Reflections on Church Planting: Reflection #3

The Numbers Game

“What’cha runnin’?”

I hate that question! That’s almost invariably the follow-up question after I tell someone that our church is doing well. The question has a presupposition built into it. Namely, that if your church really is doing well it will be reflected by a large number of people attending it. I believe that assumption is false and dangerous, but unfortunately it dominates the thinking of many pastors and church planters.

While numbers of people coming to the Lord and gathering to worship Him are important, they are not ultimate. It is typical of churches in America to focus on numbers, but it’s not my intent in this blog post to disprove the assumption that numbers equals health. Plenty has been written to that end by much smarter people than I, and I highly doubt I would have much to add to the conversation. My goal in this post is to simply share the story of how God used the experience of planting Harbins to teach me a thing or two about numbers.

American church planters in particular are susceptible to the lure of the numbers game. After all, you are starting with nothing and you want the new church to become sustainable, so a misplaced focus on numbers can easily set in. One church planting book I read in 2006, as I was preparing to plant Harbins, said that if you don’t have 100 people for your initial launch service your church has no hope of survival. Ten years into the adventure of church planting I can sincerely say that the words printed on the pages of that little book are absolute nonsense. But, as a young church planter that type of thinking was everywhere and even if I resisted it in my spirit my flesh was too often found in agreement with it. God would do a work in my heart, however, and from the day we launched the church the heart-idol of numbers would begin to be torn down.

march-april-2007-106Our plan was to launch our new church on Easter Sunday, April 8th, 2007. The conventional wisdom is that launching on Easter draws a bigger crowd because a new church might attract some of the Easter and Christmas only folks. Now, why one would want to start off their church with a load of nominal Christians is another question all together, but regardless, we hoped to get a bigger draw by launching on Easter.

To attract people to the new church we decided to host an easter egg hunt. To be fair, the hunt was more than a pragmatic tool to attract people to the church, we also wanted the event to be a gift to the community which seemed to be lacking in activities and opportunities for social connections. But we were still hoping that the easter egg hunt itself would attract a crowd who might give a new church start-up a shot. So, we sent out 10,000 attractive, professionally designed mailers to promote the easter egg hunt and our launch service. We also left flyers in businesses and daycares. We even had the local newspaper do a story on our new church. Everything was set for a big launch!

The Friday before the big weekend my co-planter, Greg Teffertiller, and I talked about what we were praying for and what we expected from our first service. I can’t remember if I posed the idea or if Greg did, but we challenged each other to come up with a specific number of people we were asking God to bring on our launch Sunday, and then after Sunday we would share that number with each other. I wrote down my number on a piece of paper and stuffed it in my computer bag. The number was 100. After all, according to the aforementioned book, we were doomed if we didn’t at least hit that number on our first Sunday. By my calculations an Easter Sunday service with 100 people would be the perfect way to cap off a perfect weekend and thus ensure a perfect launch for our perfect little church. The problem with that scenario is that God works with those who acknowledge their weakness rather than those who strive for their own perfection.

march-april-2007-064So, as would happen many times in the ten year history of Harbins, we found out quickly that God had other plans. He had a different number in His mind. The wheels began to come off my perfect plan on Saturday, the day for the egg hunt. To our surprise the temperatures on that first Saturday of April never got above 30°F and the swirling winds made it feel as if it were in the teens. On top of that the local community house where we were meeting didn’t have adequate heatOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA. Shivering kids trying to pick up frozen eggs with numb hands, while entertaining to watch, wasn’t exactly what we were aiming for. Needless to say very few people showed up. But despite the underwhelming community event we still held out hope for a great launch Sunday. After all we had sent 10,000 mailers, we were launching on Easter, and surely there were hundreds of people just chomping at the bit to visit a cool new church called Milestone (see reflection #2).

picture-059Sunday arrived. Everything was carefully set up at Harbins Elementary School. The staging looked sharp, the custom designed welcome center looked welcoming, and a wondrous aroma was emanating from the coffee station. Our mother church, Anchor, had sent a bunch of people to help us handle the expected walk up crowd. They did this so that our core group could be freed up to mingle with the visitors and start making relational connections. Everything was in place and so we waited for the anticipated walk up crowd. We looked at that big clock in the school cafeteria. Twenty minutes ’til go time! Then, fifteen minutes. We glanced at milestonethe clock. Ten minutes. We kept nervously glancing at that clock. Five minutes. Nobody was coming. No bodies! And I felt like a nobody. My heart began to sink.

And then, right before we were to start, they came. One family. The young couple walked in with their three little girls. I enthusiastically greeted them and quickly discerned that they were not a churched family. It thrilled my heart that they were excited to be there and they expressed appreciation for the warm welcome. They had survived our frozen easter egg hunt the day prior. They had received our mailer. Most importantly they told me that they felt God was moving them to start going to church. I immediately saw that we had a gospel opportunity with this family. I praised God as I watched them find their seats. I got up and preached my heart out. As it turned out, those were our only visitors.

So at our first grand opening service we had, counting children, sixty-two people. Thirty were from our core group, two were a couple who were helping us with music, twenty-five were one-time helpers from Anchor who would not be back the next week, and the remaining five were that solitary family from the community. We fell far short of the number written on that little scrap of paper in my computer bag.

The next week when Greg and I met to assess the first worship service he was much more upbeat than I was. Then came the moment of truth. I sheepishly revealed that the number I was praying for was 100 and that we had obviously fallen well short. I ask Greg what number his number was. I will never forget his answer. He look at me and said, “One!”

“One?” I asked incredulously.

“Yes one,” he repeated.

He went on to explain that all he was asking God to do was to impact one person with the gospel and if the only reason our church start-up existed was for that one person, then it was all worth it. Of course, he was absolutely right. And God answered his prayer.

img024For just a few months after that first service I had the pleasure of baptizing that first visiting couple. The gospel had done its work in both their hearts and they came under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. They are still active and important members of our church to this day. I have since had the opportunity to baptize three of their now five children. God indeed transformed their lives and He use our pathetic efforts as a means to get His gospel into their hearts. So, in the end our launch was a huge success.

img020I didn’t quite learn my lesson though. The next year we had an absolutely gigantic easter egg hunt. Over six-hundred people were there. The weather was spectacular. We had the opportunity to present the gospel to a large crowd at the hunt itself. We personally invited a bunch of people to our service the next day, and many of those people said they were planning to come. I was, therefore, expecting a huge walk-up crowd on our second Easter Sunday. Well, Sunday arrived and how many families showed up? You got it. One! But again, God was at franciswork. I had the privilege of leading the husband to the Lord and later baptizing him and one of his children. They too remained vibrant members of our church until his job recently took him to the other side of Atlanta.

So that’s the way God has been at work at Harbins ever since. He’s been working in one family at a time. He’s been saving and sanctifying one heart at a time. After that second Easter I stopped playing the numbers game. From that point forward I can honestly say I have never really worried all that much about numbers. Not even financial numbers. Every now and then I’m tempted to measure success by numbers, but then God reminds me of the radically transformed lives that are represented at Harbins. I’d rather have 100 people whose hearts are day in and day out being transformed by the gospel than 1,000 nominal believers who can muster up the strength to go to a service once week. I’d rather shepherd 100 sheep I know than 1,000 sheep I merely see.

I’ve tried to keep Greg’s number, the number one, in my mind each Sunday since that very first Sunday. If one person is impacted by the gospel preached then it’s all worth it. We have learned to have great confidence in the truth that if God’s Word is being proclaimed accurately He will make sure it does not return to Him empty (Isaiah 55:11). But the Word must be preached, it must be preached carefully, it must be preached faithfully, and thus the priority of preaching will be reflection #4, stay tuned.

 

This post is part of a series of posts reflecting on ten years of church planting. Click the following links to see the introduction to the series as well as reflection 1 and reflection 2

Reflections on Church Planting: Reflection #2

Milestones

If ever there was a Bible verse that the Lord was going to teach me the meaning of during the first years of planting a new church it was this one: “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

Glancing in the rear-view mirror at the path we’ve traveled to this tenth anniversary of Harbins Community Baptist Church, I can certainly say that my plans have often, sometimes quite radically, been redirected by our good God. There are several key milestones in the history of our church that are nothing more than God taking our plans, tearing them up, and then re-writing them for our good and His glory.

Plan #1: Northwest Arkansas

Perhaps the most radical modification to our original church planting intentions was God changing the physical location of the church plant. Heather and I had lived in the Atlanta area for about a year and a half before we decided to plant a church. We had come to Georgia from Northwest Arkansas where, prior to coming to Georgia, we had put down some significant social and family roots. So when God began to stir our hearts toward church planting we immediately had a desire to head back to Northwest Arkansas to start a new kind of church in that rapidly growing region of the country. At first it seemed that our plans were coming together quite nicely.

We had friends from Georgia, the Teffertillers, who were going to go with us to help pastor the church. We had two other planters on board who already lived in Northwest Arkansas. We even had a core group of about 25 people ready to go. So far along were our plans that we had already packed up our houses and movers were scheduled. Then God stepped in. All four of us church planters gathered together for a planning meeting in Memphis, TN (the midway point between our two locations). In that meeting, which would not be helpful nor appropriate for me to blog about, the Northwest Arkansas plan collapsed. Deep differences emerged which made it clear that to move forward with the church plant would be foolish. Greg Teffertiller and I drove back to Georgia with our plan in tatters, but God’s plan was marching forward.

After some soul-searching and looking into church start-up options in other places, such as North Carolina, we met with the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association (GMBA) who encouraged us to plant a new church in the Harbins area. The pieces began to fall into place. The association made us their key church plant for 2007. They connected us with Steve Hammack and Anchor Church who decided to be our sponsoring church. And a core group of families emerged who were ready to be a part of a new church. And so we launched out. We began meeting with our core group in November of 2006 and officially launched the church April 8th, 2007. But if we thought that God was done tinkering with our plans were fooling ourselves.

group-photo-1Plan #2: Cool Name

Before planting, Greg and I were looking for a unique name that would capture who we were as a church. Having come out of highly programmed, age-focused church structures (which we considered to be unhealthy) our new church was going to place a strong emphasis on integrating the whole family for worship, discipleship, and missions. We also embraced a soteriological framework that emphasized the absolute sovereignty of God in all things. These aspects of our DNA as a new church led us to choose the name “Milestone Community Church.” The idea behind the name was that God sovereignly puts milestones in our lives that we as parents should look back upon and thus use to teach our kids about the goodness and mercy of our great God. Plus we thought that the name was unique and cool.

The Scriptural impetus behind the name came from Joshua 4 where God told the Israelites, as they miraculously crossed the Jordan, to take twelves stones from the riverbed and make a memorial. The purpose of the memorial is explained in Joshua 4:21: “When your children ask their fathers in times to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel passed over this Jordan on dry ground.’ For the LORD your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you passed over, as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we passed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the LORD is mighty, that you may fear the LORD your God forever.”

Little did we know at the time that a big mega-church in the area was already in the planning stages of using that same Scripture text to rename their church, and I must say that the name they came up with was much better than ours. But I still maintain that we were the original “stoners.”

For the time being, however, we patted ourselves on the back for our clever name and started the church. Pretty soon it was clear that the name wasn’t having the effect we wanted it to have. First of all, the area in which we planted the church was not exploding with hip, young families like our association had anticipated it would be. In retrospect this was due in large part to the housing market collapse which was only in its initial stages in the Spring of 2007. For the next four years or so there would be at least a dozen subdivisions in the Harbins area filled with empty houses that were supposed to be holding young, middle-class families ripe for the harvest. So, the cool-factor of the name (I know that’s debatable), designed to connect with that demographic, was moot. Of course, as church-planting trends demanded, we didn’t have “Baptist” in our name either, and to our surprise it turned out that many of the people in the area who were used to traditional church norms were hesitant to visit a church that, at least on the surface, was a denominational crapshoot.

Perhaps even more jarring than all of that was the fact that so many people thought our name was Millstone. And the image of a millstone was not what we were going for: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). So the name needed to change, and it would, for God had ordained another step that we never saw coming.

Plan #3: We don’t need a building

Everyone knows that the church is not a building, its God’s people. Because of that some church planters wear the fact that they don’t have a building as a badge of honor. That wasn’t necessarily us. I firmly believed that we didn’t need a building, but I wasn’t philosophically against them either. Frank Viola and George Barna had not convinced me that buildings OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwere pagan. But there weren’t many meeting places in the Harbins Community, so we had to have our Sunday gatherings at Harbins Elementary School. We figured that we would be there for several years at the very least. After months of doing church out of a trailer I began to dream of what it would be like someday to have our own building. The school administrators we very nice and accommodating but the rent was high, the flexibility was limited, and setting up and tearing down each Sunday was extremely tiring. So we began to put land and a building on our “Himpossible” prayer list.

No sooner had we begun to get serious about praying for these things did I get a call from Sid Hopkins, our association’s Director of Missions. He asked me to meet him at a 1522 Harbins Road, about a mile from the school. When I got there he informed me that someone had given that land to our church, all 17 acres of it! The only condition was that the donor wanted the name of the community, Harbins, to be in the name of the church. After gathering with our core group and praying about the possibilities we voted to accept the gift of the land and rename our church Harbins Community Baptist Church. The issues with the name Milestone were now gone, and our hope was that in the next several years we could save up enough money to build a building on our new land. We hoped to build within a decade.

God had other, and quite spectacular, plans. Shortly after giving us the land the donor also decided to give us 1.5 million dollars to build a church building. He was quite elderly and wanted to see the building built as soon as possible because he felt this was the last thing God was leading him to do with his money before the Lord would call him home. We were still only six families so the thought of building a new building so soon was not on our radar screen, but again God was constantly establishing our steps where we hadn’t expected them to be planted.

0417dad011After a couple a years of hard-work and planning, done largely by Dee Bryson who was instrumental in our church building ending up with the unique design it did, we moved into our building in April of 2010. The donor of the money and land passed away just few months after attending our dedication service.

Moving into a new building presented us with other challenges. The donor had only given enough money to build the building, and had clearly stated that he wanted us to furnish the building ourselves. We began to make plans and try to fundraise to that end. But the day we opened the building it was fully furnished without us spending hardly any money. God had once again gone before us through yet another one of our plans that He providentially redesigned.

Plan #4 – Merger

It seems that all major milestones in our church’s history have happened in April. April of 2009 was no different. That was the month that we voted to merge with Woodland Creek Church, a small Baptist congregation from the other side of Dacula.

The merger made complete sense, at least it did on paper. Woodland was a church about our size, they were theologically aligned with us, and if we combined forces we’d have a good-sized congregation with which to begin meeting in our soon-to-be-finished building. Well, as you can probably guess by now, things didn’t pan out quite the way we had hoped.

The merger was sweet…for about a month. Then a variety of different conflicts began to emerge that demonstrated a lack of foresight and blind naiveté on the part of both churches. To make another long story mercifully short, the merger didn’t take. Some families from Woodland did stick with Harbins, but most began to search for other church homes just a few months after the merger. It was a painful experience, to say the least, but God’s plans are always good, even when they come packaged with wrapping that is painful. As it turns out, God would bring much good from the failed merger.

First, he brought another elder to Harbins. Demetrius (a.k.a. Demer) Webb was one of the two elders from Woodland that became elders at Harbins after the merger. As the merger began to disintegrate, Demer would stick with Harbins and his ministry would be instrumental in helping our church heal from the wounds left over from the merger. In Demer I found a kindred spirit and like-minded brother who became, and still remains, a key part of our church and a close friend. I have always said that if God’s only purpose for the merger was to get Demer to Harbins then all the struggles that came packaged with the merger were well worth it.

img_0968The merger brought some other benefits as well. Namely, stuff! Stuff like chairs, tables, sound equipment, curriculum, and other resources. Shortly after the merger another church in Dacula closed its doors and gave us all their material resources as well. God had, in the blink of an eye, given us all that we needed to furnish our new building and we hadn’t spent a dime! Yet again God was moving despite, and sometimes in spite of, our plans.

Space prevents me from listing the many other plans God has altered and the hundreds of other steps He has orchestrated over these past ten years. I don’t have space to write about the broken souls he brought into our church all in one summer which He used to launch us into Biblical Counseling. I don’t have time to write about the challenges He used to refine our theology and ecclesiology. I’ll simply conclude by saying that all I am qualified to do at this point is write a book entitled, How to Screw Up a Church Plant, but God has worked all things together for our good and for His glory. He has providentially put all things in place to firmly establish our church in the Harbins Community and we praise Him alone for it.

This post is part of a series of reflections on ten years of church planting that I am doing leading up to HCBC’s tenth anniversary. To read the introduction to the series go here, and to read the first reflection click here.

Reflections on Church Planting: Reflection #1

The Priceless Value of a Godly Wife

There were several church planting books that I read before starting Harbins. Most of them had similar lists concerning what is most important to have in place before starting a new church. The lists included things like: sufficient funding, a parent church, a large core group, a compelling mission statement, etc. The one thing that was not on any lists in any of the books was this: a church planter needs a godly wife.

Now, let me say right of the bat that I am not saying that you must be married to start a church, or to pastor. What I can say is that God will use marriage to equip and strengthen a pastor for the ministry. I can also say that having a godly wife as a partner in the ups and downs of church planting is invaluable. I know that I would never have been able to plant Harbins and I would never have been able to survive the pastorate up to this point without Heather’s support, encouragement, and partnership.

After 20 years of pastoral ministry and 21 years of marriage, I can say that it took me a long time, too long, to understand how important my wife was and is to my ministry. In the early years of ministry, and of planting Harbins, I was brutish and ignorant and I took my wife and her faithful support for granted. It was during a season of challenge at Harbins that God graciously allowed me to see how important she was to the work He had called me to do. God opened my eyes to see that she was a gift to me to be my partner in life and in ministry. Her strengths made up for my weaknesses, and her support didn’t waver when it felt like everyone else’s was. To this day words are insufficient to express how absolutely vital she has been in my life, in my family, and in my church.

So here are some things I love about my wife which highlight how important she has been and continues to be to the work at Harbins.

  1. Her sacrificial generosity. My wife is the most generous person I’ve ever known. She exemplifies what it means to give of one’s time, treasure, and talent. I came home one day to find out that Heather had given away all of our living room furniture. She gave it to a young lady who was being forced to abruptly move out of her parents’ 10549263_10204234518048849_6494350707199033210_ohome because of her refusal to have the abortion that they were demanding she have. Many a person at Harbins can testify to Heather’s generosity and selflessness in countless other ways. She has rushed to help friends who are facing a crisis; she has stayed up all night in the hospital calming the nerves of an expectant mom; she has spent hours in God’s Word counseling and discipling younger women. Heather’s sacrificial heart led her to envision a series of well-baby clinics in Honduras called Health Matters Honduras. Although it’s just in its infant stages dozens of children in Honduras have already had their lives changed and perhaps even saved due to her compassion. God continues to use the selfless generosity of my wife to  challenge and stretch me in many ways!
  2. Her wisdom and discernment. My wife sees red flags before I do. I swear she has “spidey-senses” when it comes to trouble. The Lord uses her to see things I am sometimes unwilling or unable to see. Beyond that, she often has better ideas on what the next steps are whenever challenging situations arise. Early on I ignored her discernment to my own detriment and to the detriment of our church. She has a God-given instinct for knowing the right thing to do, the right time to do it, and the right words to say that befit the situation. Her sensitivity to the way God is at work, and her sturdy faith in His Word continually push and challenge me to grow.
  3. Her protection and discipleship of our children. Pastor’s children often have it rough as the pastor’s family lives in the proverbial glass house. A pastor’s home is often under a blinding light with every move being analyzed and scrutinized. Heather1909492_1079763439419_1006_n has provided godly counsel and discipleship to my children which has allowed them to grow and thrive amidst the unique pressures of a pastor’s home. She is momma bear when she needs to be, but she has also mastered the spiritual discipline of letting God be our first defender. The aroma of Christ fills our home and that is due to her steadfast and steady management of it.
  4. Her rest and trust in the Lord. Being a Doyle means a new adventure is always around the corner. Throughout the wild ride that is the Doyle household she has always exhibited a unique mixture of adaptability and advance planning. From the expected challenges of parenting five kids, to the unexpected challenges of church relationships, she has kept her eyes on the Lord and has clung to the promises found in our favorite family passage: Proverbs 3:5-6. It is not uncommon for the challenges of church and home to cause pastor’s wives to become bitter and disengaged, but by the mercy and grace of God my wife has prayerfully avoided those pitfalls. Her trust is truly in the Lord.
  5. Her ongoing, progressive sanctification. My wife is not perfect. She has her share of shortcoming and makes plenty of mistakes. And for that I am thankful. She would become an idol in my life if it were not so. She’d be the fist to tell you that she still has plenty of areas to grow in and plenty of sin to continue slaying. But she also knows “whose she is,” namely, that she is child of the King and that He is faithfully, continually, conforming her to the image of Christ Jesus our Lord. Some pastor’s wives feel like they have to be theological giants and fall into insecurity and fear, but913995_10201241532425470_2133027097_o Heather will be the first to tell you that she knows what she knows and she grows as she grows. She worries little about what people think and instead exhibits grace-enabled, faith-fueled effort to mature in Christ. Nothing stirs me to tears more than to sit back and think about how much my amazing wife has grown in the Lord over the past 10 years!

For these reasons and many more, the importance of a godly wife is my first reflection on ten years of church planting. I plan to share nine more leading up to the 10th anniversary of Harbins on April 8th. Harbins would not be Harbins without Heather Doyle, and I would be much less of a man!

An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.(Proverbs 31:10)

Reflections on Church Planting

Ten years ago…

In 2007 the smartphone revolution truly took off when the first iPhone was introduced. In 2007 three-year-old Facebook overtook Myspace as the most popular social media site in the world. In 2007 Michael Vick’s career as a Falcon came to an ugly end due to a dog-fighting scandal. In 2007 George Bush was the President, Taylor Swift was singing country, and Donald Trump was running beauty pageants. A lot has changed in only ten years!

Over the span of the past ten years a lot has changed in my family’s life as well. Ten years ago we were a family of five. Little did we know that 18 children would come in and out of our home through the Safe Families for Children program. Little did we know that two of those children would become permanent members of our family. Ten years ago my son was playing with little green army men, today he’s a Marine. Ten years ago we were Arkansans trying to get used to Georgia, today…well, we’re still Arkansans trying to get used to Georgia. Ten years ago my beard was a goatee without an ounce of gray hair. And ten years ago Heather and I launched out on a crazy adventure called church-planting, which may have contributed, at least in part, to the gray.

doylepiccolorIt’s hard to believe that it’s been that long since the Lord graciously allowed us to start Harbins Community Baptist Church. God has brought Harbins a long way, and a lot has changed in our church as well. Our five core-families who helped us launch the church are no longer with us. We moved from setting up church in a cafeteria to having land and a building. Our name has changed. Our theology has been refined. Our methodology has adjusted. Our church has grown. Our lives have been transformed.

Over the next ten weeks, I hope to write ten blog entries containing ten reflections on ten years of planting and pastoring Harbins. I don’t imagine that there is anything unique or special about any of my observations, matter of fact I know that many of my experiences in regard to church planting could be echoed by other planters of other churches in other places. My desire isn’t to unveil hidden profundities about starting new churches, but to simply share my heart, perhaps make some pastoral observations, and most importantly give honor and glory to God for all that He has done and continues to do.

God has taught me so much. He has taught all of us so much. Some of the lessons have come from doing things poorly. Some of the lessons have come from doing things well. The classroom of church planting includes unexpected joys, and unintended mistakes. But most of God’s lessons have come subtly and quietly through the mundane, day-by-day, non-flamboyant work of the ministry. Those lessons are the ones that we didn’t even realize we were learning. Those lessons are the ones that can only be discovered by reflecting back on the faithful work God has accomplished. Those lessons undergird the reflections that I hope to share over the next ten weeks.

During this decade-long journey my family and I have had to continually rest on the promises of God’s Word, our favorite of which is found in Proverbs 3:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

The funny thing is that God’s straight path sometimes feels more like a twisting and turning roller coaster: undoubtedly scary, yet utterly exhilarating! So join me over the next ten weeks as I reflect on ten surprising yet satisfying years of having the distinct privilege of planting and pastoring Harbins Community Baptist Church.

Honduras Highlights

13690855_10206962369353601_6828874464706303517_nOur mission team touched down back in the good ol’ US of A this past Wednesday evening. It was a great mission trip to Honduras and as always there are mixed emotions as we settle back into our day to day American lives. In this blog entry hope to briefly share with you some of the wonderful things God did in and through our team in Honduras. I’ll save a more detailed presentation of the events of the trip for Sunday, July 24th when our team will be sharing testimonies of how we saw God working.

For me this mission trip was a time of much needed refreshment and renewal. By that I do not mean it was filled with down time and rest, quite the opposite, this was one of the busiest mission trips I’ve ever been a part of. What I do mean is simply that the experience of ministering to the Honduran people was itself the means God used to renew and recharge my own spiritual walk and ministry.

The trip allowed me to escape some of the distractions of American life. As we witnessed in poor homes of small Honduran villages I was able to momentarily forget the shenanigans and over-the-top rhetoric of American politics. As I preached in Iglesia Bautista Renacer I was able to momentarily forget about evangelicalism’s love affair with success and numbers. As we taught men about Biblical headship I was able to forget about amateur theologians rudely blogging past one another while proudly claiming final authority on ancient Trinitarian debates. As I played soccer alongside Honduran young men I was able to momentarily forget the nearly daily racial provocations that are plaguing our nation.

I say all this not to promote some sort of naïve missional escapism, for alas life is not a mission trip, and these issues that are stirring up our nation and our American churches are real and need to be addressed. Beyond that it is truly the heart of naïveté to think that Honduran culture and churches themselves do not have their own set of distracting and debilitating issues and controversies.

I’m simply saying that crossing into another culture for a season of ministry can sometimes give much needed pause and perspective to the many things that demand our attention in both our culture and our churches, and for me this past week was just such an experience.

But really the most important thing to focus on are not how the mission trip made any of us feel, but rather on what God actually did in and through us. So, with that said, here are some highlights of our week:

IMG_2706Women’s Ministry: Our ladies ministered to the women of the village El Naranjal through health and hygiene classes, Bible studies, and sewing/crochet projects. The young ladies of our team ministered to the children of the women who attended these special women’s ministry events. This was a very special time that equipped and encouraged many women in El Naranjal.

IMG_3045Prayer Walking and Evangelism: While the ladies did the women’s ministry the men went door to door sharing the gospel and praying with people. On the last two days of the mission trip the ladies joined us in these efforts. Through this door-to-door ministry we saw many believers encouraged, we saw seeds planted as many politely heard the gospel, we saw fruit blossom as several people professed Christ, and sadly we saw the sinful condition of man on display as some openly rejected the gospel.

IMG_2896Youth Camp: Our whole team worked with the youth of El Naranjal for three consecutive days. During the camp we had times of fellowship, games and most importantly teaching from God’s Word. On day one Larry Doyle taught on the importance of holiness, one of the young leaders from Iglesia Renacer spoke on the holiness of God on day two, and on day three Heather and I separated the boys and girls to teach on holiness in the arena of sexuality.

IMG_7200Men’s Ministry: The men had the privilege of doing a leather knife sheath project with 27 men from El Naranjal and another village. The project was accompanied by in-depth Bible study on male leadership in the home, in the church and at work. This was truly a blessed time that led to some robust interaction with the men who attended. Many of the men plan to use what they learned in regards to making leather sheaths to make more to sell in the future. And the church hopes this will be the beginning of monthly discipleship meetings that will get more men involved in the church.

IMG_4429Worship and Bible Study: We had the joy of worshiping with Iglesia Bautista Renacer on Saturday night and then returning to be with them on Sunday morning for their Sunday School time. I was the guest preacher Saturday night and preached on the importance of worship as seen in Psalm 150. My dad, Larry Doyle, preached from Ephesians 2 for the adults and youth on Sunday morning. The focus of his sermon was our identity in Christ, something he taught our whole group on each night during our team devotional time.

IMG_4445Painting Project: On Sunday afternoon, after some rest and enjoying the Euro 2016 soccer final, our team helped the local church in El Naranjal by painting their worship center and a couple of children’s classrooms.

IMG_7243VBS: On Monday and Tuesday we did a one-day VBS focusing on the Fruit of the Spirit. On the first day we were in a town called Sabaneta which has a strong Baptist Church in it called Iglesia Bautista Betel. We had to adjust on the fly to some space limitations, but overall we had a great VBS with about a 100 kids in attendance. On Tuesday we went to a city called Yuscaran, and ministered at a churched called Iglesia Bautista Eben-ezer. That  church has been through much turmoil over the past few years. They are currently in need of a new pastor. From at one point running 150 in attendance, they now only have a few families remaining and in many ways feel all alone and abandoned. We were able to encourage them and show them that someone does indeed care for them as we came in and, in combination with prayer walking, hosted a VBS for about 30 kids.

This summary doesn’t include the many ways that we ministered to one another, the other ways we were able to minister to the Honduran people, or the ministry that our team had toward our bus driver, Santos. Nor have I even begun to describe the many times that we saw God go before us. I look forward to sharing more with you on July 24th, and can’t wait for you to hear some of the testimonies of our team members. Until then, thank you for your prayers and praise God for all that He has done and is doing in and through our church for the people of Honduras.

In Christ,

Pastor Steve.

 

Resurrection and Redemption

The following is based upon the Adult Bible Study that I led on Easter Sunday:

The Theological Implications of the Resurrection

If when Jesus said, in John 19:30, “It is Finished” redemption was indeed finished, why then was the resurrection necessary? Have you ever wondered that? Well, one answer is that the resurrection was the visible proof that the work of redemption was finished. The empty tomb showed that the atoning sacrifice of Christ was indeed accepted by God. It is was His seal of acceptance and approval. The resurrection, therefore, is part and parcel with the crucifixion, the other side of the proverbial coin. But there is more to it than that.

empty-tombWe must also understand that the resurrection itself actually does something for us. It plays a vital part in our redemption. There is a subtle in danger lurking in our churches whereby we fail to focus sufficiently on the resurrection itself. Our understanding of depravity naturally leads us to focus greatly on the cross and all that Christ suffered for our sake, but we cannot let a necessary focus on the cross unintentionally cause us to lessen our attention to the resurrection and what God did for us through it.

One way to understand at the dynamic relationship between the cross and the empty tomb is to see that what was finished at the cross was applied at resurrection of Christ. Christ’s righteous life and death accomplished our redemption. Christ’s resurrection, however, is the application of that redemption. Redemption means “to be bought out of bondage and set free.” The purchase was made at the cross, the application was secured at the open tomb.

Hang with me a bit as I try to show that Jesus’ death and resurrection and inseparably linked, and then I will share with you six aspects of our redemption that would not be possible without the resurrection.

Hebrews 2:9 reads, “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels (incarnation), namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor (resurrection) because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”

From this text and others, there is a sense in which we can say that Christ’s resurrection was His own redemption. As 100% human, His righteous life and death bought Him out of bondage to the curse of death that all mankind was subjected to and freed Him to resurrection and eternal life. The curse of death was the just sentence for sinners, but Christ being without sin was freed from the sentence and thus the grave had no claim on Him and could not hold Him. Jesus’ perfect life and substitutionary death fulfilled God’s law, satisfied God’s justice, and therefore deserved to be rewarded with resurrection to eternal life.

The word “because” in Hebrews 2:9 shows that Jesus’ suffering and death was the ground of His resurrection. Jesus’ righteous life and substitutionary death satisfied the demands of the law. God was therefore legally bound by His own justice to raise Jesus from the dead.

Now look at Hebrews 13:20: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant…” Don’t miss the significance of little words in the Bible, in this case the preposition “by.” God brought Christ back from the dead “by” the blood of the eternal covenant. Christ’s blood was, therefore, instrumental in His resurrection. His blood was the causal means of His resurrection. In other words, the shedding of Christ’s righteous blood made Him legally deserving of, and ensured His own resurrection.

Similarly we see in John 12:24 these words of Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The death of a seed is the source and cause of its new life. In the same way, our Lord’s righteous death is the source and cause of His own resurrection to eternal life. We see something similar in Phil 2:8-11.

849-crown-of-thorns-nails-600x399On a theological note, this means that the atonement is definite. It accomplishes something. The resurrection proves that Christ’s blood definitely produces resurrection and life. This means everyone for whom Christ bled and died will definitely be raised to eternal life with Him. None of Christ’s blood fails to accomplish life because it is powerful to redeem. That means that not a drop of Jesus’ blood was spilled uselessly. It saves all whom God intends to save. If any of Jesus’ blood would have fallen to the ground uselessly, then theoretically the resurrection could potentially never have taken place. But the blood was righteous therefore it had to produce vindication which means the grave could not keep Jesus in it’s clutches, it had to release Him because every drop of His blood was righteous.

So what does this mean for us? Well, it means that for us the death and resurrection of Christ simultaneously accomplishes and applies every aspect of our redemption. For, if we are united to Him, then His death is our death, and His resurrection is our resurrection. Romans 6:5: “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” So we have to see that our full redemption could not have happened without the resurrection. Here are six ways that the Bible shows us that the resurrection was necessary for our redemption:

1. Without the resurrection we wouldn’t have regeneration

Ephesians 2:4-5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved”

1 Peter 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”

2. Without the resurrection we wouldn’t have repentance

Acts 3:26 “God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness”

Acts 5:30-31 “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.”

3. Without the resurrection we wouldn’t have justification

Romans 4:24-25: “It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”

1 Corinthians 15:17 “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

4. Without the resurrection we wouldn’t have sanctification

Romans 6:6-11 “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.”

Romans 7:4 “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.”

5. Without the resurrection we wouldn’t have perseverance

Ephesians 2:6 “…and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”

1 Thessalonians 1:10 “and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

6. Without the resurrection we wouldn’t have glorification

Philippians 3:20 “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

Colossians 3:3-4 “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”

All the key elements of our redemption are ensured by, not only the cross, but also by the resurrection. Redemption purchased at Calvary, applied at the Garden Tomb.

Good Friday Service

What a wonderful Maundy Thursday service last night. Jesus was certainly exalted as we examined His new commandment that we love one another just as He loved us, and our church demonstrated the unity and love we have for one another in Christ by taking Communion together.

Tonight we follow the events of Holy Week to its darkest point as we observe Good Friday. This particular day in Holy Week is called Good Friday because our Sovereign God in His glorious providence would take the enemy’s greatest bad, the murder of the Son of God, and use it for our greatest good, our redemption and rescue.

We will observe Good Friday this evening by examining the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross. Heres’s a video to wet your appetite.