Friday, September 30, 2011

Defining a Successful Church Plant

This week a new Starbucks opened up in Raleigh, an area already populated with many Starbucks, and other coffee shops. And because it is my last week working for Starbucks and I am an experienced barista, they decided it would be beneficial to have the remainder of my shifts helping get this new store up and running. Of course I gladly offered my services, well kinda sorta, I didn't really have a say in the matter, but either way I am there.

Since the open of this store, I have noticed that the overwhelming majority of our customers are not new coffee drinkers, in fact I would go as far as to say that most are already Starbucks patrons. Then of course there is some patrons of other coffee shops such as Caribou, Dunkin Donuts, and other places that serve coffee beverages like McDonalds who are coming to check out what this new and convenient Starbucks has to offer. So what defines a new Starbucks as successful? Money, of course, but it does not matter where the customers were drinking coffee before as long as they are drinking Starbucks now and particularly from this new location.

This got me thinking about church plants and when a new church gets started in a city, what it is exactly that would define a successful church plant. You see for many I believe what defines a successful Starbucks would be similar to that which would define a successful church plant. It doesn't matter where the people come from, whether they are members at another church or not, but as long as they are now attending our church and we are filling the seats then we are successful.

An example of this would be a new church plant comes to Raleigh and almost over night it is full of people, busting at the seams, and in need of a new meeting space. This church may even be featured on the top fastest growing churches in America list. A successful church plant right?

Well no, because if the criteria for a successful church plant were the same of that of a new Starbucks then you have no success at all and my issue is that some church plants go in with the same or similar criteria. I have no issue with a church having many people early on, or experiencing growth issues, but if a church plant has growth because they are the new church in town and all their people are just from other churches then I have an issue calling that a successful church plant.

Why? Because that is not organic growth and it doesn't represent changed lives, but rather people that were tired of their current church not catering to all of their needs, who wanted to try something new or maybe more convenient. This has and can easily happen with new church plants in the South especially where there is such a religious spirit in the culture. 

But that still leaves us with the question then, what defines a successful church plant? Is it the amount of people that are attending from other churches? The amount of services? Or is it something else? I would love to hear some of your thoughts and have feedback on defining a successful church plant as the discussion will be picked up fully next week in another post.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Planting but Not Pastoring

In preparation to move to South Asia as a church planter, I have been reading a lot of different books. One that I highly recommend to anyone preparing to plant whether that be in North America or in an International setting is Discovering Church Planting by J.D. Payne. Because many people are confused when I tell them that I am going to be a church planter in South Asia, but that I do not plan on pastoring a church, Payne has helped me differentiate that for them by delineating types of church planters.

First you have the Apostolic Missionary, who plants and raises up a pastor, then plants again, which is very similar to what we see modeled by Paul in the New Testament. Second you have the Missional Pastor, who plants and pastors, and then raises up others to plant from within the church.

There are examples of both and one is not better than the other, but due to the nature of International Church Planting, in most cases the apostolic missionary type is the better suited type.

The apostolic missionary is also sometimes referred to as a Pioneer Church Planter when they are going into areas where the gospel has never been proclaimed and there is no gospel witness. Where my family and I will be going in 2012 will be a mix of both as we will have our home city, but also do much traveling to other areas. Therefore, my prayer and ambition for our part of the world is this:

...and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand."
-Romans 15:20-21

Monday, September 26, 2011

Finding Your Place in Finishing the Mission

The video below is the missions video that was used this weekend to launch the 2011 DG National Conference "Finish the Mission." There really is no need for any commentary as the video speaks for itself, but I would just like to say this is why my family and I are going to South Asia in 2012.

People often ask how they can help us or what they can do to be involved with what God has called us to. So here are six ways that individuals and churches can help and do something.

Be Informed: We do not want you to be uniformed... about the hardships we suffered. -2 Cor. 1:8

Pray: Pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified. -2 Thes. 3:8

Love: You are to love those who are strangers... -Deut. 10:19

Send: How can they preach unless they are sent? -Rom. 10:15

Mobilize: The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. -Luke 10:2

Go: Go and make disciples of all nations. -Matt 28:19

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Church at the Ballpark Highlights!

Last weekend the Summit Church had church at the ballpark where we celebrated what God is doing in Raleigh-Durham and the greater Triangle area. There were more than 7200 in attendance and over 300+ baptized. This is all perhaps summed up best in Psalm 115:1 - Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness. 

Here is the highlight video below:

Church at the Ballpark Highlights from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Untethered from Childhood Beliefs 2/2

(This 2/2 on the topic of Untethered from Childhood Beliefs)
This is from a recent article on Brad Pitt that appeared in Parade Magazine on September 15, 2011. Pitt was interviewed and asked to open up about his family and finding time for the important things in life. You can read the entire interview by clicking on the link above, but here is his opinions on faith.

On Faith:
My religion was telling me what not to do—what not to even think about doing. Those are the things I would try, because that was my nature. I had to experience things to know what would work for me—say, something as simple as premarital sex. I can figure out what works or doesn’t work. I will know. You say that something is wrong for me to do? Well, I know it’s not wrong because I just did it. Then you say something else is also wrong? Yeah, I did that too, and you’re right, it is wrong for me. But it wasn’t wrong just because you told me it was.

Pitt here is pretty much right on in what he is saying and describing. Statements like that it was his "religion that was telling him what not to do-what not to even think about doing." That is religion it gives you a list of things to do and not to do in order to be who you are "supposed to be." He is right that his nature, one of sin, would want to try many of those things listed on the do and do not list. Many of the same things that most of wanted to try or did try at some point. 

So what is Pitt missing about faith in his life? What he is missing is a real encounter with the gospel that is not about behavior modification, but that causes your behavior to change because you change. My point here is that a list of religious do's and don'ts do not create the heart change that is produced out of the gospel. 

You see the gospel turns religion upside down.Tim Keller explains the difference between religion and the gospel by saying, "Religion says, I obey-therefore I'm accepted. The Gospel says, I'm accepted-therefore obey." Accepted by what some may ask? Accepted by the fact that God sent Christ to suffer the wrath that we deserved in our place and that through belief and surrender to him that we are now looked at as righteous because of his righteousness. 

Christ in the gospel is our only hope, my only hope, Pitt's only hope, and I pray that the many that are out there just like Pitt will have an encounter with the God of the Bible who loves them more than anyone. Pitt is right when he says that his religion wasn't working for him; because it was religion not the gospel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Untethered from Childhood Beliefs 1/2

This is from a recent article on Brad Pitt that appeared in Parade Magazine on September 15, 2011. Pitt was interviewed and asked to open up about his family and finding time for the important things in life. You can read the entire interview by clicking on the link above, but here is his opinions on faith.

I grew up Baptist, and then the family switched over to more of an evangelical movement, probably right around the time I was in late high school. There’s a point where you’re un-tethered from the beliefs of your childhood. That point came for me when it was finally clear my religion didn’t work for me. I had questions about Christianity that I could not get answered to my satisfaction, questions that I’d been asking since I was in kindergarten. I realized it didn’t feel right to me, that one question just led to another.  It was like going down a rabbit hole, each answer provoking another question. There were things I didn’t agree with.

I believe what Pitt describes here on faith describes many people that I come in contact with everyday, in many ways even myself. We both grew up Baptist/Evangelical, we both had many questions from a young age, some that received unsatisfactory answers, and we both found things that we didn't agree with in the faith of our parents.

Perhaps one of the most profound statements by Pitt here is when he says, "There's a point where you're untethered from the beliefs of your childhood." I would say that I too experienced this untethering of the beliefs of my childhood. In conversations about faith people have even tried to use being raised in a Christian home against me as the only reason and means that I am indeed a follower of Christ. 

To be honest there is a slight bit of truth to this, but only in the sense that I, like Pitt, was raised in an environment with parents who love me and desired to see me follow Christ. But I believe there has to be an untethering point for everyone who comes to discover the truth that made Christianity revolutionary in the gospel. 

The untethering point is where Pitt and I differ. In my questioning of my childhood beliefs, I, unlike Pitt, discovered the gospel and came to the realization that the Bible is truth and that the only ones that will enter the Kingdom of God are those that believe on Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. 

Does this make me any better than Brad Pitt? No, because it is only by the grace of God that I came to the realization and understanding that I did. It encourages me that Pitt had an untethering point, but I pray for people like him that their questions have not stopped, but that they will continue with their questions and that the God of the Bible would reveal Himself to them. 

So for Pitt and others like him, I practice what is taught at my church as "intercessory faith." As described by J.D. Greear in his new release, GOSPEL, "Intercessory prayer is not informing God on behalf of someone else; it is believing God on behalf of somebody else." 
(Check back tomorrow for 2/2 on being Untethered from Childhood Beliefs)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

From Death to Life

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9

The following is a baptism story from Church at the Ballpark:

On Sunday as I finished counseling one person, I immediately looked up to see the line of people waiting to get counseled for baptism spanning the entire staircase and as far as I could see. This was an incredible sight and to be honest I was skeptical of the amount that would even respond due to the horrible acoustics at the ballpark and the coolness of the weather. But the truth is that God showed up at the ballpark and his Spirit moved as we experienced something that was filled with the power and resembled that of what we read about in the book of Acts.

I walked up to the next lady in line who was responding to celebrate with her on her decision; and as we walk over to the table and sit down, I look up and all I see are tears streaming down her face. She was overwhelmed by the power of the GOSPEL!

As we begin to talk I learned that she is from Columbia and has been a Catholic her entire life. To her being a Christian has always been about her and what she could do in order to be looked at as good and righteous, but she always felt like she failed at this, which left her feeling far from God.

On Sunday at the ballpark for the first time she realized why she had always felt empty and far from God as she tried her hardest to do what she was supposed to do and everything that the Catholic church told her to do. The reason being that she would always fail because the focus had always been on her works righteousness not Christ and the gospel. On Sunday however her eyes were opened as she realized that it is by grace through faith in Christ alone that salvation is found.

She understood for the first time the gospel that Christ has already suffered in her place the full wrath of God for her sin. In response to this she wept with joy and praise for her Savior Jesus as she celebrated in going from death to life in baptism!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Spectator to Follower

Yesterday my church, which is multicampus, celebrated as one church at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. It was an incredible day as 6,500+ people gathered in the heart of the city as we proclaimed Jesus as Lord. Many people there were Summit members and spectators, but there were also many visitors, people who were potentially being exposed to and hearing the gospel clearly for the first time.

My wife, Andrea, and I were on the baptism counseling team and were overwhelmed by the response of people responding to salvation and baptism. In fact, we were lacking enough volunteers so at times I saw two people being counseled by one person. The last count that I heard was that there was at least 300 people baptized.

Each person that I counseled has a story, but the first person that I had the privilege of counseling sticks out to me because I believe that he represents a lot of people. His name is Chris and he is in his mid twenties, raised in church, been in and out of the church scene, but at the end of the day described himself as a "spectator" Christian. In other words he knew a lot of stuff in his head about being a Christian, knew how to speak Christianese, but the reality up until this weekend was that Jesus was not Lord of his life.

I believe that there are many people out there just like Chris, people who could articulate the gospel, but have not surrendered their life to Jesus as Lord. Instead many people turn to legalism and moralism as the means to their salvation. But the truth is that neither legalism nor moralism are saving.

So for Chris, he was a spectator Christian, which in reality is no Christian at all. He merely watched other followers of Christ, hung-out with some of them, went to their parties, but did not find his own identity with Christ as his Savior and Lord.

My feeling is that there are churches filled with people like Chris, you may even be one of them. Though for Chris he faced reality yesterday and saw his need for a Savior and went from being a spectator to a follower of Christ and celebrated that in baptism.

Perhaps you are one that is just like Chris. You have been a spectator of Christians for years, but never become a follower of Christ. Why waste your life as a spectator when you will never reap the full benefits that Christ has to offer you? Why not today go from being a spectator to follower? A great tool that can help you with this can be found here.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Loving People Toward Jesus

The other day I encountered a transgender individual and instead of loving this person toward Jesus, I noticed my thoughts immediately being disgusted and making numerous judgements in my head. At that moment I was convicted to the core as I asked myself if I was viewing this individual with love and as Christ would view them? 

My answer of course was no because at that moment I wasn't disgusted by the sin of the individual, but by the individual, and there is a difference. So during the course of our interaction with each other I began to ask myself how then would Christ have responded? 

My answer is that Jesus engaged with the people of his culture, all of the people, including the ones considered sexually immoral. We see numerous examples of this throughout the New Testament, but some of his more popular interactions are with the sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50); the woman at the well (John 4:13-26); and the woman caught in adultery (John 8: 3-11). 

So over the course of our interaction together, my heart began to change and instead of looking on the individual with judgement and disgust, I started to see them through the lens of the love of Christ. I was then saddened and disgusted at the sin in their life because of their individual choices; but I had complete love for this individual as my desire was and is to see them freed from the bondage of all sin in their life. Instead of continuing to have a heart of judgement towards this person I prayed for them that their eyes would be open and that they could be released from the power and penalty of sin.

My point in sharing this is because I believe that my initial response is the initial response of many within the church, which doesn't display an attitude of love towards others. I once heard a Pastor proclaim in front of his congregation how disgusted he was of gays and lesbians and his lack of desire to interact with them. This is not the right response and I called this pastor out in love and to my knowledge he repented of his actions. 

Instead of judging these individuals and condemning them, we should instead be loving them toward Jesus. A relationship with Jesus is the only hope for people who are caught in their own ways. Typically there are two groups when it comes to sexual sin, the permissive and the judgmental, but instead we should point all people to Jesus and the gospel as in and through him only true transformation can take place. 

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Church at the Ballpark

If you live in or near RDU then you have probably heard about the Summit Church putting on Church at the Ballpark this coming weekend. Yes, the Summit Church is a multi-campus church in the Triangle, but this weekend we are coming together as one church with one service in the heart of the city at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

The video below will give you all of the last minute details needed as you plan your Sunday to be with us at Church at the Ballpark.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Business as Missions

Recently I attended a seminar hosted by SendRDU on Business as Missions featuring Patrick Lai. He had some intriguing thoughts on missions going forward into the future that looks vastly different then what many of us are used to, what he called B4T or Business for Transformation. In B4T there is a place for all kinds of people in missions instead of the traditional model of it just being for a select few with a special calling. 

Admittedly so there are many issues that were hit on in B4T that I have been wrestling through in the last year and in many ways I am still wrestling through. Patrick Lai has helped me see more clearly how to connect all people to missions since the Great Commission was given to all followers of Christ not just those that are seminary trained or going into vocational ministry roles. 

Here is a summary of the notes that I took on the topic as I believe that he has hit on what the future of missions will look like in the next 20-30 years. To hear the complete audio of the seminar click on the following link:

B4T - Business for Transformation
-Businesses strategically placed in Unreached areas which are profitable in serving the local community and planting churches.
-Contexualization is not an issue in B4T because you are legitimately there for business so you contextualize by "playing" by the rules of the business world within that context. 
-In B4T you are credible, model the truth in the gospel, and have integrity about what you are doing and why you are in the country. 1 Corinthians 9:12; 9:18

Three Terms:
-BAM: Market Place Ministry
-B4T: A Circle within BAM
-Tent making:All workers overseas are fully supported by their business.
(I think that this would significantly help with the budget shortfall that some denominational mission organizations are currently experiencing).

Missions & Globalization
1.0 - The mission agency told me who to reach, what to do, when to do it, where to do it, and how to do it. (Pre-Modern World)
2.0 - I negotiated with the mission agency: what, when, where, how. (Modern World)
(This is where most of us are currently stuck) 
3.0 - I am my own mission agency. (Post-Modern World) 
(This is where most of the world is and where missions is headed)

In future missions people will seek organizations where:
1. There is no central leadership
2. There is no central office
3. People subscribe to values
4. People want people who care about them and can relate to them where organizations functions more like networks working towards the same goal instead of being in competition with one another. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Giving Up Something You Love...

Recently I sat down to watch a sitcom that displayed a common problem between a husband and wife. He made a major purchase without asking his wife, which resulted in her being upset and greatly affecting their marriage. He refused to hear  his wife as to her reasons for being upset; which was him not telling her, the amount of money that he spent on the item, and the fact that the item was potentially dangerous to his life.

As the show went on the conflict in their marriage only deepened to the point that he spent more time with  his new purchase then he did with his wife. Eventually he recognized his wrong and in turn did something else without asking his wife. He sold the item as a result of his love for her.

When asked by his wife as to why he sold it, he responded with something significant. He responded in saying, "I gave up something I love for something that I love even more," in this case being his wife.

This got me thinking about the gospel and what we as Christians should be willing to do in our life as a response to the gospel. We should be willing to give up things that we love for something that we love even more, that being the gospel.

This is precisely why my family is moving overseas in 2012. It is not that we don't like our lives here in the US, in fact we are very comfortable here, love our church, and could easily stay here. Although we love our lives here, we are willing to move our lives to another country because we love the gospel even more and want to see others have the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel just as we both did.

We all have things that we love, but we must be willing to give up these things because we love the gospel more. So my question for you today, is there something in your life that you love more than the gospel? And what is there that you may need to give up as a response to loving the gospel more?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Authentic Community

It seems that more and more in the pursuit of the American dream that we isolate ourselves from others, which results in broken community. This leaves people with less meaningful relationships and with no one to turn to when times are tough. It is no wonder that with the downfall of the American economy that more and more people have fallen into depression.

The church on the other hand should exemplify something different, true authentic community. As Brad House says, "The church should be the most compelling expression of community in our culture." 

I have many friends that are Christ followers that have fallen into this American idea of community, where there is none. They believe that their relationship with God is purely a "personal" one and that there is no need for any form of community, including gospel community. But the reality is that "Real authentic community is not about us, it's about God." 

If you are not in an authentic community already then I encourage you to get involved with one today. Authentic community through my small group has been one of the best things for my life over the last three years, as a group of people who love me and care for me, constantly point me to Christ and the gospel where true life is given.

If you are part of the Summit church then you know that this weekend is Grouplink so there will be an opportunity to help you get connected to an authentic community. If you are part of another church then I encourage you to seek out authentic community in whatever form it is offered. Remember that we were created in the image of a God who exists in community, so get into a community today as we see the believers doing in Acts 2:42.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Culture of Worshipers

The time of year that we have all been waiting for, at least in the US, is finally here. Yes, of course I am referring to Football and I am especially excited to see what my Carolina Panthers do this season, which has to be better than last season, I pray and hope anyway. 

Included with all of the hype of the start to football season, I have been listening to a lot of sports radio, paying more attention to espn, and watching preseason NFL games. There was something that the sports commentator said the other day that caught my attention with all of this hype, "We are a culture of worshipers when it comes to our athletes." 

I believe that the commentator hit on something significant here, perhaps more than most of us realize, which is that we are indeed a culture of worshipers. In fact we are all worshipers, therefore we all worship something, in this case individuals and players in the sports world. 

I am not necessarily saying that every individual who does these things is worshiping, but it is hard to deny that we as a culture worship our athletes when you see grown men every week wear a jersey with another grown man's name on it and scream at the top of his lungs for that man like he is his number one cheerleader. I mean talk about a man crush!

I even personally know people who would never attend a church or a small group study, but have even stated that if the topic were their favorite NFl team then they would attend. In other words this person is saying that football is my religion and my favorite team is my god. 

To be clear this is not a rant against football, athletes, or sports in general because I am a big sports fan who is hoping to see Cam Newton take the Panthers to big places. But the implications are clear as the commentator pointed out that we are a culture of worshipers and for many people this comes in the form of sports whether through athletes or teams. 

Hopefully if you are a Christ follower then you are more excited about Jesus every week and what He has done for you then your favorite football team. And if you are not ashamed to be expressive in the cheering on of your team then hopefully you are not ashamed at being expressive of the Lord of your life in corporate worship settings. This football season focus on making the name of Jesus famous though your interactions with fellow fans by pointing them to God and away from their potential idol.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Drink Coffee and Help Plant Churches

Two things I love, drinking coffee and seeing churches planted and now the two are related, sorta. The video below is pretty self-explanatory, but this is a great organization (29 Coffee) that describes themselves as "existing to plant churches and spread the Gospel through coffee."

I know that many of you are not only coffee drinkers, but also coffee addicts, so why not help plant churches with your money, while feeding your addiction at the same time. 29 Coffee allows you to do just that. So head on over and start drinking good coffee and help with the funding of new church plants.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Misleading Posers

During my time in seminary I have been working for Starbucks. One complaint/request that I frequently hear is the need for Starbucks to recycle more than just their cardboard boxes, primarily for plastic products such as the 25+ milk jugs that are thrown out daily. I have seen no real effort towards this, although recently a recycling bin for customers showed up. People love it, I have heard many compliments on it, but there is one problem with this recycling bin, it is misleading. Why you might ask?

It is misleading because to my knowledge Starbucks has no plans on offering a way to recycle their numerous paper/plastic products that are thrown out daily.
Instead it is an image thing for the public eye to look positive on Starbucks in the midst of the green initiative movement happening in the US.

This got me thinking about how many people within the church are often misleading. This often presents itself in the form of those who pretend to be something that they are not, which is commonly seen in the seminary classroom with "professional" Christians who believe that they have arrived. It is also commonly seen at conferences where once again people appear to come off as something they are not in order to impress someone or get somewhere. The worst is perhaps at churches when that guy in your small group won't shut up about everything he knows and has experienced, often the same seminary guy from the conference.

My fear is that this misleading mentality of pretending to be something that you are not has serious ramifications for the church. An example of this that I am often around are those aspiring to be church planters and/or pastors. I am all for church planters and those desiring to be pastors, but I think that some guys are unclear of the qualifications of a church planter and instead have bought into a trend that is misleading by believing that their charismatic personality, youthful vision, MacBook pro, and plaid untucked shirt are enough to qualify them to plant a church.

The reality is that it takes a lot more than those things to be a church planter and/or pastor. But due to the recent rise in popularity of church planting, my fear is that many have either been mislead about what it takes to be a church planter or are being misleading in aspiring to be a planter. Either way both are misleading and could lead to many serious problems when there are unqualified leaders planting and/or pastoring churches.

To be clear, I love church planting, I have had the desire to plant since I was 16, and I am moving to South Asia to plant churches in 2012. So hopefully this serves as a conversation starter about church planting, what it takes, who is qualified, etc. Any recent or future church planters out there care to weigh in on the conversation? I would especially be interested in hearing from those that under went assessment before planting by either their church or planting network.