Friday, December 21, 2012

My Year-in-Review as a Church Planter

Almost five years ago I began serving a church in Port Arthur, Texas as pastor with hopes to bring revitalization through Biblical church reform. There was no agenda, no clandestine plan, just a love for a people and a commitment to preach and put into practice the Word of God. For nearly four years I served the Lord among some precious saints (and some more challenging saints) and the Lord produced fruit. Human expectations were not always met, and that created conflict at times, but I believe God was glorified and the church edified. By the summer of 2011 it was clear my time as pastor there was near the end. The Lord directed my heart to church planting while directing a new shepherd to take up my former pastorate. My wife and I took a lot of wonderful memories with us, and many lessons learned from the difficulties as well. These would serve us well as church planters.

Over the past year the “nuts and bolts” of administration, management, building team and consensus, and relationship building that I learned the previous four years found application in planting Cross Point. This year has been what could be described as the “core group building phase”. I naively thought this phase would take a lot less time than a year but God’s timing is perfect. Including my wife and I, three couples began meeting in each other’s homes for prayer and fellowship. We also met on Sunday nights at the Baptist Hospital for worship. The Lord connected other couples and single adults to us—some popped in and out quickly, others lingered for weeks or months, some committed to help for a year, and some have dropped anchor to be part of sowing the gospel in the city as a missional community.

We launched a Sunday morning worship service in April and in September split our core group into two Community Groups. These groups are the arena for church life and mission to be “fleshed out”. They eat together, play together, pray together, learn together, serve together, and share burdens together. By November we were ready to call for local church membership. At this point some of those core groupers and some of the regular visitors participated in “Starting Point”—our membership class. The charter membership of Cross Point will be officially dedicated on January 13, 2013. Fourteen disciples have committed to be in covenant together as a local church and missional community.

Just a few weeks ago we moved out of the Baptist Hospital and into our own space on Calder Avenue. The historic Alamo Grocery building is in the heart of the Old Town district on Lower Calder. This is where we’ll gather on Sundays and hope this location will be a tool to establish a presence in the neighborhood. Our “grand opening”/ Old Town Launch will be on January 20, 2013. That is MLK Jr. weekend, which is a significant holiday for many residents of the community. We hope to capture the theme of the weekend by celebrating reconciliation in Christ through the gospel.

It has been a hard year but hard is not bad. Church planting has been exhausting at times, discouraging at times, and frustrating at times but mostly it has been a tremendous faith journey, a continual exercise in sanctification, a pipeline for lessons about God’s provision, a gateway to meet some of the most fantastic and beloved people in my life, and an opportunity to see God glorified over and over again.

I dearly love the flock of disciples Christ has entrusted to me—they enrich my life. I dearly love the city Christ has assigned to me—it is just busting with gospel opportunity. I dearly love the people who Christ has put in my path that have not yet had their hearts opened to His Lordship—their unbelief breaks my heart but I’m trusting the Lord to break through! I dearly love my children and that they can grow up seeing the Body of Christ in this way. Some of my best memories have been passing out fliers or painting restroom walls with my son! I dearly, dearly love my wife (in a way unique and above every way I’ve previously mentioned) and that God gave me the most excellent partner in this journey of faith. Chiefly, church planting this year has taught me to dearly love and trust my Savior and Lord Jesus Christ in a more intimate and enduring way. It has been a roller-coaster year but an abundantly blessed one because of Jesus.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Things I've Learned from Blogging

A few things that blogging has taught me over the past five years...

1. Humility. I'm reminded often that my "brilliant thoughts" are not as impressive outside my own mind and not as often read as I might imagine.

2. Vanity is always a temptation. Blogging can feed pride if not careful and if not continually reminded of #1.

3. It has saved my wife from hearing everything on my mind.

4. It helps clarify thoughts and articulate them in brevity.

5. It is a good venting place (though I always had to remind myself that other people could read my vents so I edited my venting often).

6. I change my mind. I like that I can look back and see the development and maturation of my thought and ideas. It has been tempting to go back and delete posts but I've left them up as a reminder that sanctification and maturity is a process.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Resolutions

With the challenges of transitioning our church to a new location over the past three months now over I've had time to reflect and dream about the days ahead. This time of year I'm usually both reflective and in goal-setting mode. After some personal Bible study and prayer time the other I began to lay out resolutions for 2013. I usually put some goals and desires before me and ask the Lord to help me be resolved in following through. This year I was intentional about not just adding things to my life but taking things away. I'm aiming for more simplicity in reading, writing, ministry, spare time/ hobbies, etc. So that means saying goodbye to certain things... like this blog.

I started this blog when I began my pastorate at Memorial Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas. The purpose of it was three-fold. First, it was a place to write. I love writing and need to write. This help me improve that skill and express my heart on various subjects. Second, it was intended to provide resources and encouragement to my church, family, and beyond. I'm not sure how many people pass by to read but occasionally I've crossed paths with those who've been encouraged by the content, so I'm glad to serve in that way. Third, to challenge my church and others who may take a look on certain Biblical convictions, namely (as the title of this blog suggests) for the church to see itself as a culture of sacrifice. We are the redeemed people of God-- made so by the sacrifice of Jesus that provided atonement and justification. We are a new culture, that lives among many cultures, and ought to reflect the person, work, and sacrificial nature of Jesus Christ our Lord.

But it is time to put a pin in this little project and focus my attention on other areas and outlets for expression. For the four or five of you that keep up here (haha) I hope the resources and writings here have edified. I've got one or two posts left in me but nothing past 2012 and the present content will remain indefinitely. Thanks for reading and thank you to those out there that have shared with me what is helpful. May God bless!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday Hodge-Podge (12-18-12)

It has been a while since I've posted links and I hope these are helpful. For past links just do a search for "Tuesday Hodge-Podge" and there are lots to look through.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12-12-12

There are only 9 days left until the Mayan Apocalypse and if that whiffs like Y2K then we'll all be able to enjoy Christmas (unless of course our Lord returns which would be infinitely better). Before Doomsday or Christmas day rolls around though we should celebrate 12-12-12. Such numerical repetition won't occur again until January 1, 2101. I don't expect to be around for that one so I thought I'd celebrate with a few lists of twelve today (no particular order or ranking).

12 Spiritually-impactful books (after the Bible):
  • The Pleasures of God by John Piper
  • The Doctrines of Grace by Jim Boice & Phil Ryken
  • Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever
  • Cur Deus Homo by Anselm
  • Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther
  • Dominion and Dynasty by Stephen Dempster
  • The Servant King by T.D. Alexander
  • Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
  • Knowing God by J.I. Packer
  • Dynamic Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders
  • Desiring God by John Piper
  • Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
12 Spiritually-impactful eating spots (ok maybe not spiritually-impactful but really really good):
  • Black's BBQ-- Lockhart TX
  • Tacos La Bamba-- Beaumont TX
  • Mel's Diner-- Tomball TX
  • Famous Original Rays-- NYC, NY
  • El Tiempos-- Houston, TX
  • Storms-- Burnet, TX
  • Peggy's-- Bridge City, TX
  • Sartins-- Nederland, TX
  • Larry's French Market-- Groves, TX
  • Rockin A-- Beaumont, TX
  • Pappasitos-- Houston, TX
  • Potato Patch-- Houston, TX
12 Favorite "Theologians":
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • John Calvin
  • Martin Luther
  • Augustine
  • D.A. Carson
  • John Owen
  • Charles Spurgeon
  • R.C. Sproul
  • Matthew Henry
  • C.S. Lewis
  • Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  • John Bunyan
12 Great Movies (I'll cheat by including trilogies as one entry):
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy
  • Patton
  • Gladiator
  • The Godfather trilogy (or at least the first two)
  • Hoosiers
  • The Cowboys
  • Lonesome Dove (the exceptional TV miniseries that counts)
  • A River Runs Through It
  • Braveheart
  • Spartacus
  • Star Wars trilogy (episode 4-6 that is)
  • Shawshank Redemption

Monday, November 12, 2012

Best Laid Plans...

Proverbs 21:5 says, "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty."

This is good wisdom. However it does not mean that every well thought out plan works or that everything always goes according to plan. Sometimes missionaries, church planters, and pastors go years before seeing one respond to the gospel and become a true disciple. Sometimes in some places such servants get killed before they ever see any fruit from their service. So this proverb teaches us to be diligent in planning but the whole counsel of God's Word reminds us not to presume upon God or to put one's confidence in those plans.

That past year and a half have not gone just as planned. In many cases they've gone better and sometimes just differently. Back in May 2011 I put together my church planting vision and strategy. I gave it meticulous thought and constant prayer. I sought out counsel and critique. Still, plans change. In August 2011 I shared with the church I had been pastoring in Port Arthur since March 2008 that I sensed the Lord directing my life toward planting a new church in Beaumont. The plan was to help the church prepare for new leadership and ministry while simultaneously putting together a network of churches for financial support and a core group for planting. By the end of 2011 we had a a good network of churches ready to partner with us but our core group consisted of only three families-- mine included!

I was getting nervous. You see according to my plan we would have 6-10 households in our core group who would meet in homes until Fall 2012 and launch a public worship service in a rental space in the Old Town community of Beaumont. Well the Lord stripped my confidence in my plans-- as diligently as they were prepared-- to drive me to faith. It was as though He took my entire timeline, threw it in a bag, shook them up, and spilled them out on the floor!

In January a free building was opened to our three couples to meet in for a year so we started meeting together on Sunday and meeting in homes. This made it easier for people to find us and over time, connect into the core group. So the "core group building phase" shifted from August 2011-December 2011 to January 2012 to the present. Over the last 10 months the Lord has knitted a fantastic planting team together. They have become family to my wife and me. I could have never thrown this group together by last December!

The free space has allowed us to save money for the eventual rental space and to use money for ministry. We finally identified a building that is in the heart of Old Town, very visible and accesible. Once again, plans have been jumbled... we'd planned to be in the building by November 1 but needed repairs to the building and inspections have delayed our transition and temporarily scuttled our planned launch. This has been frustrating but the last 18 months have taught me that the Lord's ways are not always my ways. I'm learning to continue being diligent in planning, hoping and praying for God's abundance, but also to have faith and put my confidence in His perfect plans.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Another ONE

A couple years ago I penned this post about my son turning one. Today my daughter has turned one. She is another evidence of God's grace in my life. I must admit when the ultrasound tech told us we were having a girl I had mixed emotions... fear and panic. Don't get me wrong I wasn't unhappy we were having a girl, though for some illogical reason I'd convinced myself we were having another boy. I was just happy to be having another child and that everything was healthy but having grown up with brothers I had no context for having a little girl in the house. What a delight this first year has been! Fear turned quickly to joy. She's my little sweetheart. I pray daily that the Lord would help me to be a godly man for her to learn from and that He would prepare a godly man for her to marry one day.

Happy 1st Birthday Sweet P!

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