Fighting the urge to reinvent the wheel in ministry

By Lee Kemp 

Sometimes churches start a ministry that already exists in the community. Other times, a ministry stops working but continues to be the focus of many churches. Why? 

Are we competing with other churches? Are we just doing for the sake of doing?

People have asked me about Forefront’s ministry, like when our church will start a choir ministry or community groups. Sometimes I tell them, “We’re probably never going to have that…” or “We’re a church plant; we’re not there yet.”

For example, Forefront tried launching community groups early on because we wanted to be like other churches. We tried community groups without the right training, and then found ourselves having to step back and re-evaluate what we were doing.

We had a lot of new believers at the time, so instead of community groups we switched to discipleship groups. Eventually I think that it will grow into community groups, but we needed to develop leaders first. 

{ In church planting it is important to take time to honestly evaluate what needs to be changed or cancelled.}  

Forefront also does not plan to have a traditional student ministry. When I was involved in student ministry prior to Forefront, I found there are churches who have made that ministry an island unto itself. It’s not that Forefront doesn’t minister to youth, but we think they should be involved in our church alongside adults. Our worship should be relevant enough to pique their interest, and if I can’t bring that next generation into our church service there’s a big problem.

So people might ask, “What is there on Wednesday night for my student?” I’m ok with our students going to other Baptist churches instead of reinventing the wheel. I don’t need to have a better youth group than them. My job is to plug my students into ministry, disciple them and lead them to be on mission with Jesus. There should be ways for them to serve that they want to be involved in.

So questions Forefront asks are:

  • What is it that God has called us to focus on?
  • Why is there a need for our church to be planted?
  • How will we stay true and authentic in vision instead of duplicating other local churches?

We need to be secure in our missional commitment to Christ and not focused on operating and programming around just maintaining a stagnant core group of Christians.   

Sometimes I feel that we as pastors need to be reminded that our goal is to be a group of cooperating churches—not competing churches. 

What would happen if we desired the churches in our community to succeed even if it meant before our own church success? What would it look like if we just simply acknowledged each other’s strengths and united to support each other in those strengths? 

I don’t know if Arkansas is ready for the impact that would be unleashed if we began to foster a cooperative spirit instead of a competitive spirit! 

I will now step off of my soap box. 🙂 

 

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?

 

Between Sundays: why churches fail or succeed

By Lee Kemp 

Why is Sunday to Sunday important as a church planter? Well, it’s just like a football team.

As a youth pastor, I was fortunate to be around Greenwood High School football, coached by one of the soon-to-be hall-of-famers, Rick Jones. What has made him successful, just like every other leader I’ve observed, is what he does when no one is looking.

There’s a great quote that says, “What you do when no one is looking is what you will become when you can no longer help it.”

As I’ve thought about this, what I’m doing during the week when no one’s looking at me is what really influences what Forefront becomes when we can no longer help it. 

The importance of training leaders

There’s two parts to this. First of all, there is conscious doing. What I want to do the way I want to do it. Eventually, you get into ministry and you are unconsciously competent. You know what you’re doing, you just don’t naturally stop to explain it. If I’m not careful, I’ll be doing ministry with an unconscious competence.

If I’m not training leaders during the week and discipling people, then it’s going to impact my ministry when I need all hands on deck.

It’s hard sometimes to put on the coaching hat and say, “Hey guys, we need to have these conversations. We’re going to be doing this kind of ministry.” Between Sundays is a developing conversation, and if we don’t have that ministry bank to withdraw from, we won’t be able to draw it out. This is why established churches and church plants are either failing or succeeding.

{ Between Sundays is a developing conversation, and if we don’t have that ministry bank to withdraw from, we won’t be able to draw it out.}

Lives aren’t going to be changed just because I check all my emails. If I don’t give people my time, and do life with them then the ministry coaching piece is absent.  People don’t care how much you know ‘til they know how much you care.

So I look at my in-betweens. I ask myself, “Lee, what time am I giving, and when, to leaders? What time am I giving and allotting to lost people?” and “Who am I developing to reach the others in-between?”

The impact

On that note, meeting lost people doesn’t have to be weird. My son got involved with the Fort Smith Boxing Club and the Boys & Girls Club. Now Forefront worships at the Boys & Girls Club, and I’m leading a Bible study there!

What I’m bringing to point is: between Sundays really does show who we are. 

Albert Einstein said, “We are already perfectly organized to achieve the results we are getting.”

Our services, numbers, etc. at Forefront are just a reflection of what we are already doing. This is sobering. And I can’t look at my church and accuse my people for not seeing results I might have desired. They’re my sheep, I’m they’re shepherd.

I have to say, “Lee, what did you do between Sundays?”