Planting Mercy Church Week 3: The Idol of Now

This is the 3rd in a series of in-the-moment reflections on planting Mercy Church

The Idol of Now

So we are only 2 weeks away from our first “preview service.” Which is our way of saying..we are doing church…but we are still pretty clumsy…so don’t knock us. But in my head, the timer is ticking. And when it goes off, we should be a fully functional church. Community Groups, Volunteer Teams, Mission trips, signage, t-shirts, kids supplies, lanyards, FIT tents, and everything else should all be fully up and running…right?

Enter the holy spirit and my tumultuous tuesday. Yesterday I had a meeting with poor John where I basically communicated I want everything to be done by July 19. 20 days. Let’s Build it! Know what? We cannot build a church in 20 days. I am foolish to think we can. By God’s grace we will build a church over the next 20 years and longer.

The only thing I know how to call what I saw in my heart and mind today is the “Idol of Now.” I was wishing away this infancy stage of Mercy Church where we try to walk, fall, and get up again. Why? because fueling the idol of now is fear. Fear that someone may come to Mercy Church this sunday and see that we don’t have it all together, and never come back. And then Mercy will fall apart. And I will be a failure. And I can’t fail, I must not fail. There it is. The “Success is more important than Jesus” trap I’d never fall into….and I fell into it before we even “launched.” Way to go Spence.

So here’s my solution: Repent, and get back to work. Work like its all up to me, and pray like its all up to him. I really don’t make apologies for trying to make Mercy Church a church where unchurched people feel at home. We are going to work hard at that. But Spence must seek to please Jesus, not people, in that process. The heart is fickle man. The end of Rom 7 is starting to become a mantra for me. “[24] Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? [25] Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! “

Welp, hope this was encouraging. Carry on.

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Planting Mercy Church Week 2: Teamwork makes the Dream Work

This is the second post in what I intend to be merely a series of reflections I learn as I serve as the planting pastor of Mercy Church, the greatest church on earth and you’ve never heard of it.


Part 2: Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

So this reflection comes as I look ahead at the rest of my week. My lovely wife is leaving for 5 days on a business trip. She doesn’t do that. ever. She’s never left me with 4 kids for more than 48 hours. While I’m excited for her, it leaves a little problem. This is week 2 of church planting. Will Mercy Church survive without me spending 12 hours a day working on it!!??!!?? Ahhhh hello idols of self-importance & control. I knew you were lurking about.  Here we go. Lessons:

1. I’m not that important. The real work of mercy church, especially right now, isn’t me on my laptop. It’s the people of mercy church building relationships with other people in Charlotte. And that is yet another reason planting with a team is so crucial. I’ll likely say that several times over the course of this series.

2. The # 2 guy is important. Ok so #1 was true in one sense, but not in all senses. I mean, the lead pastor leads the church. So yes he is important to it’s overall health and well being. While I am just a member, I am also it’s shepherd. And at the moment, I’m the only elder (don’t worry, we are training up men). So, if I’m mostly out of pocket for a week…who picks up the slack? Enter #2. In Mercy’s case, the young & talented John T. Hellams. John is our Director of Operations. And without him I’m just not sure this whole thing would be working. He is building volunteer teams and handling all of the logistics that comes with being a new church. And he’s doing all of it, at the moment, on part-time pay. He is earning his ministry stripes doing thankless work on a ton of hours. Most importantly, John is a man of high integrity. He turned down multiple job offers to come slave away with Mercy Church. Why? because vision trumped paycheck for he and his wife Jessica. It’s easy to say that, its another thing to live it for 5 months and counting. He tells me weekly that he’s willing to do whatever because he believes in the mission & vision of Mercy Church. Sometimes I think he believes it more than I do. If you are going to plant, get a John T. Hellams.

3. I’m insanely important. To my family. This trip courtney is going on is a pseudo-bonus she earned from the company she started working for to help us make ends meet during this season (pseudo because she has to work while on the trip, but no kids for a few days & a nice hotel!). I’m proud of her and want her to be able enjoy it. I mean the girl is in the trenches 24/7 around here. She loves it here don’t get me wrong. But man what a cool ‘yes’ for her and a way to serve her by stepping up so she can go be refreshed. I don’t abdicate my husband and dad role just because I’m a church planter. And I told courtney the day we decided to do this: I will always try to choose family over Mercy when the two are on the line. So no, this is not an ideal week in the life of our church for Courtney to take a trip. but what week will be? Yes, I’m going to be exhausted Sunday afternoon. But the kids and I will have some fun and they will, hopefully, get good time with the only earthly father they will ever have. If you are going to plant a church, you will still be a husband & father.

So dear Spence: get over yourself. Thank God for your team. And go make some Dad memories.

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Standing with Charleston

The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission put out a sound, hopeful statement in response to the tragedy that occurred this week in Charleston. I’m linking it here in agreement with the ERLC and as a resource for others:

Standing with Charleston

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Father’s Day & The Charge to the Groom

Before I knew Will Toburen as a dad I knew him as the guy who performed my friend Alex’s wedding. Before the bride came in, the music stopped and Will addressed alex. He charged him to be the man God calls men to be. I loved it. LOVED it. Because it resonated with what we pray for the men in our church. I instantly went to work on a version of my own. It is a vision for manhood, for husbandhood, and for fatherhood, right out of the gate. As I think about the 25 or so men I’ve now done this for I am praying today they are living this calling out.

Being a dad is awesome. My 4 have created memories for me sweeter than I ever knew could exist this side of heaven. But whoa. This is hard. I have never, even in marriage never, had to die to self so much. They are selfish little humans (mine are all 6 & under) who by and large are not concerned about my feelings. Well, Zeke is just starting to care a little (the 6 yr old). I die to myself by the minute. I DONT WANT TO CHANGE ANOTHER DIAPER!!! So I die to self. I DON’T WANT TO READ THAT BOOK..AGAIN!!!! So I die to self. TIE YOUR OWN SHOES OMG!!! So I die to self. WHY WOULD YOU DRAW ON THE WALLS!!!!! THERE IS PLENTY OF PAPER!!! Don’t yell, explain paper…again…die to self. YOUR BED IS IN YOUR ROOM LEAVE ME ALONE!!!! Die to self, help return child to his own bed, again.

Dads, no one will leave a deeper, more lasting impression on your child the rest of your life than you. That’s just what it is. You are, whether you act like it or not, the most formative spiritual force in their lives. But God is so good to us dads. So good, that he chooses to relate to us as our father. We get to watch him, then do what he does to us to our own kids. In other words, he’s already designed the play, we are called to run it. The Love of God for us, that’s the dad play. Which is why the gospel is not just an intro to christianity. It’s how I get through every minute. The play God ran: DIE TO SELF, that his children might live. Why did he do it? “Before the joy set before him” endured the cross….We are his joy. Love your children well men. Die to self, that your children might live. And most importantly, that they might see Christ in you as they hear christ from you. It is an honor to serve in this role called dad.

Oh, and in case you are interested here is the charge I gave yesterday at the wedding I did. Thank you for the inspiration Will Toburen. A Dad and Friend I hope I can be like one day.

Camden this is a pretty awesome day and its going to be a big celebration. In just a moment your bride is about to come through the door. At this moment I need to talk to you man to man. Camden the call to lead a family is no small matter. If you treat it right, It is the biggest, most challenging commitment you will make your whole life I promise. Camden this family over here is about to hand the leadership of their daughter over to you. You are going to be her primary family & provider after today, not them. Camden this is no small matter. In light of the biblical call of a man I charge you to reject passivity, accept responsibility, and lead courageously as the head of your home. You will not abdicate your role as leader but instead you will lead in decisions on everything from date night to career moves. You will accept responsibility for your actions and for those of your family. You will not run from conflict within your home but instead lead your wife through it with all grace and humility. You will lead your family like a gentle warrior who knows when to rise up and fight and when to be patient. Courage will define the leader of the Adams home. Camden do you accept this call? Then Camden, behold your bride as she comes.

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Planting Mercy Church Week 1: HANG ON TO THE VISION!

My name is Spence Shelton. 3 weeks ago I was a pastor on staff at the 2nd greatest church on earth: The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. You’ve probably heard of it. I was a part of that church family from age 20 – 32. I became a man, husband, father, & pastor there. They sent me a few weeks ago to plant the greatest church on earth: Mercy Church in Charlotte, NC. You probably haven’t heard of it. That’s for the best. We don’t launch until September & we don’t know what we are doing. This series called “planting a church” is to serve 2 or 3 purposes. Primarily its a documentation of sorts for me to look back and say “awww man I remember that. Wow God has brought me a long way!” Second its to process. One of the best ways I learn is by writing, deleting, re-writing as way of reflecting on what God is doing. So that’s what this series is. Lastly, as I do this I hope it helps the guys like me who are considering planting, in the prep stage, or in the trenches with me right now. This isn’t tried & true wisdom. This is figuring it out as I go reflection.  

Week 1:

What I did: We moved 3 weeks ago. Then went on vacation a week ago. Now feels like true week 1 of church planting. Did NOT get my books unpacked. Did NOT paint. Did date my wife. Did play with kids.  Met 12 strangers mostly in our neighborhood, began friendships with some of them, invited a waitress to mercy church, met with 2 pastors, an awesome FCA director, and 7 of our team members. Wrote a message, finished a writing project. More vision sharing than gospel sharing this week. Want to change that next week. But courtney is gone for 5 days next week so lets keep expectations within reason.

What I learned: Hang on to the vision! I worked and worked and worked over my time in the Summit Network Residency to develop a strong, God-honoring vision for Mercy Church. And I believe we have an inspiring vision for the short & long term. Now that I’m out in the water, my first instinct is to abandon everything for whatever is going to help me stay afloat. It’s like I forgot how to swim or something. By thursday when we were planning our launch team gathering for the weekend one of our leaders said “I think we gotta figure out who we are.” And I was like well, I thought I did that for 9 months…but he was right. Just because I came up with it in the lab, doesn’t make it automatically who we are here in the field. I have to hang on to our mission & vision and imprint it onto the blank slate that is Mercy Church right now. In our worship, our training, our community, & our evangelism I gotta trust the vision God led us to and move our team to own it. Oh, and I might need to be willing to let the Holy Spirit tweak it…crap. Gonna have to be humble and confident at same time. I’m good at confident. While mission is more idea centric and never changes, Vision should be concrete and have mile markers. FWIW, here’s the way we’ve been talking about our vision

  • We want to be a church for unchurched people.
    • The prodigal son should be able to meet the true Jesus here.
  • We want to see 50 people come to faith & be baptized by our 2nd birthday
    • So we will build relationships with non christians
  • We want to plant a church by our 2nd birthday
    • We gotta raise up leaders, and we gotta be a sending church
  • We want to see a gospel renewal in Charlotte carried to the ends of the earth
    • #cantstopwontstop

Cool Moment this week: I met 12 strangers. 1 of them has a church home. People said “why charlotte when so many churches are there? I knew from yoda (Tim Keller) that you should plant churches in churched areas because they reach new people & I believe & recite that when asked about planting Mercy. But now I can just start rattling off names of people. We are planting Mercy Church for the people of charlotte. and now they are starting to have faces and names!!!!



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Groups Pastors Learning Cohort


SN-LogoWhen my friend Trevor Joy and I teamed up to write a book on community, we were doing it because many men and women had begun to ask us “how do you do small groups at your church?” And we wanted to be able to answer them better than we could in just a 30 minute conference call or during an hour over lunch. We both believe making disciples is the heartbeat of any healthy church and we share a passion for seeing that happen. Since the book’s release we’ve had the privilege of helping more and more churches build strategies for long-term health instead of just patching holes in their existing system.

After some recent reflection, we believe there is a space between the 1 on 1 phone call aVillage Churchnd the conference breakout session for fostering a mutual learning environment among groups pastors. This is why Trevor and I are hosting a 1.5 day learning cohort on July 23-24 in Dallas, TX.

This is a partnership effort between the Village Church and The Summit Network.

This cohort is only open to 10 people so that we can get around a table and a whiteboard together and really work through the theology, philosophy, and methodology that drives your ministry. Our 1.5 day time together will be followed up by a coaching call a month later just to make sure you are doing ok as you get ready for the fall rush!

Trevor and I have served in every size ministry you can think of. He was in a church plant and then became a part of the Village Church that grew into a large church requiring adaptable systems. I’ve been a part of the Summit Church since it was 300 people with a Sunday School model. Over the past 10 years I’ve helped transition & build what we needed as we grew to the large church we now are. And now I’m going to be a church planter!

Bottom line, I think you will have a friendly ear familiar with your situation no matter where your church is right now. If you want to join us, email me at and I will forward you the nitty gritty details.

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A great moment in church planting

One thing I’ve learned is that church planting is hard, grueling work that doesn’t have a whole lot of fan fare attached to it. For all the hype church planting is getting in evangelical circles right now, its really not that sexy. It’s hard. I’ve spent countless hours recruiting people to come with us, building partnerships with supporters, and getting rejected many times in both of those. AND BTW, We aren’t even off and running yet. So, it only gets harder from here.

That is what makes moments like this past weekend so, so rich. I could tell you a lot about our launch team retreat we had this weekend. It was incredible and if I was only reflecting on that, it would count as my favorite moment yet in church planting. But then it happened. An established church in Charlotte extended a hand of partnership and offered to help us baptize one of our own. In doing so, they modeled so much of what I believe it will take to reach a growing city: Established churches helping new churches get their feet under them. In fact this not only helps new churches, many accounts have shown that when established churches get behind new church plants it actually brings new life to their own church as well. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, beyond all the partnership talk, is my new friend Jackie’s baptism. What a moment I will treasure for a long time to come. When she came up out of that water our church erupted. It was like we wanted an excuse all weekend to shout in celebration and then the best possible reason came. Someone declaring their faith in Christ through baptism.

I am so encouraged by the partnership Carmel Baptist extended to Mercy Church in hosting our new church this weekend and I could go on and on about the generous spirit of the leadership of Pastor Alex (in the video), Pastor Rob their missions pastor, and their other pastors. But, I’ll let you watch the video…cause its awesome. And yes, you’ll be able to hear Mercy Church there at the end. Thank you Carmel, Thank you Jesus!


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