Last night, I had the privilege of meeting with a group of men who are living, breathing answers to prayer. And I couldn’t be more proud of or thankful for them.
While this is my last week serving as Lead Pastor of Awaken Church before I transition to serve as Lead Pastor of North Rock Hill Church, I am excited and confident about her future. Earlier this week, I shared 2 reasons why I feel this way (you can read those posts here and here).
When Awaken launched a little over 2 years ago, God gave us the opportunity to reach many people who were far from Him, many who had been away from church for a long time, and many who had never really been a part of a church. While we were very thankful for what God was doing, it wasn’t long before a major deficiency in our new church was exposed.
We desperately needed leaders. And lots of them! There was just so much to do between running the day to day and week to week operations of the church, handling finances, discipling new believers, following up with guests, training teams and leaders, counseling, etc etc.
For a while, it was euphoric because the dream we had for so long and the prayer we prayed for so long was being answered – God was using our church. But after a few months of the euphoric activity, I added a new prayer…”God raise up leaders! Or send us leaders! Or do both!”
God in His grace did both. Over the last year, God has raised up leaders in our church as those who were once brand new to Christianity, brand new to church, or had been away for a while grew and matured in Christ. And, God has sent us leaders as couples and families have moved to Columbia from other places and have looked for a faith family to be on mission with.
God has multiplied our leadership and that is one of the biggest reasons why I have confidence about Awaken’s future. As I met with our Advisory Team for the final time last night, I looked at men who are the fulfillment of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.
They are men who are above reproach. They are pastoring themselves well. They are pastoring their families well. They are pastoring outsiders well. And, they have already been helping to pastor our church well. As I gave them a charge and prayed over them, I did so in awe of how God had moved to answer our prayer for more leaders.
And the best part is they’re not all the leaders we have. The men I met with last night made a list of others in our church that they feel are ready to take the next step in leadership. Not only did they make a list, but the guys developed a plan to begin meeting with and pouring into the next group of leaders for Awaken. Yes!
I drove home last night an encouraged, thankful, and proud Pastor. Awaken, God has answered our prayer! He has raised up leaders and He has sent us leaders. And they have developed a pipeline to raise up even more leaders!
Get behind these guys…trust them, follow them, and encourage them…they will lead you well!
I’m an addict. I’m addicted to Lara Beth…have been since I met her in the 5th grade. Cheesy I know, but true. I’m addicted to the Gamecocks…have been since 1984, the first football season I remember tracking game for game and play for play. I’m addicted to Starbucks coffee…have been since college when I had my first latte and first cup of dark roasted coffee.
And, I’m addicted to life change…have been since the grace of God radically changed my own life in 1995. My addiction went to hyper-addiction my freshman year in college as I shared the gospel with a friend and watched the same grace of God change his life. As he called on Jesus as Savior and God, my heart exploded with a passion to see God do that again and again. I was hooked!
When we moved to Columbia in 2007 to begin the process of planting Awaken Church, we were broken over the number of people in our city who did not know this life-changing grace of God. Our number one prayer was to plant a church that God would use to reach many people who were far from Him.
In this my last week serving as Lead Pastor at Awaken, it thrills my soul and brings tears to my eyes to see how God has answered that prayer. He’s answered it over and over and over again. As God has used Awaken to share the gospel of His grace, many who were far from God have been transformed by His grace. And now, like me, they’re addicts.
One of our first conversions was Brian. Brian trusted Jesus as Savior in one of our launch team meetings. He was so fired up about God’s grace to him that he was baptized on the spot…in his clothes! Now, Brian is one of Awaken’s most faithful partners and a true giver of his time, talent, and resources. Why? So that others will experience what he has experienced. He’s an addict!
This year, we’ve seen God do the miraculous in several marriages that were on the brink of ending before finding Awaken. Enter God’s grace and God’s people. The grace of God has brought salvation, forgiveness, renewal, and restoration to husbands, wives, and their kids. Now, these couples and families are sharing their stories of restoration and renewal with others who are where they were a few months ago. Why? They’re addicts!
Just recently, a hurting man named Billy showed up at Awaken with his family. He had lots of good reasons to stay away from God and from church. But the grace of God was at work drawing Billy. At the invitation of a friend, Billy and his family came to Awaken, heard the gospel, and were transformed by God’s grace! Now, Billy is leading his family, they are serving, they are in community, and they are passionate about sharing with others. Why? They’re addicts!
I could keep going and going. We’ve seen God do the miraculous as over 110 men, women, students, and children have been changed by the gospel in the 2 years since Awaken’s launch. Because the gospel is so fresh and new life in Christ is so real, these who have been radically transformed have become passionate missionaries of the gospel. They are addicts!
Praise God, Awaken is full of addicts…people addicted to God’s grace and addicted to seeing lives changed by God’s grace! I know these addicts will continue to make bold moves to love, serve, share, give, and go so that others will hear the gospel and be transformed by God’s grace like they have been. And as they do, God will continue to answer the prayer that got this whole thing started four years ago.
That’s an addiction I hope is never broken!
As you may already know, I announced my resignation from Awaken Church on November 13 to accept the call to serve as Lead Pastor of North Rock Hill Church in Rock Hill, SC. You can read my post about that decision here.
It’s a surreal season as we close out our time in Columbia and our time at Awaken. It’s bittersweet…like sending your kid off to college. You’re excited to see what’s going to happen next, but sad you won’t have a front row seat for it.
I believe in Awaken Church and love her dearly. I believe strongly that God has greater things ahead for her. So, I want to use this week, my last as Lead Pastor at Awaken, to share a few of the reasons I am excited about what is ahead for Awaken.
Literary great Charles Dickens penned the words, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” to serve as the opening words of his classic, A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens must have known something about church planting because that’s it in a nutshell – the best and the worst. Sometimes at different times. Sometimes at the same time.
I can honestly say we have never felt the intensity of spiritual warfare, the physical exhaustion, the emotional anguish, or the spiritual depletion we have experienced at times over the last four years. You hear the wisdom of those who have gone before you, but there’s always that, “It won’t be like that for us,” mentality that I guess goes with being crazy enough to plant a church. But then it all does happen. And it happens often. And it hurts…a lot.
But then, I can honestly say we have never felt the joy of serving, the elation over lives changed and prayers answered, the love of God’s people, and the power of the gospel like we have in the last four years. We have seen God do the miraculous in saving souls, restoring families, providing for needs, making disciples, and sending missionaries. We’ve had a front row seat for a miraculous move of God. And, we’ve seen God do amazing things in our own lives to encourage, provide, teach, and strengthen us.
So, how do you press through the roller coaster of hardship and joy? The answer is the same as the answer to the question of how Awaken will continue on. Awaken Church was God’s idea. He is obsessed over that which is lost in Columbia, SC. He is on a mission to seek and save that which is lost.
This is God’s church. And that is the number one reason why I am excited and confident about Awaken’s future. He is the One who sovereignly worked to call us, to sustain us, to provide for us, and to use us. He is also the One who has called us elsewhere. Which means He has another leader for Awaken to take her forward into the future.
We are His vessels and we are grateful to have served as catalysts for what He wants to do in Columbia through Awaken Church. He gave us His heart, passion, and vision, and now that has spread to dozens and dozens. Through it all, God has built a church. And He’s just getting started!
God is working right now to prepare a new Lead Pastor for Awaken. In the meantime, He is going to use this season to strengthen His church and prepare her for what’s next and for her new Lead Pastor. All the while, He will continue to use Awaken to make His name great through lives changed by the gospel.
What God starts, He finishes (Philippians 1:6). What God promises to build, He builds (Matthew 16:18). When God promises abundantly more, He does abundantly more (Ephesians 3:20-21). In the best of times and the worst of times…He is there, He is at work, and He is able!
Awaken Church is God’s Church. It was four years ago when we moved to Columbia. It was two years ago when we launched. It is now. It will be for all eternity.
The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have…Am I not sending you?” Judges 6:14 (HCSB)
I shared a little of the behind the scenes story with you yesterday on why Awaken is moving again. Today, I wanted to share the biggest reason we’re excited about the move back to Polo Road Elementary.
On September 11, we will launch TWO Sunday morning worship services at 9:30 am and 11:15 am! Moving to two services has five big benefits for our mission:
- We have more room to reach more people. Our greatest limiting factor at Polo Road is space – everything is smaller because it’s an elementary school. Multiple worship services multiplies the space and will allow us to reach more people.
- No longer will volunteers have to miss the worship service in order to serve. Now, volunteers can attend a service AND serve during a service. That will be a huge encouragement to our current volunteers and will hopefully help new attenders take the next step to serve.
- Involved people can invite people every week. We’ve learned that it’s much more difficult to invite friends to church when you will be serving and unable to sit with them during the service. Now, everyone who is involved will be able to invite friends to the service they attend every week.
- AwakenKids small group leaders will have greater impact and influence. Rather than having so many small group leaders rotating throughout the month, leaders can serve more consistently because they no longer have to miss the service in order to serve. Consistency means leaders will get to know kids and their families much better. Consistency leads to influence and impact!
- Something new creates and sustains momentum. God has given us a healthy shot of momentum – attendance is up by 30%, giving is up, and many have been been saved this summer. We want to see that momentum increase, not flame out. Two services allows that momentum to carry into the school year.
Two services allows us to reach more people…involve more people…invite more people…better influence kids and families. We’re praying for an “Only God” move of God in this move to two services – that He would make His name great through even more lives changed by the gospel!
If you’re not yet involved at Awaken, why not do it now and be a part of what God is doing?! Simply complete this form and we’ll help you find your place.
I joked last week that Awaken is becoming a nomadic church. Like Rick Warren said about the early days of Saddleback, “If you can find us, you can come!” Finding and securing meeting space for a new church is one of the most exciting and frustrating parts of the deal.
We built an incredible partnership with Polo Road Elementary School in the 2 years we met there from our launch team meetings in 2009 to May 2011. Heading into the summer, we needed to find a different location because of renovation work scheduled at Polo Road.
By God’s grace, the door opened for us to meet at Spring Valley High School. This was a huge answer to prayer and put us in an incredible location with a beautiful facility. We experienced a great deal of growth over the summer and hoped to be able to stay at Spring Valley.
We made our request to stay and after a couple of conversations, Spring Valley had to say, “No.” The principal shared his reasons with me, all of which I understand and completely support. In fact, in our conversation, he said we were the best outside organization they have ever worked with and graciously allowed us to stay at Spring Valley until we figured out what was next for us.
“What’s next” didn’t take long to figure out. While we examined a couple of other longshot options, we also checked back in at Polo Road. Their immediate response was, “you know you have a home here and we’d love to have you back.” What a gift God has given us – a public school and a local church enjoying that kind of partnership!
So, it was really a no brainer and we’re very excited about the move back to Polo Road. We’re praying bold prayers, attempting great things for God, and expecting great things from Him.
The week before we found out we could not stay at Spring Valley, our staff visited Elevation Church to worship together and meet with some of their staff. Pastor Steven Furtick preached a powerful message from Judges 6 and the verse that grabbed me was Judges 6:14 (HCSB) – “The Lord turned to him and said, ‘Go in the strength you have…Am I not sending you?‘” That proved to be a prophetic word for me and our church.
Why are we pumped about moving to Polo Road? Because God is sending us. Because He is sending us, then He is with us. Because He is sending us, He has gone before us.
His plan for Awaken Church was not thwarted by a school, a policy, or a decision. He is ruling, reigning, and rescuing and He is the strength that we have because He is sending us!
:: Important Dates ::
- Sunday, August 28 @ 10:30 am :: Final Worship Service @ Spring Valley
- Sunday, August 28 @ 4:00 pm :: Volunteer Vision Night @ Polo Road
- Sunday, September 4 @ 10:30 am :: First Worship Service @ Polo Road followed by Baptism & BBQ
- Sunday, September 11 :: Fall Launch @ Polo Road
Tomorrow, I’ll share more about what we’re doing for our Fall Launch on September 11. He’s sending us and we’re pumped!
God has given us a great summer at Awaken! We’ve had a record number of first time guests over the last month, total attendance is up 30%, and the move to Spring Valley High School has been huge. We’re thankful for what God has done and still believe the best is yet to come.
I hope you’ll join us Sunday for Part 3 of our FAQ series. Last week, we answered the question, “Is Hell Real?” This week, we’re tackling the question, “Is Jesus Really Coming Back?” Thanks to Harold Camping and his prediction that Jesus would return in May, tons of people are wondering about the second coming of Jesus.
We’re expecting God to do big things as we worship on Sunday. Be there and bring someone with you!
See you Sunday at 10:30 am at Spring Valley High School!
Five sort of random but important tidbits for your Friday reading enjoyment…
- Have you ever wondered what it would be like to predict that the world would end on a specific date and then spend millions of dollars marketing the date all over the world? Wonder if that guy will have trouble sleeping tonight? In all seriousness, for helpful commentary on how to rightly think about Jesus’ return and what to do with this prediction, check out Dr. Albert Mohler, my seminary President, and his thoughts.
- I’m really looking forward to preaching part 4 of the Family Vacation series this Sunday at Awaken. I’m praying that God will use this sermon to radically change the direction of marriages and families – I believe He will. Get there and get your friends there for what promises to be a great day!
- You can still sign up to be in a Community Group at Awaken. Groups will begin meeting again in June. Don’t miss this chance to connect with others in Awaken, to grow as a follower of Jesus, and to be on mission together in our city. For more on Community Groups at Awaken and to sign-up for one, visit our website.
- We are officially inside of 3 weeks until the arrival of Baby Girl Hardwick #3! Excitement is definitely building in our house as we paint rooms, set-up the nursery, get our 2 daughters adjusted to sharing a room, wash and organize baby stuff, etc. Can’t wait to welcome her to our family! We covet your prayers for LB and this new blessing!
- Last but not least…I have a HUGE announcement for Awaken on Sunday that will have a major impact on our immediate future and our ability to make God’s name great through lives changed by the gospel. I can’t wait to share what God has done, the opportunity He has given us, and what we believe He’s going to do!
All week, we knew there was a chance for rain and thunderstorms on Friday night. But, that’s pretty much every night in the Spring and Summer in Columbia, so everything went forward as planned.
Our crew began setting up for the event at 3:30pm. The weather was perfect, we had a ton of volunteers, and everything was rolling along very well. By the time the gates officially opened, we already had 600 people at the park for the event. 30 minutes later when I welcomed everyone and introduced our sponsors, 2100 people were at the park. Awesome!
It was incredible to see how well our teams served those in attendance. Red shirts were everywhere and doing everything from serving drinks and popcorn, to welcoming, to parking…even spraying bug spray for those who needed it. The best part was to see how much fun our teams were having while they served.
Then, 5 minutes before we started the movie, I get a weather statement on my phone saying a Severe Thunderstorm Warning has been issued for our area. We check the radar and sure enough, a massive storm is on its way with high winds, large hail, heavy rain, and lots of lightning. We could see the clouds and lightning in the distance, the wind was picking up, and the temperature was dropping. Not good!
I had no choice but to call off the event. As I stood to make the announcement, a gust of wind blew through the park that almost turned our movie screen into a kite! Thankfully, it fell gracefully, and no one was hurt. I announced the event was cancelled and asked everyone to leave calmly. What happened next blew me away.
Those same teams in those same red shirts went to work like I have never seen a group of people work. What took 4 hours to set up was safely packed up in about 30 minutes. I saw our team helping families gather their belongings, holding little kids hands, walking with people to their cars…doing whatever it took to help people. No one asked them to do it…they just did it.
With that many people leaving all at once and exiting onto the busiest road in our part of the city, 5 of our men ran out to the street with vests and parking flashlights and started directing traffic. No one asked them to do it…they just did it.
A team went around picking up trash that the wind was blowing everywhere. Another team was driving around the field gathering the trash out of trash cans. No one asked them to do it…they just did it.
Did I mention that it was pouring rain the whole time most of this was going on?
So, we didn’t get to show the movie. But, we did get to serve and love on people, we did get to bless our city and our sponsors, and we did get to have those divine appointment type conversations with people. And hopefully, God used our teams to demonstrate the gospel through their selfless service.
And that’s how a cancellation becomes a win. Awaken Church, I’m so proud of you!
Heading into the Summer of 2009, our Launch Team was looking for a way to connect with the community in a big way prior to launching Awaken. After much discussion amongst ourselves, meetings with community leaders, and learning from other churches, we landed on Movies in the Park. What has happened since, has been nothing short of mind-blowing!
That first summer, with about 20-25 people on our launch team, we put on this outdoor movie event hoping that a couple hundred people would show up. Much to our surprise, over 1000 people came to both events! Last summer, we saw an average of 2000 people come to each event. Now, Movies in the Park has become an anticipated event in our part of the city.
Our goals for Movies in the Park are much more and much deeper than just drawing a big crowd of people. Here are the big reasons why we do this event:
- To bless our city :: We constantly reinforce the DNA in our church that we are here to make a difference in our city. We want to be so involved in the city that if we vanished, the city would weep and miss us. The idea for this event really started out of conversations with community leaders and asking, “What does the community need?”
- To involve people :: Movies in the Park has become a great first step for people who have been attending Awaken, but have yet to get involved. It’s fun to serve at the event and new people get connected with our Partners and volunteers.
- To connect with people & invite them to Awaken :: While we do not turn Movies in the Park into a preaching crusade, we do want to leverage the opportunity to serve and connect with the people that come. There are many people who are connected and involved at Awaken now who first came to Movies in the Park.
- To build partnerships :: Movies in the Park could not happen without sponsors and partners from the community. This year, Verizon Wireless, Chick-fil-a, EdVenture Children’s Museum, Coca-Cola, Richland County Recreation Commission, and Gary Patterson State Farm Insurance are stepping up big time to make the event happen. We value these partnerships not just for Movies in the Park, but for other opportunities to serve our city.
We thank God for the platform and favor He has given us in the city through Movies in the Park! We’re excited about this years events on May 13 and June 17. If you haven’t signed up to serve, email our event director Misti Bailey (email@example.com) and join the team putting on this great event! And of course, invite everyone you know to join us on Friday night. It could very well lead to them taking that next step to follow Jesus!
This is an incredibly exciting season for Awaken Church! God has given us a wave of momentum from Easter and even though summer is upon us, we have no plans of shrinking back. Here are three things to put on your radar…
1. Family Vacation continues this Sunday :: Our goal for this sermon series is to discover God’s vision for our families and how we can live it out. The response from the first week of this series was way beyond my expectations, so I have high hopes for what God is going to do as we continue on. Sunday is Mother’s Day and we have a little something special planned to start the service…so, don’t be late! You can visit our website for more info on Family Vacation.
2. Movies in the Park is next Friday :: Movies in the Park is an outdoor, family-friendly, community event that Awaken puts on each summer in partnership with area businesses and organizations. Last year, an average of 2000 people attended each event and we’re expecting the same this year. Movies in the Park is a great way for us to bless our city and connect with and serve lots of people. For more info on Movies in the Park, you can check out our website or Facebook page.
3. Community Groups are forming now :: May is an “off” month for our Community Groups as many are having parties, serving in the community, and adding new members. If you are not in a Community Group, now is the perfect time to join one! We literally have groups meeting all over the city, there is a place for you. For more info on Community Groups, visit our website and to join one, you can visit the Next Steps area on Sunday.
There are a couple of other things going on right now that I can’t share just yet, but are very, very exciting. God has His hand on this church and I absolutely cannot wait to see what is next! The best is truly yet to come!
See you Sunday for part 2 of Family Vacation!