We just had our two-year anniversary and time seems to be flying by. Last year I decided after the first year that I would do a year to year analysis of what planting a church has been like; things I’ve learned along the way, how it’s affected my ministry, my marriage, and my individual life. Last year I covered a few things that were definitely life changing, but this year has been significantly more challenging and eye opening. Before I began, it’s best that you get an idea of what I wrote last year…you can read it HERE (click here).
Let us begin.
YEAR TWO, "EVERYTHING IS REVEALED IN TIME. BE PATIENT."
(Luke 8:17, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought to the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.”)
Making the decision to plant a church was easy. Everything that came afterwards was more emotionally hard than physically hard. I think the most difficult thing I’ve faced in the past two years is leaving one church and starting another. Having done ministry in Marble Falls at one church for six years and then abruptly leaving, taking a sabbatical, and then processing the fact that God is calling you to do something to which you know is possibly going to ruffle a few feathers is stressful. Planting where you’ve already been pastoring isn’t for the light hearted…AND…you’d better be sure you’ve heard from God! It’s been an attention grabbing process as well as a study in humanity.
The past two years has been one of focusing on what God is specifically called me to do, but that initial decision to leave and plant in the same town has had it’s own set of consequences. My wife and kids have had to pay a price I wish I could take away from them. I’m trying to use this as a teaching moment, “Hurting people, hurt people”, or “Other people’s actions do not dictate our own”. It’s been a tough couple of years, however, I am constantly reminded by God that there is justice for the righteous. My job isn’t to judge, or to point fingers, no, it’s to preach the Gospel. I have gotten the chance to watch God go out before me and protect me and my family time and time again. God has reassured me that my family will survive this as well as He has revealed the truth to a lot of things that are just for me to rejoice in (and NOT to say “I told you so”)…it is the proof that my heart needs to believe that “God sees me!” God has been teaching me how to walk in forgiveness. There can be no bitterness in this process. Having to live through this has done things to my heart that I couldn’t have learned any other way.
I WOULDN’T DO ANYTHING DIFFERENT. I have no regrets. Not one.
YEAR TWO, "THERE IS NO ESCAPING FAITH."
(Joshua 2:10-11, "For we have heard how the Lord made a dry path for you through the Red Sea when you left Egypt. And we know what you did to Sihon and Og, the two Amorite kings east of the Jordan River, whose people you completely destroyed. No wonder our hearts have melted in fear! No one has the courage to fight after hearing such things. For the Lord your God is the supreme God of the heavens above and the earth below.”)
We meet in a restaurant and I am so blessed to do so. Did I mention that we do so at the goodness of the owners heart? We don’t pay anything to do so. What a wonderful experience to see Jesus in our local business owners. By faith we launched Mosaic Community Church and we have survived due to the generosity of so many business owners, local and non-local churches, and caring born again individuals that have a vested interested in the Kingdom of God. It’s not about a building, it’s about people. It’s not about status and how many get saved on Sunday, it’s about how many are living and growing daily in Christ. It’s not about living inside the “four walls”, it’s about being a part of a community of people. As we continue to grow one thing is becoming apparent…we will eventually need a larger space.
There is a restlessness that comes from sitting in one place too long. I’m not sure that we are there yet, but we’re close. We’ve done well to save our finances up and we are currently looking for our next location. It can be so frustrating at times and this has definitely been a lesson in patience, but I am confident that God will not allow us to build anything without faith. With that in mind, I’m expecting hardship and adventure. I want a supernatural love story like the ones I read in the Bible where God tells us where to go and what to do so that all will see His mighty hand at work. What I definitely don’t want is another church planting story or leadership story. There are already enough churches built upon the gifts and personalities of men. If we move, buy, build, or whatever, I want it to be a God story. I want a story like Moses or Nehemiah, one that requires faith, risk, and boldness.
YEAR TWO, "WE ARE GOING TO BUILD DISCIPLES ACCORDING TO THE GOSPEL."
(Matthew 6:1, "Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others…” / 6:5, "When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them…” / 6:16, "And when you fast, don’t make it obvious..” AND 6:4, 6, & 18, "Give your gifts…Pray in private…When you fast...trust your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.”)
Matthew 6 has radically changed the way we reach the lost.
The vision of MCC is simple, “to return”. What that looks like and how we go about doing it has been up for discussion, mainly because I’ve never seen any church do it. This has led us to return to the Gospel and rediscover it’s simple truth. One of those truth's is found in Matthew, chapter six. This chapter has radically changed how we are seen in the publics eye. In this chapter, Jesus is very specific that when we give (or do outreach), when we pray, or when we fast, we are to do it privately. The concept is that we are to trust that the Lord sees us and that it is enough. This is extremely hard, because it isn’t how the majority of churches function. This chapter talks about that too. It says that if you desire to make your works known, then the praise you receive from those around you is all you will ever receive.
This has had to change the way we do outreach and the way we evangelize. We’ve abandoned the idea that we need to advertise how or when we help people. We are trying with everything in us to trust that the Lord sees us and that it is enough. This might be the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, but it flies in the face of everything I’ve been taught in ministry. Ministry today is an advertising and marketing machine. Most churches want you to see everything they are doing so you can see what you possibly could be a part of. This chapter begs me to only seek the eyes of God and to trust that it is enough. Then how will we grow? Then how will people know about us? Those are valid questions, but they also beg the question, “Is this about us or is this about God?” That question answers itself. We are focused on God seeing us…not this community.
We’ve abandoned behavior modification and sermon guilt trips.
I might be the only preacher that is foolish enough to believe that I shouldn’t have to guilt trip people into coming to church. As someone who has been a part of denominational and traditional ministry for a long time, it’s something that has always puzzled me. Too many times I’ve encountered men who use the Word of God as a means to apply guilt and rules, rather than just teach the simplicity of the Gospel.
However, just because I teach that you don’t have to go to church to be saved, doesn’t mean it is wise not to go to church. Sheep are never more vulnerable than when they try and go it alone. I can’t preach what isn’t true. This has challenged my motives in ministry. What do I really want, a big church, growth, or to actually build the Kingdom of God? Sometimes those aren’t the same things. Motive is everything. We have giant churches today that are not impacting their communities at all. Sure their doing a lot of great things with their finances…but they aren’t actually making disciples of Christ (and we can physically see the proof).
We must teach ALL of the Gospel. We don’t get the luxury of choosing what we like and what we don’t like. Making people attend a “service” doesn’t equate to discipleship. You will NEVER get disciples like Peter and John by simply making Christianity about showing up, sitting down, stand up, sing, sit down, and then leave. It has to be more and it starts with being absolutely truthful about what Jesus defined as a follower. I've decided that I will sacrifice church attendance (physical growth) for actual spiritual growth.
We are rediscovering the work of the Holy Spirit.
In a traditional church where there is a huge history of the Holy Spirit moving and miracles taking place, what do you do when all of that is missing? What I’ve discovered away from the history of Pentecost is that the lost have no knowledge of the work of the Holy Spirit. This means that we are walking with people as they discover for the very first time the power of the Holy Spirit at work in their life. We are rediscovering the “prayer language” and supernatural miracles all for the first time. There are no bad habits, no bad theology, or any other issues.
We are growing at a snails pace, but those that are coming are staying…and spiritually growing.
Healthy things grow. No one will disagree with that, especially in ministry. However, not everything that grows is healthy (nobody wants cancer to grow). We, as a group of believers, are adding to our number at a super slow pace and I am totally cool with that. Discipleship is a relational process and CAN’T be programmed (no matter how hard we try). The best disciples are forged when we slow down and spend time with people. You can’t educate people into discipleship. There are no shortcuts. Something happens when we slow down and walk with people. Jesus walked with twelve individuals and look how those guys turned out.
We might not be reaching the masses (thanks to Matthew 6), but we are reaching people who’ve never attended church before and who have no idea who Jesus is or what the Bible says. We’re not taking them through the Bible in a year…no, we’re walking with them, living life with them, sharing their burdens, and enjoying their friendship…and for that we’ve grown more than a church congregation…we’ve grown a family. Thank you Jesus!
(This has also allowed me to plant in town and maintain healthy honest relationships with other local churches and pastors. It is true that most church plant growth is transplant growth and a quick look on Facebook will testify to that. I've done my very best to make sure that the we don't fish where everyone else fishes. We throw our "net" where the other nets don't go and don't reach. We try unbelievably hard to pay attention to what everyone else does...and then go where they aren't. In this way we will cover the gaps that are missed. After spending so much time in pastoral ministry, you pick up on the marketing and advertising practices of the church pretty easy...and honestly they all pretty much do the same stuff. This has us looking for opportunities to do it differently. Truth be told, we can afford to. There isn't a pastor salary to pay for. There isn't a staff to pay for. There isn't a building or offices to pay for. We can afford to fail. We can afford to try different stuff. We can afford to go after the lost, all the while encouraging other to stay at their churches. These were decisions made early in the process and is at the heart of our vision to reach ALL of Marble Falls.)
We stay away from gimmicks and glamour and keep our eyes focused on God.
The church is a lot like my wife…she never feels pretty unless she has her hair and make-up done…but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. I see her when she get’s up in the morning…make up kind of smeared and running…because it must be constantly freshened to stay so perfect. Why can’t she just keep it all perfect all the time? Because it’s exhausting! It’d also be fake! Her real face…under that make up is beautiful all by itself…it doesn’t need anything. However, since the time she was born, this world has told her that she was never truly beautiful without it.
That is a lie!
You don’t need fancy promotion to make people like your church. You don’t need the best programs. You don’t need the best worship. Lest you forget what the Church is. The Church is a sign of hope to the nations that God loves the small things…the things that bare His image…an image of serving and being a servant…which is to say the humble, low, and the least of these. Some churches do a great job with putting their make up on and in doing so they teach others how to wear make up as well…and the church becomes full of people that are never really free to be themselves…because they are too busy hiding their imperfections and being honest about their brokenness.
I’ve become convinced today that the more promotion (lights and smoke, programs, advertising, social media status, etc.) you need, the more likely you are struggling with self-esteem and a lack of the Holy Spirit. The greatest revivals were all started in a small humble setting with no powerful preacher, no massively huge congregation, and no state of the art marketing campaign. I’m not here to judge those who use the American business model as their church model…but in answering the call to “return”, I just can’t be a part of it.
YEAR TWO, "I'VE BEEN CALLED TO PASTOR A COMMUNITY, NOT A CHURCH."
One thing that hasn’t changed in eight years of ministry in Marble Falls is my overwhelming passion to pastor everyone in my city and surrounding area…regardless of where they live or what church they go to if any at all. This calling has challenged me in so many ways. It presses and pushes me to be conformed into Kingdom thinking.
I find myself counseling more and more people that DON’T go to my church.
The past year has been riddled with people calling me for counseling for all sorts of things. From counseling veterans, to students, to teachers, and even pastors at times. PRAISE GOD! I am so thankful and humbled to be used by God to the glory of the Kingdom. God has been using my past to help peoples futures…finally, something that makes the hard times of the past worth all the heartache.
I still live to support and serve other local ministries and churches.
I still live to invest into local ministers and their ministries. When we do well to make disciples, the Kingdom of God grows. When people see churches working together to grow the Kingdom…they see Jesus. MCC has allowed me to continue to support both financially and prayerfully many local ministries in and around Marble Falls. What a blessing it is to be able to invest into good ground as we’ve continued our support of local youth ministers and their youth ministries. You heard that right…we invest in other local pastors and their churches!
I am even more confident that being extremely transparent about my past and present is always the right thing to do.
I’ve witnessed the pastoral culture that creates secretive men. Most pastors have a tendency to be very reclusive about their life outside of the church walls. Many of them live in fear of being judged because truthfully their just human beings with normal flaws. A long time ago I decided that the best way to combat this fear and to live in freedom was to just live completely in the light. From the pulpit I’ve confessed my weaknesses, my flaws, and my character issues, all in the hopes that someone might relate and that God would be glorified through my weaknesses. I’ve made it a point in ministry to be completely forth coming about every detail pertaining all things church. There is no "controlling the narrative” or creating false perceptions of how the church is doing, how my family doing, or how I am doing. (I can’t tell you how many church business meetings I’ve been to where a pastor or deacon body has manipulated the financial report in a way that helps put a positive light on the current leadership. It should be a red flag that when the plain truth isn’t enough…something is wrong.)
YEAR TWO, "IT'S TIME I OWN THE SPIRIT OF THE PROPHET."
Too many times by too many people I’ve been told that the spirit of the prophet is upon me. I can finally say that I’ve quit running from that call upon my life. The nature of pastoral ministry doesn’t allow it to speak up during injustice (or this has just been my experience with a majority of pastors that I’ve met). Maybe this is why God called me into the Marine Corps. Maybe this is why my life is filled with opportunities to stand up and fight for the weak, the poor, and the forgotten. I think the only thing I haven’t liked about being called a prophet is that the Church has a tendency to kill off or disregard them. Even Jesus brought up this point in front of the Pharisees.
I didn’t choose to be the way I am…no, I was forged into the way I am…by bad decisions, by good decisions, and ultimately by the sovereignty of God. The time for me being apologetic over my passionate hunger for truth and desire to protect the Lord’s people is over. I love helping those whom God has called to shepherd his people, but make no mistake…if you lie, manipulate, cheat, steal, hurt, abuse, or take advantage of just one of God’s children…you will see the prophet in me.
YEAR TWO, "MY MOST VALUABLE ASSET IS MY WIFE."
My wife continues to amaze me. She has become my greatest asset and dearest friend through this process. She has been an encouraging beacon of hope and a fiery trumpet calling me to press forward. She is without a doubt the greatest gift God has ever given me. That’s not a shot against my kiddos…they’re awesome…but their awesomeness comes from her clear direction and teaching.