Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Seeing the past. Believing for the future.

I'm tired.

Part of that is because I've been working out with a friend and he starts at 5am.  But in reality, there are moments, days and weeks where I realize how exhausting the last 3 years have been.  However, in those same moments God allows me to reflect on the past, on the adventures that have led to the exhaustion, and it always reminds me of how worth it his mission is.

Three years ago Kelli and I moved to Tacoma with a clear vision to see our city, starting with our neighborhood, saturated with the gospel.  But I'll let you know a secret... we had no idea how to do it!  As I think back, as I look back and see the past, here are some of the things that God has done...

-15 days after we moved-in to our first Tacoma house (on the corner of 19th & L) God gave us the 2 most precious gifts we could have ever received... Jagen & Rylan.

-Over the course of the next 6 weeks we spent most of our time in the NICU with the kids as God started to grow a Bible study into something that would one day become a church.

-During those early days we experienced a lot... fights outside our Bible studies, dropping off members of the group and knowing that they weren't going home... they were finding a side walk to sleep on, shootings, salvation, growth, rebellion, fear, joy... more emotions than I can really even explain.

-We adopted Tiffany into our family... a 17 year old broken, homeless, lost floundering and desperate child.  We opened our hearts, our home and our life to her and through the pain of her year with us, I don't regret it at all... she will always be a part of our family.

-We shared the gospel.

-We saw salvation.

-We started small groups.

-We watched small groups die.

-We served.  A lot.
     -Rescue mission
     -block parties
     -low income housing
     -our neighbors

-Our people began to crave corporate worship so we started gathering a couple times a month.  It was not great.  But even still, God got the glory.

-We were hungry for leaders & God began to provide.

-We didn't want a building.  God gave us one.

-We've married couples.

-We've even buried a husband and father.

-We've baptized.  We love the baptisms.  Changed lives shouting out loud who they are identifying themselves with is a beautiful thing.

-We re-strategized... From Community Groups to Intentional Communities. Not just semantics but a real change in how we lived as the church together.  We wanted to live on purpose.  Together... but for others.  God blessed.

-We've seen growth. Spiritual & numerical.  We've seen decline.

-We've been hurt.  We've been encouraged.

The last 3 years of our lives have been absolutely unreal.  We are exhausted yet so full of energy.  How do I explain that apparent paradox?  I really can't.  It's simply the Holy Spirit doing what the Holy Spirit does.  In our weakness he makes us strong.    So what does the future hold for The Pathway?

The short answer is, "only God knows."  But that's somewhat of a cop out.  Although I don't know exactly what God has planned for our family and our church, I believe it involves radical life change, multiplying disciples and a movement of his Spirit that will bring God so much glory we can't even imagine.  I believe he wants to take the core of people he has been building over the last several years and use us as a foundation piece, a spring board for the gospel to go places in our city that it would never go without them.  None of this will be because God needs us or we've done anything to deserve it.  However he plays out the future it will only be because of his great mercy.

But God promises us that with even small faith he can move mountains.  He says if we delight ourselves in him he will give us the desires of our heart.  I don't know what's best.  God does and I will always submit to his will.  But the desire of our heart is to see the mountain of lostness in Tacoma MOVED by faith in Jesus Christ the righteous.  We are believing that God can do this going forward.

Will you keep believing with us?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

March into April Update

Ministry is definitely not a sprint... it's a marathon.  But in the midst of the marathon of church planting we have realized an occasional sprint is necessary and helpful.  That is what March into April has been for us.  We've asked our church to work extra hard, to put in extra time, to be extra intentional as we have prayed for the Holy Spirit to ignite an extraordinary spark in Tacoma that would send the flame of the gospel rip-roaring across our city!

As we approach our last March into April event this Saturday I want to give you a brief update on what God has been doing but I also want to remind you that as we slow our sprint we are still in the midst of the marathon.  What does that mean?  It means we're not stopping our call to make disciples in Tacoma and we hope that you will not stop praying for the gospel to take root.  God is far from finished and we want to continue to approach him confidently, asking him to bring spiritual awakening in our city.

Community Dinners-- We kicked off our month of outreaches with 2 Community Dinners at a local hot spot called  Masa.  A couple things stood out to me.  First, we were praising Jesus for the turn out at the first dinner.  The place was packed and conversations were great.  You could just sense that God was up to something and that the right people were in the right place at the right time.  Second, the next dinner was anything but packed.  The sign-up for that dinner was smaller but we also had a lot of people simply not show up.  I'd love to give you some intelligent and insightful answer as to why that happened... but I simply don't have one.  God knows.  What I do know, is that our people did not slow down.  They continued to go out of their way to make conversations with folks, make them feel welcome and show the love of Jesus to them.  All in all it was a good start.  But would people come back for the next event?

Pre-launch gathering @ Franklin-- Most of you know that on Easter Sunday we launched or worship gathering at a new location.  We decided to do a trial run the week before which happened to be the Sunday after our Community Dinners.  We were not anticipating many people from the dinners to come to worship the very next morning but that's exactly what happened.  We had quite a few people come and worship with us that first day and it was an awesome day.  We had been down to around 60 in worship and that first Sunday at Franklin we jumped up to 80!!!  Praise God for new people hearing the gospel.

Community Fun Nights-- We hosted Community Fun nights on the Friday and Saturday before our Easter Launch at Franklin.  They both had average attendance.  It didn't blow our expectations out of the water but again, our church took ownership of the mission, engaged new folks in conversation and demonstrated the love of Jesus.  The highlight of that weekend was our Good Friday Worship Night at Franklin.  It was after the Community Fun Night and our worship leader Donna planned and led it.  I told multiple people that it was definitely the best thing our church had ever done.  It was powerful worship and it was focused on the cross.  It was just what we needed after a couple weeks of exhausting outreach.

Easter Launch-- One of the things I tried to remind our leaders is that although Easter has so much potential for folks to hear the gospel and connect to the church, we cannot look at Easter as the finish line.  Easter is merely a launching point for making disciples.  We did a lot of publicity (a lot for us) leading up to Easter and we had our highest worship attendance ever... 103!  But two things stood out that were behind those numbers.  First, there were tons of folks from our March into April events... that's the point right?  Second, we had challenged our church the 6 weeks leading up to Easter to pray for 2 people they were going to invite.  As I walked around introducing myself to people and asking them how they ended up coming to worship, so many told me they were invited by one of our church members!  That is mission in action... praise to Jesus!

Tacoma Goest to the Movies-- So this was the one that was destined to be a disaster if not for the merciful intervention of our Savior!  Right in the midst of March into April we slipped away to Texas for a wedding of 2 of our core team members.  It was amazing time and we spent some extra days visiting with many of our amazing partners.  Somehow in the midst of it my brian was got fried and I thought the movie was 2 Saturdays away.  I got sick at the end of the trip and when I was finally home in bed that Friday, I somehow realized that the movie was the next day!  We had done a good job of communicating the correct info to our March into April guests, but I had not communicated anything to our church.  I put the word out fast & our church responded.  We had a great turn out to go see opening weekend of the movie "42."  Well, more potential disaster loomed as we found ourselves sitting in the theater for an hour and a half before the move ever started... technical difficulties.  By God's grace no one was upset and only 3 people had to leave.  That hour and a half turned out to be wonderful.  I got to meet and talk to so many people I did not know and would not have been able to talk to without that time.  God knew what he was doing even when I didn't!

"Building a Budget" Workshop-- This Saturday is our final event and so far the sign-ups have been strong.  This is outside the box of anything we've ever done before but we're excited about it for the relational opportunities and the practical help it will bring.  We believe that stewardship is part of discipleship and we're excited to have David Bragonier, a financial professional from California coming in to lead this for us.  Please pray that everyone who signed up, shows up and even more people come. We are also having a childcare issue so pray that God works out those details!

Last but not least... While all of these events are incredible, you know that our heart is to be the church.  How does that happen?  First of all people need to experience authentic biblical community... we call it Intentional Community.  We were able to relaunch 2 IC's the weeks following Easter and we were also able to launch  2 brand new IC's!  The turn out for those gatherings have blown us away.  People are hungry to learn, hungry to grow and they are craving discipleship!  The second thing we desire is to see people place their trust in Jesus!  So far we have had 2 public professions of faith this month and we are asking God to open the flood gates.

Thank you so much for your prayers.  Please keep it up.  The Holy Spirit is at work and we believe he is no where near finished!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Easter is NOT the end...

I listened to Andy Stanley's Easter message yesterday and it was way better than mine (surprise, surprise!).  Thankfully, the same Holy Spirit was at work in both our gatherings!  Stanley described the moments and days following Jesus' crucifixion.  Hope was lost.  None of Jesus' followers... not Peter, not John... none of them were sitting outside the tomb on Sunday counting down the moments till Jesus would walk out alive.  Instead they were mourning.  Instead of remembering Jesus' teachings, his promise to rise again, they were broken and afraid.  They believed the crucifixion was the end.  Oh how wrong they were!

You know the rest of the story.  On the third day, Easter Sunday, the women went to the tomb and found nothing but grave clothes and an angel.  Jesus was not dead.  Jesus was and is ALIVE!  And because Jesus rose from the dead, Easter was not the end, it was just the beginning.  The same is true for us today.  So many of us pastors, especially us church planters, view Easter as the pinnacle.  If we can just put on a great show...  If we can just send out the perfect mailer...  If we can just come up with a catchy sermon title.  We put so much effort into this one day.


Well, for good reason I think.  Easter celebrates the day that changed everything!  Easter celebrates and commemorates the day Jesus rose from the dead.  That's a big deal.  And if we can leverage that day and it's popularity in culture to maximize the number of souls that will hear the gospel, I'd say that's well worth it.  But remember the lesson the disciples learned.  Easter is not the end.  While our mission starts with the gospel, our call is only completed when disciples are making disciples.

And that's the challenge I'm personally facing.  I'm trying to remind myself as hard as we've worked, as much as we've poured out, this past Sunday was NOT the end.  It was only the starting point for making disciples who make disciples.

As we gathered together on Easter Sunday morning it was amazing to see as many folks gathered for our pre-service prayer time as we had attending our gathering just a month or so ago.  There was a buzz of excitement.  We were in our new location (praise God for that), our volunteers had their new shirts on, it was resurrection Sunday!  Then I took the greeters around to show them their spots and go over their jobs and people began showing up.  We saw some old faces, but we saw so many new faces.  People had invited friends and family to come and hear the story of the resurrection.  Connections that began at our Community Dinners and continued at our Community Game nights were coming to fruition as people walked through the doors.  God was answering our prayers.

To be perfectly honest, there was nothing extraordinary about the worship gathering on Sunday.  We sang, we taught the Scriptures, we fellowshipped.  But the Holy Spirit was not only there, he had been present and working for some time.  He had been preparing hearts, challenging mind-sets, working to bring the unchurched into the body of Christ.  It was amazing.  We had a record attendance on Sunday and don't get me wrong, I'm incredibly excited about that!  But what I'm more excited about is the fruit that has come from Sunday... because remember, Easter is not the end!

During the response time on Sunday a teenage boy came and told me he wanted to give his life to Jesus.  A first time guest cam and told me he had always heard a message of "works" taught.  This was the first time he had heard a pastor preach on "grace."  The Holy Spirit was moving on resurrection Sunday but that was not the start.  The Holy Spirit has been at work for some time and is continuing to work in ways we see as well as ways we don't see.  And the fruit is coming.

Tonight we re-launched our Intentional Community.  We had been gathering all of our IC's together the last 3 weeks and tonight was the first time we met separately again.  If Easter was not the end, what would God do through our IC?  Would people really respond to the call to be the church instead of simply attending church?  Well, when I got home about 15 minutes before go time there were already multiple people at the house.  By the time it was all said and done we had at least 15 adults and at least 10 children gathered in the name of Jesus, fellowshipping, praying and talking about the life changing power that comes from the resurrection.

Easter is NOT the end.  Our call is to make disciples.  As we continue saturating Tacoma with the gospel and striving to live effectively as Intentional Communities, we are clinging to the belief that the Holy Spirit of God has gone before us, is with us and will continue to move and work long after we're gone.  I cannot wait to see what God has in store for our city.