Prone to Wander …

When I was six years old I went with my mother to the grocery store. As she was gathering items, crossing them off her list, and correlating which coupon went with which item, somehow, I wandered off and got lost. I can still recall the feeling of being alone; yet, I also knew that I was the reason for why I was lost.

One of my favorite hymns is Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. I enjoy hymns that have depth, doctrine, biblical trueness, and theological underpinnings. Many of our current hymns have been written in the 50’s and 60’s, but a pastor, Robert Robinson in 1757, wrote this hymn.

In one of the last stanzas, Robinson penned the melodious words that express human nature, my six-year-old trek away from safety, and most of my Christian journey. He wrote:

Prone to wander, Lord I feel it

Prone to leave the God I love

If ever there were words that showed why I love Christ so much, it seems that these take central stage. Throughout my life, I wandered and God sought me. I know I’m not the only one, as I’ve heard this confession many times, as a pastor.

Why is it that as believers, we tend to wander away? We seek after the same dark and dismal paths that we praised the good Shepherd from delivering us? Is it boredom? Is it a sense of discontentment? Is it that we really don’t love our Lord?

No. I don’t think those are the reasons. At least that’s what I want to believe. I believe Paul makes it clear, “The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Gal. 5:17).

Obviously, for Robinson, a pastor, these words struck a cord with him, too. We must realize that the writer was not an unregenerate or newly converted Christian, but a pastor. I also think this is the reason that he introduced wandering words with verses of grace:

Jesus sought me when a stranger

Wandering from the throne of God

He to rescue me from danger

Interposed His precious blood

Oh, to grace how great a debtor

Daily I’m constrained to be

Let that grace now, like a fetter

Bind my wandering heart to Thee

            How biblical, and how true! Jesus sought us out—not the other way around. He rescued us from the darkness, by the cross—but me, a debtor to his grace—a debt in which I can never repay—pleads for more grace because I am simply a wanderer. Do you ever feel this way?

Here is a simple truth to our humanity. No matter how “devout” or how “godly” we think we are, God knows the truth and the secrets of our hearts. The great reformer John Calvin once equated our hearts to “idol factories.” We’re all “prone” to wander—we feel it—we know it’s coming—and yet—we can’t seem to prevent wandering from the “God I love.”

But know this, saint, in God’s amazing grace, you will ever be preserved. Our hope is in Christ, not in our works. God’s love never changes (Heb. 13:6) and it never fails (1 Cor. 13:4–8). If you find yourself wandering, you’re in good company, but rejoice in the fact that Christ is the good Shepherd, always going after the one who left the ninety-nine.

Rest in His grace, seek Him, repent of wandering, and gather back into the fold.

Maundy Thursday: What Does It Mean?

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Today is Maundy Thursday.

Tonight the church observes this day of the Passion Week. Leading up to Easter Sunday, this is the day that Jesus sat with His disciples in the upper room and gave them the command to love one another, in humility. Jesus rose from the table, took of his outer garment and began to wash his disciples’ feet.

Sometimes this day is called Holy Thursday, Great Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Sheer Thursday, or even Thursday of Mysteries. The early church set aside this day of observance to reflect upon the humility of Christ, his unconditional sacrificial offering upon the Cross, and because of the new command of love.

Why is this important and what exactly does “Maundy” mean?

The word, Maundy is derived from the Latin word mandatum, which means commandment. During the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another, to serve one another, to remember to break bread with one another—sharing in His life, love, and witness.

This wasn’t just an ordinary meal, it was most likely the Passover Seder meal; a time to reflect on the great and holy hand of God, which passed over the Israelites and struck down their captors in Egypt. This meal would bring to remembrance the steadfast love and mercy of a God who led them from bondage, into the promised land. It was during this meal that Jesus was introducing Himself as the Paschal Lamb of God and the Savior who would lead His people from the bondage of sin, into eternal life.

Christ, the Lamb of God, fulfilling the requirements of God handed down by Moses in Exodus 12. He was a male without blemish (i.e. perfect; 12:5), brought before the whole congregation (12:6), the blood splattered on the doorposts and lintel (the significance of the Cross; 12:7), roasted with fire (our God is a consuming fire), with unleavened bread (no sin) and bitter herbs (the scorn he endured; 12:8), none of it shall remain in the morning (empty tomb; 12:11), and the blood of the lamb “shall be a sign for you…when I see the blood, I will pass over you and no plague shall befall you to destroy you” (12:13).

Today (and everyday), reflect upon the goodness and grace of God, through Jesus Christ, who sacrificed His life. He gave, that you may have forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. Think about what this means, how much He loves you, and the sacrifice made.

Maundy Thursday reminds of us Christ’s humility in serving and loving his disciples—whereby—as his disciples, we are called to love, serve, and share in the rhythms of life together.

I pray that you congregate with other believers this evening, as Christ’s disciples.

Urban Areas Are Dynamically Changing—And Why The Church Better Prepare Now

As someone who assesses cultural trends, demographics, and global movements, it is not easy being a visionary and trainer. One of the hardest aspects for “early adopters” is translating what you see coming and getting others to invest in that vision. For the most part, only a small percentage of people are early adopters of vision and even a smaller part are vision casters.

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The Reality of Inner City Churches

It’s amazing how we view the works of Schaeffer, Wagner, or McGavran with deep regard, yet when they were writing, not many evangelicals paid attention to them. So, this leads us into what is happening with global movements, urban areas, and immigration.

If you’re a church planter or pastor and haven’t heard the term diaspora, you will. If you want to know what is coming to urban churches then studying diaspora movements (and immigration) is essential. One of the major shifts in global population is the flowing dispersion of immigrant people groups. God is sovereignly moving people around the globe like never before.

If we couple that with the influx of hipster urbanites, gentrification, and urban renewal, it’s a massive powder keg awaiting implosion with inner city churches—they are not prepared for what is coming. The reality—these churches will die out. With the movement of refugees—either fleeing persecution, or temporary visa status—for work—refugees are coming to cities all over the world.

What Immigration Tells Us

Western churches in urban areas will be forced to reach people of ethnicity—not that urban churches haven’t always tried this—but cities will be more ethnically and culturally diverse than ever. We should know that immigration to the United States is the only cause for population growth.[1] Where do the immigrants go? Cities.

Without immigrants (legal), the United States would not be growing in population, but plateauing or even declining. Just to clarify, if you’re linking immigration with the Hispanic culture, let me help you. Currently, Germany and Ireland are the top two countries with diaspora peoples coming to the U.S.—Mexico is third, but only by a small portion of one percent, compared to the United Kingdom (4th).[2]

How Does This Change Urban Evangelicalism?

Immigration and diaspora models play a huge role with engaging urban areas with the Great Commission (Matt 28:18–20); as well as, the combined hipster, gentrification, and urban renewal (for taxation). I’ve heard it said, “We need to stop mega-churches from “gobbling” up old city churches for satellite campuses because they know nothing about the people in the city, plus there are extant churches available, which can do a better job.

Supposedly, the theory goes, there should not be mega-churches, or any Anglo church planters in urban areas because they are outsiders, do not understand the culture, and cannot engage the people. Another argument is Anglo church planters cannot reach African Americans, the prominent majority of urban population (I’ll refute this in a moment), and cause their churches to dwindle in attendance. The argument suggests that church planters and mega-churches should solely invest in small “indigenous” churches, working with and beside them. While I would have agreed with this model ten years ago (and to some extent do)—it’s as archaic as the tape cassette—well, maybe the CD.

Within the next five to ten years, domestic churches and church planters will be forced to reach across the cultural lines of socio-economic barriers, engage ethnic diversity evangelistically with E–2 to E–3 evangelism, and evaluate demographic and ethnic data. If a church doesn’t know who is in its neighborhood, it cannot reach it.

Ethnic Diversity

Take a look at any recent urban demographic data and compare it to fifteen years ago. Census reports won’t show the true picture, as many of the people groups living within a city either fail to report their true identity or will not report at all (mainly because of privacy, legal issues, or fear). Think about the major influx of Islam in just fifteen years and how many mosques are now within your city.

Earlier I stated that I would refute why African American churches should be the only churches to plant churches or do Great Commission work in urban areas. Why not? It makes sense, right? The reason is because the advice is antiquated. It’s a tape cassette. While I devoutly pray that brothers and sisters in Christ (and all people) would no longer view skin color, that we would invest in urban African American projects, events, and churches, and have more African American church planters, dialogue, and such—the fact is—immigration is a game-changer! African American culture will be melded into the many ethnic cultures already here and arriving. To reach an entire city it is going to take a concerted effort of all peoples.

Most cities, like Richmond, Virginia (a smaller scaled city) are becoming more and more ethnically diverse: Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and European. To think that things are going to stay the same, especially in light of gentrification (even though I disagree with it, doesn’t mean it’s not happening), are antiquated and ignorant. Urban churches wishing to survive must engage foreign people groups. They’re here and more are coming.

The Good News

First, we have the ability to know, study, engage, meet, and communicate with every people group within our cities. I personally know that major missionary organizations are working side-by-side in mapping the nations within cities. This information is available and can assist churches and church planters in engaging urban areas with the gospel. Here’s a good resource from Keelan Cook.

Second, the nationalities sometimes have unreached people groups (UPGs) among them. We’ve seen this here in Richmond. Many of the refugees will one day desire to go back home—what better way to engage missions than to have UPGs return to “go and make disciples” in their own homeland.

Lastly, churches should be working together, collaboratively, as kingdom workers to reach every city with the gospel. However, this is going to take a multi-pronged approach. Existing mega-churches should find ways to purchase dying empty church sarcophaguses—keeping these “kingdom properties.” Targeting areas of resurgent growth and ethnically diversified areas with house churches works well, as a church planting movements may manifest. Strengthening and revitalizing churches, which can be saved, and ones within lower socio-economic areas are a must. Some of these areas may need food dispensaries, job creating, and addictions help—to break chains of poverty. As well, traditional style church planting (having a sending church) and more innovative church planting techniques (parachuting) must be implemented. We’re all on the same team—let’s reach our cities and the peoples of the world.

 

[1] Steven A. Camarota, “Projecting Immigration’s Impact On the Size and Age Structure of the 21st Century American Population,” http://www.cis.org, December, 2012, accessed September 3, 2015, http://cis.org/projecting-immigrations-impact-on-the-size-and-age-structure-of-the-21st-century-american-population.

[2] Susanna Groves, “Http: //www.diasporaalliance.org,” http://www.diasporaalliance.org, March 13, 2015, accessed September 3, 2015, http://www.diasporaalliance.org/americas-largest-diaspora-populations/.

7 Leadership Tips I Wish Someone Told Me

 

I’ve always been cast into leadership positions. As a boy, I was chosen to be a captain in neighborhood games. As a teenager, it was organized sports in school. Leadership followed me into the Navy and then into the culinary arts field. I worked my way up: sous chef, head chef, executive chef, and then restaurant owner. Now, I’m a pastor and director of operations for a national church planting network.

William Shakespeare had it right, “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.” I can relate—not in greatness, but having leadership cast upon me. As an entrepreneur, I was self-taught.

Here’s 7 things I wished someone told me about leadership.

  1. Time Is Not Money

Growing up where the city never sleeps or if you make it there, you’ll make it anywhere—the mantra is “time is money.” I quickly learned this was untrue. Time is a gift. I gained knowledge, studied people, cultivated relationships, and networked.

Occasionally in the restaurant business, time was my enemy. Or so I thought. If you believe time is money—time becomes an adversary. But you quickly learn: time cannot be defeated, only accepted and enjoyed. Rome wasn’t built in a day. You cannot accomplish everything today. Do what you can, with excellence, and leave the rest for another day. Stop living in bondage to time. No one gets out of life alive.

  1. Not Making a Decision is Making One

Oh, how I wished someone told me this. Procrastination is a decision. If you fail to be decisive in leadership and trust your intuition, a non-decision may be costly. True leaders take risks. Sometimes those risks may not work out, but it’s always better than procrastination. Why? Failure is a better teacher than success. Procrastination is laziness.

  1. Sometimes Biting Your Nose Off To Spite Your Face Is Good

I worked for a guy who fed me the tag line—don’t bite your nose off to spite your face—I wanted to fire a lazy cook. He made it clear: wait until the end of his shift.

While somewhat true, when things are not done with excellence, it’s time to pony up. It’s just for a season. A job done correctly is essential if your name is on it. Horrible service reflects horrible leadership. You’re not doing anyone a favor by rewarding a terrible work ethic with employment. If they won’t heed training, let them go. If not, it will come back to haunt you.

  1. Innovation Listens

            Just because you’re a leader doesn’t mean that you have the best ideas. Listen to the people you hired—you hired them for a reason. They will respect you, if you do. Innovation can save time, vitality, and money. As well, a leader should never be intimidated by innovation.

  1. Leaders Must Continue Learning

Whatever leadership role you possess, people look to you for vision and guidance. Always keep your skills honed. If you don’t—people will go somewhere else. Continue to study in your field. Make sure that you know the new trends, statistics, methods, etc. Knowledgeable leaders produce knowledgeable people.

  1. A Nap Goes A Long Way

Fact: burnout occurs in leadership. I used to think the harder and longer I worked the more I could get done. Baloney. A tired body makes mistakes.

“Power naps can alleviate sleep deficits, boost brain improvements to creative problem solving, help verbal memory, along with perceptual, object, and statistical learning. [Naps] help us with math, logical reasoning, reaction times, and symbol recognition. Naps improve our mood, feelings of sleepiness, and fatigue. Napping is good for our heart, blood pressure, stress levels, and surprisingly, even weight management.”[1] Leadership health is very important.

  1. Always Be Yourself

Stop trying to be someone else—it’s phony. If you do what you love, do it with passion and you’ll be a natural leader. Make your own decisions, prepare for failures, accept them, and move on. You don’t need to know everything. Be yourself.

[1] George Dvorsky, “The Science Behind Power Naps,” September 26, 2013, accessed February 19, 2016, http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-science-behind-power-naps-and-why-theyre-so-damne-1401366016.

A New Year’s ReFocus: Recovering From Mission Drift

This article originally published in January’s Church Planter Magazine, you can get it here and read many other articles relating to the field.

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People broadcast their resolutions every year, only to hear them muffle into the everyday noise of life. As church planters, we can spend a vast amount of time in preparation for a launch. We pray, fast, seek, and preach about the vision that God has entrusted to us in serving and making Him known within the community.

However, somewhere along the journey, we lose focus of the mission that God provided. Maybe it was the launch, perhaps seeing growth, or reaching a different people group? Maybe it’s the sermon preparation time, endless service projects, or the bi-vocational work? Regardless—whatever it is—a year has gone by and we find ourselves drifting from our missional mooring.

It’s time to refocus, regain, and reignite.

ReTurning Home

It’s time to turn around and go back home—at least for a visit.

I love being with God in the streets. It seems that the Apostle Paul did, too (Acts 16, 17). As many church planters do, claiming kingdom property begins with prayer walking in the streets—trekking urban terrain with the Spirit of God. It doesn’t seem long ago that we spent countless hours in prayer or day after day looking to talk with one single person. Let me ask you: when was the last time you did that?

The streets are where we meet people. Remember the old Sesame Street song, “Who are the people in your neighborhood”? Maybe that’s before your time—Google it. The point? As planters, we moved into a neighborhood to interact and build relationships with people. The intention was not to become comfortable, but to make God known.

Whenever I am away from home, I miss my family. I’m not a fan of hotels. But, when I return home my wife and daughter give me giant hugs and refresh me in the reality of being a dad and a husband. I think when planters fall into mission drift they forget their urgent sense of calling to a neighborhood, community, and even, to Christ. As the start of a new year has begun, return back to the core of the mission—return home—be refreshed in the reality of your calling.

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January’s CP Magazine

ReGaining Sight

The Apostle Paul was once named Saul, a law-abiding Pharisee. Saul served God diligently and with passion (Phil. 3:5–6). As someone who studied the Scriptures with zeal, it seems that works, desire, and accomplishment blinded Saul. Even though he was attempting to serve God, Saul had extreme mission drift—he lost complete sight of what the Scriptures were trying to reveal. God met Saul on the road to Damascus and caused physical blindness (Acts 9). It wasn’t until three days later that Saul regained his physical and spiritual sight.

I often wonder about the thoughts that went through Saul’s head. Here he was serving God with passion—perhaps he thought of himself as a modern day Phineas, saving the people from a plague of God’s wrath (Num. 25:6–9)—only to find out that he was persecuting Him. It seems that sometimes God has to step in to our world to help us regain our sight.

Vision is imperative. As the Message conveys, “If people can’t see what God is doing, they stumble all over themselves” (Pro. 29:18). That was definitely true in my first church plant—I practically did everything wrong. Originally the vision was clear, but the motives and actions blinded the mission.

As you read this it’s the beginning of a New Year; make sure that you’re still casting the vision. Mission drift is preventable. Maybe it’s time to have the scales fall from your eyes—to regain your sight and refocus on Christ.

ReIgniting Devotion

As redeemed people, our passion and zeal for God come to us as gifts of faith. With that stated, anytime that I try and become more holy, I fail—miserably. One thing I know to be true—that when I devote myself back to God—to soak in His presence—He ignites my soul.

I love the Psalmist’s reflection, “Part your heavens, Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, so that they smoke” (Ps. 144:5). Maybe it’s just me, but I yearn for the presence of God to be with me. I want to feel the glory of God in my life—that I may glorify Him. I feel like Moses, “If your presence will not go with me … ” (Exodus 33:15), well, you can fill in the blank.

Reigniting our devotion to Christ is essential. From time to time we lose focus and sight of God’s mission and need to spend valuable time with Him. The New Year brings new opportunities. In seeking new opportunities, this should compel us to seek more devoted time—more reading, more prayer, and more spiritual disciplines. As Martin Luther proclaimed, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

So, to begin your new year right, set aside time to refocus the mission, regain the vision, and for God to reignite the soul.

5 Elements for Church Growth

I realize that there are myriads of models, programs, and books for church growth—believe me; I’ve read many of them. However, rarely do these address the core of the issue—disciple-making—yet, we cannot make disciples if we can’t reach people.

As a former church planter, current planting mentor, and a pastor of a revitalized church, making disciples not only fulfills the great Commission (Matt. 28:19), but it grows families of God.

Here are five observations that growing disciple-making churches have in common.

Listening to the Holy Spirit

The early church intensely listened to the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Peter calls the Holy Spirit, “God” (Acts 5:4). Twice, the Scriptures warn the Church not to grieve the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30; 1 Thess. 5:19).

Jesus commanded his disciples not to move without the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). He leads. He teaches. He opens eyes. No one comes to salvation without the Holy Spirit. If churches desire to grow and make disciples, it cannot be done without the Holy Spirit.

Discerning Culture

When Paul arrived in Athens, he went for a walk (Acts 17:16, 22–23). He discerned the Athenian culture.

Today, we learn to exegete Scripture. This means we can critically examine the Greek and Hebrew texts: the verbs, nouns, and imperatives. We can even interpret the Word and provide great application.

Meanwhile, we have no idea how to exegete a culture. What are people worshipping? How do they live? Where do they eat? What do they watch? What does the culture look like (ethnicity, economic, etc.)?

We cannot reach a people we do not know.

Bridging the Gap

Once in the gym, I used the movie Platoon to share the gospel with a guy. He had never been to church, didn’t know Jesus, or God. But he was going through numerous problems. Since he saw the movie, I explained a scene with Charlie Sheen and Willem Dafoe.

The young private, Sheen, was about to go into his first night’s “fire fight.” However, the private overloaded his pack. Dafoe, the veteran sergeant, saw him struggling—stopped him, unloaded the pack—pulling out all of the items weighing him down. Not only that, Dafoe sacrificially carried Sheen’s items throughout the night.

This is what Jesus does for us. He meets us struggling in our sin. Removes our sin. Takes it upon Himself. And then walks with us through the darkness.

The term “bridging the gap” is called, contextualization. After discerning the culture, we use it to reach people for Christ. [Read Acts 17:22-28 to see how Paul used contextualization]

Gospel-centered

The word gospel comes from “the Anglo-Saxon godspell denoting ‘glad tidings’ or ‘good news.’”[1] In a world of suffering, pain, and anguish there is a great need for good news.

However, There is no good news without Jesus. A church that is gospel-centered is Christ-centered. They bring good news to a sin-laden and broken community.

But, some churches replace the gospel with entertainment, programs, or works. The gospel doesn’t need any of these. Churches that rely on the grace, truth, and sufficiency of the gospel will inevitably show it. How?

As Peter declared, if you have tasted the goodness of God, you will have a craving for God and a love for others (1 Peter 1:1-3).

Incarnation

The Word of God put on flesh and dwelt in community with humanity (John 1:14). Community is important. God created us to be relational and intimate. Believers are called to share the good news with others.

Sharing your life with others is discipleship. Jesus said, “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done” (John 13:15).

When a church is incarnational, it fleshes out what it means to be Jesus. Loving. Praying. Touching. Crying. Eating. —all of these are fleshing out Jesus within community.

Church growth is about discipleship. The command by Christ was to “go and make disciples” (Matt 28:19) —not—to put people in seats. Incarnational churches will make disciples because they live, eat, cry, and pray as Jesus did—with others. By default, incarnational churches disciple people.

 

 

[1] Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 892.

Why Advent Candles? What Do They Mean?

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Advent. I love this season of the year; things are festive, people once again visit their churches, songs are sung, and hearts are merry.

Advent, which means the arrival or coming, is in remembrance of Jesus Christ’s birth, God incarnate, the Savior of the world. Advent is one of those liturgical seasons which remind me of my upbringing, especially the lighting of the candles. I always had such great anticipation of waiting to go to church to see the next candle lit—it means we were one week closer!

However, the candles have meaning and I’m not sure that most believers know what each one means. Some churches utilize four purple and one white, or 3 purple, 1 pink, and one white—some now even use blue. Regardless, the names of the candles are all the same. So, allow me to give a brief explanation of each.

1st Sunday of Advent

This is a purple candle and the first one lit. The color purple is symbolic for majesty or royalty; the anticipation of the coming King. However, since the Lenten season also uses the color purple, some modern churches have switched to blue, but traditionally, it is purple. The candle is known as the prophecy candle; also called, the hope candle. This candle reminds us of the hope that was provided from ages past, concerning the coming Christ. He would come into the world to give hope to lost, hurting, afflicted, and those in bondage to sin (Psalm 62:5; Eph.1:12)

2nd Sunday of Advent

This candle is a second purple candle. The Second Advent candle represents love. What can we truly say about God’s everlasting love for people that are rebellious? Thank the LORD of heaven and earth that He loves us with such a great love. The love of Christ is greater and stronger than anything earthly, universal, or spiritually made or not made (Rom. 8:36-39).

3rd Sunday of Advent

The third Sunday of Advent is the pink candle or again a purple candle. This candle represents joy, it is pink to symbolize a rose—a celebratory event is coming! I may now be a Baptist pastor, but I was raised in the Anglican faith; I still love the traditional collect for this Sunday, which reminds me of joy: “…let thy bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us…” That is joy—joy that God delivers us from our sins and sets us free. God has abounding and amazing grace and mercy for people—we should be joyous and rejoice in Him.

4th Sunday in Advent

The fourth candle is the last purple candle, sometimes called the Angel candle due to the angelic messenger sent by God to proclaim His coming into the world, as man (Luke 1:26-33). This candle is also called the peace candle—for the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). Of course, Paul the Apostle states that Jesus, Himself, is our peace (Eph. 2:14). Ultimately, there is no peace without Christ.

Christmas Eve/Christmas Day

The white candle is called the Christ Candle; it only lit during the service that represents His arrival—this may be a Christmas Eve candle light service or a Christmas Day service. The color white signifies the purity and holiness of the Christ child—the sinless Savior born of the Virgin Mary.

Why Churches Must Plant Churches That Plant Churches

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Published in December 2015 Church Planter Magazine

“Why would I want to do that?”

That was the answer that I received when I asked a pastor if his church would support church planting.

Did he really just say that? Let me try this again, but this time I’ll rephrase it.

“Why wouldn’t your church want to be involved in the Great Commission?”

Now he had the same look that I had—confused. Bewildered. As if someone just stolen his lunch money. I was sort of in shock, but not really—I’m beginning to get used to this type of answer.

I won’t go into detail about how he justified his church’s involvement in the Great Commission by sending money to missionaries, feeding the homeless, and sending Christmas boxes (all good, by the way).

A Gospel Passion

The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16b)

People ask me, “Why are you so passionate about church planting?” I reply, “It is not church planting that I am passionate about, but the gospel.”

To be a disciple of Christ means, to desire to be more like Christ. Churches that plant churches that plant churches epitomize disciple-making and gospel-centered fruit.

In the beginning of this year, I founded a collaborative initiative here in Richmond called, Planting RVA (RVA stands for Richmond, VA). My goal is to see Richmond saturated with the gospel. With 121 countries, Richmond is ripe for the harvest—a diverse, cultural, and beautiful area, but one that desperately needs more churches planted. Richmond was one of the only cities on the eastern seaboard that was not affected by the Great Awakening—a spiritually darkened city.

With an original intention for a multipronged approach of house church movements, comprehensive and traditional church plants, satellite campuses, and revitalizations, it was an uphill battle from the get-go. I found that dozens of pastors were willing to talk about it, but very few were willing to get their hands dirty—to break up any fallow ground.

And so, my passion is not necessarily for churches, but for the gospel. Churches that plant churches that plant churches are gospel saturated. Their intention is outwardly revealed—to make Jesus known, to bring glory to God, and to make disciples. Church multiplication is the result of disciple-making, which is the command of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20).

The Harvest Is Ripe

Jesus declared, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road” (Luke 10:2-4).

This verse is sometimes misconstrued. Some pastors will exegete this passage as a call to prayer, but the context is Jesus sending out His disciples. He sends them out with nothing, other than His authority. Jesus was indeed telling these disciples to pray, but He ordered them to “Go.”

When I rephrased this to my pastor friend, he didn’t understand that intrinsically church planters are disciple makers. This is why I am so passionate about planting churches that plant churches—it is fulfilling Christ’s command. We cannot plant churches without making disciples—it’s nearly impossible (unless you pay people or draw them in with false benefits, but that won’t last).

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Living in Reality

The current model of Western Christianity is broken. I’ve written about this many times and will share it with you. Western Christianity is hemorrhaging! Seventy percent (70%) of the U.S. population reports a connection with Jesus Christ, yet according to David Olson, on any given Sunday less than 17.5% of the population actually attends an orthodox worship service.[1] This number includes Roman Catholicism.

Even though Olson’s statistics display 17.5%, Doug Murren, of the Murren Group, declared that number to be too high and suggested Olson’s 2008 numbers were lagging behind. Murren’s ghastly number of 12% is staggering![2] Furthermore, Murren’s research indicated “20% of people leave their church every year, which would require a visitor rate of at least 30% of a church’s size per year, just to grow.”[3]

Once again, Olson declared that American Christianity would need to plant 2,900 new churches a year, just to keep up with the current pace of population.[4] However, with over 7,000 churches closing each year, and only 4,000 opening, an article in Outreach Magazine noted “15,000 new churches [are needed] every year to keep up with population.”[5]

The Barna Group assessed that “more than one-third of America’s adults are essentially secular in belief and practice.”[6] With a population of roughly two hundred forty million Americans, “one hundred seventy million of them (71%), either consider themselves as having no religious affiliation at all or Christian in name only.”[7] As JR Woodward observed, “Functional Christendom has given way to a ‘spiritual,’ secular and pluralist society where a growing number view the church with suspicion and some with downright disdain.”[8]

And so, with 80 to 85 percent of churches in America either plateauing or in decline, there is an urgent call for church revitalization and planting.[9] For this reason, the church must re-engage the church planting apostolic call of the missio Dei. The Western world is officially a mission field and is in dire need of apostolic movement.

If these numbers do not cause you to see the vital need for church planting then nothing will—but perhaps you’re among the complacent crowd? My call to you today is not for you to get up on the soapbox and scream out for revival, but to begin revival within your own heart. Start living the life of Christ on mission within your home, neighborhood, and community—get engaged in the Great Commission by making disciples and helping plant churches that plant churches.

If evangelicalism is to re-engage the Western culture it will not be with political agendas, but with a true apostolic movement, where Christ is Lord and the Church is sent.

If you’d like to be a part of Planting RVA, either as a church planter or a supporting church, please feel free to email me pastor@oakhallbc.org

[1] David T. Olson, The American Church in Crisis: Groundbreaking Research Based On a National Database of Over 200,000 Churches (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 181.

[2] Doug Murren, “De-Churching or Re-Gathering,” themurrengroup.com, March, 2015.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid, 181.

[5] Rebecca Barnes and Linda Lowry, “Special Report: The American Church in Crisis,” Outreach Magazine, June 2006, 1, accessed October 16, 2015, http://www.simplechurchathome.com/PDF&PowerPoint/AmericanChurchCrisis.pdf.

[6] George Barna and David Kinnaman, Churchless: Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2014), 16.

[7] Aubrey Malphurs, Planting Growing Churches For the 21st Century: A Comprehensive Guide for New Churches and Those Desiring Renewal, 3rd Ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 12.

[8] JR Woodward, Creating a Missional Culture: Equipping the Church for the Sake of the World (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2012), 30.

[9] Aubrey Malphurs, Look Before You Lead: How to Discern and Shape Your Church Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2013), 200.

How Google Can Help Church Planters & Pastors?

Urban metropolises are one of the leading areas of interest for church planters. Whether it is for targeting areas of resurgence in gentrification, fighting poverty, racial equality, homelessness, or immigration, the gospel must penetrate all areas of population. We believe in gospel-transformation.

The Apostle Paul liked to target areas of resurgence and areas with large populations, creating springboards for making disciples and planting churches (see my recent article).

Within the last several decades, the eastern seaboard has been a target for reaching people with the gospel. The low evangelical rates of major cities, such as New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Camden, are just a few that church planters are targeting.

I recently utilized Google’s Shopping Insight’s tool to get some information about people within certain metropolitan areas. It’s a useful tool, if you know how to use it— especially if you’re an entrepreneur. The tool helps you see what people are searching for in a respective area.

So, I decided to check out how many people searched for a TV mini series—namely, The Bible Series. What I thought I would find was the opposite of what I found. From this chart (below), as you can see, the largest concentration of people were in the exact areas that church planters target—this is fantastic news!

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Some observations from my findings:

  1. The data doesn’t tell us who is doing the searching.
  2. It is just data.
  3. It could likely be that those who are searching are already Christians.
  4. However, if they were Christians, it seems the southeast would be lit up?
  5. It is still good news.

This larger screen capture (below) shows the U.S.

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My opinion is that if only Christians were Googling The Bible Series then more of the mid-west and southeast, which are areas of larger evangelical populations, would have been represented. However, it is likely that Christians may not need to Google what the Bible is or what the Bible is about, as believers already have an understanding.

This leads me to another deduction; perhaps the people searching for the information on the series are not believers at all, or perhaps they are nominal Christians, unchurched, or de-churched peoples? This seems highly likely. What are we to do with it?

In any case, this information should enlighten the church planter and the pastor, who are thinking about these areas or live within them. These charts should engage us to go into areas where people are hungry for biblical knowledge or a better understanding of who is the knowable God.

What are your thoughts?

Why Churches Must Plant Churches That Plant Churches (Part I)

This is part one of a three part series

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“Why would I want to do that?”

That was the answer that I received when I asked a pastor if his church would support church planting.

Did he really just say that? Let me try this again, but this time I’ll rephrase it.

“Why wouldn’t your church want to be involved in the Great Commission?”

Now he had the same look that I had—confused. Bewildered. As if someone just stolen his lunch money. I was sort of in shock, but not really—I’m beginning to get used to this type of answer.

I won’t go into detail about how he justified his church’s involvement in the Great Commission by sending money to missionaries, feeding the homeless, and sending Christmas boxes (all good, by the way).

A Gospel Passion

The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16b)

People ask me, “Why are you so passionate about church planting?” I reply, “It is not church planting that I am passionate about, but the gospel.”

To be a disciple of Christ means, to desire to be more like Christ. Churches that plant churches that plant churches epitomize disciple-making and gospel-centered fruit.

In the beginning of this year, I founded a collaborative initiative here in Richmond called, Planting RVA (RVA stands for Richmond, VA). My goal is to see Richmond saturated with the gospel. With 121 countries represented, Richmond is ripe for the harvest—a diverse, cultural, and beautiful area, but one that desperately needs more churches planted. Richmond was one of the only cities on the eastern seaboard that was not affected by the Great Awakening—a spiritually darkened city.

With an original intention for a multipronged approach of house church movements, comprehensive and traditional church plants, satellite campuses, and revitalizations, it was an uphill battle from the get-go. I found that dozens of pastors were willing to talk about it, but very few were willing to get their hands dirty—to break up any fallow ground.

And so, my passion is not necessarily for churches, but for the gospel. Churches that plant churches that plant churches are gospel saturated. Their intention is outwardly revealed—to make Jesus known, to bring glory to God, and to make disciples. Church multiplication is the result of disciple-making, which is the command of the Great Commission (Matt 28:19-20).