offering” is.

This addresses full or part time paid musicians or worship leaders. Being clear and specific will, in my estimation, eliminate many of the misunderstandings. A love offering for some churches is $50, for others is $500. When the financials are fuzzy in the front end, they usually become complicated in the end. If you do this for a living you deserve a living wage and for people not to take advantage of you. Be clear. While on this topic, don’t call a pastor desperate for a date, have them change their calendar around and then complain when the offering wasn’t what you expected.

  1. Please don’t do the “good morning/I can’t hear you” routine.

It goes something like this: “Good morning everyone. (“good morning” says the congregation) “I can’t hear you, GOOD MORINING (louder and firmer)” The congregation increases the volume. This is usually enough to placate the person with the microphone, except when it doesn’t, where the “good mornings” are followed by “didn’t you eat breakfast this morning?” or the always nice “hasn’t God been good to you”. Here is a tip: Just say good morning, smile, sing your heart out, and end it. We love God. That is not measured by our volume.

  1. Please remember it’s not about you.

I don’t like to cut songs out, but sometimes I have to. I don’t like to cut my sermon, but sometimes I have to. Don’t you hate it when the speaker says “they gave me 30 minutes but I am going to take more?” Its irritating, isn’t it?  Be flexible, be patient and be willing to understand we are all means to an end. We are just the instruments, conduits, channels to spread the Good News. It’s not about you, or me, but Him.

  1. (Bonus) the aftermath

Please don’t insist on selling me the unbought CD’s after the concert. This should be initiated by the host, not insisted upon by the singer.

Next week stay tuned, as the musicians let us know their side. Should be interesting!