Forward!

I don’t really do New Year’s resolutions.  I’m not opposed to them.  I just don’t take the time to sit down and write them out.  I guess you could say that I have a few tucked away that are the standard ones for every year: lose weight, read more, and eat less sweets.  If you were to ask me what my resolutions are, I’d give you those three.  Only after mumbling something about how they’re not really resolutions.  Then you would look at me like you’re confused and slightly offended.  Then I’d apologize.  It’d be a big thing, so it’s best to just not ask me.

We do these resolutions, though, because we want this year to be better than last.  Maybe it’s because of Christmas, but December 27 through December 31 of any year seems to be the 5 most optimistic days of the year.  Everyone wants to be better.  And what better day to start than January 1?  So I know where everyone is coming from.  I’m right there with you.

Everyone is also very quick to downgrade and be negative towards the current year.  Why?  We didn’t get better.  It’s kind of painful to think about, but 2013 didn’t prove to be the year that we lost 50 pounds, or that we found someone special, or that we graduated.  It was the year that we gained 20 pounds, broke up with a special person, failed a class or two, lost our job, got in a fight with a family member, saw our church split, lost a dear friend…

Do I need to say more?

The year was tough for some.  For others, it wasn’t as tough, but we still have those moments we want to forget.  And that’s alright.  Here’s what I know, and 2013 echoed these things:

God is still God.  No matter what.  That’s one thing that attracts people to God.  He is unchanging.  And despite what you’re going through, he is still God.  And he will be God.  Forever.

There is a plan.  At the risk of sounding too flighty, understand that God has a plan that you fit into.  No matter what your theology is, there is something organized and orchestrated that you are doing for the Kingdom of God.  You, and you only.

You’re not a slave.  This may sound like a weird one, but I see a lot of defeated Christians.  We sometimes can’t see past our own sin.  But we know that we are no longer slaves to sin.  We serve and follow Christ, who defeated everything (including death).  Yet we still sit in the shackles of our wrong-doing, although God has forgiven us through Christ.  Just remember that you’re not a slave.

2014, as I write this, is just about 6 hours away.  Japan and Australia have said that 2014 is awesome so far, so we’re in for a treat.  Here are some things I’d love to see happen in 2014 for me, my family, and my church.

Middlepoint Christian Church launching.  God is up to something huge in Middlesboro, and Middlepoint is going to play a role in that.  Just as other churches and people will.  Middlepoint will launch in 2014, and it will be loud.  I can’t wait.

Raising over $75,000.  Starting a church (or any organization) takes money.  There’s a lot of groundwork to do, and the biggest help for us is financial help.  I have set a goal for 2014 to raise at least $75,000.  I can’t do it.  Neither can you.  But God will be able to work through us and we can do it together.  If you want to help us out in this, go to middlepoint.org to find out how.

Take a vacation.  This may sound strange, but it’s necessary.  No matter what job you have, you need to some time to recharge.  This goes for me, too.  My wife and I will be taking some time to ourselves.  It’ll be great.  And I look forward to it.

Go to Catalyst.  This may sound small and insignificant, but it’s needed.  If you’re a leader of any organization, especially something like a church, then you need to take some time and go to a conference to learn.  If you don’t, then you are cheating your organization or church out of the opportunity to have a leader that is growing and learning.  For me, this conference is Catalyst.  I’ve wanted to go for about 8 years, but have never gotten the opportunity.  This past October, though, I got to go due to the generosity of some supporters of the church.  It was magnificent.  I’ll be heading back this October.

Read more.  I know.  I made fun of it at the beginning.  But it’s true.  I want to read more.  Not just ministry and theology books, either.  Recently, a church leader encouraged me to read for enjoyment.  So I picked up a couple of biographies, and geeked out for a while.  It was great!  So I will do that more.  I’m actually reading a book right now about famous people from Kentucky.  Sure, it sounds lame, but I love that stuff!

Ready for 2014?  You should be.  Happy New Year!

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Celebrhate: The Terrible Pun of Church Planter’s Jealousy

I’ve never been the jealous type.  Sure, I had former girlfriends in high school that would start dating that “other guy” who is just the worst guy in the history of guys.  And I would feel a twinge of anger and jealousy.  But after a few minutes, I was laughing it up with my friends and I was OK.  Honestly, that was the extent of my “jealous rage.”  Fleeting, if you will.  I can probably give credit for this to the fact that my brother is older than me and by the time that I would have entered the jealous phase of sibling rivalry, he had graduated high school and moved on from the area of life I was entering into.  I could probably also point to my friends, who had pretty cool heads and didn’t let things flare them up.  There’s all kinds of factors, and I won’t take the time to list them.

As you probably already know (since you are reading this), I am a church planter in a small city in Kentucky.  Being a recent graduate of a Christian university, being in seminary now, and loving to talk to other planters, I have a pretty good network of church planters and church leaders that I talk to on a regular basis, as well as follow on social media.  I love seeing their updates on Sunday.  The anticipation they have of God doing something great, and the excitement they have for everything their church does.  I share that with them, even though I am still in the beginning stages of church planting.  Everything I read or look at on social media on Sunday is usually great, and I’m right there with them in their excitement and joy.

Then Monday comes.

Like I said, I’m not one to be jealous a lot.  So, imagine my surprise in the recent months whenever I have logged onto Facebook and Twitter on Monday, suddenly filled with a jealousy that could quickly consume me.  Why, though?

Great things happened yesterday at their church.  And not mine.

Ridiculous, right?  But it was a battle I faced every Monday, and something I still struggle with.  It’s a feeling that I have coined with a terrible pun: celebrhate.  It’s a mixture of celebration for the dozens or hundreds of people who came to know Jesus yesterday at their church.  It is also mixed with hate (jealousy), though, because a church a couple of hours north or south of us has just passed the 500 person mark, or they just bought a new building, or they just made a deal with the school system to use a state of the art facility for their worship experiences.  I get jealous of the graphic designer they have, jealous of the worship leader that helps them out, jealous of the outreach they are doing.

It’s a terrible spot to be in.  It’s also very selfish of me.

I really don’t have a right to be jealous.  They’re further along in their ministries, have more money, have bigger budgets, and God is blessing them.  Yet it’s still there.  I empathize with Paul whenever he talks about his feelings in Romans 7: I want to do what is good, but I don’t.  I don’t want to do what is bad, but I do.  So I see that sin, like jealousy, is a struggle.  For me.  And maybe for other beginning church planters, too.

But thank God.  He can set us free from this.  Here’s a few things that have helped me, and maybe they’ll help you, too.

Social media is not a diary.  It’s a billboard.  You might have heard this before, but I just heard it a couple of months ago at Catalyst in Atlanta.  Church leaders post the highlights on social media.  The baptisms, the record attendance, the massive fundraising effort, the successful Christmas outreach.  But what you don’t see on social media are the nights in prayer, begging God to make this thing work.  You don’t see the year and a half that the planter spent in the city, working odd jobs and trying to build a base for the church.  You also don’t see the depression and anxiety of running such an important organization.  Maybe there’s a reason for that.

Church planting is tough.  I got to meet Andy Stanley.  I told him that I was planting a church.  He looked at me, and with all the wisdom he has by planting a church in 1995 that grew to be one of the largest and fastest growing churches in America, he said, “Church planting is tough.  Just remember that: It’s just tough.”  I remember those words from time to time, particularly on Monday mornings as I scroll through Instagram or Twitter.  Just remember that church planting is tough.  The church planters you’re looking at on social media know that, and so do you.  You’re all in the same boat on that.

Wherever you are, that’s where you are.  Seems redundant, but it’s true.  You are where you are for a reason.  It’s hard to believe that sometimes, I understand.  I have to remind myself of this truth whenever a church or organization says that they aren’t going to support Middlepoint.  I remind myself of this whenever I have events and no one shows up.  I remember this whenever I get offered a different ministry that would seemingly erase all of the troubles I’m experiencing.  I especially remember this on Monday mornings browsing Facebook.  I am a church planter in Middlesboro, KY – a city that I absolutely love.  I’m here for a reason, and God has big things in store.  I have no clue what those things are, but they’re there.  This is where the rubber meets the road when it comes to faith.  But, again, don’t worry: We’re all in the same boat.

I’m sure this list of things will grow as I grow as a church planter.  And I know that I will be jealous again.  But I know that God has saved me from a life of sin and death.  Jealousy will leave, and God is still God.

If you want to check out the journey of Middlepoint, go to our website at middlepoint.org to find our social media links.  And I’ll try my best not to make you jealous.

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