When religious kingdoms fall, the Kingdom of God wins

By Lee Kemp 

Today, I write this post with a burdened heart. 

I am filled with an overwhelming desire to see established churches receive church plants and support them. For them to view church planting as an opportunity to advance the Kingdom of God. For them to take on the awesome privilege of incubating a baby body of believers instead of being consumed by advancing personal religious kingdoms. For them to pass the ball to teammates, instead of attempting to win the game in glorious pride.

When churches operate with this biblical mindset, the church walls fall down, religious kingdoms that separate local believers crumble, and the kingdom of God wins!

Macedonian Model

When we look at the New Testament we see the Apostle Paul calling on churches to support other local churches. We watch as they not only give financially to these churches, but give of themselves as well, sending the encouragement and spiritual support that only arrives with the physical presence of fellow believers.

Even more captivating, and definitely profound, was that the Macedonians, to Paul’s surprise, radically assisted and overwhelmed Paul with their willingness to hold up his ministry…

1 “Moreover, brothers, we want you to experience the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia, 2 how in a great trial of affliction, the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty overflowed toward the riches of their generous giving. 3 For I bear record that according to their means, and beyond their means, they freely gave, 4 begging us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of ministering to the saints. 5 This they did, not as we expected. First, they gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God. 6 So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this gracious deed for you. 7 But as you abound in everything—in faith, in utterance, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love to us—see that you abound in this grace also.”

2 Corinthians 8:1-8 (emphasis added)

Paul was surprised by the Macedonians’ radical willingness to be braces for his ministry namely because they were in a season of “great trial” and “deep poverty.”

When I reflect on our current realities as a Convention, it is apparent what we desire and seek… souls saved and vibrant churches experiencing a state of revival. I also understand our realities in the American church are not “great trial” and “deep poverty.” I am not ignoring that our religious liberties are being battled in the name of “tolerance.” However, we are not in a state of defending our liberties to the point where we may wave the banner of “great trial” over our spiritual state.

The Tension & Truth

One real tension church planters currently feel is the need for more “open handed” support…

  • It’s not always about money
  • Could be a physical need, such as a place to gather
  • Could be people (although beware of a planter who wants more than a handful, may not be planting the gospel, but rather just starting another church service.)
  • Could be around an event, where a helping church provides the physical blessings while giving the church plant the credit

As a church plant, we have been incredibly gifted with the biblical support of a church thus minded! Grand Avenue Baptist in Fort Smith. Not only did they take us under their wing physically, allowing us to meet for a year in their youth center, but they also have constantly supported us in the ways mentioned above.

For two years they have partnered with us, providing all the turkey dinners we need to distribute in our Timberline community, while giving us all the credit and allowing us to make the spiritual connections!

Who wins in this situation? Is it Forefront Church? Is it Grand Avenue Baptist?

Wrong question.

What wins? The kingdom wins!

Quick Filters for a Kingdom Winning Strategy

As pastors and staff, are we truly seeking to advance the Kingdom of God, in whatever that may be, or do we spend, seek, protect, and build around our own religious kingdom? How are we and/or how can we partner with church planting in light of all of our current resources?

We are thankful for churches that support Dixie Jackson, for they are partnering and supporting church planting, throwing the ball down court, and allowing the freshmen to score!

And that’s a kingdom win for sure.

What “radical” living teaches my kids & church

By Lee Kemp 

My kids are like me, they love adventure. People used to ask me, “Is living in a two-bedroom apartment necessary? You are a family of seven. Isn’t this a little too radical? Can’t you live in a nicer neighborhood and just go to Timberline?” But we couldn’t do that.

My neighbor is a stripper. Another is a prostitute. There are policemen constantly driving through the complex. We don’t let our kids go outside by themselves.

But what am I teaching my kids if I don’t do this? Someone once said: “We may teach what we know, but we reproduce who we are.”

I’ll give you a recent example of this. There’s a guy at Forefront Church who is praying about planting a church in another complex. His family has been kind of critical about it, and someone asked, “If your pastor wants you to go live in a rough apartment complex, why doesn’t he?” The conversation ended when he said, “He already has.”

{ My neighbor is a stripper. Another is a prostitute. There are policemen constantly driving through the complex. We don’t let our kids go outside by themselves. But what am I teaching my kids if I don’t do this? }

What am I showing my kid if I don’t go all in? My kids are going to have this half-based faith. If I don’t want my kids to live like that, then I don’t want to live like that.

Even the businessmen who supported our ministry initially thought we were crazy. One of them told me later, “Lee, I thought you were just a squirrel. We gave you six months tops to quit and move out of the complex. People who talk like you talk, they quit.”

Well, when I stuck around, they said “We’ll keep funding!” They came back on when they saw I was here to stay.

You can’t quit on the vision God’s given you. I think he gives us all a specific calling, and if you don’t answer that call he’s going to send somebody else and you will miss out on what’s unique to you and him. It’s like God says, “I want you to do this Lee, and I want you to do it with me.”

{ …if you don’t answer that call He’s going to send somebody else and you will miss out on what’s unique to you and Him. }

Making it all work

When we first moved into the apartment complex, we had three kids and one on the way. (A baby has never stopped us!) Sarah and I took the guest bedroom and gave our kids the main bedroom. The two girls were in the bedroom, and our son was in the walk-in closet. We made it a man-cave and built a loft bed that was attached to the wall; we made it feel like a duck-blind!

Honestly, it’s been great. If I wasn’t a married man I would live here all the time, I really would. But I have a family. People ask what we’ll do when our girls are grown and our son is 12. We want this ministry to be fun for our kids. I want to show my kids we can go on adventures with Jesus, but I also want to take care of them. If it’s not exciting to them, then sometimes we need a break.

 { I want to show my kids we can go on adventures with Jesus, but I also want to take care of them. }

Taking a break, restoring roots

When you deploy a soldier you don’t deploy him forever.

The complex we lived in, it wore us down. We lived there for almost two years until another church in town offered us a six-month stay in their mission house. After that, we still felt like we needed a break and my wife was pregnant, so we did a one-year lease in a historic district in town.

It was a big house. We used that season to entertain and have people over often, just practicing hospitality. Because we had so many people over my kids would always ask, “Who are we having over tonight?”

A couple from our church stayed in the apartment complex while we were gone. They needed a break, and even though we had asked another couple in the church who might be ready to take their place, the more and more we thought about it we felt the Lord was bringing us back. As our lease came up we felt like it was time to come back to the apartment.

The break brought us back to our roots. We just moved back in, and this go-round we have five kids! The girls have the bunk beds in the main bedroom, our son is back in the walk-in closet and the baby is in our room. We plan to do this for another year and a half.

My hope is that by doing something “radical,” Forefront Church would be willing to be radical!

 

My apartment is my mission field

By Lee Kemp 

{ Apartment life ministry is a big ministry. Ninety-five percent of people living in multi-housing have been disconnected from the local church. If you survey apartments, they don’t have a sense of community; it’s just their social behavior. They live here because it’s affordable and convenient, not because they want to make friends. }

We’ve done lots of things for the kids in this complex—like swimming lessons and ballet classes—to get to know kids, which has allowed us to get to know families.

 swimming lessons 2013When I first met Becky she was yelling at her kids at the pool. She needed to be watching her kids, but she was drunk and mad that they had spent the last bit of change for a soda because she couldn’t buy alcohol. We helped her kids get out of the pool.

 After that I started seeing Becky around the complex and just got to know her. At one point she asked, “Who are you? Why are you here?” She knew we didn’t fit the socio-economic model. So I told her I started a church in Fort Smith and that I felt should live here. She laughed, but now she’s accepted Christ, been baptized and discipled!

{ “Who are you? Why are you here?” She knew we didn’t fit the socio-economic model. }

Becky’s a single mom struggling to make ends meet, so Forefront gave her a car. This has helped her get out of the complex and into nicer housing. I just saw her the other night and learned that she’s helping another church in our city as a VBS volunteer.

That is a search-and-rescue for the Kingdom!

Elisha's kids, car
Becky’s kids in the car Forefront provided

 

If I didn’t live at the complex, then I wouldn’t have been swimming at the pool with Becky’s kids, and I wouldn’t have met her. If I hadn’t continued to live there, then she wouldn’t have been able to watch me. That’s how she realized I was a safe person. The Gospel came later.

The apartment culture

Apartment life ministry is a big ministry. Ninety-five percent of people living in multi-housing have been disconnected from the local church. If you survey apartments, they don’t have a sense of community; it’s just their social behavior. They live here because it’s affordable and convenient, not because they want to make friends.

Just by nature it’s obvious who is selling drugs. I started to realize there are people who have really nice stuff but never go to work and who have lots of visitors. The apartment manager and I also have this open relationship, and he has told me about people to watch because he is trying to create a positive place to live.

 I’ve taken the ministry approach and just try to get to know them. I’ve gone out and introduced myself to runners while doing laundry or just being out and around. If I find out that so-and-so has a felony and several drug charges, sure I’ll watch them, but I want to get to know them. My ministry isn’t to judge people, it’s to know people.

Still, I usually see someone five or six times before I introduce myself. That’s how I do it, anyway. If I try to be some spiritual Johnny-boy running for president then they won’t trust me.

{ My ministry isn’t to judge people, it’s to know people.}

Bridging the barriers

This one guy in the apartment ministry, Joel, is white like me. He has asked me, “Why don’t they like me?” and I’ve had to tell him, “Joel you’re acting too white. You talk slower and louder and you speak overly proper. You need to relax and just look at how they say hi, then go and do likewise.”

It’s a cross-cultural training. The barrier isn’t just ethnicity. We are missionaries! And there are missions to be done in our own city, in our own state. Some people just don’t know how to say hello.

This is how we train our church members and why we do what we do. If I’m not willing to drive by my neighbor and smile and wave at them in my own vehicle—not a church van—then our church will only be exactly like me. All I’m going to do is reach people like me. Which is not the point.

Paul says you become all things to all people so that you can reach them (1 Corinthians 9:22). I can’t become all things to all people, but I have to be willing to go be with them.

I need to be so close to these people that I know their concerns and fears about their community: that their kid will be just like them, will be kidnapped or not get an education.

What are their concerns? If I’m not close to them, then I don’t know.

How a vision became Forefront Church

forefront logo

By Lee Kemp 

My wife Sarah and I really felt affirmed in our ministry. We had spent eight and a half years working with youth and absolutely loved it. I was also preaching several times a year in our church, which is unusual as a youth pastor.

We questioned whether we would go to seminary or begin pastoring a church. I actually went to seminary three different times . I was thinking “I have three kids with one on the way.”

Instead, I got involved with a multi-site church called Brand New Church, and I was a campus pastor for 18 months there. We enjoyed that time even though it wasn’t completely what we felt called to. It did give us a lot of opportunities to work with adults. The only adults I had worked with were my kids’ parents in youth ministry, so I really got my feet wet working with adults and not just students.

Still, we were asking God why this didn’t feel like everything we were being told to do. So I gave Dave McClung a call; he is on the Church Planting Team at the ABSC. I told him “I’m ministering and enjoying it, but I know I’m not doing everything I was created to do. I’m lacking.”

{ I’m ministering and enjoying it, but I know I’m not doing everything I was created to do. I’m lacking. }

Dave sent me several books to read, a few being “Strength Finder 2.0” and “Church in the Making.” At the time, I also was reading a book called “Greater” by Stephen Furtick. As I read those books, it was a process of assessing who I was.

The Vision Comes

So then I tried to sit down and pray for a vision. I asked myself, “If Jesus were to ask, ‘If you could do whatever you want to advance my kingdom in ministry, what would you like to do?”

I just thought about church—getting outside the box—and I wrote out Forefront Church.

After that I had coffee with Roy, a business man in Fort Smith, and told him what I wanted to do. He gave me four other guys to talk to. I also talked with a guy named Burt who would ask questions. What we ended up with was a magazine; it’s the business plan of our church plant. We put in 40-50 hours planning out this vision.

Raising Support

There was a season where it was just businessmen and my money. I was going to be short and I was like I have to get a job or it’s going to slow me down. We had some support from our personal savings, from businessmen, the ABSC, Dixie Jackson funds & the cooperative program. There are church planters in Arkansas like me who really need those Dixie Jackson funds to keep them going.

With things in motion, we lived with our parents for a little bit before moving-in to an apartment complex that the businessmen (who were sponsoring us) owned. It was a two-bedroom apartment. We had three children at the time with one on the way!

Lee’s advice if you are considering church planting :

  • Start by asking yourself these questions: Who are you? What are your spiritual gifts? What are you passionate about?
  • Write down your thoughts/vision.
  • Meet with a coach to critique your plans in a positive way, someone who will bounce your ideas around and be a sounding board.
  • Business men are not pastors; they want to know what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.

Planting the Gospel vs. planting a church

By Lee Kemp 

It’s the old, worn out elephant wearing the fresh, sparkly tutu. She’s sitting in the room, and we can’t help but notice the mismatched pair. We silently observe that the glittering tutu does nothing to mask the giant, sagging wrinkles of the tired figure wearing it. It doesn’t seem to work.

Church plant launching is sparkly. It’s fresh. It’s attractive. It’s a brand new tutu. The issue at hand though is not the fact that there’s another new church plant, but rather the issue is the body that gathers under the newly sewn hems. 

Instead of reaching unchurched people groups with the gospel, new church plants often just “gather” Christians looking for some new, fresh “fabric.”  Perhaps this is what truly disheartens some pastors and other leaders when they are asked to consider being involved in church planting.

It’s the difference between planting the gospel versus planting a church.

One thing we have sought to do in starting Forefront Church is to “plant the Gospel” and not just “plant the Church.” This is the truest calling for church planters.  

{ Instead of reaching un-churched people groups with the gospel, new church plants often just gather Christians looking for some new, fresh fabric. }

Sustaining 

Let’s be honest and transparent for but a moment. This is hard, dirt busting work and this work requires us to be continually spirit-filled. The unchurched are not amused with religious showmanship (which is quite easier for us, requiring less of the spirit and more of our “churchiness”). They care not for the things that will draw existing believers by the masses. 

This work is hard for established churches as well, hence, the majority of churches gaining new members by transferring from a sister church in our area. It’s not that there’s not enough money or resources to do the work, it really doesn’t take all that. It’s that there’s not enough satisfaction for us to carry the work on. Unchurched people take much, much longer to develop into the churched folks we feel good about and want to fill our pews. 

I think if we were all deeply honest with each other, we would catch ourselves talking about how we need more magnetic leaders to grow our churches instead of being overwhelmed by reaching the lost in our community. 

With such a focus, we develop strategies and programs that are highly internal rather than external in focus.  All the creative brainstorming and focus is directed on things that really only would excite and encourage response from existing believers rather than generate response from the unchurched community in which we exist.

Plant DNA 

One thing I am realizing is that the concept of keeping focus on the Gospel and lost-ness in our faith community will run through a process of an “ebb and flow.”  Andy Stanley once said it best when he stated, “Vision leaks” (read what I mean in “The Struggle is Real…”).  

When we started Forefront Church, my wife and I moved into an inner city apartment complex and had all the church functions on site at the complex while focusing only on people who lived with us there.  In my thought process this gave us two large benefits… 

One is that anything the church would do in the future; we would have done since the beginning.  Even though we have a Sunday morning gathering now at another location, we still have a couple from our church living at those apartments and hosting weekly worship gatherings on-site.  And because of this strategy, apartment ministry is in our DNA. 

Second, since Fort Smith was my hometown where I was a youth pastor, it kept my Christian friends from joining us. Most of the Christians I know in my hometown would never join a church in an apartment complex. This may sound harsh, but it really kept our focus on the Gospel.

 

fort smith
Fort Smith, Ark.

 

“Elephantish” 

However, fast forward the tape.  Although we have started this church in what some may call radical ways, it still amazes me how I can catch my vision and heart leaning away from the Gospel. New tutus can be itchy and my elephant is pretty untrained and doesn’t act like one. Although the fresh fabric fits the fresh body, the rawness of teaching an elephant to be one can be tiresome and takes time. I am prone to wander at times and leave the vision I have from God. 

We now have a Sunday morning gathering at one of the Boys and Girls Clubs in our town, located in the inner city of Fort Smith.  The thing I continue to find challenging for me is to guard my heart from coveting or envying the leaders in some of the established churches in my town.

{ I am prone to wander at times and leave the vision I have from God. }

Their “elephant” is big, experienced, able to balance a ball on its trunk, performs well at the circus…just more “elephantish.”  “Churchiness” and churched people feel good to be around, they are excited by what excites me, they perform with ease, and I know how to get them to gather. 

We have one of the best worship bands I would argue in my area and for sure who I have ever worked with in ministry thus far.  This many times causes me to start thinking about how we should just start a huge marketing campaign and do some of the strategies I know we can do to get a crowd of people to show up.  However, the thing I also know is that most of the time, the people who you hook through these ideas tend to be already saved.

Just an old, tired elephant in a new fluffy skirt. 

They are either upset or playing the Christian church circuit (which I can’t understand why we Baptist pastors allow this game to be played…another post though.)   

Caught! Thank God! 

Before I sound like a church cynic, let me acknowledge that there are many churches reaching people with the Gospel.  Many of these churches are great Arkansas Baptist church plants too.  Forefront has seen 30 people trust in Christ this year for salvation and had 9 people last year.  Currently we average around 60 adults, which if you do the math, you know that we have not abandoned the heart of planting the Gospel.  However, I would say for a portion of this year in planting Forefront, we have gotten caught up in the details of church a little too much. 

Our leadership and people have wandered from the passion of seeing the Gospel planted and we got caught ourselves planting a church instead.  Already, we have had to repent and recalibrate our focus towards advancing and planting the Gospel. 

People sometimes ask, “Pastor, what is truly the focus of your church today?”  What is even more convicting for me is, what is truly the focus of my life currently?  And what fruit do I have to show that to be true? 

May we all plant the Gospel in our ministries!

Pray for us as we plant Forefront that our focus will stay on reaching the lost and not gathering the saved.

No more old elephants in new fluffy, skirts. It is all too easy to abandon the Gospel and start gathering the saved.  We know the kingdom of God demands us to surrender our spiritual envies and push forward with a God-sized vision.

We are Forefront

By Lee Kemp 

Today I wanted to introduce you to the beginnings of Forefront church and the pulse of this blog! My heart is that you would experience with us the glorious adventure and sometimes raw struggle that is church planting.

The Stirring for Change

In November 2012, after 12 years in full-time ministry, my wife and I were evaluating what we had done in the ministry and asking God for clarity on what He wanted to do in our lives. We both felt like God was leading us to make a transition and a big step of faith. We just didn’t know what.

After reaching out to friends in the ministry, reading several books, and most importantly praying, God led us to the work of church planting! We shared with our church family that we would be moving back to my home town of Fort Smith, AR to plant a new church!

The Change Conceived

We moved to Fort Smith in February, 2013 and began to meet with key Christian business men to partner with us. We would begin planting Forefront Church by doing ministry at a large apartment complex and these men would be key in fulfilling that vision. Later in June 2013, we moved into a small two bedroom apartment and took on the adventure of starting a new ministry work.

{ we moved into a small two-bedroom apartment and took on the adventure of starting a new ministry work. }

We started with just getting to know people! We put together ballet classes for girls and also did some swimming lessons on Saturdays. Once we had several key friendships established in the apartment complex, we launched an outdoor worship experience for adults while serving the kids in the apartment clubhouse.     

The Idea Takes Shape

Ministry work continued in the complex for one year as we focused on doing events to foster new friendships and worked to develop and build a consistent weekly meeting for worship. Meanwhile we had several families who lived in different areas praying for us and keeping up with what we had started in Fort Smith. Almost a year and a half after we took that step of faith and began the work at the apartments, six other families sold their houses and moved to Fort Smith to help us plant Forefront in the Summer of 2014!

Forefront Launches

With an established group of families committed to the work, Forefront church was ready to launch in September of 2014. We started meeting weekly for worship at another existing local church who also supported us by integrating our children into their ministry while we met on Sunday mornings.  This gave us a huge opportunity to focus on reaching lost people where we lived, worked, and spent time having fun. 

Over a year passed in this context and our Sunday morning gatherings grew to reaching around 60 adults and 35 kids weekly.  We began to experience another stirring for change and started praying about our next steps of planting the church.

Within this time we approached the Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club about allowing us to use their facilities on the north side of town for worship on Sunday mornings. The Boys and Girls Club in Fort Smith had previously experienced some less than desirable behavior from churches before and were a little cautious in the beginning. Over time though they became more open to partnering as we had agreed to take on the task of freshening up their facilities with new paint and basic level remodeling work. This past September 2015, we started having our weekly gathering at the Boys and Girls Club!

The Heartbeat of Forefront Church

Forefront’s desire is to be at the forefront of what God is doing in changing the lives of those who feel far from God.  Our vision is to Reach the Lost, Equip the saved to reach others, and Serve God by using our gifts to show Jesus to the local community.  Our heart is to maintain an external focus as a church.  Right now we are keeping that focus by continuing our work in the apartment complexes with couples from our church living onsite and by worshiping at the Boys and Girls Club in an ongoing partnership.