Sunday, January 28, 2007

One Of My Church Planting Heros

This weekend I had the privilege of speaking at the midwest regional conference of the Church of God out of Findley, OH. This is a small denomination that has embraced the value of "Healthy, reproducing churches." They asked me to speak several times on church planting, particularly as it relates to our increasingly diverse American landscape. These were wonderful people and it was a great time.

One of the church planting leaders in this group is Fran Leeman. Fran planted and pastors Lifespring Community Church in Plainfield, IL. Fran is one of my church planting heros.

One of the things I appreciate about Fran is his passion to be the church that God wants them to be. This is sometimes difficult living in the shadow of such mega-churches as Willow Creek and Community Christian. Those are great churches, but all of us have a tendency to measure our success by comparing ourselves to mega-churches. Consider 2 Corinthians 10:12.

Fran has faithfully pastored this young church, experiencing many ups and downs. As I ate lunch with him yesterday in Champaign, IL, I listened to him talk about person after person whom he (and others in his church) have reached out to - men and women who were far from God, some who had no clue who Jesus was or what Christianity was all about. I listened to him talk about the lay leaders (some of whom were also sitting at our table) and he described their journeys from a pre-Christian era to today when they were each taking significant roles of responsibility and leadership in the church. My heart was deeply moved. In fact, my eyes water by just recounting the experience with him yesterday.

In American culture where we measure success by size, it is easy to miss how God measures success. A few years ago I heard of a local pastor who had led his church for over 30 years, growing it from several hundred to several thousand in that time. At his retirement he made a statement like this, "In my 30+ years of pastoring we have learned to grow large churches, but I'm not sure we yet know how to make disciples."

Large churches are a great blessing to our cities in many ways, and I highly value their contribution to Kingdom work. However, I hope we can measure success not by the size of our church but by the lives that are transformed through the power of the gospel. Fran's church is not large (though it may become large in the future), but he is a success. He has story after story of life change that have emerged from his church and ministry, and he shares them humbly. He is one of my church planting heros.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

ACCELERATE! It Happened!

This past Friday and Saturday approximately 150 church planting leaders (mostly from the city of Houston) gathered together for worship, inspiration, and instruction at Accelerate! My friend, Ed Stetzer, was our key note speaker.

Ed challenged us to plant Biblically faithful, culturally relevant, counter-cultural communities of faith! It was a rich and powerful time! However, the most amazing part of the experience was that the leaders of the three largest denominations in our city drafted a "Church Planting Manifesto" in which they covenanted together to plant churches that will transform our city. It was a covenant that honored their differences theologically, yet affirmed their unity around church planting and saturating our city with the gospel. It truly was an historic moment!

These leaders signed the manifesto and then invited everyone to join them in signing it. I do not yet know how many signed on but it looked like the majority of the participants. God was present! I'm still in awe of what happened. May this be the beginning of a new wave of church planting in Houston, and around the world.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Why We Do This

This morning I was meditating on Psalm 84. As I was reflecting and praying over this passage I realized that this is why we plant churches. The psalmist says "How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God." (84:1-2)

He goes on to say "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." (84:10) We plant churches so that more people might experience God, so that they might discover and experience His presence forever.

As I read over this passage I realized that something in my soul cried out "Yes, I yearn for God's presence just like the psalmist did." I treasure these moments when I am acutely aware of God's presence. I want the people I minister to to increasingly experience God. I want them to know the joy of His presence and to have the opportunity to experience this for the rest of their life (here and in eternity.) "O Lord Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you." (84:12)