Monday, December 15, 2014

Life as a UPS Man... "Big Dog!!! Run!!!!"

I wanted to give you all an update on the UPS experiment.  I definitely have a new perspective on several things.  First and foremost, no one should ever be allowed to order anything on-line again!!!  Come on people, can't you just go to the store, make your purchase and take it to the person you bought it for?!?! (Of course I'm joking considering we just finished our Christmas shopping... the majority of which was done on amazon.com)

Second-- put your dog on a leash!!!  Seriously people.  I know your dog has "never done that before," "won't bite," and all the other things you say when he charges at me barking and growling and showing me his huge, large over-sized teeth.  But come-on, lets just except that all dogs hate the elegant and fashionable UPS brown.  They just do.  So keep your dog on a leash and be realistic that if you're 110 pounds, a child, or an elderly person, you can't hold the dog back... you just can't.

All that aside, the UPS experiment has been really good.  Kelli and I went into it expecting that it would be an exhausting, challenging 5 weeks and choosing to believe that we could do anything for that amount of time.  And don't get me wrong, after working 11 hours day one I realized I could get aches and pains in and around muscles I never knew existed.  But overall the hours have not been horrible, the job has been challenging but very doable.  My driver has been doing the job for 24 years so I'm learning a lot.  And it's really been an eye-opening reminder of what all of you that work in the "real-world" experience day in and day out.

I think high school was the last time I heard the "f-word" as many times as I've heard it over the last 2 weeks.  The world needs Jesus.  UPS needs Jesus.  My driver needs Jesus and I know that so many of the people you work with day in and day out need Jesus.

I want to close with a challenge and a request:
1) The challenge is to persevere.  I know I'm the last person in the world who should say this because I will go back to doing my "ministry" job when the Christmas season is over, but I want to encourage you to stick with your job in the world.  You are light.  You are hope.  You are exactly what the people you work with need and you have the message they need to hear... the gospel.  Hang in there and intentionally pursue the lost around you with the gospel.

2) The request is to pray for me as I seek to be that intentional light for my driver Tony.  I'm praying big prayers.  I'm praying for gospel opportunities.  I'm praying that the Holy Spirit would move in his life.  I'm praying that after 23 Christmas' with UPS, this would be the Christmas God uses to change his life forever!

Thanks for your prayers.  Two and a half more weeks in brown!

Please also pray for The Pathway.  We have been seeing growth and an influx of young families.  It is exciting and we're praying that God continues to move.  Please pray for Together: Christmas that will be happening on Christmas Eve.  We're bringing all our Intentional Communities together for a big family dinner, reading the Christmas story and some caroling.  Praying it will be a time of family, worship, celebration, fun and unity!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Adventures in Church Planting: The UPS Experiement

U.P.S.

Those 3 letters mark the beginning of a new experiment for our family and church.  Today I start a seasonal job as a "driver helper."  I told Jagen and Rylan I'm basically Santa's helper!  Our attitude about this experiment? Gratitude.  We're so thankful that God has given me the opportunity to do 3 things over the next 5 weeks:

1) Put something fresh and new on my resume in case I need to work another job part-time or full-time in the future.

2) Be proactive in our personal and church finances.  I feel like so many lessons I've learned are a result of the pain and struggle of the planters that have gone before me.  I've seen so many planters struggle financially and have to react to unexpected or unplanned budget shortfalls.  My first week in Washington I helped a planter pack up and go back "home."  I've seen planters search hard for jobs but find themselves unqualified for anything other than pastoral ministry.  I've seen planters lose income, lose their homes and lose the church God called them to plant and pastor because of financial hardships.  I'm thankful for the opportunity to be proactive in our approach to church & personal finances.

3) I'm thankful to be able to relate to the people I pastor in a new and fresh way.  For the most part the people in our church work hard... really hard.  They don't work typical 9-5 jobs.  They balance two jobs.  They make minimum wage.  I can speak to them about the struggle, perseverance, hard work, doing everything for the Lord.  But at the end of the day, being a pastor is not like what they do.  It's harder in some ways.  It's easier in some ways.  But it's completely different.  I'm thankful to have gone out and applied for a job, interviewed for that job, and I get to work that job.  I get to balance 2 jobs, family, my own personal walk with Jesus, my own personal mission field.

At the end of the day, we're grateful for all the ways that God cares for our family.  I'm thankful to be able to work physically and emotionally.

We're calling it an experiment for a reason.  We don't really know what to expect.  Please pray for us as I work long days and Kelli bears and even heavier load than normal with our home and kids.  Pray that God uses this opportunity for his glory and ultimately to grow his kingdom over the long haul.

I'll keep you posted!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Vision Accomplished... but definitely not finished!

I feel like there is a lot of conversation in the world in general and church planting circles in particular regarding vision and mission.

What is vision?

What is mission?

Are they the same?

Are they necessary?

I definitely don't have perfect answers to these questions, but I do of course have opinions and lessons learned.  I read a book by Andy Stanley years ago called Visioneering that I highly recommend.  It impacted me in a huge way as I approached casting and pursuing vision in the context of The Pathway church.

In his book, Stanley defines vision this way... Vision is the belief that something could be, fueled by the conviction that it should be.  

This definition has stuck in my mind over the years and has helped me with vision clarity, vision casting and most importantly it has helped me battle vision drift (not perfectly, but effectively).

In short... for me personally and The Pathway church as a whole... clear vision is helpful and non-negotiable.  Even having a cheesy vision statement has helped us keep our eyes on the ball, work hard going after the same things... unity... and knowing when to adjust and when to celebrate.

The first part of this post is for celebrating.  Specifically for celebrating God, his grace, his power and what he has accomplished in Tacoma, through The Pathway over the past 5 years.  My hope is the second part of the post will help you know where The Pathway's going, how we believe we can get there and how you can pray for us moving forward.

Vision Accomplished.  How can I make that statement?  We're definitely not finished.  Jesus hasn't come back yet.  Our church is not financially self-sustaining.  We haven't seen gospel saturation in Tacoma's 8 neighborhoods.  There's so much more to do so how can I write, with a straight face, vision accomplished.

I think sometimes Christians get used to setting goals and casting lofty vision, assuming that it will never be accomplished.  Well, for me, that's not the point of vision.  Vision is something that we aim for.  It's something that can be accomplished and that needs freshening and recasting over time.  For churches and Christians, mission never changes. Our mission is to make disciples.  We can state that in a million different ways, but that's our mission.  Not because I said so, but because Jesus said so.  He's God so I think we should do what he says!

The Pathway's vision statement over the past 5 years reads like this: We want to be a church with beautiful feet (Romans 10:14-15) committed to walking with our city down The Pathway of life by serving  our communities intentionally, sharing the gospel with those we serve, showing people how to grow in Jesus and sending ordinary missionaries to start new Intentional Communities and new churches in Tacoma and beyond.

That statement has kept us focused for years.  As I tried to seek God for the future of The Pathway, he clearly said, Vision accomplished. 

By his grace we have become a church known for serving people and serving them well.

For God's glory alone we have seen a church birthed by sharing the gospel with people personally, passionately, clearly and regularly.

Although not perfectly, we've seen people learn how to grow in Jesus by living life with an Intentional Community and through one-on-one and small group discipleship relationships.

And, by God's working alone we have been able to send out numerous groups of people to birth new Intentional Communities, we sent our first 3 missionaries on a short term trip to South Africa in February and we were able to launch out Tommy Abbott to start The Way in Seattle's U-district.

Wow!  In all of that there have been successes and failures, victories and defeats, joys and sorrows.  But most importantly, God's kingdom has grown and his glory has been made known!

What now?

New vision... remember, we're not even close to finished!

I've prayed and prayed about the direction of our church.  After talking with our leaders, getting input and feedback and most importantly after hearing from God through an extended time of silence and solitude... the Spirit has crafted a fresh vision.

If you're really interested I'd encourage you to listen to our 4 part vision series at www.thepathwaytacoma.com.

In short, here's what we believe could be and should be through The Pathway in Tacoma over the coming years.

Vision Statement:
The Pathway exists to reflect God’s glory and make disciples by becoming a reproducing church in 5 specific areas. We are committed to reproducing disciples, reproducing leaders, reproducing Intentional Communities, reproducing worship gatherings and reproducing churches in Tacoma, across the nation and throughout the world.

Reproduction.  That's the word we've been sharing with our church and it's what I hope will capture our hearts and minds over the coming years.  It's what we believe could be and we are literally being fueled by the conviction that it should be. Our ultimate goal is to reflect God's glory and the way we believe we can best do that is to make reproduction our aim.  If it's good and God glorifying we want to reproduce it.

But how?

Mission statement:
We exist to reflect God's glory by reproducing disciples through Intentional Community.

The mission is how we accomplish the vision.  We believe we can accomplish our vision most effectively as we engage in and whole heartedly pursue Intentional Community.

Please pray for us and with us as we go hard after Reproduction as a means to reflecting God's glory to a city and a world who desperately needs Jesus!
 

Monday, October 20, 2014

5 years


I cannot believe that we have been planting The Pathway in Tacoma for 5 years now.  Unbelievable.  What an epic journey Jesus is continuing to take us on.  It was actually 6 1/2 years ago that God called our family to help plant churches in the Pacific Northwest.  How young and crazy we were!  We came to Seattle for the first time in the fall of 2007 and by January of 2008 we had loaded up everything in our double-wide, jumped in the cab of our U-haul... me, Kelli and Addie (our then 2 year old pup) and began this incredible adventure.

No kids.  No fear.  And no clue what we were doing!

After a year and a half internship helping to plant Lifepointe Community Church in Snoqualmie, WA, we once again packed our things, this time just a 2 bed-room apartment worth of belongings, and headed south to Tacoma.  We still had Addie (and still do), but this time there were 2 little babies in Kelli's big ole' tummy!

We thought we were being so smart, so on the ball, and so prepared by moving November 1st.  After all, the twins weren't due until January!  Can anyone say "naive?"  Two weeks after spending our first night in Tacoma, Jagen and Rylan decided the womb was no place for them.  Looking back, we had no idea how crazy things were.  Kelli's water broke while we were spending the night at a friends apartment back in Snoqualmie.  We made the 45 minute drive from Snoqualmie, to the hospital a mile from our house in Tacoma, not knowing that was where we would be spending the next 6 weeks of our lives!  The kids were tiny, they were 9 weeks early, and we were just going with the flow.

We began our time in Tacoma with a vision.  It was based on Roman's 10.  In vs. 1 Paul writes... My hearts desire and my prayer to God is for their salvation.  I just remember that verse being the anthem of my life.  There was no denying that God brought us to Tacoma.  There was no arguing that he had called us to plant The Pathway church.  Everything in our hearts were beating for life change.  We fully understood, and still understand, Paul's heart in writing that particular sentence.  Everything in us wanted to see salvation for a city full of people that we did not know.  Not just that we didn't know everyone in the city.  We didn't know anyone in the city.  But we loved them.  We still do.

Later in Romans 10:13-15 Paul writes... Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in him in whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without someone preaching?  How will they preach unless they are sent?  As it is written, how beautiful our the feet of those who bring the good news!

From this passage of Scripture flowed a vision statement that has carried us for 5 years.

We want to be a church with beautiful feet, committed to walking with our city down The Pathway of life by:
Serving our communities intentionally
Sharing the gospel with those we serve
Showing believers how to grow and 
Sending ordinary missionaries to start new Intentional Communities 
and new churches in Tacoma and beyond.

It's been amazing to see this vision become a reality.  We've literally have learned to walk with our city through life, learning who they are, becoming a part of the city and learning what their needs, desires and beliefs truly are.  We've served our tails off any and every way we know how.  From meeting tangible needs, to throwing block parties, partnering with local non-profits and getting our hands dirty with our neighbors.  We have seen a church grow with a passion and resolve to serve selflessly no matter how we are treated in return (Philippians 2).  

We've grown tremendously in sharing the gospel.  We've seen God change lives because of the hope of the gospel.  We've seen the addicted find recovery.  We've seen the recovered find purpose.  We've seen the nominal Christian find intentional mission.  We've seen the lonely and isolated individual find family in Christ.  We've seen the gospel infiltrate our city, by God's grace,  through the hands, feet and mouths of our church.  Unbelievable.

We've seen believers grow.  Sometimes I get so frustrated and feel like so much more should have happened by now.  But when I step back, breathe, and get some perspective, I think... WOW!  Look what you've done Lord.  We've seen disciples make disciples.  We've seen people who had never heard John 3:16 learn it, believe it and share it.  We've seen people who did not know sex outside of marriage was less than God's best decide on their own to honor God through repentance and then marriage.  We've seen folks who never thought they could lead or teach, lead and teach.  We've seen so many people grow in so many different ways.  

Make no mistake... all of this is by God's grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone!

We've even been amazed to see God allow us to raise up and send-out ordinary missionaries (by ordinary I mean folks just like you and just like me).  We've launched new Intentional Communities in multiple neighborhoods committed to serving and sharing the gospel.  We were even a part of launching a new church focusing on University students in Seattle called The Way.  The church plant ended up not making it, but it was an incredible act of trust in the Lord on the part of all involved.  Lessons were learned, faith was grown and you better believe we're not done planting churches.  We were even able, by God's grace alone, to send 3 ordinary missionaries to South Africa last year to partner in sharing the gospel with a people who so desperately need good news!

It's been an amazing ride and it is so incredibly far from over.

We believe that God has accomplished the original vision he gave us for planting the gospel in Tacoma.  We believe he's done that and we believe he can do so much more!  We've learned, we've grown, our faith has been tested and our God has remained faithful.  As I've prayed and sought God's direction over the last several months and really even the last year, one word has continued to come into my mind and heart as God has provided a fresh vision and a renewed passion.  Its the word on the graphic at the top of this post... Reproduction.

This Friday and Saturday is our Leadership Retreat.  Please pray for the leaders of The Pathway as we cast vision, ask questions, pray, dare to dream big and more importantly dare to put our faith in a God who does big things!  Pray for unity, passion, direction and resolve to see Reproduction happen.  Finally, please pray as we launch our vision series the first Sunday in November and cast this new, fresh, gospel-centered vision to our church.  It will be an exciting time.  

Please pray that people show up, bring family and friends, get excited, take action and begin to Reproduce for the glory of God!

I can only imagine (Ephesians 3:20), if the Lord has not yet returned, what we will be celebrating in October of 2019!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Margin for Unexpected Ministry

I'm trying to figure out the most effective way to give you a glimpse into my world today.  I always feel like full disclosure is the best approach even if it occasionally means my blogs come across a bit choppy.  Hopefully you agree.

First of all, I have been graced to be raised up as a church planter in what I believe to be one of the most exciting times of church planting in our nations history.  There is a focus on church planting like never before.  Part of that is because of the advancement of technology.  Everywhere I turn there's something new to learn, read, watch or study.  It's incredible.  There is a deep well of tools and seasoned experience from which to draw from... and it can all be a bit overwhelming.

One of the things I've been struggling with over the last 6 months to a year is what can be best referred to as "pulling the trigger."  It doesn't really matter what I need to pull the trigger on.  It could be a small project, creating the most efficient to-do list, deciding who God is calling me to invest my life, time and energy into, or coming up with a strategy for the next phase in the life of our church.  I get somewhat gun shy because I've read so many warnings, so many well-meaning planters and pastors sharing all the monumental mistakes they've made and so many experienced ministers telling me "exactly how to do this thing" or "exactly how not to do that thing."  The trouble is, more often than not the "tried and true" advice of one person contradicts the "tried and true" advice of the next.

The result?  I find myself over thinking everything and accomplish little to nothing.  Not a good place to find yourself when pursuing the glory of God and the advancement of his mission in this world.

All that being said, there is something that I have heard everywhere, over and over, in different forms, but conveying the same basic wisdom from more pastors, leaders and church planters than I can count.

What's their advice?  What's their challenge?

Retreat regularly.

Now that almost seems impossible for many of you.  How on earth can you retreat on a regular basis?  I believe many of us don't even know what a true retreat looks like.  We feel like wherever we go we have to have something to do.  We have to buy tickets, attend conferences, be entertained and we can't imagine escaping technology for even a few hours, much less a few days.

But for some reason, even in the relatively short time I've been in ministry, the advice has stuck with me.  Maybe it's because I have a great wife who gently (most of the time) reminds me that when I pour myself out without filling myself up I will eventually burn myself out.  Maybe it's because for every passionate and on fire pastor I meet I seem to meet 5 who are exhausted, overweight, bitter and burned out.  Maybe it's because I've seen too many church planters burn the candle at both ends so to speak at the cost of their marriage, family or just as seriously, their joy.

Or maybe, just maybe, this lesson has stayed with me by the grace of God.

Whatever the reason, retreating, by myself, every year is something I have made a habit of.  My bride is so amazing (most of you know that).  This year we were coming off a particularly stressful and hectic season and I just didn't feel like it was the right time to leave.  I told her I felt like I should cancel and she assured me that it was necessary for me to go... not just for me, not just for our family or our church... but for God to get the most glory out of what we are pursuing together as a family and a church.  She sent me on my way and I'm so thankful she did.

I could tell you so many things that God did in those couple of nights away.  He allowed me to read an incredible book called The Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Gifts by Sam Storms.  I highly recommend it.  He let me go for 2 runs... one on the beach.  He let me sleep the entire night through... twice!  He let me get healthy when I had been battling some pretty serious crud.  He let me pray.  He let me plan.  He let me dream, dream again and then dream bigger.  He let me write.  He let me read and meditate on his Word.  He granted me rest, peace, hope and joy.  It was a sweet time.

But of all those wonderful things, there is one thing he taught me that stands out above the rest.  It's not overly deep or profound, but it was an incredibly important message for me to hear.  It went something like this: SLOW DOWN STUPID! 

Such a simple message.  Such a truthful message.  I, like many of you I'm sure, tend to fill my plate too full.  I try to save the world all by myself (I'm pretty sure there's a King named Jesus who has that covered by the way).  I try to please everyone.  I hate to say "no" to anyone.  I like to have fun and do the things I enjoy, so I always make time for that.  I get up early, I stay up late and somehow in the midst of it all I figure out how to procrastinate.  I fall behind.  I try to catch up.  And before you know it I'm go 95 mph in 12 different directions spending the majority of my time on the things that matter the least.

What's the result?  There's probably too many to list, but in short, I don't have time for people who don't know Jesus.  I don't have time for divine appointments, for meeting needs, for praying for unexpected requests.  I just end up with no margin in my life.  And in reality, all the things I spend my time doing are farther from the heart of God than if I were just to make time to love a broken person.

So what am I going to do?  It's pretty crazy.  It's radical.  It's almost unimaginable.  I'm going to slow down!  Seriously.  I'm asking the Spirit of God to intervene in my life in a miraculous way.  I'm asking him to give me the courage to make time for people.  To trust him with the details, the to-do lists and the plans, and when there's a need... I want to meet it.  When there's a request... I want to pray for it.  When there's an unbeliever... I want to share Christ with them and when there's a brother or sister in Christ... I don't want to be too busy for them.

How is this possible you ask?  My best conclusion is... it's not! That is, it's not, apart from the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit.  But thankfully, I have access to both of those.  And you do too, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone!

In summary... Make sure you have margin in your life for unexpected ministry! 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Paradox of The Pathway

The Pathway has never really done things by the book.

In the world of church planting, it is commonly said that you will always reach people that look like you.  Ha!  I think we blew that possibility out of the water when we moved to Tacoma.  From day one God drew us to people, and he drew people to us, who look absolutely nothing like us.  From background and economic status to race and religious heritage (or lack thereof), God has connected us with a diverse bunch of people, very few of whom look like me or Kelli.

Growth.  In "typical" church planting (whatever that means!), summers are always a difficult time.  I'm sure that's true for established churches too.  Rhythm's are broken.  Vacations are taken.  Attendance drops.  Consistency wanes.  Giving goes down.  But of course, for The Pathway, that's never been the case.  Summer has always been an incredible opportunity to embrace the patterns of summer and maximize the opportunity to do life with each other, engage new people and see people decide to make biblical community a part of their new routines.  This summer has been no exception to that.  We've seen doors open, the vibrancy of our gathering increase and more and more people connect to the community of believers.

The list could go on but for some reason I assumed that while we don't follow any other normal patterns of church planting, we would follow the pattern of renewed consistency and momentum heading into the fall.

WRONG!!!

What was I thinking?!?!  Why would we do that by the book when we do nothing else by the book?  The last 2 weeks have proven to be somewhat "slow," for lack of a better term.  I think people are still clinging to what's left of summer.  Getting kids back into school certainly drains parents and kids alike.  Overall, our worship gathering has decreased in attendance rather than increased and from a cursory look at our Intentional Community gatherings, attendance is sparse as well.

All this to say... pray for consistency.  Not just in the Sunday gathering, although I want people to long for and value that time, but also in community.  Pray for people to consistently do life together, consistently make disciples (and become disciples), consistently serve, give, love and worship.  Pray for people to see the need for disciple-makers, Intentional Community hosts and Intentional Community leaders.  Pray that our church, starting with myself, would embrace the call of God on all of us to be missionaries for the gospel in our own world, our own neighborhood and even in our own homes.

We're learning to be the church together.  We're learning the rhythm's of life together.  It's messy and it's fun but it is never ever "typical!"

Monday, September 8, 2014

One of those moments

I had one of those moments Sunday night.  It was a good moment.  It was a sweet moment.  It was one of those moments where God reminds you that he is at work in big ways.  He's at work in God-sized ways, doing God-sized things that for the most part I will never know about or comprehend.

I've shared on this blog before that 2014 is a year of focused and intentional congregational prayer for The Pathway.  By God's grace he gave us a reminder at the end of last year that we are really good at working hard.  We're really good at serving our communities, hosting block parties, moving people and meeting needs.  But we're not so good (mainly because I've led poorly in this area) at slowing down and asking the God of the universe to move in power, to change lives and to see God's kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

We definitely don't have it all figured out, but the first Sunday of every month this year we've committed to coming together as a church to pray for the spiritual healing of our city.  It's not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination.  At times it's down right frustrating and discouraging.  Prayer is hard.  For the most part we don't have a big turn-out.  Overall our numbers have been decreasing as the year has progressed.

Sometimes it's hard to focus.  We bring our twin 4 year olds with us.  Try praying for an hour with 4 year olds!  For us it really doesn't happen.  We make it as long as we can (usually 30 minutes), praying together as a family for our friends and neighbors.  Coaching our kids in what it means to pray, why it's a crucial part of life and the powerful affect it has.  Then either myself or Kelli takes the kids home while the other parent stays and continues to pray.

One of the stations we have set-up at the concert of prayer is really just a row of poster boards.  All year long we've been writing names on those poster boards.  But they're not just names, they're souls. They're human lives who need to be radically changed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We write names every month and then we pray over those names.  It doesn't matter if we know them or not, God knows them and is honored by our prayers for them.

Last night was when I experienced one of those moments.  To be honest, my prayer time had not been incredibly deep and passionate.  It was a struggle.  But I made my way over to the poster boards as I do every month, kneeling next to them, and asking God to move in the lives of the people as I read their names in prayer.  I began reading names and then I saw my own handwriting.  The name of a man named Paul who our summer interns had met and served as they sought to saturate their apartment complex with the gospel.

I had attended a few of the intentional cook-outs our interns put together and that's where I met Paul.  We struck up a conversation and I asked him for his phone number (one of the most awkward, yet absolutely crucial parts of missional living... asking another dude for his number).  The interns continued to love on him and I reached out to him.  I prayed for him, had lunch with him and God started to soften him and work in his life.

The reason it was one of those moments, is that as I came to Paul's name on the list, I looked over my shoulder and there was Paul, sitting at another station in the room, praying.  Paul is still wrestling with God over many issues in his life, but God is moving.  Paul is now a part of my Intentional Community and becoming a friend. God is moving in people's lives.  Prayer works.  Lets not ever forget that!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Stepping up

I shared a few months back that we seemed to be having a mass exodus of leaders moving out of state due to job changes.  It really wasn't all that many people but when you have 6 Intentional Communities and the leaders and/or hosts from 3 of them move, it can be a scary challenge.  As I mentioned in that blog, God gave me an unusual peace about it all.  Usually I freak out about these types of things.  We have a hard enough time raising up leaders as it is.  But God is so good and thankfully he is sovereign.  I don't have to know his will or figure out his will in order for his perfect will to be done.

We're about a month removed from the last leaders to leave and not only are we surviving, we seem to be thriving.  Chase and Kyler Phillips and Chris and Rachel Croft were fantastic leaders.  The mark of their leadership is that when they left, and before they left, new leaders were already stepping up.  Of course it's not without challenges, but it's been cool to observe from a distance how the groups saw the challenges, embraced the challenges and are growing through the challenges.  Praise Jesus!  We lost our host, Deidra Delgado, to a move to South Dakota.  It gave us the opportunity to move back to a mission field we had thought was not going to bear much fruit and already we're seeing opportunities and open doors.  God knows what he is doing!

The two prayer requests I want to leave with you today are the following:
1) Pray for more Intentional Community Leaders & hosts.  We had 94 people at our gathering yesterday and we only have 5 Intentional Communities.  That's simply not enough groups to assimilate people into community.  We have also had an interesting influx of soldiers and families from joint base Lewis/McChord.  We need to see an Intentional Community birthed there.  I have ideas of who could host it, not idea who would lead it... but God knows!  Please pray for open doors.

2) Pray for volunteers to step up in September.  We are spoiled in the summer because we don't have to set-up and tear-down our worship gathering because school is not in session.  Well, school starts next month so we are recruiting volunteers and developing a new system with new leaders.  It's always a challenge because when it comes to gatherings, people often just think it happens.  They don't realize all the work and prayer and preparation that goes on behind the scenes to provide an environment to worship without distraction, a hospitable culture that welcomes new folks in and a children's environment that safe and engaging.  We're in the recruiting process now and it's natural to be getting excuses!  Please pray that our people would be so passionate about worshipping Jesus together that they would be willing and executed to rearrange their routines to make it possible.  Please also pray that by this time next year we would be launching a second worship gathering so that even our KiDCity volunteers would be able to gather for worship every single week.


Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Whirlwind.

KiDCity kiddos singing "J is for Jesus" after an awesome week of Kids Club
Whirlwind.  I think that's the best word I can use to describe the end of June and the entire month of July.  Eight mission teams, 6 interns, at least 6 block parties, partnership with 2 local non-profits, more hours of prayer than can be counted, 4 nights of Kids Club and our first ever parenting class called Equip: Parents.

I think our natural tendency is to shout the praises of our God, proclaim that what he has done is good and then collapse in exhaustion, satisfied that the task has been completed.  In reality though, that would be a horrible blunder on our part.  In fact, the task has only just begun.  

Prayers were lifted that God would bring the spiritual healing of our city and there is still much to happen in that regard.  The Kids club and parenting class were carried out in an effort to partner with parents in discipling their kids and that is only one piece in a multi-faceted, life-long discipleship process.  The block parties, cook-outs and service project partnerships were done in an effort to love our city well and find persons of peace who want to be a part of seeing the kingdom of God come on earth as it is in heaven.  Now it's time to build into those persons of peace and spiritual sojourners so the kingdom will in fact grow in Tacoma.

The work is far from over and we need your prayers.  We've realized that we are at a crossroads as a church.  We are no longer at a size where we can fly by the seat of our pants and handle everything as it comes.  We're realizing that in order to effectively equip leaders, make disciples and multiply Intentional Communities, we have to implement systems that are clearly defined for people to walk through as they grow in Christ and play their role in the body.

But where do we start?  Do we begin with our Family ministry system, what I believe is one of the most important things we do in equipping parents to raise up the next generation to know and follow hard after Jesus?  Do we start with our financial system so that we can raise up a community of extravagantly generous followers of Jesus as well as providing people the confidence that the church is being a great steward of the resources we have?  Do we start with our discipleship system?  Our volunteer system?  Our leadership development system?  Our assimilation system?  Our worship team system?

You get the point.  There are so many places to grow and systems to implement, the tendency is to get overwhelmed and accept the status quo.  But if we accept the status quo we won't grow.  And if we don't grow that means disciples aren't being made.  And if disciples aren't being made, God's mission is not being accomplished and that's simply unacceptable!  

Please take a good look at the kids in the picture at the beginning of this post.  They are the vessels that will carry hope to the next generation.  That hope is the gospel and we want them to know it, be raised in it and be saturated by it.  Please pray that as we follow-up with all that God did this summer and as we seek to wisely implement the right systems in the right ways at the right time, that God would pour out his grace, grow his kingdom and empower us to keep our eyes fixed on him every single step of the way.

Thank you so much!

Monday, July 28, 2014

What a summer!

Fail.

I'm pretty sure that's the best word to describe my attempt to fulfill my end of this blogging relationship.  You can't read and pray if I don't write and post.  Sorry about that.  Let me share with you a bit of what's been going on.

Mission Teams:

I'm going to jump in the "old church van" in just a little while to go pick up our 8th and final mission team from the airport.  Please be praying for Humble Area First Baptist Church as they lead our Kids Club for the second year in a row.  Last year I believe we had around 25 kids a night. This year we already have around 70 pre-registered!  Glory to God!  Please pray that this would be an incredible opportunity to partner with our families in making disciples of their children.  Please also pray it would be an incredibly fruitful connection point for many of the families in our community.  Our heart is that they would experience the gospel in all it's fullness and the Holy Spirit would change them in a powerful way.

Humble is our final team but God has been rocking our community this month through the 7 teams that came before them.  In brief, we had 2 teams per week for 3 weeks come and serve with us.  Two teams focused on the Hilltop, the neighborhood where The Pathway started and where my family lives and 3 of our Intentional Communities currently gather and serve.  Two teams focused on the neighborhood around Franklin Elementary where we have our Sunday gathering and 2 teams focused on the North End, a new neighborhood for us but where we already have 2 Intentional Communities gathering.

What do I mean by focus?  Quite simply the teams adopted the neighborhood for the week.  They prayer walked the neighborhood almost every day.  They dove into what we call "Gospel Saturation."  That is, after they prayer walked with their eyes open, asking God to show them people and needs, they went out and met those needs.  One example was a family on the North End who needed a HUGE tree trimmed and some yard work done.  By God's grace one of the team members was a professional tree trimmer so he bought a chainsaw and knocked it out.  The family happened to own a sail boat so they took the team out sailing on their final day in Tacoma.  It was a beautiful and God-ordained connection.

One of the teams who was focusing on the North End seemed to also unofficially adopt a local frozen yogurt shop as their mission field.  That's where they met Tanya and Faith (pictured above).  Tanya is a single mom and Faith has special needs that the doctors have not been able to fully diagnosed.  Faith can't communicate verbally and she's in a wheel chair but she has one of the most precious smiles I have ever seen.  The team bought mom and daughter Frozen Yogurt and invited her to The Pathway's block party.  She told them she felt like God was trying to tell her something because some of her neighbors keep inviting her to The Pathway's gatherings and block parties... imagine that!

Well sure enough, Tanya and Faith came to the a party where she immediately recognized Gene (also pictured above).  When she found out Gene was a part of The Pathway she knew God was up to something.  She had multiple days of sweet fellowship with the mission team, has come to 3 block parties and visited our Sunday gathering.  When she came to the gathering she also realized she knew my wife Kelli from time spent with the kids at the zoo.  God definitely knows what he's doing!  Please pray that Tanya and Faith will connect to Intentional Community!

All in all the summer has tilled up an abundant opportunity for spiritual harvest.  We have tried to make the foundation of the entire summer a movement of prayer.  God has been honoring that and we have seen him move in a unique way.  Two Sunday's ago we had 113 people at our Sunday gathering and that does NOT include any mission teams.  Yesterday we had 96 on what was one of our lowest Sundays last year!  Please be praying that these new folks would quickly connect to Intentional Community where we are confident they will connect to the gospel.

Intentional Community
Speaking of Intentional Community.  Please be praying for our Intentional Communities to grow.  We really focus on 3 areas of growth as an IC... Communion with God, Community with each other, and Mission among our target neighborhood.  The last month has been a time of good-byes for us.  Two of our IC Leaders, Chris and Rachel Croft moved their family to Nevada and 2 more, Chase and Kyler Phillips, moved back to their home state of Oklahoma.

Normally I would panic about such things but God has provided so beautifully and new leaders have already stepped up.  That being said, we need more people who understand the heart of Intentional Community to be willing to lead and host IC's.  Please pray that God would bring leaders for the harvest that he has been working on this summer.

The picture to the right is of my family's Intentional Community.  We gathered yesterday to have a good-bye party for one of our families who are moving to South Dakota.  We are sad to see them go but I'm excited to see how God uses them in their new home.  I'm certain he has big plans for them.  I posted this picture on Facebook today and my sister sent me the following text:

Just saw a pic of your IC on Facebook. Every time I see these pictures I am AMAZED at what God has done with the Pathway. Do you remember when it was just an idea??? Be encouraged- He is doing awesome things!!!

I definitely remember when it was just an idea.  And as I told my sister Amber, I hope I never forget the days of inviting people intentionally into community and repeatedly being rejected, stood-up, taken advantage of and stabbed in the back.

Does that still happen?  Of course.  But by God's grace he has provided some incredibly loyal brother's and sister's in Christ to walk with us through the hard and to join us in celebrating the good. Thank you Jesus for Intentional Community!  Please pray that God would multiply us!

Monday, June 23, 2014

Tacoma Orphans

I'm sitting in my office right now listening to a bunch of college students from Ada, OK talking about meatball sandwiches & Pringles as they get ready to head to the YMCA for a shower before going to sleep on small air mattresses on a hard floor... and I love it!  We actually have two mission teams here right now from FBC Charlotte, TX and Trinity Baptist in Ada, OK.  They just wrapped up a day of serving our local Boys and Girls Club, volunteering at a low income apartment complex, prayer walking our neighborhood and having an intentional cook-out at the park where they'll be hosting a block party on Friday.  But through all the hard work, communal showering and bad air mattresses, no one is complaining.  They are all here to serve Jesus and I am excited to see how Jesus responds!

Last night I sat on the floor at the spot during our mission team orientation.  Stacie Hooks has led a solid team from our church in planning and preparing for the mission team and all the ways they'll be serving while they are here.  It was not that long ago that if something was going to get done, led, planned or organized, I had to do it.  I'm so blessed now to be surrounded by so many people who are sharing the load and carrying the mission forward.

As I listened to Stacie talk to the mission team and go over the schedule I was humbled to think of how God brought Stacie to our church.  She was actually a crazy young college student who I hired when I worked at Camp WOW years ago.  She came to serve with us here in Tacoma for a few weeks and she's now been here a few years.  Up next was Kyler Phillips.  She was sharing with the team about some service projects they would be doing this week.  As I listened to Kyler talk I was in awe.  She's a passionate and confident young woman who has lived in Tacoma for two years with her husband Chase.  But I will always remember Kyler as the nervous, passionate, excited summer intern who came to Tacoma full of questions about life, ministry and church planting.

Then came Jason Downing.  Jason was actually an intern with another church plant 5 years ago just south of Tacoma.  I happened to know the planter and he let us "borrow" Jason one day a week as we learned our new city and began to plant the gospel.  Jason stood before the mission teams sharing about all the ways that they would be praying for the people of Tacoma this week.  I was amazed that God called him to plant his life here over a year ago.

And then came Adam Forgety.  Adam is our new Associate Pastor and worship leader.  He stood up to lead us in a time of worship.  One of the churches that is here this week, Trinity, is Adam and his wife Khylee's old church.  Adam was the worship pastor at Trinity for about 5 years and he and Khylee led multiple short term teams to serve with us in Tacoma.  It was this time last year that Adam first began to feel God calling him to Tacoma.  Amazing.

As I sat there on that floor, in awe of all God has done and the ways he has called people out of their comfort zone and into an incredible city that sits in the shadow of Seattle, I began to think of all of our Tacoma orphans.  That's what we have come to call all those who have left the comforts of home, family and southern hospitality to serve Jesus in the city we have come to love and call home.

Tacoma Orphans:
Rebecca Hurst was the first.  She is my wife's best friend and old college roommate.  I still remember chatting with her on the Internet when she told me God was calling her to come from Austin, TX to Tacoma to help us plant The Pathway.  Five years later Becca is still here and still serving.  She came here as a single young missionary and God has brought her a husband and most recently a precious baby boy.

Laura Bravo is one of those people that makes me smile just typing her name.  She came to Camp WOW years ago as a camper.  She then served as a high school intern that led to me hiring her as a college summer staffer.  Laura was going to serve as a missionary in Calgary and got stuck at Seatac due to some customs issues.  She new we lived in the area and ended up staying with us for more than a month.  She fell in love with Tacoma and after serving in Canada for a year, came back to be a part of The Pathway.  She too came as a young, single woman and over the last several years God has brought her an awesome godly husband and she just graduated from the University of Washington, Tacoma.  Amazing.

Jenna Jones planned to serve with us for a couple weeks with Stacie Hooks.  Now a couple years later I can't imagine The Pathway without Jenna.  She took our Kids Ministry from about 6 kids to over 30 today and I believe is ready and equipped by God to lead us to see even more families and kids fall in love with Jesus!

Chase Phillips is Kyler's husband that I mentioned earlier.  Chase came to serve with us on a short term mission trip.  He then decided to marry Kyler (good idea) and they moved to Tacoma a week after getting married.

Khylee Forgety is Adam's partner in crime and in marriage and the mother of their newly adopted baby boy!  Her journey was and is an amazing testimony of faith and obedience.  Although Adam had been wrestling with a call to Tacoma for a year, Khylee had not even considered until about a month before they moved here.  But she didn't come kicking and screaming (at least not too much).  She wrestled with God, prayed, sought wise and trusted counsel and then said "yes" to Jesus.

Marybeth Coker came to serve with us as a semester missionary and decided that there was no reason to leave.  We don't know how long Marybeth will be with us but we are so thankful that she is here.  She has served in our Kids Ministry, pioneered our assimilation process and done just about anything else she's been asked to do (including jumping into the ice cold puget sound!).

I think I can speak for all of us in saying that I love being a Tacoma Orphan.  Although we are far from our families and many things that are comfortable, God has given us a new family that we would have never been a part of had he not called us out.  God is using these orphans, these missionaries, in mighty and powerful ways.  I'm thankful that my family is not alone here in Tacoma. God has provided the right people, at the right time, every step of the way!


Monday, June 9, 2014

Interns Arrive Today!

I'm incredibly excited that our interns are flying in today!  We have 6 college interns serving with our church this summer, the most we have ever had.  I'm in awe of God, as usual, as he takes something small and grows it to be something powerfully effective for his kingdom and glory.

This year we were able to bring in 6 interns thanks to a unique partnership between the North American Mission Board, Fielder Church in Arlington, TX and Oklahoma Baptist University.  In all I think they are deploying around 25 interns to the Seattle area.  It's been so encouraging to see groups of people coming together to help saturate our region with the gospel.

Please be praying for our interns.  Our overall objective for them this summer is to help them learn how to be more effective missionaries when they return home.  We want them to learn how to be compassionate, bold, humble servants of Jesus who love God, love others and speak the gospel with grace and love.  They will be living in a local apartment complex in a pretty rough area.  It will be a stretch for them to learn to live incarnationally on a daily basis.  They will be volunteering at the local boys and girls club, hosting community block parties, loving their neighbors in tangible ways and joining some of our existing Intentional Communities.

This is not designed to be an easy summer for the interns.  It's not designed to be a summer filled with menial behind the scenes tasks.  This internship was created with disciple-making in mind.  It's challenging, exhausting and at times can be lonely.  But it is also exhilarating, stretching, life-changing and our prayer is that it is fruitful.  We're praying that our interns have the opportunity lead many people to Jesus.  We're praying that they have the change to connect new believers to the body of Christ.  We're asking God to give them the chance to sharpen and use their spiritual gifts for the glory of God and courageously depend on the Holy Spirit to empower them to engage the gospel in ways they never thought possible.

Some specific prayers: *As you are able, please pray for our interns by name.  Consider choosing one or two to pray for daily...
Paige Worthington, Gage Johnson, Zack Danyla, Miriam Ingham, Michael Baker, Leena Vappula

1) Please pray for safe and timely arrival.  At least 2 of our interns will be a day late because of bad weather and delayed flights.

2) Pray for quick assimilation into Tacoma life.

3) Pray for a supernatural open doors with their neighbors.  Pray for gospel conversations and gospel opportunities beginning week 1.

4) Please pray against the attack of Satan.  We've learned a lot and experienced a lot in our four plus years in Tacoma.  One of the most difficult and sobering lessons we've learned is the reality of spiritual warfare.  However, we've also learned in new and fresh ways the victory found in Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Please pray against discouragement and pray for faith to overcome all obstacles of the evil one.

5) Pray for life change.  Our number one priority is kingdom growth.  Not just in Tacoma but all over this world.  We believe if our interns experience true life change and begin to live more passionately and more missionally when they return home, the kingdom will grow and the internship will have been a success!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Inside the mind of a pastor/church planter

I never stop thinking.  I don't know what it is, but I just can't shut my mind off.  I wanted to share with you some things that have been going on in my mind.  This particular post isn't to share any answers, insights or to give you the end result of my journey through some tough questions.  This is just to say, Hey, I'm a pastor in Tacoma and these are some of the questions I'm having to wrestle with.  Please pray for me.

-I'm wrestling with how to gauge people's commitment to community.  If it's simply based on average attendance at a weekday gathering, we're missing the point.  But if we don't examine it, we're neglecting a core piece of biblical Christianity.  As we grow, how do I know if our people are truly engaging Intentional Community?

-I'm wrestling with gay marriage.  Now before you get all up in arms and think I don't believe in marriage being between one man and one woman, I will refer you to my Re-defining Marriage series (www.thepathwaytacoma.com).  I absolutely hold a biblical view of marriage.  But my state and my city have embraced same-sex marriage and I genuinely love people who are a part of the GLBT community.  I've had same-sex couples ask me to marry them.  I've had same-sex couples share with me the joy they feel for being allowed to marry.  We have friends who are in same-sex relationships that have children together.  I'm praying that those friends will come to Christ.  And when they do, they will ask me if they should get a divorce and break up the only family their kids have ever known.  They'll probably ask me a million other questions I haven't even thought of.  And when they do, how will I respond?  How would Jesus respond?

-I'm wrestling with marijuana.  I've had someone smoke it during a worship gathering.  I know that sounds crazy but I think I was one of the few people who even noticed.  Smoking pot is legal in my state.  You've heard all the arguments, but for Christians it has always been easy to just say, "Well, it's against the law so...".  Well, it's not against the law anymore.  When people ask me how to approach it, I'm wrestling with how to respond.

-I'm wrestling with what makes a heterosexual couple truly married in the eyes of God?  If you grew up in a solid family like I did, you may value marriage, even the marriage license, a great deal.  But what if you come from a situation where divorce is rampant?  That certificate can be signed and then torn up in the blink of an eye.  Where's the value in that?  So when a couple tells me they want to get married in the eyes of God, but they don't want to make it legal in the eyes of the state of Washington, I wrestle with how to respond.  The state of Washington doesn't care if they're legally married or not.  Everything in me can't comprehend why they would not want to get legally married.  But I don't have their history and their wounds.  I'm wrestling with it.

I'll stop there.  Wherever you are, your pastor is wrestling with the same things, similar things, or will be wrestling with all of these things and more in the near future.  I'm not really looking for advice... your pastor probably isn't either.  I'm just looking for genuine prayer that the Holy Spirit would guide me as I wrestle with these questions.  Thank you for praying for me and my church.  Don't forget to pray for your pastor and your church!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Momentum, Challenges, Excitement, Opportunity

Momentum: I blogged about momentum a while back.  It's a tricky thing you know?  Its very essence demands that there be seasons of experiencing the opposite of momentum.  I guess that would be stagnation and/or struggle.  By the grace of God I believe we are experiencing momentum right now.  Thank you for all of your prayers.  I truly believe prayer is the crucial ingredient.  Most of you know that congregational prayer is THE emphasis for The Pathway this year.  We've been gathering monthly for concerts of prayer and asking God to bring spiritual healing to our city.  

As always, God has been gracious.  Easter and everything that went with it (Sponsoring a 5k, Murder Mystery, Good Friday Gathering, pancake breakfast, baptisms and more) has sparked new momentum for our church.  The arrival of our new Associate Pastor and his family coupled with the grace with which our former worship leader has teamed with him has brought momentum.  I shared several blogs ago that I have been asking God to help us eclipse the 100 people barrier in our worship gatherings and this month we averaged 97... he knows what he is doing.  We've launched 3 new groups and one more launches this week.  God is good.

Challenges:  Of course when the Spirit brings momentum challenges ALWAYS arise.  In recent days we have learned that 2 couples who are key leaders in our church are moving on.  They both lead Intentional Communities, they have both been with our church for extended periods of time... they are both incredible.  My first reaction to the news was fear.  After all, I'm always blogging about how we need more leaders.  But God has reminded me, in a very clear and loving way, that when Jesus is your leader, you need not be afraid.  He is going to provide new leaders and even greater opportunities for our church and more importantly for his Kingdom going forward.

Excitement: This perspective has moved me from fear to excitement.  After all, these couples are missionaries.  They truly are.  Now they are going to new cities in different states to saturate their new communities with the gospel.  This is what we prayed for from the beginning of The Pathway.  It's in our vision statement... We want to be a church with beautiful feet... sending missionaries.  We want to pray for them, celebrate what God is doing in them and support them as they go.  There are not many things more exciting than sending missionaries!

Opportunity: With every wave of momentum, with every challenge and with every exciting new venture comes a swell of opportunity.  I would ask you all to pray for new leaders to rise up, new leaders to embrace God's call on their lives and new disciples to lead new Intentional Communities.  There is tremendous spiritual opportunity in Tacoma.  God has been working, is working and will continue to work.  Please join us in praying for the spiritual healing of the people in Tacoma.  We are desperate for it.  We are broken for these people.  We believe the opportunity is endless and we are asking God to continue to provide workers for this incredible mission field!

[14] if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Heart of Jesus

Marybeth Coker was a semester intern with The Pathway and decided to stay on as a volunteer staff member.  During staff meeting yesterday she told a powerful story of love demonstrated to her on Mother's Day.  I asked her to share the full story so you could get a glimpse into what I believe is the heart of Jesus displayed through Marybeth and The Pathway church.

His name is Jack.

Here I was, a 20 year old girl in Tacoma Washington standing in line waiting to order at McDonald's. I had nothing but food on my mind when an older homeless man asked me if I had any cash. I had been to this McDonald's a lot, and one thing I had noticed was the amount of homeless people always hanging out right by the front doors. “I only have my card, but I’ll buy you dinner if you sit with me.” I said.

He seemed hesitant at first, but then he agreed.

Now I have never really had the best memory but this man's style won’t let you easily forget him. I had seen him before at this very McDonald's. He is in his early 60’s with the skinniest legs you ever did see. He had on skinny jeans with a white jacket that was lined with fur, three or more hats tied around his neck and curly peppered hair.

“One double quarter pounder, a large fry, and one large Coke.” he went on to order.
 We got our food then went to sit down at a table. “What’s your name?” I asked. “Jack” He answered “My name is Jack, I’m from Nebraska. I played football all through high school and college.” He kept talking and I kept listening. He told me he had been in the military, and that he hadn’t seen his wife and kids in many years. He told me he was addicted to cocaine and that he wasn’t going to give it up for anything.   But one thing I will always remember from that day is. I have never seen someone put as much salt on their fries as he did. HA!  

I went on to tell him that I was from Texas, and I told him about my family, about how I missed them and how much they mean to me. Our meal had finished and I was getting up to leave. He put his hand out for me to shake and I pulled him in for a hug. He kissed me on my cheek before we left and said “Thank you for talking to me”.  I don’t know if he knew I needed someone to talk to just as much as he needed to talk to someone. 

A few weeks had gone by and I hadn’t seen Jack anywhere. I went to the McDonald's every few day to see if he was there, but no luck. Then one Saturday night as I was getting food I heard someone call my name, and there sitting in a booth by himself was Jack. I was so excited! I had been looking for him and there he was! AND he remembered my name! I went up to him and said hello. He started by asking if I had any money. I dug into my wallet and pulled out a 5 dollar bill. “5 dollars?” he laughed. “What am I going to do with 5 dollars?”  

The whole time I was sitting with him he kept looking off talking to something. I knew that whatever he was battling had gotten a hold of him this night. He then told me more stories, but this time they were darker than the one he had told me before. This time I didn’t leave with a happy feeling, I left with a grieving heart. Why was I so sad? This is the second time I had every talked to him.  Why did I feel this way already? As I was getting ready to leave he asked what I was doing the next day. I told him I would be with my church and that he should stop by if he could make it. 

Now I knew this was a long shot but he gave me his word that he would come.
The next morning I got to Franklin Elementary where The Pathway gathers for worship around the same time I always do and started setting up. Once things were all ready to go we sat down to pray before everyone else arrived. Someone asked if we had any prayer requests and I asked if they would pray for my friend Jack, that he would come to our gathering and just for his life in general.

We prayed and went on with our Sunday morning routine. The gathering had already started and I was leading the middle school class back to where we normally meet when grumpy old Jack came walking in the building. I won’t lie, I didn’t think he would come the first time I asked him to come.  I didn’t even know the next time I would see him so seeing that old man's face that morning brought joy to my heart.

Jack has been coming to our worship gathering for 6 months now.
He walks right in, every week, with a bag of chips, and a 2 liter of Dr.Pepper.
He’s here every Sunday, almost as early as the set-up crew.

I love this old man.

I love that he brings me my things when I leave them lying around.
I love how he acts like a grumpy old fart but truly has the sweetest heart.
I love when I see him talking with other people in the church.
But most of all, I love that my church love’s my friend.

This past Sunday was Mother’s day. I felt it again, I missed my family. It’s funny how God works, he always seems to send me a little gift of joy when I need it.
I was sitting down, waiting for the service to start when Jack came up to me. “Here” he said, handing me something. It was a plastic grocery bag. Inside were two bags of chocolate and a card.  I laughed when I read “Happy Mother’s day to you!” on the front of the card (seeing that I’m not a mother I thought it was funny). As I opened the card to read the inside, 4 crinkled up dollar bills fell out. 

Sometimes I feel like the little things in life don’t matter. That if I don't stop and say hello to the checker at the store it won't make a difference. If I don’t hold a door open for someone they’ll live. But these things do matter. If I would have told Jack that day at McDonald's that I didn’t have any money that would have been it. I would have never sat and talked to him, never been so frustrated with him because he was being rude to other people, and never seen the love of a Mother’s day card with 4 dollars in it. 

I loved that gift so much, but the thing I love most is I don’t just see jack as my friend, but Jack sees me as his friend too.  
Like I said before, I find it funny how God works.  On this particular day he gave me joy.  God gave me a gift.

His name is Jack.


Thursday, May 1, 2014

Easter Update

I want to thank you all for praying for our church and all the ways we have been trying to bring the gospel to our community before, during and after Easter.  As usual, God has been leaving us amazed... absolutely amazed!  Easter Sunday was incredible.  We had 117 people Easter morning which was exciting and fun beyond description.  What an honor to get to share the story of the resurrection with people who understand its power as well as those who do not... yet.  I was worshiping Jesus simply for his grace to empower so many of our people to invite their lost and unchurched friends and family members.  The people of The Pathway stepped up boldly and invited folks in their circles of influence and I could not be more thankful!

Most of you know we were praying that Easter would not just be one high attendance Sunday.  We have been praying that God would maximize the season for his glory.  This past Sunday we had 85 people gather.  My heart is a bit torn.  The months leading up to Easter we have been averaging around 70... so to have 85 is tremendous growth.  But I want you all to know that I've been asking God to move our worship gathering beyond 100 people this year.  I still believe he can do that and I would ask that you pray that this Easter spark turns into a flame of worship & kingdom growth.

We also launched 3 new groups Easter week.  One new Intentional Community and 2 new connect groups... groups that will hopefully be a first step into Intentional Community.  Again, mixed emotions.  We've had people embrace all 3 groups, but not as many new people as we had hoped... yet!  That being said, we've already seen new people join groups this week.  Sometimes I think it just takes time and schedule adjustments for people to get involved.  Please pray that these groups lead people into authentic, messy, beautiful, missional and effective Intentional Community.  That's where disciples are made.  That's where the church gathers and scatters.  There is so much potential right now I am just asking God to help me stay out of his way!

117 people on Easter Sunday.  From 5 Intentional Communities to 6.  From 0 connect groups to 2.  We baptized 3 on Sunday evening... what a party!!!  There are changes for us on the horizon.  We need more leaders... please pray for more leaders.  Kelli and I went on a walk last night and just talked about how much we love where God has placed us.  Is it hard at times?  Absolutely.  But we love what God is doing in Tacoma.  We can't wait to see what the future holds!


Monday, April 14, 2014

A Hug from Jesus

Warning!  This post may be a little sappy.

This post is not going to be very long, mainly because it's 10:26pm and my wife told me to get to bed!  Many of you who follow this blog know that the last several months have been a struggle for me personally.  There's not just one reason for it (at least I don't think there is), but I've been somewhat discouraged.

Well, God's grace sure is sweet.  Quite a few months back, before the hard times were rolling, Pastor Duane from First Baptist Charlotte called and asked me to preach their revival services in April.  I jumped at the opportunity.  But then he and the church invited my whole family to come along.  And to make things better, their Director of Missions (Frio River Association) connected us with a FREE little cabin on the Frio River for 4 days.

I'm not gonna lie, back when all this was set-up I did not know the how much I was going to need the trip.  But now, I realize the entire experience was a BIG bear hug from my Lord, Savior and best friend King Jesus.  Just a few of the highlights of the hug...

-Day #1 I went to sleep at 7:45pm (thank you wife).  I did not wake up until 8:30am the next morning.  Did I mention I followed that up with 2 naps that day!

-Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday... just our family of four.  God has given us a love and a passion to surround ourselves with people.  A few days with just the four of us was a hug from Jesus I didn't know I needed.

-Our families bent over backward to give us rest and went out of their way to come and visit with us for a few sweet hours.  Thank you family.

-First Baptist Charlotte.   I cannot even begin to express how Jesus used this precious church to touch our souls and refresh our hearts.  The hospitality of Pastor Duane and his wife Sharon was exactly what we needed to experience.  The willingness of a church that is filled with folks old enough to be my grand parents were gracious to allow this passionate young preacher to share my heart and the Word of God with them.  The tender love and words of wisdom from Mr. and Mrs. Thomson, the 87 year old couple who modeled for us the kind of people we want to be when we're, well, 87.  And the list could go on and on.

Thanks Jesus for the hug.  And thank you all for your prayers.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The stars at night are big and bright...

The alarm clock in the Higg house is set for 3:30am as we begin our journey south... deep in the heart of Texas!  I was honored to be asked by one of our long-time partner churches, FBC Charlotte, to preach their upcoming revival services.  They were also incredibly gracious to invite my beautiful bride and kiddos along and allow us to come 5 days early so we could get some much needed R&R before the revival services kick off on Sunday.  We're thankful to be spending 4 nights and 5 days at Alto Frio Baptist encampment.  This is a place near and dear to my heart as I grew up going to camp there as a pre-teen and teenager.  I'm sure I'll get in a lot less trouble on this trip than I did back in those days.

Rest is something I must confess I tend to sin in.  I know some of us tend to wear our exhaustion as a badge of honor.  We proudly proclaim how many hours a week we work and how many extra-curricular activities we are able to juggle.  But for me, a lack of rest is nothing to brag about.  It's a direct result of my lack of faith in the God of the universe to handle things in my world while I take a breather.  It's really ridiculous when you say it out loud.  Resting is something God modeled for us in the creation account.  Resting is something God commanded when he gave the law to Moses.  Resting is something Jesus modeled unapologetically.

So why is it so hard for so many of us?

Again, I know that for me it's simply a lack of faith.  It's something I have to be on my guard against and it's something I have to repent from when I fall short.  All that to say, I'm so thankful for our upcoming rest and I am asking God to grant us a peaceful vacation.

Preaching these revival services is a new for me too.  I told Pastor Duane at FBC Charlotte that the "old guys" are a lot more intense than us younger dudes.  They consistently prepare 2-3 messages a week while I pour my heart and soul into preparing one... and find myself spent every time.  Now that I've been called on to preach 5 messages in 4 days I know that it is something that can only be done through the supernatural indwelling and outpouring of the Holy Spirit!  I'm excited to see what God does.  I don't want this to be another week.  I'm praying that God would do something in Charlotte Texas that none of us could ever imagine!

I was also reminded in an email from my mom this morning of the awesome, life changing power that can come from revival services.  It was on the final night of a 6 day revival service back in 1990 that an 8 year old little red-head gave his life to Jesus!  Thank God for any and every opportunity for the gospel to be preached and the Holy Spirit to move in people's lives.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Humbled & South Africa

My last post was entitled discouraged.  It has been a pretty tough season of life and ministry and I really just wanted to do what I've always done with this blog... paint a real picture for you of life and church planting.  Well, the result of the post 2 weeks ago was incredibly humbling and all I can do is say thank you.  Thank you for reading this blog.  Thank you for caring about me, my family, The Pathway and the city of Tacoma.  Thank you for all the kind and encouraging words, texts, Facebook messages, e-mails and even snail mail cards you have lavished on me the last couple of weeks.  I'm humbled by your care.  I'm humbled by your encouragement.  I'm humbled by your love.

I'm also encouraged.  I know that God has called me and my family to love this city.  We don't ever plan on leaving this city.  We hope to see our kids graduate high school in this city.  We hope and pray that God's Spirit will transform and awaken out city in a unique and powerful way.  God has given so much encouragement to me, by his grace, since last week.  My son Jagen was sick with a pretty high temperature on the night that my Intentional Community gathers.  I texted our IC to cancel and one of our ladies texted back and said, "Why don't we just meet at my house and I'll lead?"  So encouraged that while we were at home with our kids, our IC still gathered and grew together with Jesus.

I'm encouraged by lives moving toward Jesus.  A friend that I've been meeting with who had not yet confessed Jesus as Lord had a break through last week.  Glory to God!  Another friend I've been spending time with texted me and asked if he could gather with my IC.  What?  Awesome!  God has just been lavishing his love on me, my family and my church the last couple weeks and for that I am incredibly thankful.  I know it is a result of your prayers.  I'm encouraged.

I'm also in awe of what God is doing in our midst.  Many of you were praying for our first ever global mission team.  We got to see the beauty of the body of Christ working together as another local church invited us to go with them to serve Jesus in South Africa.  While there, our three missionaries worked with a pastor and his church to serve people for over a week in a small, struggling township in South Africa.  Below is a video that paints a picture of all that the team did, the people they were able to love on and minister to, and the glory that was given to God in the process.

I love you all.  Just as Paul said, I thank God every time I remember you!


video

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Discouraged.

When Kelli and I felt called to help plant churches in the Seattle area we had no idea what to expect.  We had dreams, we had hopes, we had lots of questions, but in reality we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  I could literally write a book on all the ups, downs and in between feelings that we have felt and experienced over the last 6 years both in Snoqualmie and Tacoma.  Church planting, like many things in life, is a spiritual and emotional roller coaster.  The best approach is to avoid letting the good times get you too high or the bad times get you too low.  But come on, we're human right?  That's way easier said than done.

I remember the first thing Kelli and I tried to do as a part of the church plant in Snoqualmie was a Bible study for new and not-yet believers.  We were hosting it in the club house of our apartment complex and we had invited quite a few people.  Our hopes were high but again, in reality, we didn't really know what to expect.  We showed up, set-up and waited.  We waited.  And waited and waited some more.  Finally, after a lot of waiting... we accepted the reality that no one was going to show up!  It was hard, frustrating and discouraging.

Over the last 4+ years we have experienced many of the same emotions.  I remember when we first started a Community Group in our home.  I would literally have to call and remind people up until the last minute and then I would have to go and pick them up just to ensure that they would come.  There were many days when almost no one came.  It was awkward, hard and discouraging.

Then The Pathway began having weekly worship gatherings.  I remember spending Saturday evenings and Sunday mornings on the phone and on Facebook trying to keep fresh in people's minds that we were in fact gathering for worship.  I knew that if they didn't come... it might be family worship time... as in, just my family!  These days were hard, exhausting, uncertain and often discouraging.

But through it all, God gave us the strength and courage to persevere.  We kept going and I remember reaching a point where I was no longer afraid that no one would show up at our house for our Intentional Community gathering.  I remember getting to a point where I knew that we would have people at our gathering every week.  It was a drastic change for me.  It actually left me with a feeling of relief instead of satisfaction.  I was relieved that we were no longer alone, but I was not satisfied because I knew, as I still know today, that God has not called us to simply gather.  He's called us to scatter and multiply.  He's called us to keep growing!

As time goes by and momentum begins to wane, memories of those discouraging times are still very fresh and real in my mind.  I do not want to go backward.  I do not want to stop reaching people for Jesus.  I do not want to stop seeing lives changed by the gospel, watching people gain a hunger for worshiping Jesus come on Sunday and celebrate what God has done.  I don't want to stop seeing community birthed, grown and multiplied intentionally.

Here's where I am today.  I'm a little more than a little discouraged.  But I'm definitely not ready to jump off the Tacoma Narrows Bridge =-)!  September, October and November were great months for The Pathway.  We saw numbers go up on Sundays and most importantly in our Intentional Community (IC) gatherings!  We baptized 5 people in November and you could feel the excitement growing in our congregation.  Then December hit and it felt like we slammed into a brick wall.  Our worship numbers went way down but I was still encouraged because our IC numbers remained consistent.  For a newer church, in the holiday season, that's a big deal!  It showed me that our people still understood the importance of community, even if they weren't able to make it on Sunday morning.

January was honestly confusing for me.  Our worship attendance was back up but our IC attendance was back down.  I don't really know why.  It's the exact opposite of what happened in December.  Then came February, our worship numbers plummeted to the point of awkward on some Sundays.  I haven't seen our IC numbers but it appears they too have declined.  Again, I'm not sure why.

So what's the point in saying all this?  Is The Pathway becoming more concerned with numbers than spiritual growth?  I hope not.  I would say absolutely not.  But I can't help but notice in the midst of all the numbers, in the midst of the inconsistency, that we haven't seen anyone place their faith in Jesus.  We have one person awaiting baptism (praise Jesus for that!!!), but we've been praying big prayers.  We've been asking God to multiply us, to use us to reach our friends, family, co-workers and neighbors for Jesus.  But that doesn't happen by accident.  That only happens through commitment, demonstrated by consistency which always takes sacrifice.  It will only happen if we make the choice to re-arrange our lives around the gospel.

We MUST be praying for life change.  We desperately need you to be praying with us.  And we must remember the most foundational passage of Scripture for The Pathway found in Romans 10:13-15... Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed?  How will they believe in him of whom they have not heard?  And how will they hear without a preacher?  How will they preach unless they are sent?  How beautiful are the feet of those who bring the good news?

I'm a little discouraged.  But by the grace of God I have a lot of hope.  I believe that the people of The Pathway who have a relationship with Jesus desire others to know Jesus too.  I believe that the Holy Spirit is uber powerful (that's right... I said uber), and I believe he has not stopped working in the hearts and lives of people all around us.  I'm praying that I will daily remember that people are not going to hear the gospel if I don't share it with them.  Preaching a sermon on Sunday is not enough.  I must go and engage the lost in my neighborhood and share with them the hope I have in Christ.

Then, I pray, by God's grace, we will see the waters of baptism full to overflowing.  We will see lives being radically changed.  We will see not only consistency, but growth in community and in our worship gathering.  But most importantly, God will be glorified by the obedience of his people and the growth of his kingdom!

In this moment I am truly ENCOURAGED!