A community of strangers

By Andrew Munneke

I have two young boys: Asher who is 3 and August who is 15 months old. It’s needless to say, but our house is a symphony of rambunctious screams, discordant torment, and the occasional plea for a parental figure to come and fix everything. Anyone with young children knows that your house can turn from tranquility to calamity in an instant.

This happened to me one Friday morning. Known affectionately around our house as “Dude Day,” most Friday’s I take the boys to a local bakery for donuts. (Because every “Dude Day” needs an enormous amount of sugar. It’s part of the man code.)

Now I usually have a “no cell phone” rule when it’s just me and the boys, but this particular day my phone kept buzzing with situations I needed to address. So I would glance at my boys, then look down at my phone and type. Glance up—Ok, still eating donuts—glance back down at the glowing screen and keep typing. Glance up, and just like that my 3-year-old had unscrewed the pepper shaker on the table and was pouring pepper all over my donuts. Solid prank, but a terrible seasoning for donuts.

I think for many Christians right now it seems like almost overnight, or a quick glimpse down at our phones, that suddenly everything has changed and we have been pushed into the margins of our culture. Especially here in the South, the church has had a position of privilege within our society, but we are finally realizing an environmental shift has taken place.

But living on the margins of society is nothing new for the church. In fact, the early church boomed within the Roman context in which it lived as a compelling, contrastive community that didn’t seek relevance and conformity as its goal within the culture but sought to challenge and contradict that cultural good. In other words, the church was salt and light living in a decaying and darkening world. 

The Western church has lost that, and we need to get it back.

Moving “beyond” Christianity

It is almost universally acknowledged that we live in a Post-Christian culture. This does not mean that our culture has shifted back to a Pre-Christian worldview but that it has “progressed” beyond Christianity, all while “feasting upon its fruits.” The creed of modern-day progressive elites proclaims the dignity of all human beings, the eradication of poverty, tolerance of all beliefs and worldviews, and the supremacy of science as the sole arbiter of truth.

In this creed it’s clear that there is still a yearning for the Kingdom of God and for shalom to be restored, but there is no mention of Holy God. The foundation of these philosophies is birthed out of the Christian mission and reconciliation, yet there is one major difference: the elevation and reign of the individual will.

{ The creed of modern-day progressive elites proclaims the dignity of all human beings, the eradication of poverty, tolerance of all beliefs and worldviews, and the supremacy of science as the sole arbiter of truth. }


The seeds of the exaltation-of-self began with Descartes, who famously proclaimed that all things must first be assumed as false until they can be proven true with his conclusion of, “I think, therefore I am.” Descartes has been called the father of the Age of Reason (the Enlightenment). He sparked the flames of the autonomous self and the idea that the individual, not a deity or even a collective community, determined right and wrong, true and false.

We see how the fruits of this idea really took-off in the 1950s with the rise of consumerism and materialism. Happiness, identity, and prosperity no longer were the reward for hard work and diligence—they could be bought. This rise of the consumerist individual paved the way for the sexual revolution in the 1960s and ‘70s with their sacred cows of abortion and divorce. The goal of life became the pursuit of happiness and pleasure, and because “I determine my own truth through reasoning” was the mantra, no system, government, or religious institution was able to convert them.

The church’s response to this new “culture war” seemed to be running to the courts and aligning themselves with a political party that would seek to enforce a biblical worldview upon those who opposed it. While Christians sought to capture the law of the land, the progressives pursued our imaginations through creative arts and cultural engagement. Entertainment highlighted this new individualized theology with themes of self-discovery through experiment, following passions in the face of opposition, and embracing individuals’ uniqueness. 

{ The goal of life became the pursuit of happiness and pleasure…no system, government, or religious institution was able to convert them. }


These combined ideologies of consumerism and a yearning for self-discovery began to influence how the church “reached lost people.” The goal of churches changed to becoming relevant to the culture. Sermons drifted towards self-help lessons. Churches started marketing themselves using “sales techniques” to differentiate themselves from other churches in town. Even worship songs drifted away lyrically from corporate declaration of praise and morphed into a more personal experience.

Simply put, the culture turned the church into another marketplace, one that sold religious goods and services to the masses, and the result was parishioners who now seek churches to fit their own needs instead of seeking to meet others’ needs (in contrast with the early church in Acts 2:44-45).

But recently the church moved back to the margins of society. How? For the past 40 years, the dominate message the culture has received from the church is “come to Jesus and it will improve the quality of your life.” Yet because the church has certain beliefs that do not hold up to modern sensibilities, casual churchgoers are discovering that identifying themselves with Jesus actually interferes with their quality of their life. 

Now I know I need to clarify what I am saying so that I am not misunderstood. The Gospel most definitely brings joy and an overwhelming affection for Christ. However, to declare “Jesus is Lord” and not “The culture is Lord” costs you something. Only those whose hearts have been captured by the Gospel can truly say, “You can take the world because I have Jesus.” But for those in our churches who have bought into a “prosperity gospel” that says “Jesus will make you happy,” they will leave our churches in droves when a life with Jesus leaves them persecuted instead of happy.

More than a compelling community?

I know for some of you, the current trajectory of the church’s relationship with our culture is a scary reality. However, am I more optimistic than ever for the future of the church if we embrace our role as a compelling minority within our culture! Here are just two reasons why:

1. The church was born and exploded on the margins of society, and it will not die at the margins of society.

In a pre-Christian context, everybody knew that their testimony could end with them losing their life, and in that context the church boomed! This is our heritage. In a Post-Christian context, we have to know that declaring “Jesus is Lord” probably won’t lead to us being killed, but it does mean that we might lose friends, our jobs, and a certain level of approval.

Do you really believe Jesus’s words: “the gates of hell will not prevail against the church”? (Matthew 16:18) If Christ is the one who builds, sustains, and grows the body, then nothing will hold us back!

2. Because of hyper-individualism, the world needs the church.

There has been a saying that “people love Jesus but not the church,” but in a Post-Christian context what we are beginning to see is people love the church but not Jesus. Let me give you an example of this.

A couple of years ago, a movement began in London called The Sunday Assembly. If you walked into one of their services on a Sunday morning, you would see a gathering of hip millennials from all different walks and stages of life gathering for reflection, community, and renewal. The thing is…they are all atheist and agnostic.

{ The Sunday Assembly started from a group of people who wanted the good things about church…this movement has planted 480 churches. }


The Sunday Assembly started from a group of people who wanted the good things about church—community, charitable deeds, being part of something bigger than yourself—but without all of the belief. This movement has exploded to over 480 congregations. You catch that?! This movement has planted 480 CHURCHES because hyper-individualism has left people lonely, lost, and with a yearning to be part of something bigger than themselves. 

One of the reasons why millennials are flocking to church plants and smaller churches right now is because they are yearning to be known and to be a part of something bigger than themselves. In other words, they don’t want to be the point of church.

What an opportunity for the church!

Welcoming & transforming

We knew when we planted The Hill Church that there were unbelievers who would not know Jesus until they knew His people first. That means we were to invite them into our community to live life with us, break bread with us, and cry and laugh with us. That’s what discipleship is! We understood that it’s a process and that different people are in different places in their spiritual spectrum.

Have you thought about how Jesus called 12 unbelievers to be His disciples? Then for the next three years of Jesus’ ministry, those disciples came to call Him Lord at different moments in time. Peter was the first of the disciples to rightly see Jesus for who He was. Thomas didn’t fully become a believer until he stuck his fingers through Jesus’ pierced hands. And Judas never confessed Jesus as Lord, but he wanted more of what Jesus could give him rather than Jesus himself. 

{ Jesus called his 12 unbelievers to be His disciples. Then for the next three years of Jesus’ ministry, those disciples came to call Him Lord at different moments in time. }


We have embraced the form of discipleship that we call, “Welcoming and Mutually Transforming.” What we mean by this is that we have a posture of humility, confessing that we ourselves are not perfect, fall short, and that we still need the cross and Christ’s righteousness. We welcome people into our community regardless of if they look like us, talk like us, or even behave like us because some people won’t accept Gods love and grace until they have experienced it through His people first!

All the while, we do not fit-in to our host culture because we are exiles. We live in this “socially awkward” tension because this is not our home. The Apostle Peter described the church as “aliens and strangers in this world.” (1 Peter 2:11)

Therefore, as a compelling community that is different than that of the culture, we must embrace our alien ethic. We must embrace that our church culture lives radically different than the world in how we handle money, sex, and power. And this distinctiveness is a good thing. I like how Stanley Hauerwas puts it:

The church must show the world something it is not—and cannot be—apart from Jesus.

You might be reading this and feel like I did at the donut shop with my boys. A moment ago the world seemed fine, but then you looked up and everything has changed. My hope for this blog is to encourage you! Don’t fall into despair but actually be excited for the potential work that God can do through the church when it is on the margins.

When Israel went into exile in Babylon, God did not tell His people to escape the city and run away from the culture. He told them to seek the welfare and the prosperity of the city. (Jeremiah 29:7)

The church needs to be ambassadors of beauty, stewards of generosity, and cultivators of renewal in the cities and the places they belong. And if we embrace the calling to live in the world for the world, then certainly nothing will overcome the people of God!  

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An exam for potential church planters (3)

By Andrew Munneke

So this is the third in a series of blogs to discern if you’re called, gifted, and able to be a church planter. In the first blog, we covered identity and the motivation for why you’re really pursuing starting a church. The second was about the core competencies of a church planter, and recognizing if you have them or need to grow in a few areas.

This blog is a bit more diagnostic. I’m asking you to do a candid self-examination as you read. Here are the three questions you’ll want to answer: Would I follow me? Does my household follow me? Do leaders follow me?

Would I follow me?

Trust. That’s the first step in a relationship with someone. If there can be no trust, there can be no relationship.

What we’re doing when we ask people to follow us is actually asking them to trust us. And that’s a huge thing! When you’re asking people to let you be their pastor, there’s a trust that needs to be there. This thought goes back to the character discussion we got into a little bit in the first blog.

So, if I know me—and hopefully you are self-aware enough to know your heart and its motivations and affections—and I was asking me to go and be a part of this new church, would I actually do it?

Let me ask the question this way: If you knew someone who had the same experiences, the same leadership track record, and the same heart motivations as you…would you follow that person? If you answered “Yes,” then let’s take this a step further.

{ If you knew someone who had the same experiences, the same leadership track record, and the same heart motivations as you…would you follow that person? }

The best leaders also make the best followers, so another good question to ask when considering your own leadership is: How well have I followed other peoples’ leadership? 

Do you frequently question others and think, “I could do it better…”? If so, as a leader you’re likely to lead more of a dictatorship because you don’t know how to work with people to achieve a common goal. People will become more like commodities to you to fulfill your vision rather than partners.

In the same way, if you can make a collaborative vision within the whole—not depending solely on yourself—then people will want to share this vision for your church and trust you to lead them.

And the last question I will ask you: How well do you lead yourself? Do you accomplish goals that you set for yourself? Do you show up on time? Do you fulfill your commitments and obligations? (Ok, so maybe that question actually consisted of three more questions! But, I think you get my point.) If you cannot lead yourself, then how can you expect to lead others?

Does my household follow me?

Obviously, this is taken from Scripture itself (1 Timothy 3:4). Your family is the group of people who know you and love you the most. If they aren’t willing to follow you, or you do a bad job of leading them, there are different caveats to what that means.

Is your wife on board? Sometimes we’re tempted to use our “calling from God” as an excuse to drag our wives into something they don’t really want to be a part of. Word to the wise, you should listen if she’s saying:

“I know you have a heart for New York City, but that will squash my soul.”

“I need you to be home more than the church/ministry will allow you to be home.”

I’m definitely not saying your wife can’t have insecurities or questions about going into ministry. Honestly, I think it would be unnatural for a wife not to wonder, “How are we going to pay the bills? Is this best for our kids?”

As a pastor, your job is all about dealing with people’s pain and how the Gospel speaks into that (this includes Christians and non-Christians, by the way). When your wife is in pain not knowing where the money will come from, or worrying about you being bi-vocational and the stress that comes with that, how do you speak the truth of the Gospel and shepherd her through those “red flags” and fears? How you shepherd your family is a reflection of how you will shepherd a church.

Your priority is to your family first. And nothing will disqualify you from church planting faster than if your marriage is crumbling and falling apart, or if you aren’t loving your kids well.

Do leaders follow me?

Let me say first that it’s great if you’ve had experience leading a small group. Like I mentioned in the second blog, leadership experience is necessary, and leading a small group is a good place to start.

But I also need to point out that leading a small group is different than leading a small group of leaders. As a pastor, you will need leaders (you could also call them key people) to follow you, and this requires a totally different skill-set.

{ Leading a small group is different than leading a small group of leaders. }

There are usually a few different leadership groups you will need: a core group, a financial support group, and (my personal conviction) a church or church network to support and send you out. How you lead and cast vision for each of these groups will be different.

Sidenote: I both like and hate the term “core group” because there’s the danger that they think they are the influencers. But if you communicate to your core group that they are carrying the DNA of the church, then this group will hopefully multiply itself into different ministries and leadership roles within the church in a way that new leaders will embrace and multiply. For example, if your core group is missional, then when they multiply themselves the goal is that your church as a whole will be missional.

And similarly for your financial group and church network, you must be able to cast a compelling vision so that they want to support you.

To be continued…

Core competencies of a church planter (2)

By Andrew Munneke

This might surprise some people, but I have a bit of a green thumb. I am one of the few people that complain HGTV is a little bit more “Home” than it is “Gardening” television. So as spring has come upon us and the grass seed we planted back in October has developed deep roots, I’m starting to get excited about cultivating and nurturing my lawn to the award-winning lawn it deserves to be.

Now besides the planting aspect of gardening, you might be wondering what this has to do with church planting. Well, here’s the thing…I might have the greatest passion and vision for my lawn. I can see the corner where I’ll start to mow, how short and thick I want my grass, and the type of flowers that need to bloom in direct sunlight and those that will thrive in the shade. But my vision and passion for my lawn is not going to take me anywhere in cultivating it if I do not have the right equipment.

You see, I know many church planters that are high on vision and are passionate about the Gospel, but they become ineffective because they didn’t take the time to assess if they had the right gifting and knowledge for the ministry.

Passion and enthusiasm for the Gospel is absolutely essential—and it’s good!—but that in and of itself is not qualifying. I could be passionate about singing and dedicate my whole life to it, but because I am not gifted in it I doubt that Blake Shelton will twirl his chair for my voice.

In my last blog I addressed the question, How do you know if you’re qualified to be a church planter? We looked at the characteristics of a church leader and discovered that only one of those characteristics is a skill—teaching—while the rest are about your character (1 Timothy 3). If you haven’t read the previous blog, check it out real quick then come back.

Now that we’ve tested your character and calling, let’s test your gifting.

Theological clarity

For me, the first core competency is theological clarity. By that I mean do you know the Scriptures? Can you answer doctrinal questions? Can you bring the Gospel forth in every Scripture? Do you know what you believe and can you apply it to all circumstances?

If you’re counseling someone who’s had a miscarriage, are you sympathetic but also grounded in Scripture as you counsel? Or if someone comes to you and they’re in debt, can you resist the temptation to give them great principles (like cutting up the credit cards or taking a Dave Ramsey class) and instead say, “There will be a time to cut-up those credit cards, but let’s look at the heart of why you keep running to materialism rather than finding joy and satisfaction in the Lord”? 

I talked a little bit in the last blog about the only “skill” is the ability to teach, so obviously the ability to teach is important. So you can ask yourself, your mentors, and the Lord if you need to grow in that, and perhaps even consider more education in that.

Leadership ability

The second one would be your leadership. Do people follow you? Do you have a history of starting things from scratch? Do you live a lifestyle worth following? How you lead people in the microcosm of your family?

Just saying this now, but as the pastor of a church, your marriage is going to be the lead example for your church. Paul says this in (1 Timothy 3:1-5). The first thing you can do is examine if your household resembles what your ministry should look like.

What about other aspects of leadership like casting vision, or attracting and building and connecting leaders? How do people react under you? Do they feel squashed and stepped on?

And something that’s really important before you tackle being a lead pastor: do you have any experience in leadership? If not, let’s get some more reps under you…

{ …in a microcosm you definitely learn what it’s like to shepherd people through hard times. }

In a microcosm like your family or a small group, you learn how to communicate, “This is when we’re meeting. This is when we’re hanging out outside the group. This event was cancelled. Here’s what we’re studying…”

And, more than just logistics, in a microcosm you definitely learn what it’s like to shepherd people through hard times. Hopefully you’re getting people to come and talk to you about their heartbreaks, doubts and struggles, and because of this you’re learning how to shepherd.

I do want to say this about leadership in a microcosm: when a small group shrinks or grows, it can be for many different reasons. However, there is a point where it is an indicator of your leadership.

Making disciples

The third competency I would mention is discipleship. That might seem like a no-brainer, but what I’m talking about is not just teaching someone but walking the whole spectrum with them—taking someone from being an unbeliever to being a disciple and an elder.

So there is evangelism (which is preaching the Gospel), and obviously unbelievers need to hear the Gospel. But if you take a look at the life of Jesus, He had that missional-relational kind of living life with people and brought them into the body of Christ.
empty church

Can you do this? Maybe you’re a little socially awkward or shy, but can you connect with people? Can you walk with them daily and speak the truths of Scripture into their life? 

At the same time, I also believe that discipling an unbeliever to the point of a devoted Christ follower is more of a community effort than individual effort. I think where we have crippled ourselves is when we say, “Bill, it’s up to you to lead your neighbor to Christ,” but Billy’s not the best at presenting the Gospel in a way that’s compelling for his neighbor.

This is where I want to say, “Bill, that may not be you; it may be Sally who has that gift set. But your job is to invite him to our church, and once he’s here someone else can talk with him about what he believes, why he believes it, and then present him with the Gospel.”

So what camp are you in?

Maybe you’re not cut out for church planting. If you’re thinking this or someone close to you says this, it should not be an identity-crisis thing. For most people who don’t have the gifting of church planting, that absolutely does not mean that you can’t lead a small group or spend time with non-believers!

On the other hand you might have the gifting of church planting, but you’ve still got to establish the groundwork and framework that will drive you even when the passion leaks out.

So if we were talking face to face, I would expect to see one of three reactions. So let’s figure out where you are and consider your next step…

  1. Absolutely this is not for me. I know I’m not a church planter. I like the Bible but it’s confusing to me, or I don’t have a strong leadership profile, or I’m a follower more than a leader.

That’s okay! You can still be passionate about church planting and contribute in so many ways without being the pastor of a church plant. The person who’s great at one-on-one or who is more reserved when it comes to the crowd is just as needed for building up the church. Church planters need you as a team member and to excel in your gifts—especially in the gifts that we don’t have!

I would say your next step is to serve your church plant or team up with someone who has the gifting. There are plenty of avenues for you to be a part of the missional strategy of church planting.

  1. I don’t feel the passion, but I’m seeing some areas to assess and work on.

This is a good place to be. First, have you told your pastor and people who can speak into your situation? Second, have you looked for opportunities to help you grow in your leadership ability, to meet lost people, to make disciples? Consider getting involved with a residency or pursuing more education.

  1. I know church planting is for me! I think I have the right stuff and I’m ready to move forward to the next step.

Awesome! For that next step, read blog three in this series.

A chat with the bloggers of “A Day in the Life of a Church Planter”

Have questions for the bloggers as you read? Connect with them by sending us a message!

How do you respond when people ask, “What is church planting?” 

Izah: I respond that church planting is a group of faith-believing Christians who have the intention of growing the Kingdom.

Anthony: I haven’t been asked that question, but I would probably say that it’s the church that begins as a small, core group of believers having a Bible study that will grow in number as they become stronger in Christ.

Andrew: Church planting is the continuing model of missions found in the book of Acts, where healthy existing churches train, equip and send-out healthy leaders to declare and demonstrate the Gospel. Too often church planting is seen as a divisive event in the life of a church that results in splits and fractions among its people. However, when churches plant churches, they participate in the Great Commission by reaching unchurched people who would never enter into their own churches because of location, demographics, or contextualization.

izah

Izah Broadus, New Faith Baptist Church West Helena 

 

What is the people group or culture you are reaching? 

Izah: We would love to reach all people, but most importantly “the lost” (those who don’t know Christ).

Anthony: It is an African American group; many are unemployed or on fixed income. In our community there is a lack of resources, no local schools, and many are deprived of an education.

Andrew: The Hill Church is located in Fayetteville, Ark., which means we have an eclectic mission field in whom we are called to serve. The majority of our members are college students and young professionals who are joining a church for the first time. In fact, only 5 percent of our congregation was a member of a church before joining The Hill.  However, the people we serve and build relationships with around our physical church location are in poverty and are primarily single parent homes.

Anthony

Anthony Banks, Second Baptist Church Turrell

 

What is the biggest obstacle you/your church face in reaching people? 

Izah: Our biggest obstacle is lacking the funds to do a lot of things that we would love to do.

Anthony: The biggest I would say is encountering people with depression and low self-esteem.

Andrew: Our church is intentionally located in a lower-income area so that we can build relationships and love them as people made in the image of God, but—to put it bluntly—we are white and the majority of them are black.  People in lower income areas have been burned by what they call “white saviors,” people who come in, give them some food or resources, and then leave.

I’m not saying these outreaches were bad, but what that has developed in these people of poverty is they think we see them as a project and not a person. It was difficult for us to break that wall of suspension which could only be brought down by a consistent proximity.

Andrew

Andrew Munneke, The Hill Church Fayetteville

 

When in your ministry have you seen the direct impact of prayer? 

Izah: In the ministry, the direct impact I have seen was when the young men in the church came to the alter crying out to God in prayer.

Anthony: There was a family whose lights were turned off, and they were about to be evicted from their home.  We prayed and God answered prayers. To God be the glory!

Andrew: Finances are difficult in any church plant, but what we faced as our church grew was that we couldn’t grow as an organization [with the financial challenge]. So last year we said, “How much internal giving can we receive, realistically, if we pushed really hard and effectively communicated our need?”

So we wrote down that number and said, “Ok, let’s double that and start getting on our knees and asking God to provide that amount.” We knew the budget that we prayed for couldn’t come based on our own sales pitch or charts, but only by the Lord providing. By His grace, we received even more than we prayed for!

How can people pray for you? Your church? Your community? 

Izah: Pray that God provide for us so we are be able to do the things we need in order to reach more lost people. Pray that we can give our church a makeover and bring it up-to-date. Pray that the community will join together to seek more of God and truly know who God is.

AnthonyI would say pray for my strength and a steadfast, unmovable love for God and for God’s people. For my church, pray God’s grace and mercy over them. For my community, pray God will send help in the schooling and employment area, and that the leaders in the community would come together.

Andrew: Some specific prayers for us and our community are:
1.    Only 18 percent of Fayetteville is churched. Please continue to pray for the Spirit of God to penetrate hard hearts and dark places.
2.    We are sending our first short-term missions team to South Asia during spring break. Pray for their protection and Gospel ministry over there.
3.    For clarity and wisdom on some important big decisions our elders are making in the next few weeks.

How do you know if you’re qualified to be a church planter? (1)

By Andrew Munneke

So you are interested in church planting, or maybe even feel the call to plant a church? You marvel at the beauty of the Gospel and are filled with excitement for the potential of what your church may become. There is just one problem: you don’t know what qualifies you to plant a church.

Character and Weakness

A month ago we took our 3-year-old son to a boat show. He loves getting behind the steering wheel, running up and down the aisle, and imagining we are out on the lake having a good time. My imagination ran with him, and for a moment I actually thought about what it would be like to take my son out on Beaver Lake with the wind in our hair and the sun on our backs.

And then I remembered…I know nothing about boats. I don’t know how to take care of them, how to winterize them, or even how the engines work.

Many aspiring planters see church planting like that boat show. It seems fun, exciting and adventurous, but they know very little about how they are wired. Church planting is not for the faint of heart because it exposes our weaknesses, reveals our idols, and tests our faith. What will take you out of ministry is not your vision statement, personality type, or your leadership pipeline—it’s your character.

In 1 Timothy 3, Paul penned his qualifications for a leader in the church. Go ahead and get your Bible and open it (I’ll wait because I want you to make note of this). How many of those qualifications that Paul mentions are skilled oriented? Just one—the ability to teach. All the others are character-driven. It’s 10 percent what you know and 90 percent of who you are. So according to Paul, what qualifies you for leadership in the body of Christ is not your logo or your new cutting edge way of doing church; it’s are you someone who loves Jesus more than anything else? 

{ Church planting is not for the faint of heart because it exposes our weaknesses, reveals our idols, and tests our faith. }

Now take a look at that list again. Do you know where you a weak? Are you self-aware to know what you run to for significance, identity, purpose and hope instead of Christ? Do you know the sin that can take you out of the ministry because Satan knows it, and he is coming after you? In church planting, every weakness is magnified and every character flaw is tested. It exposes the idols of your heart. 

The Heart and Glory

So let’s just pause and ask yourself this question: What is my heart really after? One overarching issue I see with church planters specifically is a kind of glory-hunger. It’s more of an inward focus vs. an upward focus. More than a focus of, “I want God to do a good work in my city,” I’m more concerned about what God has done or will do through me.

In other words, if something was done through someone else, would I still be grateful for that? Or would I give glory to God regardless of if He used me? If we’re honest—both pastors and planters—something we have a hard time giving up is this hope of God wanting to do things through us.

Yes, we want to see God glorified and made known. That is a part of a church planter’s heart, and metrics and numbers tie-in to that. We want to see growth and impact—more missional communities, baptisms, social media engagement—constantly measuring and evaluating our own success by metrics.

In the first few years of planting The Hill, my mood would be swayed based on attendance or the feedback I was getting. It would destroy me if I ran into someone who visited our church wearing a T-shirt from another church in town. Church planting spread my insecurities like a rash that never would seem to go away, and the more it was scratched the wider it spread.looking-down-the-aisle

But the call in Scripture is the call to be faithful, not successful. The call is being what you’re called to be: putting all your faith and trust in Christ. If your identity is not in Christ but in this church plant, then it’s going to unravel you.

I think a desire of humanity is to be a part of marvelous things and see great, magnificent things happen. We love going to Razorback games, and we like it when our friends like our social media posts. We are drawn to this kind of glory. This is engrained in us because God designed us to be with Him, but because of the Fall we’ve lost intimacy and now seek the created world for that glory.

Adam and Eve wanted to seek the glory of themselves, and we can fall into the same sin of glory-hunger. But the beauty of the Gospel is that this desire to be around glory—to be known, approved, accepted, that you matter—can only be and is fulfilled in Christ.

When Jesus gives the analogy, “Come to me you who are weak and weary…” especially for people in ministry, the reason the yoke is easy for us is that Jesus is pulling the weight. We can go into ministry, bring Him honor, and lift Him up without trying to prove ourselves in ministry. It frees us of the weight. The one who fulfills the ministry is not you. You’re just being faithful to what He’s called you to do.

{ But the call in Scripture is the call to be faithful, not successful. The call is being what you’re called to be: putting all your faith and trust in Christ. }

As church planters we get so excited about the potential of what our church can be, or we are in awe of how the church is reaching people. We might have the noble motivations of reaching people for Christ, but are we really in awe of the beauty and power of Christ? Are people being reached, not because of a logo and slick campaign, but because God is honoring our faithfulness to do what He’s called us to do?

There is just as much honor and glory for the church that brings one person to Jesus as there is a church that’s brought 1,000 people to Him. It’s all a miracle, and this should make us all move in awe. Maybe God did give someone a higher domain or blessing than another, but knowing He is working frees you to be the pastor and church planter that God has called and needs you to be.

In church planting we get caught up in, “This is going to be amazing! Sexy! We’re going to solve and we’re going to fix all these issues!” It’s beautiful, but it’s also difficult and hard. Like marriage, it’s not that every day is perfect. It’s that a lot of days aren’t perfect, but going to bed and saying, “I’m fighting for you and pursuing you.” That’s what makes it beautiful—because it isn’t easy.

Identity in Christ

That’s why I want to bring you back to 1 Timothy 3. Instead of looking at what we think qualifies us, even though gifts matter and personalities matter, our character is the first thing that matters. Even for people with the best intentions to spread the Gospel, there still needs to be a season of pausing and using Paul’s character test to go deeper. To ask, “What are my moral weaknesses? What is my heart really after?” instead of asking, “Am I capable of doing this?”

I can truly say there are days in my ministry and The Hill Church that I have marveled at what God has done and what I have done. One needs to be fought for. One needs to be fought against. My feeling goes to the thought of not being successful, or things not going according to plan, vs. doing what God’s called me to do.

So maybe for you, where you are right now, the first step is actually to know that your identity is in Christ and not who you are or what you do—a husband, a baker, etc. The problem with this is 1. it’s sin and 2. it actually takes away your identity. With one change, all of a sudden my identity could be shattered. If my identity is in being a church planter, what happens when the church I planted seeks a new voice? Or if the church falls apart?

{ If my identity is in being a church planter, what happens when the church I planted seeks a new voice? Or if the church falls apart? }

If my identity is in Christ—where it should be, the one thing that does not change—then my identity is never in crisis. My church could be 100 or 1,000 people, or my core group could leave, and I’m still secure!

We all have times when we know the Gospel but don’t believe the Gospel. I can know God loves me and is in control, but anxiety shows because I don’t believe it. I need to remind myself and trust in what I know is true. Anxiety feels lonely, abandoned, but when identity is found in Christ, it’s something we believe but don’t forget.

I’m not sitting here four years into church planting perfected; I still have weaknesses. I know my weaknesses will continue to be my weaknesses, but I need to continue to put my trust in Christ.

Ready for the next step? Start reading the second blog of this series.

Paving the way for the Gospel

By Andrew Munneke

We loved our first location as a church. It was visible, next to a hip coffee shop that everyone knew, and we made that space our own. There was one major problem with it.

We wanted to love and serve our neighbors, but there were no neighbors to love. A church in a shopping center might have increased our visibility, but it prevented Gospel intentionality. We wanted to be in a community that needed our presence, not just our occasional service. That’s because relationships can only be developed in proximity.

So when we moved to our new facility in a neighborhood, it was a very intentional move. The Hill Church has the desire to live incarnationally (read more about our identity here), and we felt that by moving to the neighborhood we were saying, “Here are our neighbors, and we are going to love on them.”

Right next door to us was a community outreach center. They do a lot of serving, but they are rarely served. We wanted to be the ones who served them and without asking anything in return. So we partnered with them and picked a day—a Sunday—for our church to come over, clean their facilities, and serve them.

That day we met a guy who was an atheist. He worked for the center, and he was really taken back and shocked that a church would actually serve them. There were probably 30 of us running around doing chores, and he was like, “Who are all of you? Why are you doing this?” It was such a revolutionary idea to him that we would give up our Sunday to serve them.

{ The community outreach center…does a lot of serving, but they are rarely served. We wanted to be the ones who served them and without asking anything in return. }

Interacting with him, that was the craziest thing for me: He can’t comprehend that a church could love their neighbors? This is something Jesus said that gets stringed and stretched and everyone knows it, but people are surprised when they see it lived out. There’s an issue and a problem there.

I mean, really, who wants to go pick up some trash? Transfer some data? But the impact it had on this man—it was a soul-penetrating.

Our actions broke through some hardness within him. Our actions led to him wanting to meet with us and talk. He had previously had a negative view of the church, but that encounter let him see Christians in a different light than what he had seen before.

If the neighbors around a church don’t know that the church is there for them and loves them, then I would make the argument of Matthew 5:13—the church has lost its saltiness. The whole salt analogy, the whole thing is overplayed, but if there is no preservative from decay in your community then you’re not fulfilling your role.

We balance between Gospel declaration and Gospel demonstration. Yes, we do need to declare the Gospel with our words. How can others believe if they do not hear? The right to be able to speak is awesome, but so is the ability to demonstrate the power of the Gospel.

I think when we go into it intentionally, not to serve for the sake of serving but to demonstrate the Gospel, we are taking part in what the Gospel will ultimately accomplish.

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If you went around and asked anyone in the world what the perfect world would be, most people are going to describe Genesis 1 and Revelation 21-22. They will tell you, “No more pain, poverty, widows, orphans, death.” There is an ache there.

If the Gospel tells us Christ is coming and that we will have no more pain, suffering, injustice, sadness, sickness, or death, then one of the most Christian things we can do is to live it—with our words and our actions.

We have this tension. We are called to serve, but not just make people comfortable on their way to hell. We can give them the Good News!

It would not be kind for me to simply give someone bread and feed their hunger. People like this usually have low self-esteem. They have been stripped of their dignity because they can’t provide for their kids or themselves.

If I gave them bread, I might make them comfortable for the next six to twelve hours. But what if I say to someone with a low self-esteem, “Let me give you something that is good for your soul. What if you are filled with so much dignity as a son or daughter of God that you will be filled with more than bread?”

I know I want to serve so that a Gospel conversation can occur. If I don’t, then I’m losing my focus. It’s a pull and push. The conversation with this man, who happened to be an atheist, would not have occurred if it wasn’t for the action.

If we really want to declare the Gospel, then we can by demonstrating it.

If my church shut down, would the community wonder where we went?

By Andrew Munneke

Three people—me, my wife, and a friend from seminary—moved from Dallas to Fayetteville in 2013 with the purpose of planting a church. I didn’t know Fayetteville very well. I had never lived there, nor did I know a lot of people in the city, but we sold possessions and packed up what we had and moved to Arkansas.

Why? Because there were lost people there and the Gospel compelled us to go.

Most people don’t know this, but 18 percent of Fayetteville’s population are church-goers, which means 82 percent are unchurched. This also means 1) there is an obvious disconnect between believers engaging with the unchurched, and 2) there are large pockets of people here who don’t have a relationship with a Christian. That was something I couldn’t ignore.

Fayetteville is also a very global area with Walmart Corp. and the University of Arkansas. People and students come from all over the world, stay here for a short season, and then go back home. the-hill-church-logo

Let the missional opportunity of that sink in. We can impact the nations in our own backyard!

Another major reason we were drawn to Fayetteville is the projected growth of the area. By 2040, Northwest Arkansas is supposed to grow by 58.3 percent, meaning the population of Northwest Arkansas and Little Rock will be the same. Who will win? I don’t know, but that’s the projection. It’s an interesting reality.

Here’s the thing. You can always run stats until the cows come home because, yeah, we can find out percentages about the unchurched. But what’s more important is what is keeping the other 82 percent of people from setting their foot in the church.

{ What are people’s emotional, spiritual, etc. reasons for not setting foot in the church? Those questions can only be answered through conversations. }

What is their reason? Sure, why are the churches there not reaching them, but what are these people’s emotional, spiritual, etc. reasons? Those questions can only be answered through conversations. That was big for us.

So our initial model for a church was building around this question: What would our church look like if we understood that we are sent missionaries to the lost people of our city?

The Vision of Presence

We knew going in that making an impact in Fayetteville was something only God could do. It wouldn’t be my fancy vision, not my zeal for this or that, not my gifts or talents, but only the Spirit of God working.

Step one in reaching Fayetteville was prayer. My wife and I, our friend, and another couple all gathered in my living room to pray just the five of us. This prayer gathering was us literally saying that we believed this church was going to make Kingdom impact, and to do it we needed His Spirit. (And that wasn’t just a one-time prayer; we continue to have these prayer meetings on the first Wednesday of every month.)

The next step was casting a compelling vision for why Fayetteville needed our church. Not that established churches weren’t doing their jobs, but we considered the bandwidths where we could meet needs that other churches’ bandwidths didn’t.

One way we did this was by asking, “What is the brokenness in the city? What are some of the areas that need the Gospel and need Gospel work done?”

{ Step one in reaching Fayetteville was prayer… us literally saying that we believed this church was going to make Kingdom impact, and to do it we needed His Spirit. }

We saw certain areas of Fayetteville that were poor and impoverished and didn’t have a church presence. Churches were going in, serving these people, and coming out, but they were not an incarnational presence. These churches were doing a good job making a needs-transaction, but we wanted to meet a self-worth need. We thought having an incarnational presence could really be a big factor in reaching these people.

From the beginning, our church has had the desire to be incarnational. In our early gatherings, we met in our house. Later, in our first location, we met in a shopping center, but we felt this angst. We were in a very visible spot, but here’s the reality: it was hard to build intentional relationships with people who needed us. This need outweighed our desire to be seen, so we sacrificed visibility to live incarnationally and moved to an old church building in a neighborhood.

So all of that to say, we started what we call Gospel-Communities. We did this first because the Gospel community gathers people and then sends people out. We started in June 2013, and by January 2014 our first Gospel-Community multiplied into three Gospel-Communities and we were ready to launch our services. 

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Our shopping center location at the time of the launch. 

A City on a Hill

This month we are celebrating three years at The Hill Church! We have changed things that we wrote on the whiteboard three years ago, and we might change things in the future. But we know our city, our neighborhood, and who we are called to serve better.

Church planting isn’t what I thought it was—pastors who know more about what they are against than what they are for, or youth pastors who couldn’t be promoted any higher in their church. There is a necessity for it, and the book of Acts explains that clearly.

andrew-preaching-2

Church plants are 60 to 80 percent more likely to reach the unchurched. In other words, church planting is the best way to reach unreached people. Knowing that church planting is the best tool we have to reach the unchurched is a pretty strong conviction for me.

The number one purpose of a church plant should be to reach the lost.

Something we have said since the beginning is this: If our church shut down, who would knock on our doors wondering where we went? That is the city on the hill that vanishes, like a light that goes out in a dark place. This truth has led us to not only build relationships with people across the street but also at the community center next door to us.

I don’t think we shine as bright as a huge light, but the neighborhood feels our presence. I hope that we are being enough of a light for the people around us so that if we were to shut down, the lack of a Gospel presence would be felt.