Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Wild Week

We've had a wild week over the last seven days.

Our good friends (and fellow staff members) Nick and Jada Shock had their daughter last Tuesday. Emry was born with cleft palet, which brought some complications, but through prayer and good medical care, she came home today from the hospital - great news.

We left last Wednesday to drive to Dallas to visit with my parents and see my grandmother (Mimi) on my mom's side. She is doing very well health-wise, but struggling with her memory. It was great to see her.

We left Dallas on Friday and drove to Gladewater (in East Texas) to see my other grandmother (Nanny), who is sharp mentally, but really struggling physically. She has not felt good over the last couple of months, so it was good to visit with her.

Both grandmothers were excited to see Brynlee and play with her. She truly has brought joy to many already in her short 3 months out of the womb.

We made it back to RR on Saturday night, and did church on Sunday morning. I'm continuing my series on 1 Thessalonians, and we talked on suffering this week. Heavy stuff, but timely.

Today, I'm looking over the pile of work to be done and asking for God's mercy and his help. Later --

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #9

One of the hardest parts of planting a church in Round Rock, TX, oddly enough, is finding a place to meet for worship. You would think in suburban Austin, in a city with a fast-growing population and lots of construction growth, meeting places would abound. You would think wrong. The main obstacle to new churches finding meeting places is the current school-district facility policy that forbids rental of school properties on Sundays. With schools off the table, planters are forced to look into other places (like theaters, community centers, shopping centers, etc.).

When we started looking for a place to meet, a new Cinemark movie theater was being built near our neighborhood. They were open to having us meet in their theaters, but we knew that childcare would be a challenge. The only other location that we could find that would really meet our needs was the YMCA of Round Rock, but I had already been told by another planter who had asked that he had received a "no" and that the location was really not available. Not knowing any better, we decided to ask anyways.

Well, I can still remember our first meeting when three of us from our church-plant team (Toby, Patrick, and me) went to see Sheri Yerrington, the director of the RR YMCA. In the first few minutes of the conversation, she gaves us all the reasons that she was resistant to the idea of a church using the Y facility - from previous bad experiences to the wear on the facility. About 10 minutes into the conversation, however, Sheri's whole demeanor changed, and she told us that she really did want us to meet in the YMCA. We talked some more and she became more excited about the partnership opportunities we could find in impacting the lives of people in our community.

Finally, it came down to cost. She asked, "do you think $2000 a month would be fair?" We couldn't believe it! God had provided a great facility at a great location at a great price. We continue to have a great relationship with the YMCA, and we're pumped to see how He uses our partnership in the future.

I guess it shouldn't suprise us so much when God answers prayer.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #8

One of the greatest joys I've had this year has been leading a church that is so generous and excited about blessing our community. Not long after we launched in September, our elders decided it would be fun to call December our "season of giving" and spend four weeks giving away $10,000 to our city and to other churches in light of all that God given us in sending His Son.

So, we gave a few thousand dollars away to our people in $20 bills and asked them to bless someone they knew that needed help. We also decided to have representatives from local ministries that we support (Texas Baptist Children's Home, Agape Pregnancy Resource Center, Round Rock Serving Center, and the YMCA) come and share in our service about the work they are doing. We presented each organization with a check from our church to help support their work.

The coolest part of Season of Giving was when we called church-planters around the city and went to meet them with a financial gift from our church. The church-plants were not part of our network, and many were overwhelmed that we had decided to give support to their works. It was an awesome time.

In the spring, we decided to host two teacher-appreciation breakfasts for the teachers at two local schools - the high school in our backyard and the middle school not far from there. Needless to say, the faculty were very encouraged by our gesture of good will to them. And our people out-did themselves in putting together an awesome breakfast.

Just this past month in August, as I was preaching through the end of Isaiah, I did a message on how God's justice will be restored in the future kingdom. The main point was that as God's people today we can give people a taste of the justice that is coming by becoming an advocate for those who have not advocate. Our board stepped out in faith again and decided to give away half of that week's offering to support justice ministries around the world. We were blessed to be able to give away $6500 that week.

One of the greatest joys this past year has been seeing our church learn to be a truly generous community.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Read this article...

...about the bravery of Sarah Palin in keeping her Down Syndrome baby, Trig. Sadly, a very rare decision today.

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #7

Earlier this year, our elder board began praying about taking a radical step of faith as a young church: to plant our first church in 2009. I posted my thoughts on this blog earlier this summer about why we felt planting before we built was important, but I didn't really go into detail about how God had led us to make the decision. During our elder meetings this spring, we began to discuss our priorities as a church. We were growing numerically and financially and felt the responsibility to steward God's resources wisely. We began to pray and wrestle with the responsibility we had to manage God's people and money well.

There are many obstacles to planting a church in your first two years. In our cycle, we needed to find a planter this summer (before our one-year anniversary) so he could start the residency in September, build his team this fall, get involved in strategic evangelism this spring, and launch by next September. This means a plant needs about a one-year runway. This meant we had to make the decision about planting six months into the life of our church, which felt very fast. We were just getting our feet under us when we felt like we had to decide our first major step as a congregation.

More background - we typically get two questions from visitors when they come see us for the first time. One has to do with the age of the pastor. The second has to do with how long we plan on being in the YMCA. The first question is easy to answer - the second is not. We have told people repeatedly that we don't have a time-line in mind for a building campaign, but as we began talking about planting, we realized that our decision on a future facility was connected to our decision to plant. We couldn't do both in our second year, so which was more important to us?

As you know, we went the direction of planting first, hoping to set the precedent for our church family that reproducing spiritually dynamic churches was more important that brick and mortar. Of course, at some point in the future, a building will become necessary, but we wanted to make sure that building never got in the way of church-planting.

So, we decided to plant, met some of the potential planters, and picked Josh and Amber Cagle to be our first planters. They packed up and moved here from southern California in August, put their kids in school, and have now started the residency. They have stepped out in faith to lead a new church just as we have stepped out in faith to plant our first church. They leased out their home in California in one day, and God's hand has been on them as they have made the transition to Texas.

I can't wait to see how this story ends...

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #6

One of the first small group shepherds in our church-plant was Brad Hammack. Brad and his wife, Yvette, have a real love of hosting other people in their home. In fact, one of the first vision-casting meetings we had about family ministry was hosted in their back yard (I think this was the one where my oldest son peed on their fence while I was trying to wax eloquent about our passion to reach the city). Brad and Yvette had a strong small group from the time we started, leading one of the largest groups in our church.

Around launch time, I spend time challenging our shepherds to be prepared to multiply their groups so that we could be ready for the new families that God would send us. Brad took this challenge to heart, and he prepared Bob and Linda Goodfellow to step out and lead a new small group right after the launch of the church. The Goodfellow group started well and continues to this day. A few months later, with Brad's group continuing to grow and do well, Brad had the idea of multiplying his group again. This time, Brad tapped Dana and Carole Tucker to step out and lead a small group for the first time. In just a few months, the Hammack group had started two new small groups and developed two new couples into great small group leaders.

After he multiplied two small groups, Brad saw his own small group shrink in size and stay small for the next six months. But Brad never gave up and never threw in the towel. He stayed faithful to his ministry, and his group has begun to grow again. Most exciting of all, the Tucker small group has grown to the point where they are now multiplying their first small-group this summer. The Meese group has stepped out of the Tucker group and has stepped out in faith to start a neighborhood "seeker-group." It is exciting to see all of these couples step into leadership and grow in their trust in the Lord as He leads them to risk for Him.

As of this week, we now have 16 small groups. We launched a year ago with 7.

Friday, September 05, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #5

Barie and I first met Douglas and Darin Hallam about 5 years ago when they first came to work in the worship ministry at FBC Ovilla, where Barie and I were serving in student ministry. After many late night chats about church-planting, Douglas and Darin followed the Lord as He led them to move to the Austin area with us to be a part of the new church we were launching. Knowing that the planting process would take around 18 months and that nothing was garaunteed after that, Douglas decided to take a full-time job working at Starbucks while he worked part-time with our church.

Since then, Douglas has been promoted within Starbucks to the point where he is now managing his own store. In his part-time worship ministry position with us, he has been responsible for putting together the music for every service we have had since launch. Darin, his wife, used to work from home for Accenture, but they made the decision as a couple around the first of the year that they wanted to be able to allow Darin to stay at home as full-time mom (since they were preparing to have their second child).

Needless to say, it has been a tough 2.5 years for the Hallam family, but one in which God has been faithful in meeting their needs repeatedly and grown them tremendously. Having known the Hallams for a long time has allowed me the unique perspective of seeing God change their lives as they completely sold-out to Jesus Christ. Through this long journey, Douglas and Darin have learned to trust God with every step, they have learned to risk for the kingdom of God. Douglas has become a better leader during his time working at Starbucks, and both have grown as parents and spiritual leaders. Douglas has become an excellent guitar player in the last year and grown spiritually to the place where he could really push others in the walks with Christ. Most encouraging of all, God has turned the Hallams into missionaries for the cause of Christ. He has expanded their borders and given them influence with many people who are living far from God. I think every person that works with Douglas has visited our church at one time or another.

For all these reasons and many more, I was so blessed to be able to announce to our church family this morning that our elders had decided it is the right time in the life of our church to make the worship pastor position a full-time job. After a two week interview process, our elders last Friday asked Douglas to become our full-time pastor of worship and communications as of October 1st. He graciously accepted.

What a year it has been...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Year in Review: Life-Change Story #4

Another couple that we baptized together on Sunday evening was Scott and Cristal Misplay. Scott and Cristal came to us earlier this year and started attending our church regularly. Their first step into the life of our church was attending Life University: Marriage Edition this February on Sunday evenings at the YMCA. They were seated in our group, and so Barie and I had time to get to know them and hear their story.

Scott and Cristal had moved from California where Scott had been working in law-enforcement. Scott originally took a job consulting the Williamson County sheriff's department, but quickly stepped down from that job to take a position doing delivery for Fed-Ex. Scott said that he wanted more time with his family, and with Fed-Ex, even though his days start really early, he could be home every day by 1:00pm.

Scott and Cristal attended our membership course this spring and commented that they had been church-people in California, but had never really decided to center their lives on Jesus Christ. Cristal had been baptized around the age of 10, but told us that she had never made a public profession of faith as an adult. Scott also said that though he knew about Jesus, he had not made the decision to daily follow Jesus.

Over the course of the last several months, God has continued to work on Scott and Cristal about making Jesus Christ the center of their lives. After several conversations, they decided it was time to be baptized and make their personal trust in Christ known to their family, friends, and our church. On Sunday night, as they stood their in the water, Cristal said, "as a family, we've heard about Jesus for a long time, but now, we've decided to make him the center of our family and consider His will in all the decisions that we make..."