The longer I serve as a pastor the more I witness first hand the pain of sin as it attacks friendships, marriages, and families. One of the things our pursuits of our own desires often blinds us to is the effect those empty pursuits are having on those around us. Reading Jonathan Edwards’ book LEFT immersed me into the emotional roller coaster of life when a parent leaves. More like a guided memoir than a book, Jonathan bares his own story to bring hope to those who share it, and needed awareness to those who do not. I’ve always appreciated Jonathan’s refusal to sugar coat a journey that is filled with turns, setbacks, and unexpected wins and losses. This makes his writing relatable to each of us which is why you will probably finish the book in one sitting. And what I love most about this work is that his hope comes through in the soul level security he finds as an adopted child of God.
Listen, this book should probably be on the NYT best seller list. Yes Jonathan is my friend so I hope it gets there one day so I can say “I knew him when”. But more importantly I hope it gets there to bring light to the tragic epidemic of dysfunctional manhood in our culture and the fruit it is bearing on the next generation. Maybe you need to read this to find healing from the pain someone has caused you. Maybe you need to read this and then repent of the pain you’ve caused. Or, maybe you are like me and you need to begin to feel the weight of what some people you know are carrying around so that you can function as a better friend to him or her.
Bottom line, you will be well served in one or more ways to dive into Jonathan’s story and then experience the hope he’s now living with.
We received an incredible amount of support in response to our announcement last Friday to which we can only say Thank You! Over the coming year’s diet of blogposts I’ll without a doubt put up some posts relating to this journey we’ve started in on. It’s a way for us to process everything and a way to keep you updated on how to pray.
When Courtney and I began to feel a sense of confirmation that we were going to plant a new church, the next obvious question was…where? How do you decide on a place to go plant not just a church, but the rest of your life? Thankfully I am surrounded by some pretty strong Christian men whose wisdom helped me as, once again, I try and figure out what God is calling me to do. After praying, fasting, and having a lot of conversations I think we came to the decision by working through a familiar set of three filters*
1. Opportunity: Where does the community say I am needed? 3 reasons Charlotte rocketed quickly to the top for us:
1. The People - I’ve been visiting charlotte for 10 years since my college roommate moved to the QC. I love the energy and sense of pride that permeates Charlotte that says “whatever ATL, we are the true southern city!” These people embody the good parts of southern culture (hospitality, sweet tea, and work ethic) while also embracing the progressive personality of a true metropolitan city (hating traffic, loving the arts, & hopeful for what’s next). Charlotte is projected to grow by 71% in the next 15 years making it the co-fastest growing city in the US (respect RDU). While much of that growth is coming from the Northeast and internationally, people are coming from everywhere to the Queen City! Which means…catch this…we can reach the nations through Charlotte. Seriously, one estimate is that there are close to 100 languages spoken in the charlotte metro area. People groups Americans could never go visit are represented by refugees living in Charlotte. My prayer is that you get as excited as me about what that means for a church. Now lets keep going. Young Professionals are flocking to the city and they represent a key demographic that responds to new movements like a church plant. UNCC is the 2nd largest university in the state and will likely become the largest in the next 5 years…and they now have a football team! Add in 4 other growing colleges and you have a huge population who often make the faith decisions that will determine their life trajectory during these undergrad years. I decided to live for Christ my freshman year and ever since I’ve felt a real calling to be a part of a church that reaches and disciples college students.
2. The Spiritual Climate – One thing I feel a real burden to make sure our launch team, friends, family, and supporters understand is that Charlotte of 2014 is not Charlotte of 1980. More churches are closing their doors than opening them every year in Charlotte. Despite population increase, church involvement is on the decline. The top 9 most unreached neighborhoods in North Carolina are inside the city limits of Charlotte.** The growing population demands more gospel-centered church families! Many more! Even so, God is doing great work through several faithful churches in Charlotte and we are honored to bring reinforcements Studies confirm that the average new church gains 1/3 to 2/3 of its new members from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshipping body, while churches over 10 to 15 years of age gain 80 to 90 percent of new members by transfer from other congregations.*** So a booming city like charlotte needs new churches to engage those who don’t have a church family yet!
On top of the stats, The idols of financial security, social significance, success, and leisure have become the unspoken gods worshipped by most of those in the city. Underneath these idols is a deep insecurity marked by fear of failure or exposure. I know these idols because they are mine as well! And I’m so thankful God saved me from them. The gospel brings freedom from these idols that many have become enslaved to. The Charlotte of today needs the gospel more than ever. We are hopeful and honored that, with God’s grace, we will get to build a gospel-centered church family for the Queen City.
3. Our Sending Church – A theme in this post is relying on the input of others. Charlotte was identified by The Summit Church and many missions agencies as a strategic city to plant a gospel-centered church. I recognize I have biases that I cant even see so I relied heavily on the counsel of our church. When their desire matched mine, I knew we might have something really good in the making.
2. Passion: What am I passionate about? For me this was one of the instigators of the entire process. When i started my position as a small groups pastor I was hungry. My passion to see the church be a healthy body of Christ made me hungry for creating the best possible small groups the church could have. building a healthy church was a moral imperative for me. I HAD TO DO IT. And you know what? By God’s grace that passion has not subsided one bit. If anything, it has grown. I am confident God has called me to vigilantly disciple & shepherd his church for the rest of my life. But, recently God began to stir two other passions: Leading the church and teaching the scriptures. As I processed those with the elders here at the Summit they challenged me, rightly so, to make sure that wasn’t pride or wander-lust, but genuine God-given desire Paul tells timothy about in 1 Timothy 3. This took time. the better part of 2 years actually. I’m so grateful for that process as I feel much more prepared now than I did two years ago.
3. Ability: What do others say I’m good at? This was the scariest part for me. I wanted to be good at preaching and leading. But just because I want to be doesn’t mean that I am. I cannot stress this enough: The best thing I could do for my future was to submit my pride to the counsel of others. And this is another reason I am so grateful for 6 years of preaching practice here in different arenas at the Summit. because while i might have had some natural gifts, I needed a lot of practice. Many are in that same camp I think. They desire to do something so they assume they are good at it. What a humbling process that was for me! Basically my coaches 6 years ago said “you might be good one day, but you need work. go get some practice.” Now, I still need a lot of work but man I’m a different preacher than 6 years ago. By God’s grace I’ll be a different preacher 6 years from now. But, ultimately during this process those around me have affirmed that God has called and equipped me for teaching the bible and leading the church.
* These criteria are adapted from a post by J.D. Greear who took it from Tim Keller…who probably got it from Paul. Here is J.D.’s post on it.
**Tracked by NCBSC in analysis of the most recent U.S. Census
*** see Center Church by Tim Keller. pg 359. Multiple studies cited
Over the past year Courtney and I have been in the process of praying and seeking God about a growing desire I’ve had to give more of my time and energy to preaching the gospel and leading the church. The Summit Church, our church family, has walked with us through assessments and sought God’s leading on our behalf. With the affirmation of the elders fully behind us, we are being sent by the Summit Church to plant a church in….wait for it….CHARLOTTE, NC!!
That’s right. Queen City here we come! Home to 2.4 Million people and projected to be (along with our dear home city of Raleigh) the fastest growing city in the U.S. over the next 15 years, Charlotte is becoming a truly metropolitan city. Though traditionally known as a “Bible Belt” city, an influx of international business and the rapid secularization of Charlotte are quickly creating a great need for gospel-centered churches. It is estimated that there are over 1 million people in the Charlotte area with no clear understanding of the Gospel. With over 100 languages spoken in the Charlotte area we believe it is a strategic city to reach the nations through.
This week I transitioned into the Summit’s Church Planting Residency where I will receive coaching as we begin building a team, raising funds, and developing a strategy for planting a healthy local church in 2015. Until June 2015 I will continue serving part time as the small groups pastor of the Summit while during the residency.
There is a lot to do, but if you leave this post with any action step, it is to pray. When you sit down to pray, open up to Joshua 1.9-10 and pray the following:
Pray we’d remember the presence of the Lord goes with us. Pray against fear and insecurity that so easily defames the glory of God in our hearts.
Pray about how you can be a part of this journey by giving financially or by going. Few who read this (more like none who read this) were already thinking “I need to go with Spence to plant a church in Charlotte.” We know that for each person who goes with us, it will take God creating a holy interruption in their lives for them to commit to such a big step. So for now, we just ask you to pray.
To friends of the Summit and/or of the Sheltons who are already in Charlotte, we cant wait to join you! To friends elsewhere, we wish we could take you all with us. And since charlotte has everything you need, we can! So, go ahead and mark your calendars to move with us next summer.
In the meantime, If you’d like to learn more about the church plant please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This video was published on April 22 this year by the New York Rescue Mission. I thought it was a provocative approach to challenging our typical view of homelessness. Since April 22 it has been viewed over 2.7 million times. Which means there is a good chance you’ve already seen this. I commend this to you for 2 reasons: #1: to spread their message to you about homelessness awareness and #2) to spark creativity in how you are communicating your message.
I thought this was a surprising and insightful response from Dr. Keller. I think he brings up a very significant challenge for us as we lead the millennial generation towards a healthy practice of church family life. This came from Jefferson Bethke’s youtube channel.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2.9-10
I’ve been anxiously awaiting when I can tell you about the book I recently wrote. It’s titled The People of God and it is debuting this week at Together For the Gospel. The team over at B&H took a risk on myself and my good friend Trevor Joy and I am grateful they did. I am honored the book’s official release is at such a great conference like t4g. Oh, and one thing real quick…LOOK MOM!!! I WROTE A BOOK!! thanks guys, had to get that out. feeling better now.
For my part, this book is the fruit of 12 years as a part of the Summit Church Family who has loved on and invested into me and my family in so many deep and meaningful ways. The same is true for Trevor over at the Village Church, a true sister church to the Summit in every sense. His pastor Matt Chandler wrote the foreword, and my pastor & friend J.D. Greear wrote the afterword. Both Trevor and I now have the humble privilege of coaching churches around the world towards a healthy practice of making disciples in the local church. This book is the fruit of our time here in the trenches, hoping it will be helpful to other men & women down the line in their trenches of ministry.
In short, this book is a message of hope for the church. I know the church can be screwed up. I went through some messy church stuff growing up (an entire chapter is devoted to this problem). Yet the people of God remain the bride of Christ. We have been called TO something together. And I believe the church can be the family-on-mission God has designed it to be.
We worked hard to make this a practical theology for the church. That is, this book will discuss a theology of community, but then give you some very practical steps to take to implement that theology. I’m not gonna lie, now that it is in print and available for you to read, I’m a little nervous.
R.I.P. social media small groups. You lasted One glorious day: April 1, 2014.
Yes, yesterday’s post was a good old fashioned April Fools Hoax. While I enjoy the occasional social media surf, the Summit will not be launching online small groups. Danny Franks & I would like to thank those who played along to make this possible.
The Summit remains fully committed to face to face church family life. If we got you, and i know we got a few (one of our pastors even called me while deeply troubled by this around 5pm yesterday), maybe that was God’s way of stirring you towards leading a real in-person small group! You can begin that process today!
This was one of the best responses to an April 1 post I’ve had. Coming in second only to April 1, 2011: Advance Conference =dd’s U2’s Bono.
back to For-Realzies now.