Sowing seeds with people of peace

By Lee Kemp 

John Maxwell once said that no one succeeds unless a group of people wants them to. I think this is definitely true in ministry because ministry rides or dies on relationships.

Before Forefront became a church, Sarah and I were living in Timberline Apartments by ourselves, and we met a lady named Mrs. Patsy. There are about 1,000 people that live in the apartments, and everyone knows Mrs. Patsy. She has lived and worked at Timberline for 21 years, surviving owners and tenants. She delivers notes for rent, but she is also the apartment watchdog. When she takes her dogs for walks late at night, Mrs. Patsy also carries a baseball bat with her.

Early on, Mrs. Patsy didn’t know what Sarah and I believed in or stood for, but she was glad we were there. She knew we were there for a different reason than just having a place to live.

One day I was talking to a lady in the complex about bringing her kids to our summer program, but I could tell there was a racial barrier. Then Mrs. Patsy walked over to us and said to the lady, “You need to get all your kids to this summer program.” Then she looked at me and said, “This is a good man.” The racial barrier died right there.

You’ve heard it said that someone’s always watching. That’s true if we are planting a church or not because the lost watch all believers. The Holy Spirit is definitely at work in peoples’ hearts and minds. Whether we know it or not, the Lord is building those relationships sooner than we might think.

Even so, we have to give it time. Mrs. Patsy had to see some of our events before she accepted that what we were offering was something the people of Timberline Apartments needed.

{ Whether we know it or not, the Lord is building those relationships sooner than we might think.}

Mrs. Patsy was a person of peace in the apartment complex. A person of peace is someone who may or may not have your beliefs, but they are volunteering in the community and trying to make a social difference. They also see your character and believe in you.

Without people of peace, it’s really hard to plant the seeds of the Gospel because the soil will be wrong. And what if that person comes to know Christ? They can help you start a movement!

There are people in your community who have the same heart as you and are already doing things for others. What I have found is that if you link arms with community players already playing and cheer for them then they cheer for you!

There are also gathering places in your community where people already like to go for fun, to relax, and to enjoy each other. When we get involved, we naturally meet people.

If I could plant a church all over again, before trying to gather people for worship, I would have pushed to gather people with different beliefs or who had a heart for social injustice. Then once those people had a chance to receive the Gospel, I would have started a church.

Ben Arment talks about sometimes a church planter has to become a missionary before he becomes a pastor, and missionaries center everything around relationships. If people aren’t ready to gather with you for worship, then maybe you have to cultivate the soil. You go back and focus on developing relationships with people of peace. That way when you gather, you are gathering with people who want to make things happen.

How to look for people of peace in your city:

  1. Focus on the major social injustices of the city
  2. Examine these three questions:
    1. Who’s doing what and for whom?
    2. How good are they at doing it?
    3. What do they need to go to the next level?


God is already there

By Nicole Hutcheson 

I spent this summer on the other side of the world in Southeast Asia. Though I can’t say which country I served in, I can say it is against the law to “Christianize” the people who live there. The good news is that God is already there, even in the hardest and most closed places.

It’s illegal to share the Gospel. It’s hard. But we have to go!

My team and I had to use a lot of discernment as we talked to people, but our priority was not the number one concern—the people we met were. Someone told us during training that we were on a rescue mission, so we kept that mindset the entire summer. 

We would really want to share with someone, but the opportunity did not come up naturally in the conversation. Silently, we would ask the Lord to please open a door. So many times I was praying that specific prayer, and the door would open right in that instant.

Relying on God

We had a neighbor in one of the cities where our team was staying. For several weeks we visited with her, but the opportunity to share the Gospel never came up.

On our last night in the city, we were having dinner with this woman. I was sitting on the edge of my seat asking God for his help because we still had not shared the Gospel.

Then my teammate sneezed. The woman turned to her and said the traditional “May Jesus bless you,” but in her language. When I heard her say his name I asked, “Would you tell me what you just said?” She said it again, so I asked, “Do you mean Jesus Christ?” In that moment we shared the entire Gospel with her.

{ Later, our team talked about how God just used a sneeze to share the Gospel! }

Also about the midpoint of our trip our team was struggling because we hadn’t seen a lot of fruit from our work. We knew that the Lord was faithful—that we might just be planting seeds—but we were praying and hoping we would see someone come to know him.

We had the day off from work, so we were spending the day at the beach just paddle boarding, relaxing, and having a good time with our team coordinator and his family. One of my teammates went down the beach to buy coconuts for us, and he realized the guy he was buying from had a Bible verse on his shirt.

He asked the man if he knew what the shirt said and meant, and when he answered “no,’’ my teammate shared the Gospel with him. The man accepted the Lord on the beach right there! The guys went back later and talked with him, studied the Word, gave him a Bible, and really solidified that faith.

It was just the coolest thing to see that, but this moment spoke to more than that. We were trying so hard to be faithful and wanting things to go the way we thought they should, and when we least expected it God moved into that man’s heart and changed his life.

God is definitely moving in this nation! (For a similar God story, be sure to checkout Lee’s post “God is still on the move” about a divine encounter with a member of the Arapaho Tribe.) 

Sharing the Gospel is more than telling

Last September, I was reading in the New Testament and God told me I should checkout church plants in our area. I thought, “That would be cool. Ok.” A few days later, my Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) campus minister, Lee Woodmansee, told me that a local church planter would be speaking at one of our events.

It was Lee Kemp. After he spoke, I introduced myself and told him, “I’m coming to your church on Sunday.” I’ve been going to Forefront Church ever since.

After I got back from Southeast Asia, I was sitting at Forefront and very distinctly God told me, “This is what you’re going to do. Go out and make disciples.” In order to go and make disciples, we have to have to create a place to come together.

Nicole (left) with members of her team.

We can’t ignore that fact as believers. We can’t just go and tell people about Jesus. We have to see it through! We need people to grow with new believers, to come beside them, and walk with them through life. You get that that discipleship and community through church.

To me, it’s not about becoming a “church planter.” It’s just part of my call.

Attending Forefront, I’ve kind of seen how church planting works. I’m pretty sure that will be my future in international missions: planting a church with local believers and knowing the church and their outreach will continue even after I leave.

I don’t know how I will get to that point, but I think it’s a biblical truth. That’s what we should do. One of the things they say in East Asia’s underground church is this: “Every member of a church is a church planter, and every church planter plants churches.” 

College, missions, or both? 

I’m not on the field right now, and that’s hard! I’m now a senior at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith. I know I’m supposed to finish school, but I also need to play an active role in missions work.

We had one lesson this summer that was about different aspects of missions, like praying for and mobilizing missionaries. What that looks like for me as a college student is telling people about my experience, encouraging them to do international missions, and explore those options with them.

At the same time, I just completed the first step in a long application to become an IMB Journeyman. I had kind of written it off as too big of a commitment (two years), but after a summer of serving with Nehemiah Teams I am convinced this is what God is telling me to do. So I’m praying he will see me through again!

Want to learn more about Nehemiah Teams? Be sure to checkout the “Team Work” CP Share story!   

Nicole’s video diary 

Reflections from a week WITH the Arapaho Tribe

By Lee Kemp 

Since I returned home from Wyoming, I have found myself refreshed and renewed in my commitment to see God move through me and Forefront Church. (Checkout last week’s post to see how God moved during our trip!)  I think that is how almost everyone feels after a productive time on a mission trip in another ministry context.

Today, I thought I would just drop a few reflections and thoughts here for us to remember and consider as we seek to advance God’s Kingdom and the Gospel.

When we minister, prepositions matter

Something I was trained in but still forget time to time is that prepositions matter in ministry. 

When we do something TO to a people, we create oppressionAlthough this is a silent and an unspoken oppression, people can still feel like we are coming off better than them.

When we do something FOR a people, we create co-dependency. In this approach, even if we do reach the intended people, we reach them in a way where they will need us to continue to focus on the Lord.  Our model can lack the ability to be reproduced within a people group. 

When we do something WITH a people, we create life-transformation. This approach is always slower and takes way more time.  It takes a considerable amount of energy and is usually avoided because it drives on the fuel of relationships. 

It has been said that the reason we don’t tell our people about Jesus is because we don’t tell Jesus about our people. I now add that the reason we don’t reach our unreached people groups is because we avoid the WITH approach in our methods of ministry. 

May we remember that our message never changes, but our METHODS of delivering our message needs to be continually evaluated.

May we all take to time to consider the prepositions within our ministries! 

God is still on the move

By Lee Kemp 

This week Forefront Church is in Riverton, Wyoming! We are ministering to the Northern Arapaho, one of the last critically unreached Native American tribes.

Grand Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Smith has come here for the last five years, but this year we (Forefront) and Palestine Baptist Church in Greenwood, Ark., have joined them. There are about 45 of us altogether.

Our goal for the trip is not to do a bunch of things but to continue to build relationships with the Arapaho. In the morning we are picking up trash, mowing yards and getting to know the neighbors of the community. In the afternoons we are learning about the history of the Arapaho before going back to the reservation for the evening. We have bought sports equipment and a basketball goal for the kids, and we are beading bracelets with them.

We are sharing the message of Jesus, but we are making sure not to push too hard. We are focusing on relationships.

Please pray for us! God is working, and He was working long before we got here…

A divine encounter

I had driven back to our hotel to look for money I thought was lost. After I looked over the hotel room and climbed back into the bus, I found the money in the dash. I stopped freaking out and turned the bus around to pick up our group at the reservation.

That’s when I see a guy in a wheelchair with a young man kneeling beside him. Both were Native American.

The Holy Spirit nudged me right there and told me to go back and talk to them. I said to God, “I don’t know what they’re doing,” but He said, “It doesn’t matter.”

So I parked the bus, walked up and found that they were praying. I didn’t know if they were praying in Jesus’ name or what, so I just stood there listening and praying, too.

Before the young man finished the prayer, I heard him say, “Where there are two or more gathered in Your name, You are there.”

After I introduced myself and told them that God told me to turn around, the young man—whose name is Joel—said, “No way! I’m a pastor.” Joel is 19-years-old and feels called to ministry. He had stopped to pray for Reggie to be healed.

{ Before the young man finished the prayer, I heard him say, “Where there are two or more gathered in Your name, You are there.”}

We tried to get Reggie up and walking, but he got tired so we sat him back down.

That is when I asked Reggie who he believed Jesus is. He said, “One we can trust in.” When I asked if he had ever trusted Jesus to save his soul, he said, “I wouldn’t go that far.”

I shared with him Romans 5:8 and other scriptures, and how Jesus will create a new heaven and new earth one day because all other things will pass away. I explained that his soul is eternal, how it will never pass away, and he needed Jesus to save his soul. I told him that I loved him, and I didn’t just want to pray for him to be healed but for his soul to be saved.

Reggie and Lee

So I asked Reggie if he felt like that is something he wanted to do and he said yes!  Then he allowed me to pray with him, and he accepted Christ as we prayed together right there on the sidewalk!

God had not sent me back to the hotel to find the money I thought was lost. He was orchestrating this whole encounter.

I told Reggie, “Your people don’t know the good news of Jesus, and they don’t know what I’ve told you today. He wants to use you to reach your people.”

Not only that, but Joel lives in the same Arapaho reservation that our missions team is working in! He is not even Arapaho, but his sisters are!

There is a backstory to this. Scott Ward (with Grand Avenue Baptist) has been praying for the past five years to meet someone who already has influence here for us to partner with. Joel has now been introduced to Scott, and we plan to stay connected with him and foster this relationship.

God is so on the move! It is evident.

{ God had not sent me back to the hotel to find the money I thought was lost. He was orchestrating this whole encounter.}

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?” 

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.

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. }


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.



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.