Giving All You Have to the Mission of God

Church Planting may take you to a new area where you know few people and have limited experience/scope to guide you.  This has been my experience.  That has pushed me back to the Church Planting documentation in the book of Acts.  In Acts 3:1-8, we journey along with Peter and John fresh off of a life-changing encounter with God that has resulted in the planting of the worlds first mega-church (3000 added in one day!). Here it is in HCSB: 

Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon.  And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them.  But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong. 

Have you ever worried that you wouldn’t have the resources needed to accomplish the mission/vision of the ministry you lead?  Silver and Gold can seem in very short supply at times.  This didn’t stop Peter and John from ministering.  The lame beggar asked for a hand out as he had on many occasions.  He didn’t get one this day.  Instead, these apostles gave him what they had - Jesus - in a large dose!

How did they deliver this gift? Personal delivery! 

First, they met the man with eye contact and they asked him to look at them.  When Jesus looked at the crowds around Him, He often felt compassion and this seems to be the case with Peter and John.  When we find ourself in new situations and new ministries we must never lose the personal.  We aren’t crunching numbers we are sharing the love of God.  How easy it would have been for these men to check their money bag, realize they didn’t have any extra money, and dismiss the man.  Instead, they made a connection that led to a miracle. 

Second, after they offered the man what they had, they went one step further.  They didn’t just leave the ball in his court.  They put their hand out and offered a real physical help to get him started.  Oh, this is important to any church plant - We must be willing to give a hand up!  Hand-outs may seem fruitless but hand-ups are were we can really show God’s Love. 

Notice that the man’s legs were strengthened after the apostles reached down for him and after he took their help and stepped up in faith.  Our role in God’s Kingdom can be best seen with an outstretched hand. 

No matter your ministry context, the resource of compassion and care must never be in short supply.  If we distance ourself from the personal, those resources will dry up faster than a bank account in Vegas. 

I (Chris) am only four years into my Forever West Journey and many of our planters are even fresher than that! But I can look across our Sunday gatherings and tell a story for more than 75% of our folks about how one person/family has been touched personally by another person/family.  Take a good look at your surroundings and do an inventory of what you’ve got to give.  This may not be what people around you are asking for but it doesn’t mean that isn’t what they truly need.  How can you offer a hand up?

On The Road Again - Cowley, Wyoming - Water of Life Church

Today, our family heads to northwest Wyoming to Cowley.  This is where our friends and ministry partners, Johannes and MaryBeth Slabbert, are planting Water of Life Church.  Although I (Chris) have been to Cowley 6 or 7 times during the week, we have never been able to worship with this new church on a Sunday until now.  It is so exciting to get to spend time with folks who are part of this new church...a church that wasn't even in existence only months ago.  

It has been quite a journey for the Slabbert family.  Moving from North Carolina to Casper back in 2015 had to be hard.  They served at WindCity Church as Church Planting apprentices for a year before heading to Cowley.  This is a picture of our apprentice team at that time.  

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http://www.foreverwestchurchplanting.com/alumni - Here is a link to the Alumni of our Network's apprenticeship program.  

http://www.foreverwestchurchplanting.com/water-of-life-church - Here is more info on Cowley and Water of Life Church.  

It is our joy to travel this great state and be a part of God's Kingdom work by seeing new churches planted.  We are praying for more.  Not every church planter is as 'Wyoming-ish' as Johannes (see below picture) but God is using each person and their unique gift-set to serve Him just as Johannes uses his work with horses to be a blessing.  

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http://www.foreverwestchurchplanting.com/future-apprentices - Maybe you are praying about what is next in your own journey of following and serving Christ.  Take a look at our apprenticeship program.  You could be sensing a call to our great state to help us reach the over 60 communities that have zero evangelical church.  Not long ago, Cowley was on that list...but no longer!  

God breathes life into new things all the time and He regularly uses Christ-followers to accomplish that mission.  

You can also help us plant more churches by joining our support team.  An easy way to get started is by becoming a 3:16'er.  For only $26.34 you can bless our Wyoming missionaries with $316 annually.  Click here to join: http://www.foreverwestchurchplanting.com/give/ 

Resources for Church Planting

Church Planting may take you to a new area where you know few people and have limited experience/scope to guide you.  This has been my experience.  That has pushed me back to the Church Planting documentation in the book of Acts.  In Acts 3:1-8, we journey along with Peter and John fresh off of a life-changing encounter with God that has resulted in the planting of the worlds first mega-church (3000 added in one day!). Here it is in HCSB:  

Now Peter and John were going up together to the temple complex at the hour of prayer at three in the afternoon.  And a man who was lame from birth was carried there and placed every day at the temple gate called Beautiful, so he could beg from those entering the temple complex.  When he saw Peter and John about to enter the temple complex, he asked for help. Peter, along with John, looked at him intently and said, “Look at us.” So he turned to them, expecting to get something from them.  But Peter said, “I don’t have silver or gold, but what I have, I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, get up and walk!” Then, taking him by the right hand he raised him up, and at once his feet and ankles became strong.  

Have you ever worried that you wouldn’t have the resources needed to accomplish the mission/vision of the ministry you lead?  Silver and Gold can seem in very short supply at times.  This didn’t stop Peter and John from ministering.  The lame beggar asked for a hand out as he had on many occasions.  He didn’t get one this day.  Instead, these apostles gave him what they had - Jesus - in a large dose!

How did they deliver this gift? Personal delivery!  

First, they met the man with eye contact and they asked him to look at them.  When Jesus looked at the crowds around Him, He often felt compassion and this seems to be the case with Peter and John.  When we find ourself in new situations and new ministries we must never lose the personal.  We aren’t crunching numbers we are sharing the love of God.  How easy it would have been for these men to check their money bag, realize they didn’t have any extra money, and dismiss the man.  Instead, they made a connection that led to a miracle.  

Second, after they offered the man what they had, they went one step further.  They didn’t just leave the ball in his court.  They put their hand out and offered a real physical help to get him started.  Oh, this is important to any church plant - We must be willing to give a hand up!  Hand-outs may seem fruitless but hand-ups are were we can really show God’s Love.  

Notice that the man’s legs were strengthened after the apostles reached down for him and after he took their help and stepped up in faith.  Our role in God’s Kingdom can be best seen with an outstretched hand.  

No matter your ministry context, the resource of compassion and care must never be in short supply.  If we distance ourself from the personal, those resources will dry up faster than a bank account in Vegas.  

We are still pretty young in this church planting journey (4 years), and so are the different Forever West Plants around the state, but I can look across our Sunday gatherings and tell a story for more than 50% of our folks about how one person/family has been touched personally by another person/family.  Take a good look at your surroundings and do an inventory of what you’ve got to give.  This may not be what people around you are asking for but it doesn’t mean that isn’t what they truly need.  How can you offer a hand up? 

The Gift of Sharing The Gospel

Ok, what does a church planter do once they have an audience...whether it is 1 or 1000...from a platform or over a coffee?  Preparing a message gets mixed reviews with many ministry leaders.  Some love it and others loathe it.  The difference is in the stress level that arises over direction.  We don’t want to get stale.  We don’t want to be ‘Johnny One-Note’.  We fear we may run out of material. 

This all came to a head for me as I entered ministry.  I served a Bible-Belt church where I preached 2-3 times per week and led at least two bible studies.  Then there were frequent weddings, funerals and counseling and discipleship sessions.  How can a person ever stay prepared with that much fresh and relevant content?  It isn’t as if the Bible doesn’t have enough material…it is 807,361 words.  It often seemed like there was too much…surely I needed a way to focus each message.  Even now, as a Church Planter, it seems that much more important to be ‘on-point’ at any time I am given the gift of sharing from God’s Word.

For me, it was helpful to take a clue from Peter in Acts 2.  On the day of Pentecost, he stood up and began to preach.  His audience had heard many fancy speeches before and they thought he was drunk.  What would he do to bring home the message of The Gospel? Take a look at the scripture he delivers that day:

He Preached from the prophetic book of Joel Chapter 2 (in Acts 2:17-21).  He preached the Gospel from an Old Testament prophets perspective.

He Preached from the Psalms with Psalm 16 (in Acts 2:25-28) and Psalm 110 (in Acts 2:34-35).  He preached the Gospel from Psalms which is musical and wisdom literature.

With each text Peter quoted, he pointed to God’s Mighty work through Jesus.  Then he made an appeal for men to repent and follow this Jesus whom he preached about.

That is how I found peace with the message/messages.  I decided to preach The Gospel through all of scripture. The techniques would change.  The illustrations would be designed differently.  It didn’t matter though…I had my message.  The Gospel would be enough.  Now, I had some practical helps as well that I will offer here:

  1. Preachers over-complicate things sometimes.  I can sure do it.  A resource that has been very helpful to me is Andy Stanley’s book called ‘Communicating for a Change’.  You may not agree with everything said but there are some powerful insights into how to communicate clearly and in a way that is remembered and applied. 
  2. Preachers try and think like scholars.  Don’t get me wrong, scholarly study is needed and rewarded but we often develop outlines that require scientific formula’s to decipher.  In scientific terms, if you are planning to spend hours of scholarly study, we need to be less ‘scientific theory’ and more ‘applied science’.
  3. Preachers need clarity and focus.  Turn on the TV to a news station and count how many different messages are going on at one time.  We suffer from ‘info overload’.  Your listeners likely engage with your message after days of overload.  They need clear teaching that is focused on what can truly help them live a life as a follower of Jesus.  Remove any bell and whistle that doesn’t enhance the clarity of the message. 
  4. Preachers forget the awe of the message we carry.  Our text is filled with the most powerful of all stories.  It is filled with the greatest of all evidences.  It is a life-changing message of a life-changing Savior that is offered to a people in need of changed lives.  What an honor.  Don’t forget the awesome nature of the message you carry!

An I-80 Road Trip around the Wyoming Church Plants of Forever West

Occasionally we will have someone take a vision tour where they can see what God is doing in the new churches in Wyoming.  I (Chris) get to travel often to support our church planters and investigate new areas where churches should be planted.  Let's take a quick trip around the state to celebrate!

Starting in Cheyenne (our capital city), you would see a city with a great need for a strong church.  We have been praying and traveling and meeting with folks in that city all year and see the beginnings of a new church being planted very soon. 

Take the short drive past Vedauwoo...

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...and you find your self in Laramie (home to University of Wyoming).  Here you would meet Danny & Talissa Smith who are planting a collegiate church called Expedition.   God is doing great things on our only University in Wyoming.  The stories of life change amongst several college students give us much hope for what God is doing with this generation!

Continue west on I-80 and you will find Rock Springs where we hope to plant both a multi-generational church as well as a collegiate church.  This town of over 23,000 souls desperately needs more faith communities started and we hope to be a part of one soon!

A short jaunt further west and you will hit the beautiful town of Green River where Rondie and Melody Taylor are planting the awesome Living Hope Church.  In only a years time they are reaching so many young families that they need a larger children's ministry area!  The impact that Living Hope has had on its community cannot be overstated.  

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Not too far north of I-80 is the small town of Kemmerer.  Al & Kathy Bella moved to this town in 2014 to plant Living Water Community Church.  Al has seen many people saved and much progress in this town known as the place of the first JC Penney's store.  They even moved into an permanent building this year that was once the home to a strong church.  

The last stop on this near 400 mile East to West Road Trip would be the town of Evanston.  On the Utah border, Evanston has an incredibly low percentage of christians and only a few churches.  With 13,000 souls, we hope to be part of a new church plant here as soon as God reveals the family he has called to lead the work. 

One thing each of these areas has in common is that they are each in need of prayer.  Pray that God will bring a great move of His Holy Spirit as church planters serve and as new churches begin.  Pray for provision for the many needs.  

Speaking of provision, did you know you can become a vital part of our support by becoming a '3:16'er'?   What's that you say?  Financially support our church planting network at $26.34 per month ($316 per year) and you can do more than take a road trip...you can help meet tangible needs in the ministry here.  

Join us next week as we take another Road Trip around a different section of our state.  

 

 

Connecting your Church to your Relationships

How can we reach people with our new church plant or ministry?  Where will they come from?  What is the best way to communicate God’s Love to them?  As we look into the Scriptures we see God timing the launch of The Church with a cultural event that drew many people together:

Acts 2:6-13 (ESV) - And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” 

I couldn’t see any such event lining up in my city although there have been several since then.  I read books on Church Planting to get tips.  I looked at Scripture.  I talked to peers and mentors.  I prayed.  Here are some ways to try and connect with people in your context and a few thoughts on each that I have experienced…

  1. Print Mass Marketing - in spite of all the debate over ‘importing Madison Avenue into the Church’ this can be helpful.  Postcards, flyers, etc. We have used them all.  It has been more successful in getting people aware of us than it has for getting people to an event or gathering.  In the early stages of a new ministry, this type of ‘ground cover’ can be useful.  Thus far, less than 5% of our weekly attendees have come as a result of this connection strategy. 
  2. Social-Media Marketing - A Facebook page seems most useful of all the options but it seems good to use as many mediums as possible to connect in the social sphere that is relevant to your context.  Frequent posts, blog-type writings, event updates and more all seem to help create awareness.  Regular ‘boosting’ of posts is an in-expensive way to broaden your online community and expand your connections.  We have seen this as the most effective way to market special events OTHER than our regular church gatherings (like community events).  We do see about 2% of our weekly attendees coming from it. 
  3. Website & Search Engine Optimization - It is true that your website is your ‘front door’ of your ministry.  It needs to be functional and frequently updated.  Even at that, it may not immediately be noticed or findable.  We sought out help to optimize our site.  There are many options.  You can overspend so do your research.  We have seen regular guests thanks to this connection strategy with as many as 10% of our weekly attendees coming from it. 
  4. Door-to-Door - Yes, we did that.  Yes, we do that.  We visited over 2,500 homes in our first year (with the help of several mission teams) and thousands more since then.  We simply brought a gift (a coffee mug filled with candy and then a stadium cup when we found they were cheaper and very usable).  Included was information about our church and an invitation to be our guest and a brief survey about how ‘the newest church in town’ could serve or pray for them.  We have seen low results with this but we have seen results.  I meet people on a weekly basis that have been ‘mugged’ by us.  We have about 3% of our regular attendees due to this strategy. 
  5. Missional - What I mean by this is similar to what you would read about if reading several of the great ‘missional living’ books out.  One I would recommend would be ‘The Missional Quest’ by Lance Ford and Brad Briscoe.  This is a more personal way to connect with those around you whether it is neighbors, co-workers, etc. It is a relational connection and can even be a ‘word of mouth’ connection. It is a strategy that has its heart in the Gospel and the Commandment to ‘love people the way Jesus loves us’.  It is at the heart of our ministry and we see about 80% of our regular attendees coming from it.  

There are many ways to try and connect with folks whether you are a church planter or in some other type/style of ministry.  Maybe there isn’t a bad way.  Maybe instead of knocking certain styles we should do what we are led to do and applaud others for trying.  We must not forget that no matter the strategy, each person is brought to us by God.  However, we don’t want to sit back lazily with a ‘we built it, now send them’ faith.  We want a faith that is full of obedient action.  An action that shows our understanding that we are a ‘sent people’ - John 20:21. 

No matter the style, we should bathe our efforts in prayer and lead every effort with love for those that we are striving to connect.  Without God’s help and our love we will find that no level of effort will produce lasting results.  

How do you best connect with others for the purpose of ministry? 

Contextualization in Church Planting

In 2013, we had our calling (to plant a church in Casper, Wyoming).  We knew it was time.  We began to think on the differences between our old area (Arkansas) and our new area (Wyoming).  We spoke the same language but the style, slang and intent of some of the language was different.  There would be subtle (and some not-so-subtle) cultural differences that we would need to learn and address if we were going to be able to ‘get through’.  What I am describing is context.  How would we go about learning our new context?  How would we be sure that God’s message was getting through?  There was a time in the early church where the followers of Jesus needed a miracle to communicate to the people. 

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. (Acts 2:1-6 ESV)

For today, don’t worry about all the details (how, what, etc.). Instead, just marvel in this…God gave the followers of Jesus a special ability to communicate with others who had not yet heard the Good News that Jesus came, died, rose and is coming again.  God also allowed a special ability for the hearers (for the miracle was not only in the speaking).  Wow, God loves us enough to not let language be a barrier from knowing Him.  More than just language, God bridged the gap of context then and can do so now.

Have you ever been ‘turned off’ because somebody couldn’t speak ‘your language’?  It isn’t only in a foreign mission situation or even a church-planting situation where context is important. Maybe you have experienced the in-ability to ‘speak the language’ of a teen or a person in a different stage of life. 

Context is at least half of the battle when you are trying to communicate to the heart of another person.  To contextualize is to speak in a language that comes to life for the hearer. How do we learn the intricacies of a context that is different from our own and then learn how to speak within it?  We start by asking God to reveal it to us. Then we pay attention.  We talk less and listen more.  We trust God to take our preparation and our words and put them into the heart language of the hearer.  

I’m still learning how to communicate effectively...still learning context.  One should never stop!  We must not ever get comfortable in in this because time brings subtle changes that, if ignored, can create quite a chasm between us and others.  

Is contextualization on your radar of things to do to ‘prepare for ministry’?  It should be. Have you spent enough time in your area that you have become overly comfortable with what you think you know about your context? Ask the Lord to teach and re-teach you. 

Building a Team

Are you a ‘do-it-yourself’ ministry leader or a fan of ‘doing church as a team’? I tend to be a ‘do-it-yourself’ guy in most areas of my life.  It is probably a control issue.  I can control the beginning, the ending and the quality of something if I do it as a lone wolf.  However, if I am in control of the beginning, end and quality of a ministry like a church plant then it doesn’t look much like God’s Church but more like my church…that isn’t a church.  

Here I was…ready to move and plant a new church.  I had a green light yet I was told by several mentors to make sure that I built a ‘church planting team’.  Apparently, failure rates are substantially higher for church planting individuals vs. church planting teams.  Some reasons for this are surely:

  1. The isolation that can come from planting.
  2. The accountability needed for anyone crazy enough to plant.
  3. The momentum that a team can provide.

Should I wait for a team to fall from the sky?  Should I ask people to go with me?  Should I trust that God would send people to my city as He was sending me?  Back in the new beginnings of the church, Jesus’ disciples were also considering their need for team.  Read about it here:

Acts 1:21-26 So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

This group of people could have gone on but they didn’t…they realized their team was incomplete.  Through prayer and discernment they waited for God to direct them to the right people for the right time.  

Church Planting is a team sport not a one-on-one contest.  We recognized that and prayed that God would send others with us. We invited others to go on the journey with us but nobody said yes. It turns out that we didn’t get to pick and pray the way the disciples did…we prayed and moved to our new city and then found out how God had orchestrated our team (actually, we are still discovering it).  Now almost four years in, we can point to folks from all over the nation that God was sending to our city that would get to be a part of God's Team…each of them had no idea they would get to go on this journey with us.  

Just as the Christian Life is not meant to be done alone, ministry shouldn’t either.  The Body of Christ is best equipped when it is assembled.  Has God placed others in your life?  Be thankful.  Do you sense a need to do ministry as a team?  Pray, invite and wait upon The Lord to build a team.  Don’t be surprised if He does so in a way that is different than you would do it.  Don’t be surprised if he fills your team with people that are different than you…that is probably what it will take to accomplish a God-sized vision like planting a church or leading a ministry.  

Waiting for God

I wanted to plant a church as soon as it entered my mind.  Instead, I got Elevator Music. When it plays, you wait.  It represents a time where you are moving but you are also stationary.  You are making progress - going up or down - but you do not yet have freedom to go.  I struggle with this concept.  Once I know my destination, I am ready to go and go ‘without restriction’.  

Jesus taught His followers about His Kingdom.  Then He died (showing His love) and rose again (showing He is God).  Before He ascended to Heaven, He addressed the group and told them to wait. So, they did:

(Acts 1:12-14 ESV) Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

These men and women had been given explanation to the mysteries of God’s Kingdom. They had seen the Savior defeat death.  They had to be bubbling with enthusiasm to do something - anything!.  Yet, Elevator Music.  Jesus said to go and wait. The best church plants and the best ministry…it all must wait until God elevates us so we are doing His work in His power. We get a nudge from God to wait and we do not always want to do so.  Rather than see the whole picture we may focus on the fact that we are ‘ready to go’.  Indeed, we may be but just because we think we are ready does not mean everything else is…

I thought I was ready to plant a church for years.  I nearly jumped in on a few occasions. With hindsight, I now see that would have been one of two things:

1. Jumping off the elevator in mid-flight. When God provides for the journey then we should ride all the way to our destination.  Jumping off too soon due to impatience will not get you there quicker.  It will take you on a detour or require you to take an alternative route.  I have done this in life.  I do not want to do it anymore.  

2. Taking the stairs.  Don’t get me wrong.  There is discipline and purpose in going the long and hard way.  I used to work on the 48th floor of a building in Tulsa.  Once, I took the stairs instead of the elevator…just for kicks.  That was quite an experience.  I don’t recommend it.  When God says to wait for His perfect timing and His perfect will then we should do so and when He provides an elevator then we ‘get on’.  The ride won’t be nearly as long as it seems and the choice of music isn’t so bad.  Deciding we are unwilling to ‘sit still’ and ‘wait on Him’ may result in a very long set of stairs.

Before I moved to Wyoming to plant a church I needed to get comfortable with seasons of waiting.  I needed to be comfortable being confined to a place simply because God said so.  These would be valuable tools that would equip me for the early stages of a new ministry.  They can be valuable to you as well.  When God says to wait He has purpose in doing so.  Get on the elevator.  Enjoy that jazzy beat.  Wait until the door opens and you hear ‘the ding’.  Then get to it!

The Burden to Plant a Church

I remember driving over the hill in the town we had just moved to and saying to my wife, “We need to plant a church in this town.”  I don’t know exactly how that thought came to dominate my mind when we were in the midst of moving but it did. Church Planting was in my heart long before I was ready (if a person is ever actually ready) and even before I was serving in church ministry.  

Yet, we didn’t plant a church…not then and not there.  We served in lay-ministry in a local church for several years.  Several times, I voiced the same thoughts to my family and close friends but I didn’t yet feel ‘released’ to do that work.  Maybe it was because it is daunting.  Maybe it was because of the statistics on Church Planting failures.  Maybe it was because The Holy Spirit whispered that His perfect timing was still to come.  

Timing is a critical component to any work we undertake for God.  When we jump into God’s Work in our timing we can find failure.  The stories of The Israelites going into war prematurely comes to mind. If our timing is wrong then we may be running ahead of God and His power.  If we plant a church without His Power then we haven’t really planted a church.  Remember the scene as Jesus spoke to His followers before His ascension:

(Acts 1:4-8 ESV) And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Our burdens to serve The Lord can run ahead of our preparation and even our enthusiasm.  A preacher’s sermon often begins with a burden. Out of that burden comes preparation and as preparation happens, enthusiasm grows.  It is the same for a person called to ministry and/or called to Church Planting.  

Years later, we moved to a new city to serve a rural church as its 50th pastor.  I still wanted to plant a church but God’s timing was still yet to come.  We served The Lord and continued to pray.  The burden for Church Planting never left.  The preparation for Church Planting never stopped.  The enthusiasm for Church Planting continued to grow.  

After what seemed like ages, we sensed God telling us that the time had come.  With that timing, we sensed God showing us where to plant - Casper, Wyoming.  1,000 miles away.  A town that was over 90% un-churched, de-churched or lost.  Our burden now had a place to rest and we had a place to serve.  Our burden would now be coupled with the power of God as we moved to our new mission field.  

Do you sense a burden from God to engage a particular work?  If it is from Him he will equip you to do the work in His timing.  A call to any type of ministry is also a call to preparation for that ministry.  It may be quick or it may be slow but in God’s timing it will be ‘just right’.  Our journey of Church Planting began in June of 2013 when we first made a phone call to Wyoming…but really it began when we crested that hill years before.  

What is Forever West

The vision of being part of the church planting movement in Wyoming (and the surrounding areas) is at the heart of Forever West Church Planting.

We hope to be useful to God's Kingdom by bridging the gap between potential church planters and their field of service.  This means that we want to serve as an incubator for those sensing God's call to serve in Wyoming by providing these practical helps:

1. For some, a Church Planting Apprenticeship that gives the potential planter (and family if applicable) 9-24 months of practical and hands-on work with a Wyoming Church Plant.

2. Contextual Ministry Experience for the person that senses Wyoming/The Mountain West is where God would have them serve but hasn't yet immersed themselves in the culture and context of Wyoming. 

3. Ongoing Support is vital in the Mountain West!  We hope to help each Church Planter gather the resources needed to plant the church God has burdened them to plant.  We desire to stay connected to each Church Plant by developing a strong network of churches that support one another and jointly support the ongoing mission of God in Wyoming.

Forever West Church Planting is just getting started.  With new works already started in Casper, Cowley, Cody, Green River and Laramie we can't wait to see where God leads us next! We hope you will investigate how you can be involved!

Need Based Church Planting

It’s funny.  Every time I hear about another city I ponder its need for new churches.  I hear percentages about the lost, the de-churched and the un-churched. In every case, there needs to be more churches planted everywhere to see that we are obedient to our commission to make disciples.  Yes, even the Bible-Blet. 

In the town where I served as a pastor of a very traditional church in rural Arkansas, there was a church on ever corner.  Literally.  If ever there was a town that didn’t need an additional church it was this one.  Yet, when a new church was planted, it became very successful at reaching the lost, the un-churched and the de-churched.  People complained because there was some migration from other churches.  It happens.  It happens whether there is a new church or not. The truth of the matter is that even this small town was only effectively reaching about 55% of its residents.  

Contrast that with the town I heard about earlier this week.  400,000 in its Metro.  95% not in any type of church.  Very little church planting activity.  Nobody (I hope) would argue its need for churches to be started and disciples to be made. 

Here’s the deal though: both towns need Gospel-Centric churches to be planted. Whether it’s 95% or 45%, there are a ton of people to reach and it will be by disciples making disciples which is done through the expression of the local church.  So then, where is the greatest need?  That’s the right question if you are a missiologist.  However, the right question for a church planter is ‘Which need has God called me to address?’  Find that and go and don’t look back!

Word to a Church Planting Partner

As a North American Missionary, a part of the work is to raise support.  Support from churches who want to see the Kingdom of God expanded. Support from individuals and family who choose to sacrificially give so that I can be on the mission field.  In thinking about this, I was reading in Acts 11: http://www.esvbible.org/Acts+11/

Here, Peter has returned with word fresh from the mission field.  He is seeing a people group engaged with the gospel for the first time and is giving a report to encourage and edify those from where he has been sent.  

This gives me pause to how I look at partnerships.  I have too-often thought about these as one-way partnerships where an established church supports a new work in financial terms and with prayer support and even by sending mission teams.  Although this is true and vital, it is not complete.  

As a Missionary, I get the privilege and opportunity to return word to supporters of the work that I get to be a part of…even better, get a front row seat to!  I get to inspire and motivate senior adults that their giving and prayer support is as missional as my move.  I get to tell pastoral staff that although they are unable to go out onto a mission field, that by leading their church to support our work they are doing just that.  I get to see students eyes brighten as they dream of the reality that God could be calling them to a work that they didn’t think possible before they heard the update from the mission field where I serve.  

As a Missionary, I get to go back home (or send word) and share the gospel results of the harvest that our partners so faithfully sow seed into.  It is a big deal.  As Peter’s group heard his report and said ‘Then to the gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life’, so my partners (and yours) get to say: 'Then to the (fill in the blank with your people group) God has granted repentance that leads to life’. 

When We Slow The Process

To plant a church is to reach the lost with the gospel, see them saved and begin to disciple them.  This seems a rather obvious statement.  

 

Even more obvious would be the pace that a church planter would hope that these things would happen.  We surely want our work to produce as much fruit as possible as soon as possible.  We would never want to slow down this work by any doing of our own.  Yet, there are things that slow down the process of evangelism…things that impede the salvation of the lost…things that we can do to get in the way as christians and even as leaders of  ministries.  Here are several I have learned (the hard way) and been convicted of and am currently trying to overcome and eliminate:

#1 - Christianese - we too often speak in a code language that the common person who didn’t grow up in Sunday  School or in Bible Drill may not track with. Here is a ‘not-so humorous’ look at some of the butchering we do of language as church people - http://www.dictionaryofchristianese.com/list-of-words-by-alphabetical/ 

#2 - Requiring an understanding of certain things - I recently saw a family come to Christ.  The wife had been Mormon and the husband agnostic.  It was a nine-month process.  Why so long?  They each had areas to over come.  Her’s was to accept grace rather than rely upon works (as is the case with many mormons).  His was worse.  He didn’t have a perfect view of the trinity so he didn’t feel like he could be saved.  Wow.  Don’t get me wrong, I want every person to know of the doctrine of the trinity and the reality of the Father/Son/Spirit relationship.  However, I don’t even have a perfect view of the Trinity.  It blows my mind.  It’s bigger than my understanding.  When he realized that this was a doctrine to be accepted on faith, rather than perfectly understood, he received Christ and freedom.  Sometimes, we accidentally put up roadblocks to decisions that aren’t to be put up. 

#3 - Churchianity - as bad as Christianese, this disease requires and judges hard conformance.  Not to the Word of God, mind you, but to the expectations and traditions of a church-age gone by.  This is how we do it.  This is how its always been done.  Oh, you want the grace of God thru Christ?  Go ahead and strap on this yoke of tradition and legalism and we will evaluate you after we have seen how you hold up…you get the picture.  

#4 - Bad Attitudes - ‘Nuff said.  Nothing quenches the fires of evangelism faster than a fiery dart launched by a supposedly seasoned saint.  Bad attitudes of the un-saved should be expected.  Bad attitudes from the ‘churched’ should be dealt with by understanding and treating them for what they are - cancer. 

I have slowed the process of reaching the lost with each of these at times.  Maybe you have to…or maybe you have a few to add.  The point is to root these out of your ministry so we don’t slow the work of our Savior any further. 

When we Don't Act like a Missionary

In the check-out line in the market.

 

At the 4-way stop in the neighborhood.  

 

During the game at our children’s sports league. 

 

On the job site with the co-workers.

What happens at these places?  That depends!  These are the places where we become missionaries where we live, work and play.  However, they are also the places where we forfeit our right to share a genuine gospel.  

Matthew 5:16 - let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

On my good days, I wake up excited to be a missionary. I’m not talking about being a church planter (although I am).   I’m talking about a biblical missionary responding to the call to every follower of Jesus to make disciples and to love as Jesus loved and to let our light shine before others.  On those days, I’m prepared before I get to the long line at the market and on my game even when the traffic is painfully disruptive to my preferred pace.  I’m proactively looking for ways to be a blessing to the parents and kids and coaches at the game and even ready to be a positive gospel influence with those whom I encounter in my work (I get to do two part-time endeavors along with my church planting fun).  Those are the days that I act like a missionary.  

But it’s the other days that cause me to often be perceived as someone who is doing too much ‘acting’.  

The days I don’t wake up preparing for or excited about my opportunities to be a gospel witness.  The days my light is dampened by excessive snow or an over-eager schedule that is being negatively impacted by slow traffic or slow shoppers.  On these days, my light isn’t shining well and my works can be seen as anything but good.  I’m not acting like a missionary for Jesus on those days or in those moments.  I’m struggling with the reality that i’m being a missionary for something else…

You see, we are all evangelists for something.  We all respond to the missionary call of something or someone.  We share from a deep well of love for God that overcomes the world or we share from an emotion or perception that is elevated above that deep well (yes, that’s an idol).  

It is easy to have a bad day on the mission field and beat yourself up for a week.  That’s not productive.  Instead, let’s recognize our opportunity.  I bet you have to go back to the market, the neighborhood, the game, the job, etc.  Let’s put down the ‘act’ and just be the hope-filled, grace-giving missionary people of the God who led by example in this matter.  Who knows, maybe someone will notice the change from the bad day to the good day and think we must have had a life-changing encounter with God that they will want to know more about!

Feed Me

This week our blog takes a turn to a near rant.  However, the rant comes out of a heart of healing from the damaging statement ‘We aren’t being fed’.  You never hear this from a new follower of Christ but you may often hear it from those that have spent a lifetime being fed.  

As a pastor or church planter, we are guaranteed to hear it at least a few times in our ministry (I’ve personally lost track of how many thus far in my 7 years of service).  It is easy to be hurt or offended by such a claim.  It's also easy to let that cause you to second guess almost everything.  Although I am all for self-evaluation, please be sure that you do not let the enemy get into your head.  If you are preparing and working hard to 'preach the Word' then don't get bogged down with the drainer of a statement.

Obviously, the heart of any minister of the Gospel is to ‘Feed the Sheep’.  It is our call as given to Peter by Jesus in John 21 and then assumed in Peter’s mandate to the ministry leader in 1 Peter 5.  We want to feed well which means we must be well-nourished ourselves.  

Yet, why is it that this statement almost always comes from a person who has spent an inordinate amount of their life being fed?  Strangely, it seems our best fed are also are most likely to drop this little bomb as a dissatisfaction or even a reason for finding another fellowship to feed their insatiable desire.  

It was while pondering this that God ministered to me thru directing me into a ‘feeding session’ in His Word via Numbers 11.  Read it here:  http://www.esvbible.org/Numbers%2011/

It appears that the person that broke your heart with that statement is in a long line of heart-breakers.  It seems that the craving of today’s well-fed saint may not be to dissimilar to the craving of the rabble moving along on the slow plod towards the promised land.  

Before you rise up in righteous anger the next time someone spouts this little gem to you, I hope you will be allowed a reprieve as I have had in the last few days.  A reprieve where you can see that God has a way of dealing with the ‘feed me’ crowd and it is much better than anything you or I can muster.  Again, Numbers 11 shows us that the feeding comes from God and that a complaint like this will be handed by Him in His timing and His way.  Let’s preach the Word and get out of the way when our feeble efforts at feeding either fall short or fall below the expectation of those we serve.  

Here is an honest confession.  I have endured bad preaching and have often been the bad preacher that had to be endured.  Yet, I love to hear the story of the Gospel told and I love (even if painful) to hear a new preacher begin to handle the Word.  Further, I have never felt ‘unfed’.  I have a dozen bibles in my home…to say I am unfed is to ignore that my pantry is fully stocked.  My raising taught me to not criticize the food that was lovingly put on the table...maybe Mom was talking about more than just the spaghetti. 

A Call To The Sending Church

I once pastored a church that was over 150 years old and now I serve a new church plant that is not quite 2 years old.  What a difference!  One of the many differences is dealing with how to be missional.  

For instance, the 150+ year old church could have easily become comfortable with all the work that it had already done and not been willing to worry much about the outside world.  It’s building was paid for and it’s bills were covered by its small congregation of families that had been there for generations.  However, they weren’t satisfied.  Just because they had reached their version of ‘the promised land’ didn’t make them content.  Why?  They knew there were still many generations (in their area and elsewhere) who had not yet arrived.  This reminds me of the time that Joshua took charge of Israel and prepared to lead them into the promised land.  2.5 tribes had already arrived into their version of ‘the promised land’ yet he challenged them to keep up the fight.  Read it here:

[12] And to the Reubenites, the Gadites, and the half-tribe of Manasseh Joshua said, [13] “Remember the word that Moses the servant of the LORD commanded you, saying, ‘The LORD your God is providing you a place of rest and will give you this land.’ [14] Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land that Moses gave you beyond the Jordan, but all the men of valor among you shall pass over armed before your brothers and shall help them, [15] until the LORD gives rest to your brothers as he has to you, and they also take possession of the land that the LORD your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and shall possess it, the land that Moses the servant of the LORD gave you beyond the Jordan toward the sunrise.” [16] And they answered Joshua, “All that you have commanded us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go. (Joshua 1:12-16 ESV)

Our church mission isn’t complete until the Kingdom of God isn’t complete and that isn’t finished until we hear the words ‘Well done good and faithful servant’.  This reminds of the two dozen church partners that we have helping us plant this new church.  They aren’t satisfied with just doing church in their community.  They are much further along than we are but wanted to help us take possession of some territory for the Kingdom of God that had once been under control of another kingdom.  That is the call for the sending church.  Do not rest when you can send.  Do not get comfortable when their is still a fight outside your doors.  You may not see it from the stained glass window but it is out there.  

Show God your obedience to Him and His Commission by showing your valor.  Go - Send - Share - Shape - see the next generation take steps into Kingdom work that may only be possibly if you come alongside them!

Proactive Discipleship

Much of our lives are spent reacting to things. Something happens and then we react to it based upon many variables. For instance, when we become sick we react by going to the doctor. When we become overweight we might react by going to a gym. When we have marital struggles we could react by seeking out a marriage counselor.

My contention is that being proactive can reduce the stress and uncertainty or living a reactive or even an over reactive life. For instance, seeking out a proactive health lifestyle can reduce the need for doctors and medicine.

In church planting/ministry, we see much reactivity. We minister to many who wait till they are at the end of their rope and then seek God out of desperation. A person may attend our Sunday service hoping that the message will give them direction for the particular problem they are dealing with...and it often does.

What if we became more proactive in our discipleship? What if our visions, missions and programming became resolute in doing what Ephesians 4:12 calls "Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ."?

One competing worldview of our consumer mindset that tends to rebel against the idea of investing resources until there is a notable reason to do so. Yet to experience 'abundant life living' we must be willing to invest into an invisible and even subversive Kingdom. 

Imagine a church full of Christ-followers that was so proactively equipped and discipled that when trouble came it needed less reaction or over-reacting but could dig into a tool-belt that is well stocked by the God who promises that His Word prepares for every good work we can encounter:

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV

I believe the best time to become proactive is in the onset of a new church but if you find yourself deep into an endeavor yet still wanting to get out of the cycle of reactivity then the best time to start would be now. What must we change to do this? How do we need to reallocate the time/talents/treasure of our ministry to begin to see the fruit of proactive ministry?

Starfish, Spiders & Sabbaticals

Week 27 - March 16, 2016 - Starfish & Spiders & Team-Work

 

Much has been written about doing church as a team.  We see all thru the New Testament Church Planting adventures that Paul was surrounded by others who were all-in with the vision of God to reach the world with the Gospel.  Yet, within the nature of the modern church planter resides a subtle issue that can cause us to isolate and work independently of others as well as God’s Holy Spirit.  

I am preparing for my family’s first ever Sabbatical that will be 85 days away from all forms of the church plant that is near and dear to my heart.  I have been planning it now for almost 6 months.  That preparation has caused me to look at team in a whole new light that has been aided by a popular leadership concept: starfish vs. spiders.  

You see, my former style of leadership would have me at the top with the best information and best plan and have each team member connected to me individually where I can delegate and control.  That is much like a spider that has a head and then a bunch of legs. The issue is that if a spider loses its head then the legs are of no effect.  Ministry leadership that has too much stored in one head will find that to always be a bottleneck and can even be destroyed if the head is lost.  That leadership style has been a slow change for me over the last few years and I have yet to arrive but the looming sabbatical has helped accelerate the progress.  Can you imagine 85 days in a church plant in the spider structure - with NO Head?  

Thus, the starfish leadership illustration has become my newest favorite.  A starfish is unique.  Each leg has independent function from within the whole.  You can cut one piece off and not only do the rest of them function just fine but the one will become a new starfish!  Their decentralization doesn’t mean isolation but does mean they are always ready for regeneration.  This means that every leg has the ability to work together and separate.  While together, they carry out one primary vision.  Once sent out separate (however that happens) they have the tools to work within a new independent vision and generate new legs that work within that new vision.  For a guy heading on sabbatical, I want to be a starfish styled organization and leader.  

To lead in this way, information can’t be bottled by any one head but must be shared both horizontally and vertically.  Vision must be imparted early and often and repeated regularly so that the flag can be waived by many in the absence of one.  Details must be generated by the stake-holders even if one leader helps cast the vision for the need of such detail.  Assignments must be made that are not ‘orders from on high’ but are ‘opportunities to thrive’.  Leaders are made in this type of environment where as followers are made in the prior.  God’s Church needs leaders thus God’s ministry leaders must change their leadership development strategies.  Can we?

While We Wait

How do you teach urgency to a new follower of Christ in a Church Plant setting?  How can we avoid the ominous ‘pew-sitting’ mentality that can lead us to sit, soak and sour?  Worse, how can we equip Christians to avoid the pitfall of using their most valuable resource (time) inappropriately?  Imagining a pendulum, this is both extreme ends: 1) Doing nothing or 2) Doing the wrong things.  I believe Exodus 32 can help us teach urgency so we land in an obedient spot on the pendulum!

First, in Verses 1-6, The Israelites were waiting for the return of Moses and became impatient. They had a poor view on time considering they had been waiting generations to be freed from Egypt and now they had only waited days before they get into the soup.  They didn’t just wait poorly but engaged in an idolatrous affair.  We don’t want anyone to fall into this type of trap in our churches. As Christians, we are waiting on Christ just as the Israelites waited on Moses.  In Acts 1:6-11, Jesus has ascended and the disciples are gawking into the sky.  Angels address them with this great reminder, "why do you stand looking up into heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way that you have seen Him going into heaven.” Like the disciples, we must challenge our people (and ourselves) to ensure we aren’t standing around gawking or manufacturing evil.

Now in Verses 7-10, we see that God saw how the Israelites waited. What a great truth to motivate our living?  We have an audience that watches and cares how we wait.  I’m reminded of 2 Chronicles 16:9 where we read, "For the eyes of Yahweh roam throughout the earth  to show Himself strong for those whose hearts are completely His.” Wow.  God doesn’t just watch to see us fail and to punish a wrong but He watches to see our faithfulness and reward it with providing His strength.  That beats any idea of a boredom-laced marathon of waiting!

Now, what do you do when you lead a group of people and you are reminded of your past failures of equipping them to invest their time into Kingdom things instead of other pursuits?  You take a chapter from Verses 21-29.  Aaron was in charge while Moses was up the mountain (a decent illustration for a pastor who is the under-shepherd until the Good Shepherd returns).  He failed in helping the Israelites.  He didn’t give up.  His tribe (The Levites) where the first to line up for repentance when Moses asked them to line up (verse 26).  Just because our past shortcomings are fresh in our mind doesn’t mean all hope is lost.  You can still lead others into a lifestyle of waiting on Christ well!  Line up behind Christ and equip the Body of Christ for action not assembly.  2 Peter 3 reminds us that there will always be people who do not wait well but for those who will it gives us this guideline, “It is clear what sort of people you should be in holy conduct and godliness 12as you wait for and earnestly desire the coming of the day of God. The heavens will be on fire and be dissolved because of it, and the elements will melt with the heat. 13But based on His promise, we wait for the new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness will dwell.”  Now, that teaches urgency for us and our folks!