Unique & United

Unique and United

I’ve been thinking a lot about the current increase in tension in the Middle East and snowflakes.  I know, I know…it’s hard to come up with two more unrelated things than snow and conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Here’s how they meet in my brain.

From our vantage point, the whole conflict between Sunni Saudis and Shiite Iranians seems strange.  Sure, we can understand that there was some controversy 14 centuries ago over who would succeed Mohammad and I’m sure if I was a Muslim, I would have an opinion.  But why are they allowing it to distract from the overall point – they’re both Muslims!

If you think that’s an interesting question, try asking it of the Christian church in America.  We’re phenomenally good and dividing ourselves into little cliques, tribes and factions.  We waste a ton of time comparing, condemning and criticizing others who come from a different stream.  And we waste a lot of time making our little stream as comfortable as possible.  Whatever your persuasion, there’s a conference, blogger and pastor for you.  We do it over whether we sprinkle infants or dunk believers.  We do it over music, preaching styles and whether we can have a beer or not.  We take shots at each other on social media and then write blogs responding to the twitter controversy.

It’s all so silly.

And snowflakes would help us a lot.

You’ve probably heard this before but every snowflake is unique.  There are no two that are exactly alike.  It’s what makes them beautiful.  Yes, they have a lot in common since they’re all made of crystalized water.  But they’re distinct.  That’s they way it should be with churches.  If your church is a carbon copy of another, you’re following a formula not a Risen King.  Similar churches? Sure.  Identical? Nope.  We need to learn to be okay with that.  So, yes, I have opinions, convictions and beliefs about all the issues I mentioned above.  There’s a reason I’m a Baptist, not a Presbyterian.

But blizzards don’t come from single snowflakes.  Blizzards come when all the unique flakes are flying in the same direction, with the same purpose, driven by the same wind.  That’s when cities are blanketed with the glory of fresh snow.  Imagine the potential of our individual snowflakes uniting to blanket our cities with the glory of God.

We would criticize less.  Celebrate more.  Stop transferring people from church to church and start reaching those with no church.  We would stop trying to outdo each other with cooler events and start working for the good of our cities and those who won’t come to a church event, no matter how cool.

I love the local church.  Bill Hybels was right, “It is the hope of the world.” But that hope will shine brightest when we stop critiquing the other snowflakes and lean in towards a blizzard of redemption and restoration.

Riding The Bus To Preach

IMG_2690I ride the bus to church every Sunday and absolutely love it.  As strange as it may sound, it’s become a small but significant part of my sermon prep.  Those ten minutes on the bus remind me of my goal for the morning: to show people how the eternal truths of God’s Word transform our day to day lives in such a way that we are inspired to worship Jesus.

A sermon is so much more than a Bible study.  It can’t ever be less but it should be so much more.  The call of the preacher isn’t simply to present accurate information about the Bible or God.  It’s not enough to say, “here’s what this passage means.”  Don’t get me wrong (or call me a heretic), that foundation is indispensable.

But as preachers we must build two more layers on that foundation: application and worship.  Show people how the glorious truths of the Bible cause them to live with more joy on a Monday afternoon.  Show people how the gospel gives hope even when hospice has been called.  Show people how Jesus wants to use them in His plan to redeem and restore the world while they work as a cashier in a retail store.  And do it all in a way that makes Jesus, not us, the center and hero of the story.  The goal of a sermon isn’t life management tips.  It’s worship.  It’s people walking out so enthralled by Jesus, the simple beauty of the gospel and the hope we have that everything changes for them.

So, I love my friends on the bus.  They’re often tired, coming off the night shift or heading in to work the weekend.  Sometimes they’re headed to the airport.  Sometimes they’re brimming with hope but oftentimes they’re in need of hope.  They’re living life to the best of their ability.  Probably not doing as well as they would like or as bad as they fear.  And Jesus has something for each of them.

The great privilege of a preacher is connecting God’s Word to our world.

The Greatest Untapped Church Planting Resource: Senior Citizens

seniors

Restoration City simply would not exist without the incredible support we receive from individuals, foundations and partner churches.  They have poured prayer, encouragement, manpower and financial resources into the vision of Restoration City and I will be forever grateful.  We’ve had partner churches send people to serve alongside our congregation for our ServeDC outreaches.

All of which is to say I’m incredibly grateful for the body of Christ.  It’s in that spirit that I’ve come to believe we are missing one of the most strategic opportunities for existing congregations to partner with church plants.  It’s the untapped potential of retirees.

More than we need your high schoolers for a week, we need your seniors for a season.

Really want to bless a church plant?  Recruit and train a small team of spiritually mature, disciple making retirees and ask them to invest 3 years in a church plant.  Yes, that means they leave your church.  It might even mean they leave your city.  We need to think of our seniors as missionaries.

As a church planter, I can tell you that’s the greatest gift you could give us.  There’s an army of largely untapped potential in your pews.  They have time.  They need a mission. Maybe God is calling them to one last battle, to one last push.  And maybe it’s all about helping a new church thrive.

If you’re a pastor or senior interested in talking more about this, email me or leave a comment.  I would love to talk more.

Time for Patience or Courage?

It was just over a year ago that I made the transition from being a church planting resident to a full time church planter.  I remember how thrilled and terrified I was to transition off the staff of The Summit Church.  I knew God had called us to plant in Washington, DC.  It was obvious He was working and I couldn’t wait to see the vision He had given us become reality.  At the same time, it felt like we were leaving every last remnant of security and stability behind.  We were about to jump off a cliff into a sea of uncertainty and the closer we got, the faster my heart was beating.

Now it’s been 12 months since we took the plunge.  I can tell you the thrill has far outweighed the terror.  God’s grace is stronger than my weakness.  Jesus really meant it when He said He would build His church.  Experiencing it all first hand has changed me in more ways than I ever would have imagined.

Somewhere along the way, I developed a great love for leaders standing on the edge of their own personal cliff.  It might be the cliff of planting, moving to a new church, accepting a new role at your current church or moving overseas for the sake of the gospel.  For me, the particular cliff doesn’t matter as much as the moment.  Do you jump or not?

In talking with leaders over the past year, I’ve become convinced of two things:

  • We need fewer 25 year olds planting churches and more 35 year olds.
  • Your 20’s are a time for patience and your 30’s are a time for courage.

Yes, both of those are generalizations and I know there are exceptions.  You might even be an exception.  But, in general, those two convictions would serve young leaders and the church planting movement well.

If you are a leader in your 20’s, I absolutely love you.  You have amazing potential.  The fact that you are serving God at such a young age is beautiful and inspiring.  But if you aren’t old enough to rent a car, please don’t pretend you have a fully formed philosophy of ministry!  You need time to grow, to be tested, to be broken, to figure out who you are as a person and a leader.  In general, that means staying where God has you. Be patient. Learn. Pray. Grow. Submit to authority.  Your day will come.  But a blind leap off a big cliff rarely ends well.

If you’re a leader in your 30’s, I’m right there with you. Married. Two kids. A mortgage. A 401(k). A lot more to loose.  Isn’t it amazing how risks that wouldn’t have fazed us in our 20’s now seem borderline insane?  All of the sudden, the cliff takes courage.  But that isn’t the only thing that’s changed in the last 10 years – you have as well.  You’re actually ready to take the plunge.  By now, you know who you are as a person and a leader.  You know the kind of church you want to serve.  You know how you’re gifted.  You have something to say and something to offer.  Don’t run from the cliff just because your wife and kids are going to take the plunge with you.  Be strong and courageous.

Maybe another way of saying all of this is that if the cliff doesn’t seem scary, you probably aren’t ready to jump.  If it does, you probably are.  Don’t be afraid to wait but when your time comes, don’t you dare miss out on the thrill of jumping!

A Day In The Life of Restoration City

IMG_2071Hey, Restoration City!

I don’t know how you felt as yesterday came to an end but I can tell you I went to sleep last night incredibly grateful for everything God did in our church throughout the day.  Odds are good you don’t even know half of what He did, so let me fill you in on a couple of things:

1.  We had a full band lead us in worship for the first time as a church.  Blake, Tim, Ben, Jon and Jeremiah killed it and I loved having them lead us.  That crew will be back together on Easter Sunday and I already can’t wait.  By the way, the Production Team did a ton of work to make a full band experience possible.  We need to be so grateful to the people who show up every week at 7.45 to serve all of us.

2.  We had our first ever child dedications yesterday.  It was a huge moment for our church as we celebrated that fact that we aren’t just a church of single, young professionals.  We want to be a church where families raise their kids to love Jesus and I feel like we took one more step towards that yesterday.

3.  Speaking of kids, we had 10 in RCC Kids yesterday, which is a new high for us!  That 10 doesn’t count a handful of infants who will hit RCCKids in the next few weeks.  I’m so grateful for what God is doing through Alex Dibble and her team – 10 kids is huge for us!

As if that’s not enough, let me share two more stories with you.

The first one you already experienced if you were with us at yesterday’s gathering.  There was a gentleman who joined us who ultimately became disruptive and needed to be escorted to the lobby.  I know it might have made you a little uncomfortable but I want you to know that was a good moment for us as a church.  Here’s why: we exist for the broken in this city and we want the lost, the hurting and desperate in our gathering every week.  We aren’t an escape from the world, we’re trying to carry hope to the world.  I love that he was with us and I love that the gentleman who escorted him to the lobby stayed with him throughout the entire sermon.  A young lady from the church came out to join them and three members of our church loved that guy, prayed with him and told him that Jesus is for him.  And, if you noticed, he came back in for the last song and knelt in the front of the theater.  Come on!  You want to know what we’re about as a church?  That’s it – we’ll welcome the broken, the hurting and those desperate for hope and we’ll pray that they come to kneel at the foot of the cross with us.

So, I was already pretty fired up when I went to spend the afternoon with Dan and 8 people who are now trained as Community Group leaders.  For the record, there were 6 men and 2 women at that meeting – a huge answer to prayer!!  But during our training meeting, something amazing happened.  I got a call from one of our current Community Group Leaders letting me know that one of the people in his Community Group was stranded about 100 miles outside of DC after her car broke down.  So, I laid that situation in front of the people being trained to lead a Community Group and asked them what they would do.  I want you to know that every single one of them said we need to figure out a way to go get her.  By the way, don’t forget how bad the weather was yesterday!  I hope you know what a blessing it is to have people like that shepherding our Community Groups.  For the record, someone did go get her.  Less than five minutes after hearing about the need, two of the people at the training had gotten up from the table and headed out to get her (yes, it’s possible they were just really bored with the meeting!).  Pretty awesome.  Here’s where it gets even better: they came back 10 minutes later because someone else from their Community Group had already gone to pick her up!!  I preached on a culture of service two weeks ago and I just sat there smiling while people were competing to figure out who could drive 100 miles to pick up this young lady faster.

Restoration City, don’t take any of that for granted.  God is doing something in our hearts – He’s calling us to serve, to love, to sacrifice and to bless this city.  I’m so grateful to be a part of it.  Let’s keep reaching for everything He’s calling us to do and be.  These really are incredible days for us.

Much love,

John

Thinking Of Planting A Church? Check This Out.

Church Planting Network from The Summit Church on Vimeo.

The 10 months Laura and I spent in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina with The Summit Church were some of the most significant of our lives.  We had space for God to work in our hearts, to learn, to dream and to prepare for planting Restoration City Church.  Those months were invaluable for us!

If you’re interested in planting a balanced, gospel-centered church that will plant other churches, you really need to consider working with The Summit Network.  You don’t even need to move to Raleigh for a residency – we’ve decentralized the whole process!   If you would like to talk more, let me know…especially if you’re interested in planting in or around DC.

There isn’t a city in America, DC included, that doesn’t need more churches.  If you’re interested in stepping up to meet this need, I would love to walk alongside you.

Open Space

architect open spaceIn planting Restoration City Church, we are deliberately designing a community of faith that allows and encourages each of us to have open space in our lives.  We’re architecting a simple church.  Our goal is not to fill every available moment with a program, ministry or event.  Our goal is to do a few things well and create space for you to love and follow Jesus.

Confession time: Open space doesn’t come easy to me.  I love the idea and I know it’s where God is leading us but there are moments when I’m tempted to freak out and throw a bunch of events on a calendar.  Last Friday was one of those freak out moments for me.  As Dan and I were preparing to meet with our Operation Team (the volunteer leads for each of our ministry areas) we reviewed the church calendar for March – May.  As we were moving through the weeks, I felt this tension and panic rising in my heart.  It was the panic of “we need to be doing more!!!”  After all, we’re a growing church with a vision to reach our city and beyond; we’re aiming too high to allow open space.  It’s just part of the messed up way I’m wired.  Have a blank space?  Fill it!  Schedule an outreach.  Host a seminar.  Attend a conference.  Plan a church wide picnic.  Enroll the whole church in a 5k race.  Who cares….just do something!!

The more I think about it, the more I realize my obsession with activity comes from a lack of trust in the Holy Spirit.  It comes from a belief that if we aren’t programming ministry, no one in the church is doing anything to advance the Kingdom.  And that’s just flat wrong.  In fact, I believe the most significant ministry activity of Restoration City Church happens in the open spaces.  Here’s why:

  • It’s in the open spaces that we get to meet, enjoy and develop relationships with our neighbors.
  • It’s in the open spaces that we have time for a friend in crisis.
  • It’s in the open spaces that we get alone with God and allow Him to speak vision into our lives through His Word.
  • It’s in the open spaces that we serve through one of our ministry partners.
  • It’s in the open spaces that we wrestle with our fears, doubts and dreams.
  • It’s in the open spaces that we love people.
  • It’s in the open spaces that we engage our world.

So, Restoration City, don’t freak out about open space.  In fact, get comfortable with it.  We already have the capacity to schedule more as a church but we won’t because I believe deeply in the power of God working in your life.  You are light of the world and the carriers of hope for our city.  Live your life for the good of others and the glory of Christ.  I’m sure the Spirit will show you how to best leverage your open space for His purposes.

Enjoy the open space!