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

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)

Spring 2017 Community Groups Coming Soon!

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One of the things I love about HCBC is how eager our folks are to study the Bible.  Many people have been coming up to me lately asking when our next round of Community Groups will be launching.  I’m happy to say we’ll be relaunching the week of February 5th.  As usual we’ve got a terrific lineup of studies.  Here’s what we’re offering this time around:

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, February 7th, 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.  No study guide necessary, just your Bible!  Sign up here!

Lessons from the Upper Room

 Led by Jeff Thomas at Karen Lindsey’s home.  2515 Harbins Mill Drive, Dacula.
Launch Date: Wednesday, February 8th, 7pm.

Knowing the time was fast approaching for Him to imagesdepart this world, Jesus spent His final hours with His closest friends. As the disciples sat with their master, unaware of what would soon take place, Jesus served them, taught them, and prayed for them.  In this 12-part teaching series, Dr. Sinclair Ferguson paints a vivid picture of the disciples’ final moments with their Savior. Carefully walking through John 13-17, Dr.
Ferguson reminds us of the centrality of Christ in all of life.   No study guide necessary, just your Bible!  Sign up here!  For more information, view the trailer below:

 

God in our midst: The Tabernacle and our relationship to God.  

Led by Mark Pierce at the Pritchett home, 2290 Marshland Ct, Suwanee.
Launch Date: Wednesday,  February 8th, 7pm.

How does an ancient tent in the wilderness of Sinai relate to our relationship with God? The description of the tabernacle, God’s Old Testament dwelling place, spans sixteen chapters of the Bible. Yet many of us pass over this extended description without understanding its significance. In this series, Daniel R. Hyde encourages us to consider this “tent of meeting” (Ex. 27:21). By studying the particulars of this first tabernacle, we will better understand Jesus, the One who dwelt, or “tabernacled,” among us (John 1:14).  No study guide necessary!  Just bring your Bible!  Sign up here!  For more information, view the trailer below:

 

What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage

Led by Demer Webb at the Sims’ home, 3605 Wynter Frost Walk.
Launch Date: Wednesday,  February 8th, 7pm

imagesIt won’t take long for you to be disappointed in marriage. It won’t take long for your dreams to be dashed. The reality is that you can’t escape the brokenness of this
world. You won’t be able to avoid the sin of your spouse.

The Bible teaches that we all bring something destructive into our relationships – sin. But as Paul David Tripp explains, we buy into the delusion that our biggest problem is outside of us. We blame our spouse. We blame our circumstances. We rarely take seriously the nature of our own sin.

‘What Did You Expect?’ challenges you to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see yourself with clarity. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you love yourself more than your spouse. Maybe you love your little kingdom more than God’s big Kingdom. When you reach that level of honesty, you’re at the edge of real good things for your marriage.

Sign up here!  

After you sign up, get your FREE study guide here! (required)  

To go even deeper, click here and order the book! (optional but recommended)

For more information, view the trailer below:

 

Behold Your God

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS A CONTINUATION OF THE STUDY THAT BEGAN LAST SEMESTER.  

Led by Todd Harrison at the Harrison home. 1480 Bradley Gin Road, Monroe.
Study resumes Thursday, February 9th,  7pm.  

Are we sure that the God we serve is the imagesGod described in Scripture? Is rethinking Him biblically really necessary? How do we do it? How would it affect our views of Christ, the gospel, holiness, worship, evangelism, service, and revival?

Behold Your God is a study that focuses on God’s self-revelation in the Bible, helping the believer to apply the descriptions of God to all of life. Each week features a short biographical sketch of the life of a significant figure from Christian history whose ministry illustrates the truths that you will be studying weekly.  They include A. W. TozerGeorge MullerRobert Murray M’CheyneCharles Spurgeon,  Jonathan Edwards, and more.

dudes_byg_lineup_940

In addition, each week’s lesson will reinforce what you have been studying in the Bible on your own time throughout that week.  Finally, you will be able to listen to highlights from interviews with contemporary ministers whose lives and labors reflect these same truths.

This study is written with the conviction that our fundamental need in Western Christianity is to repent of our low and unworthy views of God, to return to the biblical descriptions of the true God, and to risk it all in order to live upon Who He is. Nothing in this study is new truth.  Instead, everything is meant only to help you to take the biblical descriptions of God seriously and to see how they form the foundation of Christian living.

***Because this is a study that began in the Fall, you are encouraged to consider another one of our study options.  However, if you are still interested in joining this study midstream,  order the required daily devotional and then sign up here!***

For more information, view the trailer below:

To preserve strong group dynamics and intimacy, Pastor Steve and I are trying to keep the groups from becoming too large.  Therefore, our preference is to have a maximum of 12 participants per group.  (This does not of course, include babies and other children who won’t really be participating in the study!) With that said, we want to make sure everyone is in a group, so if there is only one that you desire to participate in due to day of the week, location, interest, etc, then we will of course increase the size of any group to make sure that everyone is included.  With that said, 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 of God, through which we are able to more clearly see and savor our Lord Jesus Christ!

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

 

Fall 2016 Community Groups Coming Soon!

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It’s hard to believe, but summer is winding down.  But while summer winds down, activities and opportunities for further fellowship, growth, and discipleship at Harbins Church begin winding up!  We are just weeks away from relaunching our weeknight Community Groups.  Pastor Steve and I believe these groups play a vital role in our spiritual health and we urge everyone to select one and plug in.  In these groups you’ll find fellowship, encouragement, ministry for your soul, a means for you to bless others, and a means to better see and savor Jesus Christ.  As always, we have some outstanding study options.  Some we’ve offered before, and some are brand new.  Your five study choices are:

1) Battling Unbelief- Launches Tuesday, Sept 6th, at two locations:  Location #1 Demer and Dana Webb’s home, 7pm.  514 Bentley Circle, Bethlehem.  Led by Demer Webb.  Location #2 Barbara Coleman’s home, 1830 Jessica Way, Winder.  Led by Steve Doyle

images“When faith flickers, stoke the fire!  No one sins out of duty.  We sin because it offers some promise of happiness.  That promise enslaves us-until we believe that God is more desirable than life itself (Psalm 63:3).  Only the power of God’s superior promises in the gospel can emancipate our hearts from servitude to the shallow promises and fleeting pleasures of sin.”

Battling Unbelief, one of the most powerful and popular studies ever done at Harbins Church, is being offered for a 4th time for believers who seek greater growth in godliness and greater power to kill sin in their lives.  Pastor Demer, with help from John Piper, will help you battle the destructive, joy-killing sins of anxiety, pride, impatience, covetousness, lust, and more.  Many have experienced a revolution in their spiritual lives through this study.  Will you be the next to be transformed?

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to purchase the study guide!

 

images2) What Did You Expect? Redeeming the Realities of Marriage- Launches Wednesday, Sept 7th, at Matt and Marietta Pritchett’s home, 7pm.  2290 Marshland Court, Suwannee.  Led by Mark Pierce.

“It won’t take long for you to be disappointed in marriage. It won’t take long for your dreams to be dashed. The reality is that you can’t escape the brokenness of this world. You won’t be able to avoid the sin of your spouse.

The Bible teaches that we all bring something destructive into our relationships – sin. But as Paul David Tripp explains, we buy into the delusion that our biggest problem is outside of us. We blame our spouse. We blame our circumstances. We rarely take seriously the nature of our own sin.

‘What Did You Expect?’ challenges you to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see yourself with clarity. Maybe it’s you. Maybe you love yourself more than your spouse. Maybe you love your little kingdom more than God’s big Kingdom. When you reach that level of honesty, you’re at the edge of real good things for your marriage.

Start working on a marriage of unity, understanding, and love.”

Here is the trailer for the book:

So what are you waiting for?  The next step in strengthening your marriage can be signing up now!

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to download your FREE study guide! (required)

Click here to go deeper and order the book! (optional but recommended)

 

3) Praying with Paul- Launches Wednesday, Sept 7th, at Gabe and Aida Bruzzi’s home, 7pm. 2850 Crystal Ridge Drive, Dacula.  Led by Jeff Thomas

imagesIt’s doubtful that there is any Christian who has not sometimes found it difficult to pray. In itself this is neither surprising nor depressing: it is not surprising, because we are still pilgrims with many lessons to learn; it is not depressing, because struggling with such matters is part of the way we learn. God doesn’t demand hectic church programs and frenetic schedules; he only wants his people to know him more intimately. The apostle Paul found the kind of spiritual closeness in his own fellowship with the Father that is available to all of us.

“Praying with Paul” leads group members into the Epistles to see what Paul taught in his “school of prayer.” Group members will be exposed to the priorities of prayer, a God-centered framework for prayer, and practices for a more meaningful and dynamic prayer life. Christians today can still achieve the confidence Paul enjoyed by following his life-shaping principles and searching for a deeper devotional experience.

Here’s author and teacher DA Carson sharing a bit about this great study.

We have heard from more than one person how this study has resulted in a strengthened and more vibrant prayer life.  Who wouldn’t want that?  If you are ready to deepen your prayer life, you’ve just found your study, so……….

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required study guide!

4) Behold Your God- Launches Thursday, Sept 8th, at Todd and Carol Harrison’s home, 7pm. 1480 Bradley Gin Road, Monroe.  Led by Todd Harrison.

Are we sure that the God we serve is the imagesGod described in Scripture? Is rethinking Him biblically really necessary? How do we do it? How would it affect our views of Christ, the gospel, holiness, worship, evangelism, service, and revival?

Behold Your God is a 12-week study that focuses on God’s self-revelation in the Bible, helping the believer to apply the descriptions of God to all of life. Each week features a short biographical sketch of the life of a significant figure from Christian history whose ministry illustrates the truths that you will be studying weekly.  They include A. W. TozerGeorge MullerRobert Murray M’CheyneCharles Spurgeon,  Jonathan Edwards, and more.

dudes_byg_lineup_940

In addition, each week’s lesson will reinforce what you have been studying in the Bible on your own time throughout that week.  Finally, you will be able to listen to highlights from interviews with contemporary ministers whose lives and labors reflect these same truths. These include Paul Washer, Andrew Davies, Conrad Mbewe, and more. Comments from men whose gospel labors range from Peru, Ethiopia, Virginia, and Memphis to New Zealand, England, Wales, Ireland, and Zambia help to show that these are eternal truths about an eternal God who is not altered by any temporal or geographical context.

Many in our day are tired and disillusioned because they have consistently hoped in the next new idea. It is just this kind of day that makes Christians stop running on their religious hamster-wheels and ask “Why are we doing these programs?” and “Why doesn’t God ever really seem to show up and effectively work in our churches?” Hard questions often lead to right answers. This study is written with the conviction that our fundamental need in Western Christianity is to repent of our low and unworthy views of God, to return to the biblical descriptions of the true God, and to risk it all in order to live upon Who He is. Nothing in this study is new truth.  Instead, everything is meant only to help you to take the biblical descriptions of God seriously and to see how they form the foundation of Christian living.

Whet your appetite with the trailer here:

Ok, I’m ready to sign up now!  But I can’t, because I’m teaching my own study.  But the good news is that YOU can be a part of this incredible group by signing up today!

Click here to sign up for this study!

Click here to order the required daily devotional!

To preserve strong group dynamics and intimacy, Pastor Steve and I are trying to keep the groups from becoming too large.  Therefore, our preference is to have a maximum of 12 participants per group.  (This does not of course, include babies and other children who won’t really be participating in the study!) With that said, we want to make sure everyone is in a group, so if there is only one that you are able to participate in due to day of the week, location, etc, then we will of course increase the size of any group to make sure that everyone is included.  With that said, please let us know as early as you can which group you’d like to participate in.

I’m excited as I’ve ever been about our lineup of studies available to you.  You can’t go wrong with any of the five options available, and I am excited to see and hear how God will use the Harbins Community Group ministry in your life in the months to come.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer

We’re looking for a few good servants

Friends,

Jesus said, ” The greatest among you shall be your servant. (Matthew 23:11) images

If that’s true, then surely the deacons of our church are among the greatest in our midst.  The very name, “deacon”, carries the idea of selfless service.  The elders of HCBC want to express our ongoing gratefulness to the men that have served as deacons past and present.

Because the role of a deacon demands constant “above and beyond” service, it is important to make sure we are regularly providing opportunities for deacons to have seasons of rest, while replenishing the ranks with more servants who are ready to give themselves to ministering to the flock.

With that said, I want to remind you that the elders of HCBC are seeking your help as we pray about expanding our deacon team.  HCBC deacons play a crucial role in strengthening and furthering the ministry of our church, and they help Pastor Steve and myself shepherd and care for you better.  As you are involved in the day-to-day life in the church, you are in a great position to help let us know who you’ve noticed as someone who may particularly be effective in such a service role.

You can write down your deacon nomination and put it in the box hanging up in the back of the sanctuary.  For your convenience, you can also email your nominations to Jeff Thomas at jt301406@gmail.com

In addition, can you please add our deacon search to your daily prayers for the next few weeks?  Pray that God would guide our church to find that right people to serve in this important role.  We can do nothing without His help.

Knowing whatimages a deacon is and does, and what the qualifications for such a role is, will be very helpful to you as you prayerfully consider whom you might nominate.  If you are unsure about the role of deacon and the necessary qualifications, or if you just need  refresher, let me commend some the following thoughts from 9Marks Ministries to you.  Below I’ve provided a very helpful link detailing the biblical qualifications and responsibilities of deacons.  I’d advise reading that first if you can.  After that, beneath the link, I’ve shared some brief excerpts from a good article from Benjamin Merkle that reminds us that beyond raw administrative ability, we need deacons who will help promote peace and unity in the church.

The Biblical Qualifications and Responsibilities of Deacons

Deacons: Shock-Absorbers and Servants

WHAT IS A DEACON?

According to the New Testament, a deacon is two things: a shock-absorber and a servant.

Deacons are shock-absorbers: the seven men chosen by the church in Jerusalem to care for widows, who seem to be precursors to deacons, were chosen to preserve unity at a time when botched administration was creating fissures in the church (see Acts 6:1-7).

And deacons are servants: their very name means servant, and their precursors in Acts 6 were chosen to handle the practical needs of the church. That way, the apostles could devote themselves to leading the church through prayer and the ministry of the Word.

DEACONS AS SHOCK-ABSORBERS

God has always intended to display his glory to the nations, in part, through the unity of Jews and Gentiles within the church (Eph 3:10), and yet it was exactly at this juncture that disunity was erupting in the early Jerusalem church.

The Greek-speaking Jews began to complain “against” the Hebrew-speaking Jews concerning the distribution of food. The church therefore chose seven men to distribute food equitably, yes, but, more than that, to restore unity where there was division. Unity-building was their primary goal; good administration was the means.

It’s notable that, when laying out qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3, Paul focuses on issues of character rather than administrative skills. Accordingly, our churches should select deacons primarily for their track record of peacemaking, and only secondarily for administrative expertise. 

DEACONS AS SERVANTS

The elders are called to “direct the affairs of the church” (1 Timothy 5:17), and deacons are called to support that direction. In our churches, then, elders should make directional decisions while deacons facilitate congregational involvement to make that vision a reality.

Elders lead ministry, deacons facilitate ministry, the congregation does ministry. That, I believe, is the New Testament model, and that biblical clarity in deacons’ role and function is invaluable for promoting peace and unity in our congregations.

I hope the above information can help you as you consider what individuals would be a great fit for the role of Deacon at HCBC.  Thank you in advance for your involvement in this process.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Demer