3 Indications A New Church is Growing Up: A Case Study

One of the best things about working with a church planting ministry is getting to watch new churches come to life.  Every new church starts as a stirring in someone’s heart.  When the Holy Spirit empowers that stirring a faith community is born.  Yet starting is the easy part.  The hard work of church planting comes in the months and years after the initial launch.

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I recently had the pleasure of spending a couple of days with the Redland Hills Church, near Montgomery, Alabama.  Wes and Amanda Gunn and their team started the Redland Hills Church, a Mission Alive church plant, in 2014.  Since its inception, the church has become well-established in its community and seen several people come to faith.  Throughout 2016 an average of 80 people have gathered each Sunday morning in a neighborhood clubhouse.  They come from a variety of backgrounds but have all found a home at Redland Hills.

At a time when many new faith communities struggle to maintain their momentum, the Redland Hills Church is thriving.  During my recent visit with them I realized that the Redland Hills Church is a case study for how new churches transition from church plant to established congregation.

New churches are naturally fragile.  They typically start with limited human and financial resources.  What they have in abundance is excitement and momentum.  The challenge is to transition the excitement and momentum of the launch into healthy ministry rhythms that will sustain the life of the church over the long haul.  At the Redland Hills Church there is still plenty of excitement but 3 practices are emerging which are helping them make the transition into an established church.

  1. Caring for People

During my time with the Redland Hills Church I clearly saw how God was extending His grace into the lives of hurting people.  The team shared with me some of the challenges they have faced as they try to do this.  Like most communities, theirs has its share of family crises, health challenges, addiction and parenting issues.  Wes, Amanda and the rest of their team have all been thrust into many of these demanding situations.

Early in the life of a new church nearly all the energy gets focused on the mission.  Yet for a new church to transition and become established within its community, it must add pastoral care to its strong sense of mission.  The Redland Hills Church is certainly doing that.  We can support them by calling upon God to strengthen them and make them wise as they extend God’s grace in their community.

  1. Engaging the Community

Soon after they launched, the Redland Hills Church hosted an appreciation dinner for the local volunteer fire department.  As a result, Wes was able to develop several friendships among the volunteers.  More recently Wes completed ‘fire school’ and is now a certified member of the department.  I had the privilege of touring the fire station with Wes and meeting several of the other firefighters.

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His role with the department has allowed Wes access to the community on a deeper level than he would have had otherwise.  Whenever there is a car wreck, house fire or medical emergency, Wes is one of the first to arrive.  His commitment to the community is tangible.  Even more exciting, it is not just Wes engaging the community.  On several occasions Wes has alerted members of the Redland Hills Church who have responded with care, food, clothing or whatever was needed.

Wes and the Redland Hills Church are a model for how Christians can bless their community.  Not that every church should join the fire department but every church should seek opportunities to engage their community in redemptive ways.  We can ask God to keep Wes safe and give him and the Redland Hills Church opportunities to extend God’s care to those in need.

  1. Developing Leaders

During my time with the Redland Hills Church I had the pleasure of spending an evening with the leadership team.  We ate together and talked about some of the challenges of church planting.  The main conversation focused on how the Redland Hills Church would identify, equip and ordain new leaders.

Most new churches start with a small group of committed leaders dedicated to the hard work of launching a new church.  Frequently, this is called the Launch Team.  The Launch Team must eventually transition into a Leadership Team as they church becomes established.  Making this leadership transition challenges any new church.

The Redland Hills Church is handling this well.  Since its inception in 2014, several members of the initial Launch Team have needed to transition from leadership.  The time has come to develop new leaders who will lead the Redland Hills Church into its next season as an established church.  We can pray for Wes and the rest of the current leaders as they develop strategies for identifying and equipping the leaders who will guide the Redland Hills Church into the future.

For any new church to transition into an established congregation it must develop ways to extend care to the church and community.  It must develop methods for cultivating new leaders.  We in Mission Alive are excited to work with gifted leaders like Wes and Amanda Gunn.  If you want to keep up with the Redland Hills Church, you can check out their website at www.redlandhills.org or take a look at their Facebook page www.facebook.com/redlandhills/ .  Please join us in praying for them, their church and community.

 

Confronting Spiritual ADHD (Church as Attentive Community)

This year, Mission Alive hosted three of the classes at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.  Last week we shared Missional R & D: Church as Adaptive Community taught by Dr. Phil Claycomb and Charles Kiser.

The third class Mission Alive hosted was Confronting Spiritual ADHD (Church as Attentive Community). Does your church suffer from too much activity and not enough listening? How can the church become a community of spiritual attentiveness? This class discusses this paradigm change for the 21st century church.

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The class was taught by Jarrod Robinson, minister of the word at Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene, TX, and Charles Kiser, the director of training at Mission Alive and a church planter in Dallas, TX.

Missional R & D: Church as Adaptive Community

This year, Mission Alive hosted three of the classes at the Pepperdine Lectureships.  Last week we shared Keep Church Weird: Church as Alternative Community, taught by Collin Packer and Charles Kiser.

The second class Mission Alive hosted was Missional R & D: Church as Adaptive Community. What does research and development have to do with the church? What do churches and entrepreneurs have in common? In this class, these questions are discussed and how churches faithfully adapt to their changing contexts.

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The class was taught by Dr. Phil Claycomb, the executive director of Nexus and Charles Kiser, the director of training at Mission Alive and a church planter in Dallas, TX.

 

Keep Church Weird: Church as Alternative Community

This year, Mission Alive hosted three of the classes at the Pepperdine Lectureships.  For the next three weeks, starting today, we will be sharing with you recordings from all three classes, in case you missed them this year or you wanted to hear them again.

The first class Mission Alive hosted was Keep Church Weird: Church as Alternative Community.  As an outpost of God’s reign, the church is a counter-culture to the prevailing culture around it, though perhaps in unexpected ways that is good news to those outside the church. This recording discusses how the church embodies an alternative way of life in its North American neighborhood.

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Collin Packer and Charles Kiser

The class was taught by Collin Packer, the preaching minister at Greenville Oaks Church of Christ in Allen, TX and Charles Kiser, the director of training at Mission Alive and a church planter in Dallas, TX.

The Nativity

It’s December and our Nativity scene sits on our mantle – just like it does every year. It reminds us of God’s gift – his Son, who came to earth as a human and who became our Savior. A marvelous gift that we celebrate at Christmas time.

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The scene depicting Jesus’ birth brings to mind that God’s Son humbled Himself by giving up His position in heaven and taking on human form. He also loved us so much that, though He was perfect, He took on Himself the sins of all humankind and died a humiliating death on a cross so that our sins were forgiven.  This death was the prelude to His becoming the risen Lord standing beside our Father interceding for us.

 Baby Jesus in the manger also reminds us of the man Jesus, who lived a life that we as Christians want to imitate. He had meals with the undesirable, had conversations with those who were ignored, demonstrated how to love God, taught life lessons in everyday language,  healed the deaf, blind, and lepers…. He loved the unlovable!

 The Nativity scene on our mantle is a reminder that God in Jesus became “flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14). He is Immanuel, God with us. He showed us how to live and how to obey our Father.

 The Nativity scene sits on our mantle not only during the Christmas season but throughout the year. It reminds us that God’s coming into the world is not just a December message but one for every day of the year!

 The Mission Alive team wishes you hope, peace, joy, and love during this Christmas season!

Gratitude is Weird

Anyone with teenagers is overly familiar with the exclamation, “That’s weird”.   I have been amazed to learn how many objects or expressions are weird.  For example, to refer to something as ‘cool’ is now ‘weird.’   To wear pleated pants or white socks is ‘weird.  What I have come to realize is that when my teenager asserts that something I say or do is ‘weird,’ what he is telling me is that what carries meaning  or value to me as an adult does not carry the same meaning in his teenage culture and vice versa.

One of the most significant challenges Christians face in any culture is to identify how they can imitate the culture and yet behave, dress, speak and live differently than the culture.  One way followers of Jesus stand out in our North American culture is by expressing gratitude.    In a culture characterized by consumption and entitlement, gratitude is counter-cultural.  It is weird.

We in Mission Alive want to be weird by expressing our deep appreciation for the countless individuals and the many churches who participate in this mission.  To them we say, ‘Thank-You!’  You are the strength we need to continue this ministry.  We also want to express our appreciation to the churches and individuals who have participated in one of Mission Alive’s training events this year.  You are leaders trying to make a difference in this culture.  Thanks for trusting us to walk with you.  Lastly, we want to thank our church planters.  They are our heroes.  They are the ones who wrestle every day to embody the gospel in their neighborhoods and relational networks.  To them we say, thanks for your vision and courage.

Let’s all be weird this Thanksgiving and all year long!

Suffering Well

Most people naturally avoid suffering. And I dont blame them! Suffering is uncomfortable.

Certainly there are different degrees of suffering, but any experience of something difficult, painful or unpleasant qualifies as suffering (at least according to the dictionary).

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a friend who was praising God because God had preemptively rescued her family from suffering. They had planned to sell their house and move into a larger, more expensive one. When potential buyers approached them about forming a contract and purchasing the house, my friend and her husband decided at the last minute not to sell. The timing didnt seem right.

The next day she lost her job which would have provided the funds for their new mortgage. God, she reasoned, had saved them from the financial crisis that selling their house and buying a new one would have caused them.

Perhaps thats true. Im pretty ignorant most of the time about the providence of God. It was the most logical interpretation probably because our default is to avoid suffering because it makes us miserable; and God certainly wouldnt want to make us miserableright?

The apostle Paul had a different perspective on suffering. He started a church in Philippi, and after he left, the Christians there began to experience opposition from others because of their commitment to Jesus. In Pauls letter to them, he acknowledges that suffering can sometimes be a privilege and a blessing:

For God has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.(Philippians 1:29 NRSV)

Thats difficult to hear in a culture of suffering-avoidance. How might suffering ever be a privilege and a blessing? On the surface, the Philippians were able to stand in solidarity with their leader Jesus, who suffered deeply himself. That kind of suffering was an honor. But perhaps suffering is a blessing on a deeper level as well: through suffering we are stripped of all that we hold on to for security and identity, and invited to move beyond ourselves toward God and others in genuine love.

Richard Rohr reflects on this dynamic in the book Adams Return:

In the larger-than-life people I have met, I always find one common denominator: in some sense, they have all died before they died. At some point, they were led to the edge of their private resources, and that breakdown, which surely felt like dying, led them into a larger life. Thats it! They broke through in what felt like breaking down. Instead of avoiding a personal death or raging at it, they went through a death, a death of their old self, their small life, and came out the other side knowing that death could no longer hurt them.

Jesus leads the way for us and shows us how to handle suffering. When faced with it, he emptied  and humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death on a cross.

We frequently don’t have a choice about whether or not we suffer. But we do have a choice about how we respond to it. Will we try to avoid it? Will we rage at it? Or will we, like Jesus, humble ourselves and allow God to use it to shape our souls?

We’d love to hear from you. Who do you know who has suffered well? What impact did that have upon them and others?