Too Many Churches?

One of my biggest struggles in church planting has been the nagging thought that there are already plenty of churches. As we drive through Spartanburg we see countless churches. I question our calling as I think that with so many churches already, what could we possibly accomplish that isn’t already being done?

A couple of weeks ago Mike had an amazing opportunity to attend a gathering for local pastors called Come Closer, an initiative in Spartanburg to bring unity to the body of Christ. This is so exciting because this is what Jesus prayed for us: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:20-21)

As God has laid the vision for The Gathering on our hearts over the last 10 years, this desire has become deeply rooted in us. That the Church, the body of Christ, would be united for the Kingdom of God so that the work we do is not just for our individual church body but for the Church as a whole. We were awed to find this work already in progress in Spartanburg. We had imagined it would be a pioneering work that would need to be done, but instead we can jump right in to the work in progress. Mike was able to connect with multiple pastors who welcomed us to attend worship with them and even said they would want to support our work. We had been afraid to walk into a church fearing they would think we were coming to steal their people, but as it turns out they are gladly opening their doors to encourage us. Wow. It is so amazing to see God at work in this way. I praise Him for the work He is doing to unify His Body, the Church. 

We have attended a few of different churches. Surprisingly, this has helped my understanding of our call to plant. These churches are at work for the Kingdom, growing in God’s love and desiring to spread the gospel. And they each have their own personality. It is almost like walking into someone’s family gathering. You can fully enjoy it and see their joy in it but still know it is not your family. Our church will have its own personality as well, and some people will be drawn into that dynamic and others will find that it just doesn’t fit them. And this is why we must exist as much as the church that may be right down the street from us. Different people will call each place home, and God will use each place to further His Kingdom, bringing His healing, wholeness and truth. 

So my perspective has changed. You can’t have too many churches. Each place is different and each place is called, set apart, and used by God to bring His fullness. I am excited to see who we will become, what uniqueness God will bring to our gathering. It is a privilege to watch that unfold. May we be open to who God calls us to be!

Gather, Pray, Trust

For a season it seemed like we would never make it to this point. But here we are. In Spartanburg. God is faithful and His timing is good. Looking back it’s easy to see how He gave us what we needed when we needed it, even though in the midst of it all we really had no idea what we needed. He shatters our plans and gives us something far better…Himself. He asks us to trust Him even when it doesn’t make sense, and it rarely makes sense. As we trust Him we find a life far better and deeper than we could have imagined.

So I should have known. Surrounded by boxes, after months of waiting and planning, I had a huge to-do list. Unpack, connect with people, make repairs, schedule meetings, and on and on. A few days in and I was already feeling frantic. How is all of this going to get done? How are we going to make this happen? Where are the people? Let’s make a home. Let’s start a church. Let’s do this!

When I slowed down enough to listen, I felt the Lord pulling back my anxiety to remind me that this is not my work. It’s His. My role is to pray and trust. Our role as His Church is to gather, pray, and trust Him to do His work through us. We need Him. And He is faithful and good. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us. And He will because this is His work, not ours.

So we will gather, pray, and trust Him. Not just to give us what we think we want, but to give us what He knows we need. To give us life to the full in Him.

Come, Lord Jesus. Fill us, lead us, empower us to be your witnesses.

God with Us

I have been reflecting lately on one of the first times Mike and I skied together.  We were dating at the time, still getting to know each other in so many ways.  As we started out, Mike asked me what kind of hills I liked to ski, and I told him I liked anything but black with moguls.  I am able to ski black, but I do not care for the thrill of it.  I like to enjoy being outside.  I like the feeling of gently swooping back and forth across the hill marveling at God’s creation, all while perfectly in control of my body.  Mike on the other hand, skis for the thrill. The point for him is to find a challenge and go fast. Regardless of our differences in taste, we enjoyed the morning skiing a variety of hills working our way around the mountain.  Conceivably, though, Mike was secretly assessing my skill because suddenly we “happened” upon a hill, steep as could be, full of moguls. DOUBLE Black.  I clearly stated that I did not want to ski this hill, perhaps mentioning that I had already told him this once before…. Mike, in all his gentleness, replied that at this point we didn’t have any other options, and he supposed the only thing we could do was go down it.  After some comforting and consoling, he took off down the hill leaving me to decide if I was going to follow or not.  So I followed. 

I thought that this was a simple event in our dating history, laughable even.  As I have reflected on it the past couple of weeks I see that in a very real way it characterizes our life together.  Mike at the edge of adventure, and me, praying for strength, following to places that I never dreamed I’d go.

Maybe that day of skiing was a test I didn’t know I was taking; would I follow into the scary? Into the unknown? Into the adventure? I didn’t know then that we would go to places I didn’t want to go, didn’t plan to go, but God has nonetheless given me everything I need to go.  And that is HIMSELF.  “This is my command: be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

So here we are again at the top of another mountain, freshly reminded that it is God’s power alone that we can walk in, that we are weak but his grace is sufficient for his power is made perfect in weakness.

So deep breath.  The waiting is seemingly almost over.  Our house is under contract again.  If all goes as planned we will be closing in about 7 weeks.  Mike is working full time for the church plant which has made it possible for us to travel back and forth between the beach and Spartanburg, starting to build relationships and making new connections.  We’re looking for a house in Spartanburg. I am homeschooling Parker full time to further allow for this transition (which truly has been a blessing!). It’s certainly not the relaxing descent I envisioned. The hill is steep with lots of bumps, but the Lord our God is with us in this adventure.

Unity – Proclaiming the Gospel

There is a clear, consistent, but often overlooked message for the Church in the Epistles. When the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost and the first church was established, there was a deep sense of unity and community around the power and truth of the gospel (Acts 2 and 4). As these first Christians sought to share the Good News and make disciples of Jesus Christ, their work – or rather the work of the Holy Spirit through them – was under constant attack, the defeated Enemy desperately trying to slow the tide of the coming Kingdom. Where did he turn? How did he attack? He sought to undermine the very things the Spirit had established: truth and unity.

We know from the very beginning of the Enemy’s intent to twist the Truth. “Did God really say…?” Before the Almighty, deceit was his only shot. The only way to keep people from a good, loving, and all-powerful God was to undermine His character and/or His existence. To get people to believe they were better off doing things their own way. On the other side of Pentecost, Satan employs the same technique. He undermines and twists the teachings of Jesus. He stirs up controversies among God’s people. Disunity stems from confusion, sinful pride and self-centeredness. The power of the gospel through the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people creates unity and assurance in the Truth. Unity points to the power and veracity of the gospel. Because we know extravagant love and grace, we can show extravagant love and grace. The way believers relate to one another is one of our primary means of proclaiming the gospel.

So the apostles insist that the first Christians live in unity with one another. Consider a few examples:

Colossians 3

12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 

Ephesians 4

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Romans 12

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.[h] Never be wise in your own sight. 17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

1 Peter 3:8Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.

The list could be much longer. So much of the New Testament is concerned with how we relate to one another. Scripture challenges us, “Do our relationships reflect the power of the gospel?” Are we willing to do the work, the really hard work, of forgiveness and reconciliation?

If I’m honest, there are many times when I’m not. I would prefer to avoid or deny conflict or tension. I’m better at not holding grudges than I am at forgiving, but they are vastly different. Not holding a grudge is passive, like avoiding the stinky, dirty room in your house so you don’t have to clean it. But forgiveness, unity, and real peace require great love, intentionality, vulnerability and sacrifice. Forgiveness requires an acknowledgement of hurt and disappointment. Forgiveness is unpacking the stink and filth of our heart and allowing the love of Christ to clean and heal us. It requires humility. It requires the work of the Spirit in us. That’s what makes the church unique: the power of the Spirit. Unity belongs to the Spirit. We have to allow the Spirit to work in us to heal us.

Spiritual work is actually really hard work. We have to “crucify our flesh,” to put our desires and passions to death (Gal. 5:24). It is often painful and forces us to go where we don’t want to, but it is glorious because it is work that only He can do. And so, as we open ourselves to Him, He heals, reconciles, and unites us to one another. It is work that God alone can do.

May the unity we, His Church, share proclaim a gospel of power, peace, and reconciliation to a world longing for real peace.

 

Waiting and Praying

I think the apostles in Acts 1 must’ve been incredibly anxious. They had just witnessed Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension. They’d been given the commission to go as His witnesses to the ends of the earth, but for now they had to wait. Wait and pray. That’s all they could do. “They all joined together constantly in prayer” (v. 14). But surely they wanted to do more. They probably talked about what they would do, where they would go. They must’ve strategized and planned. But plans and strategies were not what was needed. They had been told to wait and pray because what was needed was power, the undeniable, glorious power of the Holy Spirit. And when the Holy Spirit came, the Lord accomplished what their plans never could have. He revealed Himself in power and might and lives were transformed (2:40-41). He empowered His Church to be His witnesses (2:42-47) and “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” They waited and prayed because they needed His power to do what only He could do.

So here we sit now, waiting on our house to sell, eager to go Spartanburg to do what we are confident God has called us to do, plant a church. But, man, I hate waiting. I’ve got plans. I’m eager, ready to go. I’ve got my timeline. I want to stick to it. I get so impatient. After a while, praying feels tedious. I keep bringing my plans to God, asking (and sometimes demanding) Him to do what I want. He’s given me these plans, right? I know this isn’t the right posture, but it’s so ingrained in me I can’t steer away from it. But really what I want and what I know is needed is His power, His Spirit, filling me, us, and doing what only He can do. This is the sort of church I want to be a part of. It’s the only true Church, the One He created.

So we wait and pray. Come Holy Spirit, fill and empower us to be your witnesses in Spartanburg, to the ends of the earth, or where ever we are. Give us the courage to trade our expectations and plans for your power to be revealed. Amen.