The struggle is real to be authentic

By Lee Kemp 

My family just had pictures made, and it made me think of authenticity. You might look at our family photo and think “Aw what a cute family!” but when we took these photos, I was threatening my kids to behave so that they would look nice!

We—church planters—care about image just like everybody else. And sometimes, we want to change our vision just so we think you will accept us.

Acceptance might be from people in the community or from my pastor friends. When I go to my association, I want them to like me. That’s what I’m thinking! I’m the odd guy out. I don’t have deacons, and everybody looks to me to do something. So I’ve found myself trying to fit-in with my friends and other pastors.

What I am trying to convey is that most church planters can have a sense of feeling lonely.    

It’s hard to remember who you are and why you began. I want to have something that looks good on the outside, but it’s kinda gooey and nasty if I’m not who God told me to be on the inside. I might please man, but I don’t please God.

{ I want to have something that looks good on the outside, but it’s kinda gooey and nasty if I’m not who God told me to be on the inside.}

This is hard in a lot of areas, not just church planting, like who you are starting to be in Christ. Even when you look up to people, you see how they might change to be accepted. I think in such a social media-driven age, we are trying to be accepted and not unique.

Vision leaks

Every church was a church plant at one point. Every time a church is planted, there is a felt burden from the Lord on his people to actually plant that church.

And a lot of times that church is birthed out of taking on a specific people group, or filling a void in the capital “C” church within that community. Every church usually starts with that purpose in mind—hopefully to glorify God—but also with specific ministry ideas.

Andy Stanley once said, “Vision leaks.” Like a water leak. That means when I start with a specific idea in mind, the idea of why I started eventually loses its traction. So I have to go back and remember what I did in the beginning.

In my mind, I like to say “Repent and do the things you did at first,” realizing we have ventured away from what we started out to do. But one thing that I know for sure, what I’ve witnessed in my experience, is that it’s not a healthy reason to start a new church just to gather more saved people.

cookies
Taking cookies to the neighborhood

 

So, one of the things that we at Forefront have learned—and are still learning—is how to protect the vision, the authentic vision of being a missional church in Fort Smith, Arkansas. And that’s very hard because in our context, we are seen as a church that does things a little outside the box, and that’s probably true.

We started out being very missional. Along the way, though, we have caught ourselves trying to be like other churches in the area. We wanted the big church service and experience…at the sacrifice of the mission.

When Forefront said we were going to be authentic, we said we wanted to be on-mission. We prepare for our weekly missions, and Sunday is just kind of a reboot so that we go back out during the week and exhaust ourselves.

The Sunday service isn’t the best way to reach the lost—we don’t think it is. It’s going to happen in our day-to-day relationships outside the doors of the church. We feel led to go out and do outreach in the city, and the people that come to those outreach events come to church.

{ The Sunday service isn’t the best way to reach the lost–we don’t think it is.}

So when we measure how we’re doing as a church, we don’t just look at Sunday morning. We look at other ministries with the Boys & Girls club and the apartment ministries. We are trying to position people to go out in the community and serve rather than start a church service that’s well attended.

We felt the need to walk away from that. Sometimes we’ve made church a big, big deal, and we need to be living for God where we live, work and play.

Sunday is the locker room, not the Super Bowl

We always say that Sunday is the locker room, and the weekday is the Super Bowl. When I was on a church staff back in the day, it was the opposite.

I used to hear I should study one hour for every minute I preach. But that leaves your people out to dry because they need you to lead or walk alongside them during the week. Instead of spending 20 hours on my sermon, I spend six because I have to put Sunday in a realistic perspective.

{ Our goal at Forefront is to gather for worship as a church, assembling…but then unleashing our church to engage the community.}

Some missional community-minded guys can be a little weird about Sundays, going to the extreme of not having a worship service. I wanted to plant a church with Sunday acting as what pulls our resources together. Our goal at Forefront is to gather for worship as a church, assembling—like what I read in the New Testament—but then unleashing our church to engage the community.

football
Forefront provided lunch for the Grizzlies after a win

Imagine all the good groups in Fort Smith whose goal is to accomplish good things. If you look at their biggest needs, they need volunteers. Then imagine a church of 300 or 500 people that sends its members right back out into the community to join those causes! Here come 8-10 Christians going to this or that…

If we become a gym instead of a holding-pen for Christians, if this is a spiritual place to be encouraged to go back into the community, now you have something authentic. You’re seeking the good of your city.

In Jeremiah 29, God tells them to seek the welfare of their city. We at Forefront Church are trying to seek the welfare of Fort Smith. This is not ultimately our home, but we’ve been told to bring heaven to earth, and we didn’t think we could do that by sticking to planning Sundays only.

{ Forefront Church exists to REACH the lost, EQUIP the saved to reach others, and SERVE God by using our gifts to show Jesus to the local community. } 

Thoughts for planters/potential planners:   Discover. Discern. Do. Debrief.

Discover where is God at work in my community?

Discern In light of the resources that my church might potentially have or does have, what can I do to partner with God?

Do We stick to the vision we said we’re going to do, and we do it. We don’t want to plan to do something and then not do it.

Debrief How did it go? Is there anything else the Lord is telling us to do? Have we stuck true to the vision we set-out to do?

 

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.