When you unintentionally scatter

I’ve been spending my morning devotional time in the book of Acts (thought it might be helpful in planting a church to look at how the church was born and grew) and today came across a familiar passage. But since we’ve been discussing as a church the importance of the church as a “gathered and scattered” called-out group of people united by common vision (more than a group united by a building and a Sunday service), I enjoyed seeing another example of “scattering.”

Sometimes, and probably more often than not, “scattering” is intentional. Christians aren’t to gather 24/7. We gather for worship, fellowship, discipleship, etc…But much of our time is spent at work, home, neighborhoods, hobbies, activities. When we do so, we are to be intentionally looking compassionately at people wherever and whenever we intentionally scatter.

But we see in Acts 8 that the early church didn’t intentionally scatter much until they were forced to scatter via persecution. Now they sure did have a “scattering feel” to their fellowship time. But it seems that few really scattered until they were forced to scatter. Or you could say scatter unintentionally.

In America, we don’t have to literally scatter because of persecution. Yet we do often scatter unintentionally. Sometimes it may be a job transfer or a loss of job, and as a result scattering may be literally, and largely,  a geographical change of scenery. And highly unintentional. The takeaway from this passage is that the early church seemed to preach Christ wherever and whenever they were unintentionally scattered. Despite being forced to different locations (unintentional), they intentionally looked around them. They simply saw who was there and who needed Christ.

But sometimes unintentional scattering may be less geographical. Sometimes God continues to put people in your path that you wouldn’t normally think about loving and moving towards. Sometimes you find yourself unintentionally in places like Teeball three nights a week (not sure there is need for practice when there are literally no rules; I actually do have fun but it is 100% about building relationships and not skill development for Connar). Or a baby comes and changes the schedule. Or certain people continue to invite you to do things and you don’t know why. Or you keep seeing the same person time and again. Or for time constraints or various other reasons,  you’ve been scattered to different places and spaces, among different people, or different kinds of people (sometimes not kind).

This is what I call unintentional scattering.

The application from this passage is to be on the lookout wherever you go. Whether you intentionally scattered or unintentionally scattered, the Sovereign Lord has put you there for a reason. Let us be looking, even if all around us is unfamiliar territory or unfamiliar folks. The gospel spread and continues to spread not only by intentional scattering but also informal unintentional scattering. Both are equally as important. The destination or how you got to that destination is far less vital than your “looking” when you get there.

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Church planting could be the best thing for your kids

kids

Planting a church is a privilege as well as a huge challenge. As I’m in the gathering stage right now, from time to time, I come across “the children barrier” in folks who might be otherwise interested in coming alongside such a risky venture. Even though some people may be excited about the vision, the problem may lie within the realm of this question: “what about the children?”  Christian parents, and probably even those with a merely moral framework, are concerned about their children being taught, or at the very least entertained, well. And the latter is a good concern.

I guess you could say, I believe the late Whitney Houston. Children in some ways are the future (the present too), so “teach them well and let them lead the way.” But how and where we teach them is also quite important. So is the “what! I really do think these are good questions to ask but I don’t think answering them the way they have been answered in the past 50 years is necessarily the best way to go forward.

I don’t think leaving to form a core group is detrimental for the child’s growth. In fact, I think, it could be much the opposite with some intentionality. Of course this isn’t only an issue with church planters, but for established churches where folks sometimes bolt for a “better” children/youth ministry.

Here are some things I’ve been mulling over in my head. Hopefully they make a little sense.

1.) Many people don’t recognize that the primary place for children’s Christian Education is in the home. Now of course, vital children’s ministries can and should assist parents. And I realize some parents just don’t take responsibility, so a vital children’s ministry is all that some kids get. God is faithful. Nevertheless, if a parent takes the time to disciple his/her children, the child will more often than not grow in his/her faith. Parents + Children’s Ministry + Adult Interaction/Service is not a secret formula but it seems to me more of God’s design for producing young disciples.

2.) If vital children’s/youth ministries were all that were needed, then we would see large percentages of kids connecting to a church when they leave for college. We don’t. The formula of solely running the kids through the grid of activities just doesn’t work. We Christians are a bit slow to recognize thing sometimes. So the lack of a vital children’s/youth ministry at the start-up of a new church will not stunt the growth of our children.

3.) Eventually, as the church gets “up and running,” children’s and youth ministries may take off. And parents then have the opportunity to play a part in their formation. This is one of the “fun” parts of starting new churches. It might just be a short matter of time before such ministries can supplement what you are already doing at home.

4.) Not everyone, and you could argue, not most people are called to form a core group to start a new church. But for those that do, here’s something to think about. Is it possible that leaving behind an existing church to form a new one could actually be a catalyst for growth in your children’s faith? One church planter’s daughter actually asked her Dad, “What’s that building?” It was a church. She just knew the church was God’s people gathered together. It was God’s people, not a building. Can’t put a price tag on that! For us, who left behind a great children’s ministry, we’ve seen our five year old’s faith grow.  We’ve walked around the block before and prayed with the kids that we would meet some new neighbors. When a church plant doesn’t have people or property, you simply have to ask God for just about everything. Things we never asked God for, we now have the opportunity to ask God for with our children. Don’t think that asking God for such things alongside of your children won’t have a big impact in their lives. Not only that, but we regularly teach our five year old that we are starting this church because many folks don’t know Jesus or have a church in this area. Teaching in the context of dreaming and doing.

5.) Before church plants can have fully developed ministries, existing churches can and do play a big role. Other churches may have children’s ministries that are fairly affective because they have the volunteers, the practice, and the facilities. I know of one which assists many parents in the area, yet many of those parents go to different churches. In the same way, such a church can partner and make the church planting process a bit smoother when folks desire such ministries. This may work for a season until something is up and running, or it may just continue to be a valuable asset for years.

In the end, starting a new church, because (not in spite of) it is such a faith stretching endeavor, is full of opportunities for your children to grow in their faith. Being a part of a core group is not for everyone. Please hear me say that. But for those whom God has called to join Him in a specific new work, it could end up actually being the best thing for your children. I’ve seen this time and time again with folks who’ve planted before me.

Meeting church plant needs behind the scenes

One of the things I already knew, but has been confirmed to me over my short church planting life so far, is that you need a ton of people to plant a church. You really do. You need to have a number of folks praying for you. That much is clear and we looked at Jesus reminder to pray to the “Lord of the Harvest” for Him to send out workers during our first core group meeting (Matt 9:36-39). If you want to follow our updates and pray for us, click here. We also need to have a number of folks financially supporting our work; currently we have 30 individuals and 2 churches. If interested in giving, go here. Most obviously, we need to have people actually get involved in the core group meetings who will invite new faces. I already realized all of that stuff before.

But I was definitely ignorant of many of the roles I needed people to play. Here are a few:

Folks outside our core group connecting us to others: A dear friend of ours, who for the time being lives in Bradenton but will clearly never personally be involved in our church plant, has helped us connect with several young families. Who knows what will become of those relationships, but that is how this church is going to grow. I can’t meet enough people on my own through my neighborhood, fishing, gym, Tee-ball, Starbucks, etc. I try and I have met some folks from the aforementioned places, but I’ve realized how much help I really needed. And received.

Folks outside our area connecting us to others: I’ve had several pastors point me to contacts who live in the area. Neither of them live here, but they have sent me emails and phone numbers of people to call. Both of them are directing traffic from afar, and behind the scenes. Yet both have been playing a part that I just hadn’t really thought much about. I needed, still need, and have received such help.

Neighbors: I had a neighbor knock on my door on Sunday morning and let me know I could have people park cars in the neighboring driveway because no one would be home for several months (snowbirds). In addition, he told me he would ask about any possible meeting space in one of the rooms at his Catholic church. And after our core group meeting, one of my neighbors took a look at my on-again-off-again air conditioner. And is still doing so.

So in addition to giving, praying, meeting, there are many ways of participating in a church plant. While ignorant of such need right off the bat, I am no longer so! And I feel there are many needs, and people to meet them, whom I’ve yet to discover.

Lessons from Lost Tarpon: What happens when they actually bite?

Today a good friend of mine took me fishing off the beach for tarpon. If you’re not familiar with the tarpon, it is a large fish regularly exceeding lengths of 6 feet and weights of over 100 lbs. They are quite difficult to catch and to make things even more challenging, my friend uses a fly rod and I throw a lure. 

I had only fished for tarpon off the beach in kayak once, previously with my same friend last summer. But during that excursion, he provided the rod, reel, leader, and lure. He even provided the kayak!

But since I actually live in Bradenton again, there is no reason why I couldn’t bring the kayak, and the gear needed to tackle such a foe. While I had the kayaks, which had been spent the previous three and a half years in hibernation, I did not have all of the “pieces” in place. And I knew it. 

I had some of the pieces. I had a rod which could possibly handle a tarpon, at least for a few minutes (25 min is minimum to bring one in). I had the same kind of lure I had caught tarpon on when growing up fishing Tampa Bay. But tarpon have very rough mouths and so one needs at least 3-4 feet of 60-80 lb test leader line tied directly to the lure.

The only thing I had in my tackle box was 30 lb line, useful for snook. So I went with several feet of that. Why not? I didn’t expect to catch anything. I expected to see my friend catch one.

After we spotted some fish, my friend said, “You cast on these fish. I don’t have as good an angle.” 

So I did, guessing where they would be heading since we had seen them roll at the surface a minute prior. Then the unthinkable happened. As I was bringing in my lure, one of these fish hit and immediately broke the line. I saw the bath tub sized swirl on top of the water and that was it. 

Your goal, or at least your first goal, is to see them jump. After that, everything is a plus. I didn’t even get to feel the rod bend because the line was broken before that even happened. 

The culprit: 30 lb line. My buddy thinks the lure was tied on wrong. Perhaps he was right-though I don’t think so! Regardless, I wasn’t prepared for success. I honestly thought I needed live bait to get a bite (that’s a confession and first sign of repentance from a fishing lure “purist.”)

Why this fishing story? Because as soon as I lost that fish today, I immediately thought about this church plant. I had not expected to get a fish, but rather to see my friend “jump” a fish. That would have been almost as fun. But because I hadn’t expected to catch a tarpon, I didn’t go to the store and simply buy some 60-80 lb leader. Nor did I ask my friend, who actually had some with him. As I write this, I’m quite saddened I didn’t ask him for some. Who knows I may still be hooked up on the same fish?

What happens if this church plant actually “works?” I mean, what if people come to it (since that’s what we’re praying for)? I don’t want to be caught using 30 lb line when there’s a possibility of a 100 lb tarpon. If people do come, and come quickly, then it is important to have things in place. 

How will we disciple people and move them toward spiritual maturity? What does a growing disciple look like? Why will we worship the way we do? How can someone get plugged in to the church? What areas can they serve in the church and in the community? Will there be enough community group bible studies in which to plug them in? What’s the next step after someone, or rather a number of someone’s come? What’s the step after that? What happens if the proverbial tarpon actually hits?

People sometimes ask, “When will you start your church?” I tell them we don’t even have a building yet to meet (though I have had an offer and a good idea where we’ll meet). And that’s a fine question. An established church meets weekly to worship. But there is much preparation that takes place in order to make sure the church is “ready to launch.” We will start it, but like tarpon fishing in a kayak, we need to be prepared for the event that we actually “catch” one.

So in the mean time, we’ll gather people this summer who have any interest in this church, get to know each other, study God’s word, lay down some principles, specifics, and a vision of a gospel driven, maturing, missional, multiplying, worshiping community that blesses the West Bradenton area. I can’t wait. But just as there is joy the night before rigging rods, checking knots, lures (at least for me), there is joy in the preparation and in the dreaming stages too (perhaps why I never sleep well before a 6am fishing trip).

I don’t know that you can ever be completely ready for a church to start more than you can truly be ready for a 100 lb fish to strike your lure and just about rip the rod out of your hands. But you can be prepared. And I’ll/we’ll do our best to be prepared for both.

Provisions by Rain instead of by River

When we read of the journey of God’s people out of slavery in Egypt, the first thing most folks  marvel at is their lack of faith. I sure do. At times, they even mention how it would be nice to head back into slavery so they could eat vegetables (Numbers 11:5). Hmmm….I can’t imagine missing vegetables that much…..But its more than vegetables I think-to be honest they also missed the Tilapia as well-it’s the certainty of veggies. What I mean is that in Egypt, they had a constant water source. A little river called the Nile provided all the water needed to maintain a pretty aggressive agrarian advantage.

In Israel, folks had the Jordan River. Unfortunately it provided next to nothing in regards to irrigation. So they had to rely upon rain from above. 

Now when God’s people finally arrived in Israel, and conquered the land, there wasn’t much talk about going back to Egypt. Instead of wanting to give up, they chased after the fertility god Baal. Either give up or get or another god who could do the trick. Or they could rely upon God to provide for them in the midst of uncertainty. They had to pray for rain. What? Yep, they really didn’t have to do that before. If Egypt had rain gods, they weren’t ones you’d have on speed dial. Now they had to actually pray for rain.

After being down here in FL a week, and having worshiped in a great church this Sunday, it really hit home the fact that I’m no longer have a Nile. I came from land which offered a proverbial Nile, flowing with friends for us, friends for our kids, a great church where I served. It provided a certainty that wasn’t wrong in any sense, but it was a certainty we felt called to leave behind. 

Again, Florida is not the promised land, just as WV wasn’t Egypt. We are extremely excited to have been called back to the area where we feel is really home for us. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed being back and have been thankful everyday for this opportunity to plant a church here. But for our family, and for many who will take the step of faith and join us on this journey, we have no Nile. We won’t be able to see a church right away. We won’t be able to see now what will become of this church plant 2-3 years down the road. We won’t know exactly from where all of our friends, or kids’ friends will come. We won’t know what children’s ministry, and youth group will look like, now.

And so we will be left with only one option: looking up to the heavens, from whence our help comes (Psalm 121). Those things which we could see before, have been veiled for us this season. But that doesn’t mean anything other than God is offering us an opportunity to trust Him for what we can’t see. Things we normally didn’t have to trust him for, we are having to do so now.

It is scary. But it is also pretty cool. Just two nights ago, Connar really wanted to meet some new friends. He had friends galore in WV. We didn’t pray too much for that. But now in FL, we prayed for exactly that. And in one hour, we had an invitation to the beach from a family with a 5 year old. 

I know things won’t always be answered so quickly. And even though it is hard to not have the certainty of a river, it is pretty cool when you see God provide for things you would normally not have prayed for. In the end, there just might be more joy in timely rain than the steady flow of a river. I can’t say for certain because I’m not there yet. But I can only imagine. 

Not everyone is called to leave and start or join a new church plant. In fact, most probably aren’t. But those who support and leave just may find God answering prayers for things they never thought they’d be praying for. And consequently they may just receive more joy in the “ordinary” invitations and opportunities which come by rain instead of by river.