What to do when your pastor leaves (or when anything outside your plans happens)

Dear Harbins Family,

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I know Sunday came as a difficult blow to many of you when Pastor Steve announced that the Lord is moving he and Heather into a new phase of life and ministry away from Harbins. There were many tears and broken hearts. That is to be expected. Pastor Steve and Heather have poured their lives into our lives for many years and our hearts have been knitted to theirs. Some may even wonder how can something so painful be from God? Isn’t it best for ministers to stay with their flocks forever?

Sometimes. But not always.

Sometimes God gifts a people with a special servant for a brief season to lay down important teachings and foundations before God moves him on to a new assignment. The departure of the minister makes way for God to raise up new leaders to carry the torch and for the congregation as a whole to build on the foundation that has been laid.

imagesThe Apostle Paul, whom we often regard as someone who was constantly roaming around and on the move, was actually led by God to minister in Ephesus and stay put there for three years. He had an incredible and fruitful ministry there. Yes, there were trials and difficulties along the way, but Paul remained faithful, pouring his life into the Ephesian believers. Paul unabashedly says,

…I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:20-21)

In fact, Paul wasn’t interested in just teaching certain aspects of God’s truth to people, focusing on his “hobby horses” or the “easier” portions of God’s revelation, instead, he says,

I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:27)

And,

…for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. (Acts 20:31)

Paul gave his all to the Ephesians for three years; he held nothing back. There is no doubt that the Ephesians absolutely loved and cherished having someone as godly, as loving, as kind, as gentle, as the Apostle Paul, minister to and shepherd and guard them. There is no doubt they became deeply attached to Paul and had deep affection for him.

And yet the time eventually came where God directed Paul to leave.images

That’s when the tears and heartbreak came. Indeed we are given a powerfully emotional scene in Acts 20 where the Ephesian elders pray with Paul as they send him out. We are told that,

there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again… (Acts 20:37-38)

It was a painful parting, yet it was all a part of God’s plan.

What do we do now?

The parting of a beloved pastor who has served and ministered to us in so many ways can cause a wide range of emotions: grief, confusion, anger, and even fear.   Often churches are tempted during such times to become anxious for themselves and for their church. We feel as if the ground beneath us is giving way and we long for stability and security. Probably the church at Ephesus felt similar things. So how do we, at Harbins Church, respond to something that is very different from our own personal hopes and desires and plans?

You know the answer. But if you’re like me, it helps to hear someone else encourage us to embrace what we already know.

The way that we weather the storms of life is to take shelter in the only strong, reliable, safe refuge we have, which is a God who knows us, loves us, and is 100% for us and on our side. Are you feeling like the times are unstable?  That you lack the strength and wisdom to move forward?  That the best days are behind you? The Scriptures tell you that,

…he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is Zion’s treasure. (Isaiah 33:6)

Are you anxious and weighed down with many cares? The Psalmist tells you to,

Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved. (Psalm 55:22)

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 Do you feel the need for protection? The prophet Nahum reminds you that,

The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him. (Nahum 1:7)

 Do you lack peace? Isaiah reminds us that the real battlefield is not in our circumstances but in our mind and thoughts. He says of God,

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3)

Do you feel that darkness surrounds you? Did you know that in reality, if you are a child of God, you are actually surrounded by God’s love and faithfulness? The Psalmist says,

He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:4)

Have you cried out to God in prayer, pouring out your heart to Him, and laying before Him all of your requests and desires? Even your requests and desires regarding the departure of a pastor you love so much? If so, Jesus has told you how your Father will respond.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:9-11)

Jesus promised that your Father would respond to your prayers, and that in exchange for your requests He would give you nothing but good things! God will always give you exactly what you ask for…..or something better!

And here is where we need to trust God when He says,

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9)

We have our own thoughts and ways. We have our own ideas of how the script of our lives should be written. But because God’s thoughts are higher than ours, and He sees reality more clearly than we do, often He will erase what we write on our scripts and put in something else, something He knows is better, even if we can’t understand it. That’s where faith comes in. That’s where our hope in His faithfulness comes in.  That is where we must join the prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet, who saw and endured difficulties that most of us will never face. We must declare in faith, with Jeremiah,

imagesBut this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” (Lamentations 3:21-24)

We hope in God because we know He is good, we know He is faithful, and we know that He knows what He is doing, even when He ordains something to happen that goes against our script and plans.

Hopeful expectations

imagesAs painful as Paul’s departure from Ephesus was, only time would tell the good that God would work through it. The Ephesians, in releasing Paul, unknowingly would participate in the spread of the gospel in unlikely ways to unlikely places. The good news of Jesus Christ would reach the ears of Felix, the Roman governor (Acts 24), to the evil king Agrippa (Acts 26), and even to the very heart of Rome (Acts 28, Phil 4:22). Indeed it is during this post-Ephesian period where Paul experiences an incredibly fruitful period of writing Scripture, including what many say is his greatest theological treatise of all, the mighty book of Romans.

What’s more, after Paul left Ephesus, God would not leave the Ephesian church alone. He had good plans for them. Indeed, Paul’s departure would lead to God raising up others to lead the church in the days ahead, including a timid, inexperienced, but promising  and godly young pastor named Timothy, to whom Paul would entrust some of the most important doctrines of the Church in the epistles of 1 & 2 Timothy. And to this church Paul would write the book of Ephesians, a masterpiece full of the truth about salvation, Christian identity, and spiritual warfare.

Of course, like every church, Ephesus was not without its problems and challenges, but we also know that God empowered this church to remain faithful to sound doctrine and the truth, to be bold in the face of dangerous false teachers, to be faithful during times of persecution and difficulty, not giving up, and to be steadfast in the labor of the Lord’s work.

But during that tearful departure, neither Paul nor the Ephesian church knew the good plans God had for them in this difficult situation.

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God has good plans for Harbins Church too. We don’t know exactly what they are. We just know they are good plans and things we would never dream up on our own. Thank God that He is the author of the script.

So, as we process everything we heard Sunday from Pastor Steve, know that it is appropriate to weep, it is normal to feel pain and heartbreak, and it is good to grieve. But it would not be good if that were all we did. As the People of God, we must also put our hope in God. As ones who know God, we are to, with great expectation and trust, look forward to the good that our Father has in store both for Steve and for us. If the Bible is telling us the truth, then there is no question that what is happening is for the maximum good and benefit for everyone involved and for God’s maximum glory.  Therefore, there is great reason for abundant, joyful hope.

If it seems odd to be sad and hopeful at the same time, remember that the Apostle Paul himself describes the Christian as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” (2 Cor 6:10). There are things that happen (like persecution or painful goodbyes) that remind us that we are not in heaven yet and so we are sorrowful. On the other hand, we know that our good God is actively working even in the most difficult of situations for our good, and therefore we always have cause to rejoice and be thankful.

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For the LORD God is a sun and shield…No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:11-12)

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

HCBC Men’s Discipleship Groups!

Scripture says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

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Are you a man who craves the following?

Spiritual mentoring?

Discipleship?

Accountability?

Mutual encouragement?

Such fruit is borne in the context of intentional,  growing, spiritually grounded relationships between men.  If the idea of fighting the fight of faith with a band of brothers sounds appealing to you, consider joining a Men’s Discipleship Group (MDG).

MDGs consists of 2-4 men, usually gathering bi-weekly.  In addition to reading through a Bible or Christian book together, MDGs will also commit to Scripture memory, prayer for one another, spiritual accountability, and mutual encouragement.

imagesIf you are not presently part of a group, and would like to join one, please email me at demerwebb@gmail.com.  There will also be a signup sheet in the back of the sanctuary on Sunday.  Just let us know your availability and we’ll find a group to connect you with.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

Fall 2017 Community Groups Coming Soon!

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I am excited that fall is coming.  After a long, hot summer, the thought of cooler weather, football, and bonfires is a welcome change.  Another thing that I love about fall is the relaunching of HCBC Community Groups.  Our Community Groups present a wonderful opportunity for brothers and sisters in Christ to gather together during the week for fellowship, mutual encouragement in the faith, and learning from God’s Word.  Our Community Groups launch the week of September 10th.  Start considering now which one you’ll join!  Here are your options.

1 Peter: Maintaining Our Hope in a World That’s Not Our Home

imagesLed by Steve Doyle at Barbara Coleman’s home.  1830 Jessica Way, Winder.
Launch Date: Tuesday, September 12th, 7pm.

Do you ever feel like an alien and a stranger in a land that is increasingly distant and even hostile to Jesus Christ?  That’s normal.  The Apostle Peter begins his letter by saying he is writing to “To those who are elect exiles…” (1 Pe 1:1).  To be a believer is to be an exile longing for their true home in heaven.  But in the meantime, how now shall we live? This Bible study will equip and encourage all pilgrims who are passing through this difficult world in route to their ultimate destination, the New Heavens and the New Earth.  While this study began last semester, it is open to new participants.  We only got through the first chapter so it will be easy to catch up!   No study guide necessary, just your Bible! Sign up here!

Faith – What Are You Hoping For?images

Led by Jeff Thomas at the Thomas home.  2700 Angel Oak Circle, Dacula. Launch Date: Tuesday, September 12th, 7pm.

What is faith?

We all know that the Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen” – but do we know how to live by faith in the street-level situations and relationships of our daily Christianity?  Join pastor and best-selling author Paul David Tripp on a powerful 9 session journey through Hebrews 11 to discover how to live a hope-filled life of faith in Jesus Christ.  Order Optional Study Guide Here!  Sign Up Here!

View the trailer here:

Christ-Centered Parenting  (Meeting in two locations and times!)

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Group #1, Leader TBA, at Mark & Katie Pierce’s home.  624 Clarke Trail, Dacula. Launch Date: Wednesday, September 13th, 7pm.

Group #2 will be led by Demer Webb at Jason & Hannah Sims’ home.  3605 Wynter Frost Walk, Bethlehem. Launch Date: Thursday, September 14th, 7pm.

Are you equipped to talk to your kids about today’s cultural issues?  Designed to help you lead your children and teens in a confident and responsible way, this group will equip parents to address topics children of all ages face, including:

  • Gender issues
  • Suicide, depression, and anxiety
  • Pornography
  • Addiction and coping mechanisms
  • Same-sex marriage
  • Singleness, dating, marriage, and divorce

Give your kids a biblical worldview that will produce the next generation of culture shapers – not simply the next generation shaped by their culture. Order Study Guide Here!  Sign Up Here!

View the trailer here: (Note the trailer says 6 sessions, but this study will be expanded at least several more weeks!)

Going Deeper

Led by Todd Harrison at the Harrison home. 1480 Bradley Gin Road, Monroe.
Launch Date: Thursday, September 14th,  7pm.  

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This will be a time of building encouraging relationships and community through snacks, fellowship, prayer, and conversation centered on the past Sunday’s sermon text.  This is an opportunity to spend more time discussing how the text applies to daily life, answering questions about the text, and exploring parts of the passage that were not fully covered during the sermon.  No study guide necessary.  Just bring your Bible!  Sign Up Here!

Please let us know as early as you can which group you’d like to participate in.

I’m thrilled that HCBC is able to offer such amazing studies that will draw you closer to God, facilitate transformation in your life, and sink your roots deeper into the precious Word and gospel of God, through which we are able to more clearly see and savor our Lord Jesus Christ!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

Holy Week at HCBC- Schedule and Resources.

holy_weekLast year we launched a new tradition at HCBC.  Pastor Steve and I both felt burdened about the lack of attention and focus on the Easter season.  Many churches place a huge emphasis on Christmastime and can spend up to a month, if not longer, centering corporate worship, sermons, and church activities around that season.  I’m not opposed to that in the least.  However, we have felt that in addition to whatever focus we put on Christmas,  it is very right and appropriate to increase our attention towards how HCBC worships during this season as well.

As significant as Christmas is, Christmas was not an end unto itself.  The reason Jesus was born in Bethlehem was to bleed on Golgotha.  He was laid in a manger for the purpose of, later on, having His body laid in a tomb.  He descended to earth as a lowly Man so He could later on rise triumphantly from the grave.  The whole purpose of Christmas is Easter.

For this reason, Pastor Steve and I are eager to continue our new tradition of expanding opportunities for corporate prayer and worship, preaching, teaching, and encouraging HCBC families to have times of personal and/or family worship in their homes which revolves specifically around the events we remember during Holy Week.

Here is the HCBC Holy Week schedule, followed by some resources you can use personally or with your family during Holy Week.  (Please note that due to the additional worship services we are adding during Holy Week, we will not be having our regular community groups during that time.)

Sunday imagesMorning, April 9th, – Palm Sunday Worship Celebration, 9:30am-12pm.  Sunday School at 9:30.  Corporate Worship at 10:45.  Pastor Steve and I decided that for Palm Sunday we will NOT break from our current sermon series, as the whole theme of Galatians is deeply connected and relevant to the meaning of Palm Sunday and all of Holy Week.

Sunday Evening, April 9th – Men’s Prayer, Holy Week Focus, 6:30pm-8:30pm.          Last imagesmonth’s men’s prayer gathering was one of our largest ever.  It was a beautiful time of unity and fellowship.  For this prayer time, we will be looking at and praying through Scriptures that are directly associated with Holy Week and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

Thursday Evening, April 13th – Maundy Thursday Service w/Communion, 7pm-8pm.
imagesThe word “Maundy” comes from the Latin word where we get our English word “command” or “mandate” from.  Jesus gave a special mandate the evening before He was crucified, that we would love one another as Jesus loves us. (John 13:33-34).  In addition to a time of worship through singing, Pastor Demer will deliver a brief sermon followed by the Lord’s Supper.

imagesFriday Evening, April 14th – Good Friday Service, 7pm-8pm. We will spend time worshipping through song, followed by several of the HCBC men sharing brief moments of teaching based on Jesus’ seven final sayings from the cross.

Saturday Morning, April 15th – Easter Caroling, 2pm-2:30pm at Rose of Sharon Nursing Home in Dacula, 971 Harbins Rd, Dacula, GA. – Join us for a time of ministering to the residents and staff as we sing hymns, read Scripture, and share gifts in Jesus’ name.
imagesSunday Morning, April 16th – Easter Service, Resurrection Sunday, 9:30am-12pm – Join us as we celebrate Jesus Christ’s triumph over the grave and the powers of darkness!

And finally, here are some great Holy Week resources for you and your family from Desiring God Ministries.

Love to the Uttermost, Devotional Readings for Holy Week by John PiperThis free devotional begins on Palm Sunday, ends on Easter Sunday, and aims to focus our attention on Jesus as he displays his love to the uttermost (John 13:1). These meditations on the self-giving love of Christ are all excerpted from the preaching and writing ministry of John Piper.

Five Helps for Your Holy Week- This link features five of Desiring God’s best articles related to the Easter season.  Topics include a “Theology of Resurrection”, “Was Jesus Really Crucified?”, and 8 reasons why the Resurrection of Jesus is an historically reliable fact.

Your Sorrow Will Turn To Joy, Morning and Evening Meditations for Holy Week– For this free devotional, Desiring God has assembled a team of eleven pastors and scholars to walk us through Holy Week as we walk together with our Lord. This collection of short meditations includes readings for each morning and evening from Palm Sunday to the triumph of Easter.

A Theater Called Holy Week – Tony Reinke prepares us for Holy Week in his brief article highlighting John 12:27-33

Make Holy Week Holy to the Lord – The week between Palm Sunday and Easter is not intrinsically holy, except that all time is holy, since it belongs to God. But we can make it holy by setting it apart for sacred focus.  This link gives you the Scriptures from the 4 gospels that record Jesus’ final hours.  Consider using these Scriptures to supplement your daily time in the Scriptures this week.

It is my prayer that HCBC’s Holy Week focus will be a blessing as it helps you and your family turn your eyes all the more to the sufferings and triumph of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

 

Weekend Resource Round Up 3/31/17

Here are a few of the better resources that have been floating around in cyberspace the past few days:

Every Morning There’s War in the Piper household– Are you tempted to treasure _______ over Jesus? Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Let’s fight the fight of faith together this day!

Is The Pope the AntiChrist? – The always controversial Luther said, “I owe the Pope no other obedience than that I owe to antichrist”  How are Christians to regard the Pope?  This article is helpful.

How to Delight in God’s Word– Is this an area you struggle in?  John Piper offers help and encouragement.

Trust the Means of Grace – You will not grow in godliness without being committed to the Word, Prayer, and Christian Fellowship. To the degree these are earnestly incorporated into your life is the degree that you will grow in spiritual strength and holiness as a Christian.

‘One Anothers’ I Can’t Find in the New Testament – This is outstanding.  “The kind of God we really believe in is revealed in how we treat one another. The lovely gospel of Jesus positions us to treat one another like royalty, and every non-gospel positions us to treat one another like dirt…we will follow through horizontally on whatever we really believe vertically…Therefore, when we mistreat one another, our problem is not a lack of surface niceness but a lack of gospel depth. What we need is not only better manners but, far more, true faith.”

I hope one or more of these resources educates, blesses, and encourages you.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

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.