Setting: middle of the street. 2 cars pulled up beside eachother. Me in my car, wife in hers. kids in backseat of both.
Situation: Courtney & kids stayed with great friends in Raleigh, now driving back to charlotte to get ready for weekend w/ mercy church. Current temp in home: 98 degrees.
*Author’s Note: This took place on DAY 10 of no A/C and counting. (I am just going to NOT get into the debacle that is our A/C situation.)
Spence waves courtney down and says hes going to move some stuff around between the two cars to make room for a portable A/C unit he’s picking up in greensboro (apparently charlotte is all out) on the trek back. Courtney says no, because they already talked about that. Keep cars as is and lets go. Spence objects as the most LOGICAL action is to move the stuff around. He objects too loudly. Courtney counters in a raised voice. Spence gets out of car goes to van window, continues loud objecting. Courtney returns serve. Things get loud. kids start noticing. Angry adults regain perspective and quiet down like a silent volcano that started to erupt and got a lid put on it. Not good. return to cars with problem in spence’s stubborn mind unsolved. Drive on.
Ok so we had the loudest disagreement we’ve maybe ever had…over packing logistics!? Why? we were mad. Not at each other. just so frustrated at our nomadic situation and apparently both needed to vent. We were (and still are) tired of displacement, tired of mixed messages on the A/C solution, tired of being helpless. So we took it out on each other. And two perfectly sane grown adults were shouting in the street like crazy people.
- You really, truly, cannot control everything in life. There is no good reason we are on day 12 now of no A/C in our house. I could have driven to the manufacturer (regardless of what state it is in) picked up the part, driven back, and hired out the repair in 6 days tops. But, to do that will cost me thousands in money I will not get back on a rental I wont be in this time next year. Though I continue to encourage the process along, it just isn’t up to me. And that kills me. I NEED CONTROL. And as a consumer, I’m right about my situation. But Oh how careful I must be that I don’t let my consumerism seep into the way I view God. Will I get mad when he doesn’t answer me on my time-table? Will I try to find other solutions since I am determined to keep control? yeah I just might, and how destructive would that be. While I may be able to improve an A/C repair process, I cannot improve the sovereignty of God. And my patience with this A/C thing isn’t magically going to grow when something bigger happens. Think God does not know about my A/C probs? I promise he does. Been telling him for days. Can I trust God in the small stuff like this? Cause bigger things will come.
- The Church is Awesome: can’t tell you how many people have put roofs over our head, loaned out A/C units, and just given us a hand with stuff. I preached what I thought was a mediocre sermon on Acts 2 this weekend about community and shared with Mercy Church how humbled I’ve been to be on the receiving end of such a generous church. without the church, I just dont know how we get through the past 11 days.
- Heat will make you crazy: I’m just saying. If you are a pampered 1st worlder like me, Don’t ever make any big decisions with your spouse in a 90+ degrees environment. Instead, love your wife, get her into a cool space. Drink something ice cold. wait 2 hours. Then talk.
- Sunday: Guest Preacher!!! Chuck Reed was awesome. did so much good for our church and gave me a chance to spend the prior week reading the book of Acts like crazy.
- Monday: Pretty chill. Morning off then a smooth afternoon of logistics. Gonna be a good week…
- Tuesday: Theology Crisis. This is for another post but when you really dig into a passage, then evaluate what theologians then & now say about it, you might find yourself in a conundrum. Like: What do I believe about the baptism of the Holy Spirit!?! I thought I knew. But now I need my greek tools (where is my dear friend Pritesh when I need him). Tuesday ended in a greektastrophe.
- Wednesday: Crisis continues. Did you know Piper & Lloyd-Jones apparently disagree with F.F. Bruce, Darrell Bock, and William Larkin on something? WHAT! Why are the preachers and scholars on diff pages? What is a new preacher to do (the answer is pray & develop your own convictions btw)! Operations & Shepherding in the afternoon. Reminder: Either Sunday or Jesus is coming. And according to your passage (Acts 1.1-11) you aren’t supposed to worry about when Jesus comes.
- Thursday: Ok, Crisis subsiding. Theology developing. OH CRAP. I GOTTA WRITE A SERMON!! Remember that time your preaching mentor said spend 20hrs developing your sermon until you don’t need to anymore? And its thursday at 11am? And you have meetings this afternoon. Ruh Roh scooby.
- Friday: WEDDING REHEARSAL…OUT OF TOWN!?! Oh yeah, and you promised your kids you’d go see the minion movie. Since your conviction is Dad beats Preacher, you go bro. Friday 10pm: back into the sermon. Point 1 makes sense….right?
- Saturday: preform morning wedding out of town. wife gets text from friend staying at our place: “Hey I think your Air is busted. its 79 & climbing in here.” second text: “I think ellie is running a fever.” Mental Text: “hey spence, this is your sermon manuscript. Sunday is coming.”
- Saturday night: arrive home to 84 degrees downstairs. 89 up. deploy hurricane evac plan. Leave goldfish behind (“good luck dwight!”). Awesome friends let you stay at their house. 3yr old fever still up. Wife is a pillar of calm in it all (note to self: take her out. + flowers.). 10pm: Open computer: Lets change the intro. again. even though points 2 & 3 look like an abandoned half-finished construction site.
- Sunday EARLY: Well sunday is here. Should probably send our very very patient a/v guy the manuscript. But I need to change some stuff. I know I abandoned caffeine but this seems like a good time to tap back in. And do jumping jacks. That gets blood flowing. Had domino’s last night. Their turnaround might work for an intro to the series. Lets change the intro. again.
- Sunday 10:30am: Well everyone is here. Record group for our little gathering. Look in back. There is our prayer team (one person this week) reminding me this whole week was never about me and my prep. Yes, Sunday is coming. And while I need to prepare like it is up to me, I need to remember life change is entirely up to Jesus. So I take those last few minutes. That could be spent cramming, rethinking wording…and instead threw up my hands, my heart, and my sermon to Jesus. Finally, with 2 minutes left in the last song b4 I’m up, I get what Jesus was showing me Tuesday morning.
So I’m going to seek to build more desperation into my planning. I needed Jesus to deliver because you know I just didn’t feel ready. What a prideful perspective. I ALWAYS need Jesus to deliver. Acts 1.8, the verse I preached, says that you will receive power when the holy spirit comes upon you. Not “you will get power when you prepare enough.” We are believing God will change lives through Mercy Church. 50 salvations by labor day 2016. Roughly 1 a week for a year beginning launch weekend. I can’t preach that into existence. May the Spirit of God empower our people to share the gospel and may the Spirit bring a gospel awakening to Charlotte, NC.
This is week 5 in a series of reflections on planting the greatest church you’ve never heard of: Mercy Church.
During my church planting residency I was warned: Church Planting has a tendency to make unemotional guys….well…emotional. Basically the intensity of the workload, your passion for the church, and your desperation for God’s grace, are a recipe for an intense emotional shockwave you’ve never experienced before. My assessments called me a “head and hands” guy. That is, I naturally think & do. I don’t naturally incorporate how I, or others, feel about things when going about my work. Anyone who knows me will probably chuckle a little that I needed assessments to finally see this about myself. At many points my fellow resident, who by God’s grace was a “heart” guy, lovingly encouraged me to get used to emotional things like…..crying. Bleh.
Then I got here. And things got, well…emotional. I started snapping at my kids. I started hugging more people. I started needing down time on Sundays (I’ve NEVER needed regular down time. ever.). And then this past week. At some of YOUR recommendations, I took my 2 boys to see Pixar’s newest film: Inside Out. Hey “friends” of mine: THE PLOT LINE! How bout a little heads up?!?! A girl is emotionally distraught because her parents move her to a new city. THINK THAT COULD HAVE BEEN RELEVANT TO ME! So I started off the movie mad at you. which I’m usually not. Then, I swear about halfway in…I started losing it. Over a dad-gum pixar movie. Phyllis and Leslie Knope (voices behind main characters) had me not just with a tear in the eye but with this half convulsing ugly faced grimace holding back from….crying. bleh.
WHAT THE CRAP! I look at my kids who I am terrified are going to see dad emoting all over the place. Because I’m a emotional neanderthal and don’t understand that’s not always bad. They are laughing at the movie. I’m ugo-faced tearing (not calling it crying. tried to hard to hold it back to give in now) and they are laughing at the funny characters. So I cough, wipe my eyes, fake a laugh, and move on.
Here’s what I’m seeing about, well about me. This Church Planting thing is big. Each week a small part of me wonders if we are going to be here next week. And we don’t even launch until Sept 13! What is my problem? Why do I feel so intense all the time? I’m not on steroids or anything.
Truth be told, my biggest comforts are 1) I was warned about this. so it’s normal. 2) The answer is the gospel. An older pastor once said to me: pastoral ministry is like a roller coaster. Highest Ups & Lowest Downs even in the same hour. How can I say off the roller coaster? The unchanging peace you have in christ…its your only hope for sanity in this role. I knew what he said was true then…I think i’m finally feeling it now.
To all my former staff teammates: yes. It turns out I have a heart. Its fragile. Be nice.
Some time ago I heard Louie Giglio, a pastor in ATL, call himself and all of his church members “doorholders.” Its a way to say we are all servants, pastors included. I think one of the biggest adjustments from coming out of a large church where I had a bigger support structure is being responsible for the small tasks like doorholding. Literally 2 weeks ago as our team members were arriving I was standing at the front door. Holding it open. So they felt welcomed as they arrived to worship with the Mercy family. This week it was unlocking bathrooms and delivering sound equipment. Now, the really cool thing is that we have a whole host of mercy people serving as “doorholders” week-in-week-out so I am more talking about plugging a hole than I am about filling a weekly role. Because remember, I serve at the best church in the world you’ve never heard of.
I love serving with our church. To be candid, I can be a prideful guy. I probably needed to be knocked down a few pegs. This season is doing that. At the end of the day, I’m another doorholder for Mercy Church. If all I do is preach at our church instead of model jesus with our church, I’m not a shepherd. I’m a diva. And I refuse to be a diva.
No admin assistant to pass tasks off to, no 6 person full time staff team to pull half-day strategy sessions with. We are a nimble, quickly growing movement with low overhead and high energy. And as long as I’m willing to hold a door, I’m gonna love it.
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. “ Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! “
Welp, hope this was encouraging. Carry on.
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.
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: