Why I’m Excited About Awaken: Strong Leaders

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!

You Need to Go to Catalyst

In Fall 2000, a good friend invited me to attend a conference uniquely designed to equip the next generation of leaders. I was instantly hooked and have only missed one year since.

I love Catalyst Conference! And if you’ve never been, you need to go…like, this year! Here’s a peek at what Catalyst is all about…

You won’t want to miss the Catalyst Conference this year, happening October 6-8, 2010 in Atlanta, GA. Here are the three big reasons why I attend Catalyst and why I think you should too:

  1. You will not find a more top shelf and diverse speaking lineup anywhere. While the gospel clearly is the foundation for the Catalyst movement, I appreciate the diversity of thought leaders, innovators, and practitioners that Catalyst is able to bring in year after year. Andy Stanley, Seth Godin, Francis Chan, Perry Noble, Beth Moore, Craig Groeschel, Daniel Pink, and many others will be speaking in labs and main sessions.
  2. Catalyst is like a really big family reunion. Hard to believe that a gathering of 13,000 leaders can feel like family, but it does and it is. Every year is an opportunity to put faces and stories with Twitter profiles and blogs.
  3. The experience. Catalyst is 3 days of sensory overload in the best possible sense of the phrase. You will be impacted by the stories, creativity, and at times, sheer craziness, that the Catalyst experience brings to the table.

I can just about guarantee that if you attend Catalyst, you will walk away with at least one new thought or idea that will transform your current reality, at least one new friend that you can learn from and partner with in what God has called you to accomplish, and some fresh inspiration to courageously pursue the vision God has given you.

Don’t miss out! Best Rates on Catalyst tickets end this Thursday, June 24th (TOMORROW!), so register now. Call 888.334.6569 to speak to a Catalyst Concierge, or register online at www.catalystconference.com. Use Rate Code FOB for an additional discount off your ticket price.

Catalyst will sell out, so make sure and register now. I’ll see you in Atlanta on October 6-8 for Catalyst 2010!

Our Story: The Nightmare Speed Bump

I shared last week about the long beginning of Awaken Church. While launching the way we did certainly had some wonderful blessings/advantages, there was one pretty significant disadvantage: a lack of experienced spiritual leaders. It didn’t appear as much of a disadvantage until the weakness was exposed.

After our 8th Sunday, we entered into a season that I never would have dreamed of happening. One friend called it a “death blow” for any church plant. To put it lightly, it was a speed bump. To describe it more appropriately, it was a nightmare.

But God in His grace brought us through what was a great season of trial. In the midst of it all, I learned lots of lessons, but one really big one: it’s never too early to start developing leaders. Here are some points God is teaching me:

1. Start before “launch” :: I should have been more intentional about developing spiritual leaders before we launched. Everything is so focused on launch day and the first few weeks after launch that you can easily forget the big picture. I forgot it and we paid for it. I’m convinced the season we went through would have been avoided if we had more men growing as spiritual leaders.

2. Start simple :: I think we as pastors/church planters sometimes think we have to have this brilliant strategy for leadership development that would be worthy of the biggest churches or biggest companies using to train leaders. The simple reality is that we can start by inviting potential leaders into our devotional lives. Start by getting together regularly to read the Bible, pray, and share life together. Most men have never been discipled – start by discipling them.

3. Teach theology :: Most of our leadership development plans teach skills. If we put practice over theology in the life of the church, we are sunk. On top of spiritual disciplines, teach theology. I recommend Wayne & Elliott Grudem’s Christian Beliefs as an accessible way to teach theological basics to budding spiritual leaders.

4. Invite them into your heart & mind for the church :: As you build relationship, spend time with God, and teach them theology, you will naturally be able to start sharing more of your heart and mind for the church. Help them understand the processes, systems, needs, etc. of the church. Help them to see the biblical roots. Share your vision for the future and some the questions you have about how to get there.

5. Invite them to help :: Eventually and appropriately, give them the opportunity to lead others or carry out various leadership roles in the church. With the opportunity, give them some freedom. Granted, they may not do it exactly like you would, but they are learning and it’s a start. Remember…big picture. Planting a church is a marathon, not a sprint. The same is true for developing leaders.

6. Don’t be afraid to start small :: You can’t start early enough and you don’t have to have a multitude to start. If you only have one guy, start with that one. If you do it right, it won’t be one for long.

We’re just now beginning to put the pieces back together and re-gain the momentum that was lost in November & December. After attendance dropping into the 60’s in early January, we’re now averaging 125 people per week and February was a record giving month! And, I’m now more committed than ever to developing leaders in our church.

The points I listed above are for me as much as they are for you as I am very much in the beginning stages of what I just wrote. Pastors…preach, lead, and cast vision. But, don’t forget to develop leaders now. Trust me, we’ve been where you don’t want to go.

Friday Five

It’s Friday. Which means it’s time for the Friday Five…

  1. MOVIES IN THE PARK is tonight at North Springs Park! Gates open at 7:30 pm and the movie will begin at sunset…about 8:30 pm. Tonight’s movie = Kung Fu Panda…should be funny. Our big goal is to Give a Ton of Hope to Harvest Hope – we want to raise 2000 lbs. of food over the next two events. It’s all FREE, so bring the fam and enjoy a beautiful night!
  2. I’m all kinds of excited about our Prayer & Communion Service on Sunday with our Launch Team and others who are helping Awaken get started. It’s all for naught if we forget that it’s all about Jesus. We’ll remember and celebrate that on Sunday.
  3. Our first Preview Service is next Sunday, August 16! Just typing that pumps me up and makes me want to throw up all at the same time.
  4. The days and weeks ahead will require transitions in my leadership that will stretch me like no other season has to this point. People will have to be empowered to lead if this thing is going to fly and that responsibility falls on my shoulders. Praying for God’s grace as we move forward!
  5. I still cannot believe this is happening. Two years ago, Awaken Church was a pipe dream and now, it’s becoming reality. God is good! May He be honored and lifted high by Awaken Church and may thousands find life in Him as a result!

See you next week with full reports from the weekend and who knows what as we get ready for next Sunday. One thing I know…it’s going to be fun! Have a great weekend!

Together for the Gospel: Fathers and Sons (Part 1)

Be sure to read the introduction and first part of this series of posts on healthy, gospel-centered, mission-driven unity. This series was inspired by conversations I participated in and themes I heard at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting three weeks ago in Louisville, KY.

Almost everyday, I talk with young church planters and pastors from all over our state and around the country. Inevitably, the conversations turn in the same directions and land on the same challenges.

The church planter is struggling to raise money and to make wise leadership decisions in planting his church. His inexperience and hidden fears are being exposed more and more everyday and he knows it.

The young pastor of an already established church is dealing with the inevitable discontent that comes with leading change. He just can’t figure out how to lead his church to renewed focus and gospel-effectiveness. Patience is what’s required and he’s running dangerously low.

At the end of every conversation, I’m left with two feelings. One, an increased level of gratitude for the pastors/leaders who have invested and who are investing in me. Two, an increased brokenness for my brothers in ministry who do not have that kind of relationship.

Fathers, it’s time to step up and love your sons. I’m talking about older, established pastors loving…really loving…the younger pastors and church planters that God has placed around you.

My dad and I were about as different as a father and son can be. He was short; I’m tall. He was stocky; I’m skinny. He was a handyman and could build or fix anything; I call people to build and fix stuff. He was a quiet administrator; I’m a loud motivator.

As different as we were, one thing I never doubted: My dad loved me and supported me. Always.

When I screwed up, he still loved and supported me. When he didn’t agree with me, he still loved and supported me. When I wouldn’t listen and then paid for my mistakes, he still loved and supported me.

Older pastors…us younger pastors need the same kind of relationship with YOU! Yes, we’re different – our hair is different, our dress is different, our worship styles are different, our church strategies are different, our church names are different, our preaching styles are different…

But on one front, we are the same. We love Jesus and we are laser-focused on the Great Commission! And we need you to help us succeed…and by helping us succeed, you are helping the gospel succeed in your city!

This got a little long, so I am breaking it into two parts. Part 2 has some stories and ideas and will post tomorrow…

Together for the Gospel: Sons and Fathers

Yesterday, I wrote an introduction for this series of posts on healthy, gospel-centered unity. If you missed it, make sure you read it so that you approach this and the next two posts with the right context.

When I speak of sons and fathers, I am not talking about the biological son/father relationship. Rather, I am speaking of a “son in the ministry” and a “father in the ministry.” Just like every son needs a father, every young pastor needs a “father in the ministry.”

Sadly, just like many sons go through life without a dad either by choice or by tragedy, many “sons in the ministry” labor for the gospel without a “father in the ministry” to lean on and learn from.

If we are going to see healthy, gospel-centered, mission-driven unity, the relationship between sons and fathers must be strong. It’s a two-way street and I’ll talk about the other side tomorrow, but today we’re talking about the foundational side.

Young pastor, just as you are called to honor your biological father, you are also called to honor your fathers in the ministry. If you love Jesus and care about the gospel advancing in your city, you must honor your fathers in the ministry.

We stand on the shoulders of these men. We run on the trails they have blazed. We harvest the fields they have planted and toiled in for years. Yet we often treat them like their voices, labor, experience and leadership are meaningless and antiquated.

We think…what they couldn’t do, we can and will. The questions we perceive they could not answer or didn’t answer well, we will answer and we don’t need them to help. The ideas they could not or did not run with, we will run with them…and we will succeed…without their help.

In the midst of our white-hot vision, we forget that some of the men pastoring in our cities led with the exact same white-hot vision 30 years ago. We forget that the men who seem so antiquated to us now were pushing the envelope years ago. We forget that they were the church planters who planted churches way before it was cool to plant churches. We forget that they were the missionaries taking the gospel to the nations way before there were the resources available like we have today.

We forget that they have learned and forgotten more than we could have possibly learned to this point. We forget that they have made mistakes that we are about to make…and have learned that lessons that we need to learn. We forget that they have led people, led change, celebrated victory and endured pain much, much more than we have.

We forget. And when we forget, we get arrogant. And when we get arrogant, we hurt the gospel because we break unity. We become idolators, worshipping our way as the way, our voice as the voice, our church as the church. It’s sinful and it must stop.

In order to see healthy, gospel-centered, mission-driven unity in our cities, the needed posture is honor. Young pastors, we must honor our fathers in the ministry. They’ve already earned it. Now, we must show it.

Young pastor, when was the last time you shared a cup of coffee or a meal with an older, established pastor simply to ask questions and learn from his experiences? Young pastor, when was the last time you wrote a thank you note to an older, established pastor? Young pastor, when was the last time you prayed for an older, established pastor and asked God to bless and use him and his church?

Sure, some won’t respond. It might surprise you who will and who won’t respond. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t show honor. For the ones who do respond, you have a gift…a true gift. You have a father in the ministry.

I am convinced that if we will give honor, we’ll see the kind of response we really want and need from our fathers in the ministry. More on that tomorrow along with some personal stories…

Take Them to the Streets

“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.’ And immediately, they left their nets and followed him.” Mark 1:17-18 (ESV)

I’m captivated by this and I wrestle with it everyday. Jesus did something here that frankly, we just don’t do very well. I don’t know if it’s because we don’t trust Him, we don’t trust the Holy Spirit…I don’t know. But everyday, I wrestle with what Jesus did here with His first followers.

One thing…He didn’t go after the religious elite. In fact, He went in the exact opposite direction. He found uneducated, ordinary guys. Fishermen. When He called them to follow Him, they had no idea who He was, where they were going, what they would do, or why it was important.

But, immediately, they dropped their nets, left everything that was comfortable and known, and followed Him.

And they didn’t even ask the most obvious question beyond those I just mentioned above. “Uhh, Jesus, what the heck does it mean to fish for men? Fish for fish, we got that. But fish for men…we’re a bit confused.” For some reason, it didn’t even matter. They just followed.

Now, here comes the wrestling match for me. What did Jesus do with these uneducated, ordinary guys that left everything they knew to follow Him?

Did Jesus lead them to a classroom and take them through the 10 points of being a disciple? Did he distribute notebooks with fill in the blank outlines and say, “Pay attention and take notes, boys…?”

No. He didn’t take his new, impressionable, uneducated, ordinary followers to the classroom. He took them to the streets.

The next part of Mark 1 finds these new followers listening and watching Jesus as he taught about the Kingdom of God to the crowd gathered in the synagogue in Capernaum. They watched as He cast out a demon and followed as He left the synagogue to heal Simon’s mother in-law. That night, they saw the huge crowd gather and watched as Jesus healed many who were sick. The next morning, they woke up only to find their new leader was already awake and was off by Himself praying. They found Him and followed Him on to the next towns for more preaching, more healing, and more praying.

No classroom. No fill in the blanks. No Survivor Kits.

Jesus skipped the classroom and went to the streets. His new followers learned what it meant to follow Jesus and fish for men by going with Him, watching Him, learning from Him, and then engaging in the work themselves.

What does this say to us who lead churches and attempt to lead people to love, worship, and follow Jesus with their whole lives? What does this say to people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus and now think they have to learn something before they can do anything for Jesus?

That’s where I wrestle. I’ll share some more throughout the week. Would love to hear your thoughts, if you have any on the matter.