Our Big Brother

This past weekend, I was privileged to spend some time with our “Big Brother,” Mercy Hill Church in Greensboro, NC. Mercy Hill is a couple years ahead of us (The Bridge Church) and they have a heart for young church planters like myself. They’re experiencing a move of God in their city and seeing upwards of 450 people in attendance each week as well as 72 people baptized in their first year alone. In many ways, we’re aspiring to learn from them and model much of what we do after them.

Yesterday, Ashley and I were able to spend the entire day with their leadership team, and they treated us like royalty. It was so much fun. Here are a few take-aways I had from our time together.

1. The value of the launch team. Apart from the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit, much of their “success” can be attributed to the launch team. To all the church planters out there, put on the brakes and take the time to recruit a couple dozen people who want to join your launch team and make a commitment to be by your side for at least the first two years…rain or shine.

2. The value of the sermon. Most church planters are swamped with everything under the sun. After all, who else is going to do it if I don’t. Unfortunately, sermon prep gets put on the back burner. Most guys say, “I can’t afford to spend 15 hours a week doing sermon prep.” However, the sermon is what steers the ship. You can’t afford NOT to spend 15 hours a week doing sermon prep. My pastor, J.D. Greear, says if you don’t like writing a 15 page research paper each week, then you shouldn’t be a lead pastor.

3. The value of an executive (or associate). You need another guy by your side. You can’t do it alone. If you’re the only leader in your church plant, you will die, the church will die, and your family will die. You need one other guy (at least) who will take the bull by the horns with you and join your staff from the beginning. But, I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t have the money for another staff person.” Well, find the money. Get creative. Go for it. 

4. The value of groups. Groups are the life of the church and the catalyst for growth. Whether you call them life groups, small groups, community groups, or missional communities, you need to be building community and raising up leaders in your church. In my mind, groups aren’t an additional program we offer, but rather, they’re the central way we do church and ministry. Apart from groups, we wouldn’t be much of a church at all.

I could go on and on. Thank you Mercy Hill Church!! The Bridge is extremely grateful for your partnership and help on this journey!

March 17, 2014 VIEW POST

Community in the Rain

The following story is a guest post from one of our launch team members, Max Bonilla, who just moved his family to Wilmington. This story makes me so proud of our team. Keep it up guys! This is the gospel in community!

Following the weekend of The Bridge Church retreat, Krista and I have felt the Lord reaffirm in us that it is indeed Wilmington we are called to love and serve. We are so blown away by God’s faithfulness to provide in the past week that we would like to share a story. We hope you will both celebrate with us what God has already done through our church family and be encouraged by His love and faithfulness.

Since last weekend, everything has just seemed to fall into place. The week before we were planning to move to Wilmington is when we first started to feel attacked in so many ways - professionally, physically, personally and financially. By the time our moving day arrived (last week on Thursday, March 6th), we were exhausted - but it was moving day and we knew that we needed to push through. I drove the rig (It may as well have been a rig - it was a 26-foot U-Haul with my car attached!) and Krista followed with both girls and the dog in the pouring rain. It was Wilmington or bust for us! We were dreading unpacking the U-Haul that we just pulled an all-nighter to pack, when thankfully, Ethan asked me to give him a call to catch up. By the end of the conversation, Ethan asked if we needed help. We knew that we did and admitted it.

Tears literally came to both of our eyes when we received a text saying that three guys were coming to meet us at the storage facility to unload: Travis Hedgepeth, Jacob Carroll, and Jacob Fragnito, three of our Wilmington Launch Team members. We could not believe these three men were willing to meet us and help unload the truck in, not only the freezing cold, but the pouring rain. When we arrived, we were met by not only those three men, but an additional two more volunteers, Nick Perez and Paige Shepherd. Not only did these volunteers model selfless service and hospitality in helping unload the truck, but they did it with a smile and were so welcoming. They never complained once, which blew our minds considering the harsh weather conditions. Their generosity with their time and labor just left us speechless. 

Since we have been in Wilmington, Chris and Jennifer Covington (two other members of our Wilmington Launch Team) have been so amazing and welcoming as well. They have offered to help us with so many things, including unloading, watching the girls, and finding a daycare for our oldest daughter. They even shared their babysitter with us on Sunday so we were able to attend the Launch Team meeting!

In all, we are just blown away by the Launch Team of The Bridge Church. These experiences, all of which happened in the past week, are a testament to the strength of the community at The Bridge. God has been so kind to us through His church, and we are so grateful. We are so blessed to call the members of this community our brothers and sisters in Christ, and now our friends as well.

To find out more about how you can join the launch team of The Bridge Church, go here.

March 12, 2014 VIEW POST

Mission and Adversity

The following is a guest post from one of launch team members of The Bridge Church, Tim Banta. Tim and his wife, Amber, along with several of our team members are going through a tough season of adversity, and I believe it’s a direct result of their participation with our church plant. This is no surprise. The advancement of the gospel is always accompanied by adversity.

Most people who identify as Christians are familiar with Christ’s words in Matthew 16:24: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” And they may be familiar with the well-known verses on suffering for Christ’s sake written in 1 Peter 4:12-19. We as Christians have to accept the reality that suffering, persecution, and adversity are going to be a part of life in following Jesus. This principle is not only applicable to missionaries on the other side of the world, but also to those of us who are preparing to go on mission here in the United States, in Wilmington, NC. 

Until recently, I didn’t really know what it meant to “take up your cross” or to “suffer for Christ’s sake.” These principles seemed distant and foreign. However, as my wife and I would soon find out, all of Jesus’ promises are for us - even the promises we like to think of as unpleasant. The simple fact is that God is divine, His ways are unsearchable, and He uses persecution and suffering to point others to Christ. 

Last November, my wife and I found ourselves in an odd predicament. Our lives were pretty stable. I had been working for the same company for fifteen years and from a professional standpoint, the sky was the limit. However, we felt that God was clearly calling us to join the Wilmington church plant. To the world this decision was folly, but we were confident this was part of God’s plan for our lives. 

I informed my company that we were planning on moving to Wilmington to be a part of a church plant. Although the news was not accepted with much enthusiasm, there was hope that my company could support the move. Unfortunately, that hope was dashed about four weeks ago. This past January, the company in which I had invested nearly half my life laid me off. 

After I got laid off, I prayed God would give me humility and the opportunity to boldly share the gospel with my now ex-coworkers. Through God’s grace, before I left I was able to sit down with at least four individuals and explain to them that our hope was in Christ, and through Jesus we have been saved. I explained that suffering, whether physical or financial, is all part of God’s plan.

Since January, we have seen God work in amazing ways. We have seen financial provisions stretch unnaturally, we have seen God’s people provide much-needed support, we have seen professional contacts made in the Wilmington area that would otherwise not have been possible, and most importantly, our faith in Christ has been greatly strengthened. 

Although we don’t have all the answers as to why we’re going through this financial struggle, we are confident in this: Jesus Christ has saved us from our sins and He has commanded us to spread His gospel throughout this world. We now know that the cost of following Jesus is great - but the cost of not following Jesus is even greater.

To find out more information about joining our launch team, go here.

March 4, 2014 VIEW POST

RECAP: Launch Team Retreat

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This weekend our entire team packed their bags and hit the road for our launch team retreat in Wilmington. This was the first time our entire team has been together in one place, under one roof. All 60 of us (YES, 60 OF US!!) spent two days together worshipping, growing in the Word, building community, and serving our city.

The reason the retreat was a WIN in my book is not necessarily because 60 people were there…though that’s amazing in and of itself! The main reason why it was a win was because God showed up. It doesn’t matter how many people were there, 60, 600 or 6,000, if God doesn’t show up and meet with us, we’re wasting our time. One of the key verses for us through this season is Psalm 127:1, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” We believe we are joining God in his mission to see the gospel spread through every corner of the earth, and this mission is powerless unless Jesus is in it. We believe, like Jesus said to Paul in Acts 18:10, “I have many in this city who are my people.”

Here are some of my highlights from the weekend:

1. We unveiled our mission, “For Christ, For Community, For the City,” for the first time and spent three sessions together unpacking what it means to be a church like this. We recorded the audio for each session and these will be available soon.

2. We didn’t just meet together and serve ourselves, we took an entire afternoon to serve our city. We partnered with a local refugee ministry as well as an organization that fights human trafficking in Wilmington.

3. We were led in our corporate worship times by my friend Kelby Dover. Kelby’s new song, “God Come,” arose as our theme for the weekend and we’re looking forward to the official release of the track in a couple months. It was great to have Kelby’s wife, Sam, join us as well!

4. T-shirts! We have a team that goes nuts over t-shirts. We unveiled our first ever t-shirt for The Bridge Church, and they were a huge hit!

5. Relationships. As a new church plant, many of us a developing relationships with each other for the first time. it was great to have two days just to hang out and rub shoulders with our team. 

6. A Spirit of Unity and Urgency. Lastly, there is a strong sense of unity among our team. We are in this together, and God is blessing us with the oneness we pray for. As well, there is a growing sense of urgency among our team. We are locking arms together like an army and marching forward. Jesus is alive, and he has a mission for us! We will not stop until every child, teenager, college student, young adult, mom, dad, and senior adult has the opportunity to hear the message of Jesus and see it lived out in front of their eyes.

God come.

(We want to say a big “Thank You” to Donnie King and Impact Church for letting us use their space for the retreat!!)

To learn more about our launch team and how you can join us, go here.

March 4, 2014 VIEW POST

Happy Birthday Wilmington!

Our city is 275 years old today! We’re blessed that God is allowing us to plant a church in a city with as much history as Wilmington. For those of you with memories and pictures from your time in Wilmington, the City of Wilmington has requested you share them here.

As well, you should give the city some Twitter love and follow them here.

February 20, 2014 VIEW POST

Taking Steps Towards Diversity

This past Sunday night was special for our launch team. God is growing our team like crazy, and we’re experiencing many things that are nuts for your average church plant. Specifically, the reason Sunday night was so special is because we commissioned three new launch team members who’ll move with us to Wilmington in just a few months to be a part of The Bridge Church. But that’s not even the special part. Of these three individuals, they represent three different ethnicities. We celebrate this because we want to be a church “FOR THE CITY.”

Cities are marked by two variables: density and diversity. Cities are filled with lots of people and lots of different kinds of people. We want to see our entire city encounter the gospel: rich, poor, young, old, black, white, educated, and uneducated. When we get to heaven, the ultimate city, it will be marked by density and diversity of every kind of person imaginable. The gospel is for all people. Romans 10:12 says, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.”

As a church, we definitely have not yet arrived in the area of diversity, but we’re taking baby steps and praying that God would help us be a church “FOR THE CITY.”

To learn more about joining our “launch team,” go here.

February 18, 2014 VIEW POST

Loving the Least of These…Right NOW

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A few weeks ago, I was blown away by a few of our team members who already live in Wilmington. I’ll get to that in a minute…

One of the staples of our mission as a church is this phrase: For The City. We want to be a church that exists, not for ourselves, but for the good of Wilmington. We love Wilmington and want to do everything within our power to bless it and see it prosper (Jeremiah 29:7). This means we want to follow Jesus’ command to love “the least of these” by ministering to the physical needs of those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

Well, recently a few of our team members who already live in Wilmington got together and came up with a plan to love the least of these at Thanksgiving. Some of our team who work or live in the downtown area are connected to families who live in the worst areas of poverty and brokenness in our city. Many of these families are on government assistance and are truly the “least of these” in Wilmington.

So, our team decided to put together several food baskets for these families. After contributing a few hours of preparation and a few dollars of food and necessities, they delivered the baskets to the families in hopes to be a blessing and encourage them in this season. The response was amazing. Several families wanted our team to come into their home, talk together, and some even asked for prayer. This is what it means to be the hands and feet of Jesus.

While a food basket is an awesome gift, we know it won’t meet a family’s needs forever. Our greater desire is that we’ll continue to love these families on an ongoing basis and develop relationships with them so that they feel loved and know where to go when needs arise.

Here are four big take-aways for me…
1. This was not my idea. Our team stepped up to the plate and took this on without a pastor telling them they should do this. I love that.
2. Our team is caring for our city, and we haven’t even “launched” yet. This proves the church is not merely a building or an event. The church is God’s people living out Jesus’ mission outside the four walls of a church building.
3. God is already locating our team in some of the neediest areas of our city. Like Jesus, we want to run to the darkness, not from it.
4. I believe God has great things in store for The Bridge Church and the vision he is calling us to. This is just the beginning.

To learn more about The Bridge Church and our heart for Wilmington, go here. If you’re interested about joining our “launch team,” go here.

December 16, 2013 VIEW POST

"How Are You Going To Grow Your Church?"

People ask me all the time, “How are you going to grow your new church?” They’re curious how a new church gets people to show up. They often wonder if we’re going to do special programs to attract people, or if we’ll buy up a bunch of billboards ads, or if we’ll send out mass mailers to every home in our community, or if we’ll go old-school and knock on doors. However, though some of those ideas have their place (and we may implement one or two of them along the way) that’s not going to be our strategy. I personally like Jesus’ strategy a whole lot, and we catch a glimpse here in Mark chapter two:

He [Jesus] went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:13-17

Here’s Jesus’ strategy for growing a church.

View mission as a way of life, not a weekend project or a mission trip.

Jesus was a missionary. Mission was his life, not just an annual trip overseas. We see him coming into human history as a missionary. He’s coming from the culture of heaven to the culture of earth, from the presence of angels to the presence of sinners. And in so doing, Jesus isn’t legitimizing sin. He’s not encouraging sin. He himself isn’t sinning, but he’s loving sinners and building relationships with those who are far from him in order to draw them near, change their life, and forgive their sins.

In the Gospel of John, over twenty times Jesus says “The Father has sent me… The Father has sent me… The Father has sent me…”

For Jesus, every day, every trip, every city, every encounter was mission. Mission was the normal rhythm of Jesus’ life, not a special event he practiced on occasion. Most of us love that Jesus was a missionary. Few of us actually think that means we should be a missionary too.

Here’s where it hits home. Jesus also says in John 17:18, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” Most of us somehow bypass this verse, but Jesus is trying to get us to understand that we’re missionaries just like he was. Every disciple, every believer, and every Christian has been sent by Jesus on mission into the world. We’re all missionaries.

Charles Spurgeon understood this concept in such a way that he once said, “Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.”

Additionally, Tim Keller says in Center Church, “Not only the apostles but every Christian did evangelism — and they did so endlessly. This is why the early church made disciples at lightning speed. It wasn’t because they had fancy programs or great productions, it was because every believer operated as a missionary. There was no such thing as a ‘foreign missionary.’”

So, what if you viewed your job as mission? Most people see their job as a means to a paycheck. What if you believed that Jesus wanted you to use your job to get to know people in your industry, love them, care for them, do honest business, make your product a benefit to society, demonstrate the kingdom, and share the truth of the gospel with them

What if you viewed your home as mission? Most of us see our homes as a functional heaven that we turn into an idol, or we see our homes as a refuge from the world, like a shelter to get away from what’s happening in our culture. But what if you used your home for kingdom purposes, invited people over for get-togethers and parties, practiced hospitality to your un-churched friends and neighbors, blessed them with good food, and demonstrated the gospel to them? This was the first thing Levi did after becoming a Christian. He hosted a big party and brought all his lost friends over to meet Jesus.

I personally want hundreds of people to some into our home, become friends, eat meals, talk about life, and accept Christ at our kitchen table. I want to model what it looks like to have a gospel home, a gospel family, a home where we love Jesus and we love one another, a home where the husband loves and serves his wife, a home where the dad cares for his kids and cherishes them…that’s my goal. What’s the goal for your home

Go to the lost, don’t expect the lost to come to you.

Jesus didn’t sit around and wait for people to come to him. He pursued people. Most churches set up shop on Sunday’s and expect lost people to show up. They create a clever quote and put it on the marque by the road assuming it will cause lost people to flood in, but it doesn’t really work that way. Most Non-Christians don’t read a church’s marque. Most Non-Christians don’t want to show up to church on Sunday. Most Non-Christians will never walk through the doors of a church building.

Steve Timmis, Everyday Church, “The number of adults in the United States who do not attend church has nearly doubled since 1991. Over 3,500 United States churches close their doors every year, and the attendance of more than 80 percent of those remaining has plateaued or is declining. We can no longer assume that if people want to find God or discover meaning or cope with a personal crisis, they will go to church. Merely opening our doors each Sunday is no longer sufficient.” 

Jesus never commanded the lost to come to church. He commanded the church to go to the lost.

Many churches make it their goal to separate themselves from Non-Christians. The church is like a retreat from the evil, wicked world. “Let’s keep the good people in and the bad people out.” But, this is the Pharisee’s model, not Jesus’ model. Christians, though holy and distinct from the world, should never try to be more holy than Jesus and withdraw from culture. The minute you begin to retreat from culture and disengage from the world, you’ve turned into a Pharisee rather than a follower of Jesus.

Religious people run from sinners. Gospel people run to sinners.

By the grace of God, I pray our church lives on mission and runs after sinners. This will be our strategy for growing our church.

To learn more about our new church plant, The Bridge Church, go here.

November 25, 2013 VIEW POST

Preaching This Weekend in Wilmington

We’re incredibly blessed that several churches and pastors have reached out to us and welcomed us to the city. These partnerships are invaluable and necessary in order to see a gospel movement in Wilmington. It takes multiple churches, multiple pastors, and multiple denominations working together in order to reach a city. 

One of these partnerships is Kure Beach First Baptist Church, led by senior pastor, Brian Langley. Brian has graciously reached out to me personally and made it a priority to support and encourage us. As well, he’s extended an invitation for me to preach at his church this weekend.

So, our tribe will be in Wilmington this weekend. The whole fam is loading up and making the trip. If you’re in the Wilmington area and would like to me our crew, we’d love to have you join us this Sunday.

For more info on our church plant, The Bridge Church, check us out here.

November 20, 2013 VIEW POST