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It’s happened again. Someone else won my jackpot prize from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. I faithfully filled out the entry page (actually several entry pages). I followed all the rules. I may have prayed that God would guide the PCH team to my apartment to to hand me the big check on live TV.

But…nothing. Zero. Zilch. No check. No jackpot.

So I decided to have a conversation with God about it. I could certainly use the cash. I have a ministry to support, God. And a wife! And a Starbucks habit.

I know you are my Abba, my Daddy. I know you delight in me in the same way I delight in my own sons. So why wouldn’t you give me what I desire?

Of course, God doesn’t owe me an explanation, but because He is gracious, He gave me one.

Psalm 84:11 – “…No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.”

Let’s do some math here. God’s promise to His children is that He will not withhold any good thing from His children. So, if He does withhold something, it must not be good. Perhaps the timing is not right. Perhaps what I think I so desperately need would actually harm me. Perhaps He withholds the gift because I’m not ready to handle it, in the same way a parent would not give the car keys to a 10 year old. Maybe He wants me to seek Him, rather than what He can give me.

Here’s what I’m learning. If He hasn’t given it to me yet, then it’s not good for me yet. I’m learning to trust Him more.

Psalm 84:12 – “…How blessed is the man who trusts in You.”

Still learning.

 

Would you pray about supporting us? Your financial support allows us to continue to make disciples and plant churches here in the Atlanta area. With a population of 6.5 million, it is a huge city with huge need. You can give to our network, or support individuals from this link, www.320.network. Thank you!

I recently had the privilege of leading a webinar hosted by Adventure in Missions in Gainesville, GA. The topic was “Building Community with Kingdom Purpose“.  The information I shared is a good description of what we do here at 320 Network. Why don’t you give it a look and let me know what you think?

Hey, would you consider a couple of things for us? First, would you please remember us in prayer? God has already acted supernaturally on our behalf in so many ways, and it is because of prayer. Second, would you prayerfully consider supporting us financially in this ministry? Just click on “Support our 320 Network Planters” on our website. Thanks!

Last week I posted a blog titled “Relationships Matter“. Everything begins with relationships. We engage people, spend time with them, listen to them, love them, share our Jesus stories with them, and seek to help them begin their own story with Jesus. And even if they never embrace Jesus, we seek to continue the relationship, because they are people that Jesus loves, not evangelistic projects. But it doesn’t stop there. Once a person decides to become a Christ-follower, we begin to disciple that person.

So what does that mean? People and organizations define discipleship in a variety of ways. Venture Church in Hattiesburg, MS defines it as “knowing, loving, and following Jesus.” Seth Barnes, founder of Adventures in Missions, defines it as “Waking up to your identity and role in the kingdom of God.” Years ago, when I was a very young youth minister, Barry St. Clair defined it as “Becoming independently dependent on Jesus”.

The word “disciple” means a student or a follower. So a disciple of Jesus is a person who is a student or follower of Jesus. But that definition is limited. It makes it sound like following Jesus is an academic exercise. Agree with a few facts about Jesus, and you’re good to go, right? (James 2:19 has something to say about this.)

Knowing truth is important, but it doesn’t make you a disciple – it doesn’t even make you a Christian. (I would argue that there is no biblical distinction between a Christian and a disciple. To be blunt, if you’re not a disciple, you’re not a Christian. But let’s save that for another blog post.)

Your knowledge must lead to following, submitting, surrendering joyfully to Jesus. Think about the word “follow”. It means to go after, to seek, to pursue. Following is not standing still, watching, analyzing, “dipping your toe in the water”, or waiting to see how things will turn out before moving. Following is following – following Jesus, going after Jesus, seeking Jesus, pursuing Jesus, surrendering to Jesus. It’s moving when He moves, stopping when He stops. It’s learning all you can about Him, so that you, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can imitate Him. Let me give you three reasons why this matters so much.

First, discipleship is an act of obedience. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19) You might recognize that verse as “The Great Commission”.  It’s not The Great Suggestion, or The Great Option. This is our mission. Go. Make disciples (and by inference, be a disciple). Baptize them to publicly identify with Jesus. Teach them. If you want a metric to measure your impact on the world, this is a good one.

Second, discipleship is the way I come to know Jesus. Not know about Jesus. Not know stuff. Know Jesus. The writer of Exodus wrote, “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” Stop and think about that, because it’s a game-changer. God wants to have that same intimacy with each of us. Following Jesus is spending time with Jesus, and spending time with someone is how you build friendships and intimacy. (John 15:15)

Third, discipleship is the way I become like Jesus. Paul wrote in Romans 8:29 that God’s goal for each of us has always been that we would be “…conformed to the image of Christ…”  You already know that you become like the people you spend time with. My son Seth and I are basically the same person. He looks like me, he sounds like me, he uses the same phrases I do, he makes the same gestures that I do when he speaks. Because we have spent so much time together, we have become a lot alike (although I concede that he is a much better version of me!)  That principle carries over into my relationship with Jesus. To the extent that I follow Him, spend time with Him, listen to Him, obey Him, I become like Him. I find that I begin to think like He thinks. His priorities become my priorities. The things that bring Him joy bring me joy, also. Discipleship is my relationship with Jesus that allows Him to form His life in me!

Next week we’ll explore the cost of discipleship. Spoiler alert – it’s very expensive!

Hey, would you consider a couple of things for us? First, would you please remember us in prayer? God has already acted supernaturally on our behalf in so many ways, and it is because of prayer. Second, would you prayerfully consider supporting us financially in this ministry? Just click on “Support our 320 Network Planters” on our website. Thanks!

 

My friend and coworker Brittany Gonzales just posted some wonderful thoughts on what we do here at 320 Network. I’ve had the same experience as she when I have tried to explain what we do. Most of the time when I tell someone that we plant churches, I can see their eyes begin to glaze over. “Why do we need another church? There are plenty of churches!”

So I have begun to take another approach. Now my answer is something like this: “Oh, we build relationships with people we meet who are lonely or hurting or directionless, and we love them. Sooner or later we have an opportunity to tell them our “Jesus stories”, and we help lead them through their own “Jesus story”. We gather these people into communities of believers where they can grow and be encouraged and serve each other and the world around them. These communities grow into house churches. When a church reaches two dozen folks, eight of them pioneer out to begin a new house church. That’s what we do.”

I don’t see as many glazed over eyes as I used to. Most folks now respond with something like, “Wow! That’s amazing!”

And it is!

For us, everything begins with relational evangelism. There is a reason it’s called “relational evangelism” and not “evangelistic relationalism”. In our culture, relationships come first. They matter A LOT. They trump almost everything.

So if I want to get the opportunity to speak into a person’s life, I have to earn that right. I have to love them first. I have to listen to them first. I have to spend time with them. I have to BE Jesus to them before they will let me TELL them about Jesus. So, we spend a lot of time out in the world. We don’t spend all day in an office – that’s not where the people are. We put ourselves in a position where we can interact with people. Yesterday I had a meeting at a popular restaurant here. While I was there I had the opportunity to get to know my waitress, and to pray with the head chef. Two days ago I spent almost an hour in our parking lot talking and praying with a new friend. Our planters have befriended and encouraged so many people in our apartment complexes, at coffee shops, at their part-time jobs, etc…

There is a spiritual principle at work here. Jesus was called “Immanuel”, “God WITH us”. He left heaven to come live among us, to walk alongside us. He didn’t love people from a distance – He loved us up close and personal. He still does, because that’s really the only way to love people. Jesus had a very simple ministry plan. He woke up every morning, walked outside, and loved the people His Father put in front of Him. He walked slowly through crowds. He looked at people. He stopped. He listened. He touched people. He got to know them.

That still works today. But this is not a ministry technique. (That would reduce people to “evangelistic projects”.) This is what we are built for, and called to do. This is what it means to be a Christ-follower. Every morning we wake up, walk outside, and pray this prayer: “Father, help us to see the people you see today. He us to stop, engage them, listen to them, love them, be Jesus to them.” Relationships matter, because people matter to God. And if people matter to God, they should matter to me.

Hey, would you consider a couple of things for us? First, would you please remember us in prayer? God has already acted supernaturally on our behalf in so many ways, and it is because of prayer. Second, would you prayerfully consider supporting us financially in this ministry? Just click on “Support our 320 Network Planters” on our website. Thanks!

(Please see my previous posts to get caught up on our story!)

In January, 2016 several things happened. First, four more planters arrived to help us. Sarah Buffaloe moved to Sandy Springs from Huntsville, Alabama. David Batchelder moved here from Philadelphia. Jason Kelley came from Washington to help us in Dunwoody, as did Logan Kafer, who moved from Kentucky.

Second, our small group “birthed” a new group. (Whenever a group reaches 25, we take about eight folks out of the existing group to start a new one.) So now we had two groups meeting in our apartment community.

Third, we moved our meeting time to Sunday mornings, and began meeting as “official” house churches. At the same time, a third house church began in the home of Bobby and Betsy John in Dunwoody, GA. Bobby is one of my closest friends, and my partner in this venture. And within the past week, Jason and Logan have begun planting a church in their apartment complex in Dunwoody.

So what is a “house church” anyway?

The simple answer is a house church is a small church that meets in someone’s home. It’s not a new idea – read the book of Acts and you’ll find that this is what the early church did – they met “from house to house”. There are a lot of things that led us to house churches:

  • Intimacy and community are much more easily achieved in a smaller setting.
  • Discipleship is much more easily achieved in a smaller setting. Literally every person in our house churches is being personally discipled.
  • Multiplication of new churches is much more easily achieved through the house church model. (We’ve had four churches come online in four months.)
  • There is literally no cost involved.
  • The millennials are all about relationships. I repeatedly hear millennials tell me they walked away from large churches because they had so much difficulty in connecting with other people there. (Before you start sending nasty letters, I’m NOT anti-megachurch. I just think that model is becoming less effective in reaching this generation.)
  • If you want to reach people that no one else is reaching, you have to do things that no one else is doing.

Our churches are multi-cultural and multi-generational, and everyone really likes it that way. People visit us because they were invited by a friend. Everyone is welcome. The churches are a safe place to explore faith.

This is certainly not the only way to “do church”. It may not be the “best” way. But it’s the direction God has led us in, so I’m going with that.

Hey, would you consider a couple of things for us? First, would you please remember us in prayer? God has already acted supernaturally on our behalf in so many ways, and it is because of prayer. Second, would you prayerfully consider supporting us financially in this ministry? Just click on “Support our 320 Network Planters” on our website. Thanks!

(Please read my previous two posts to get the full story. Thanks!)

Let’s pick up our story on June 1, 2015…

I’m a “nest builder”. It’s hard for me to get anything done until my house and my workspace are all in order. That took all summer, because we spent a lot of time traveling with World Race. But we also spent a lot of time meeting people in our apartment community. I met Don, a former heroin addict. I met Tony, a widower grieving the loss of his wife. I met Caroline, an addict who had attempted suicide on at least two occasions. In fact, in our first three months here, Mary Ellen and I met well over 100 people. I developed what Mary Ellen calls my “Parking Lot Ministry”. It seems that every time I walked our dog, or picked up our mail, or just went for a walk, I would meet someone new. Often those meetings turned into conversations. And often those conversations would turn to spiritual conversations. I found myself listening to, and praying with people in the parking lot. We even had a lady named Angel walk up to us while we were sitting in the drive-through line at McDonald’s, and ask us to pray for her!

In September we began to gather these folks together for a weekly small group in our apartment. Don gave his life to Jesus. So did Caroline. It took a while, but our small group began to grow.

By this time our first two church planters joined us. Brittany Gonzales moved to Atlanta from Utah, and Michael Sullivan made the move from Indiana. Both are World Race alumni, with a deep passion for Jesus and for people. God continued to connect us with more and more people. By Christmas our small group had grown to 25 people!

What we do is really not hard. Anyone can (and should) do it. We pray a simple prayer every morning before we leave our homes: “Father, help me to see the people you want me to see. Help me to engage and listen to the people who long to be known and heard today. Help me to love the people you want me to love today.” And then we just open our eyes. Jesus walked slowly through crowds. He took the time to see people. He stopped. He listened. He loved. If I’m going to be like Him, then I’ll be doing the same thing.

I am coming to understand how broken people really are – the brokenness, the fear, the confusion, the loneliness, the pain. They are desperate for community, for someone to love them. All we do is step into that space. I don’t have to “fix” them – that’s the Holy Spirit’s job. My job is to love them, and point them to Jesus. You don’t have to move to Atlanta to do that (though if you’re interested in that, let me know!) You can do that right where you are. The harvest really is plentiful. And the workers really are few. I’m praying the Lord of the Harvest will send His workers out into the fields! This is where the fun begins!

Watch for “So Jeff, What Are You Doing Now?” (Part 4) coming soon!

Hey, would you consider a couple of things for us? First, would you please remember us in prayer? God has already acted supernaturally on our behalf in so many ways, and it is because of prayer. Second, would you prayerfully consider supporting us financially in this ministry? Just click on “Support our 320 Network Planters” on our website. Thanks!

(Check out my last post to get the first part of the story!)

When you find yourself in a new season of ministry, but you don’t know what that ministry is yet, you do a lot of praying and a lot of listening. So that’s what I did. During that time God began to form some thoughts in my head and heart. Mary Ellen and I have served as coaches for World Race over the past couple of years. During that time I’ve met well over 100 young adults who love Jesus with all their hearts and have a passion to change their world; however, many of them were not connected to a local church.  They told me that they didn’t feel like they fit in there; they were not experiencing the depth of community that they had on the World Race; many felt like the local church was more concerned with internal issues than external issues. Some told me they didn’t need the church. Whether their observations were true or not does not matter – they are true to them. No wonder the millennials have given up on church at a breathtaking rate. (Some polls have found that over 80% of millennials are unchurched.)

As I began to think and pray about that, it occurred to me that if we could mobilize this group (there are literally 1000’s of Racer Alumni) to reach their generation for Jesus, then we might be able to have a profound impact for Jesus in North America. But I also knew that “church as usual” was not going to work for them. (They have given up on that in record numbers.) I sensed that God was leading us into a “fresh expression” of church. The message, of course, would not change, but there is much freedom in how we express that. I had no idea what that might look like, but I figured God did.

Even more praying. Even more listening.

As usual, God was already working. It was during February, 2015, that I met Bobby John in Dunwoody, GA. Bobby is a tech entrepreneur/business owner, but he was also pastoring an Indian church. He was also having a lot of the same thoughts I was. Mary Ellen and I had a meeting with Bobby, and it was obvious that  God was up to something. We found a lot of common ground. We both wanted to plant multiethnic, reproducing churches. We were both committed to discipleship. We were both interested in pursuing a new model of church. We knew that relationship is the love language of millennials.

So we continued to pray and talk and meet. And by April, 2015, I knew that this was what God had for us. We began making plans to move to Atlanta.

Over the next two months we sold our house. I sold my truck, which I had owned longer than I’ve had my youngest son. I gave away my Great Dane. (This is beginning to sound like a country song…) We sold about half of our possessions, loaded up a 24-ft. U-Haul, and, on May 31, 2015 we arrived in Sandy Springs, GA, to begin our new lives and ministry.

Stay tuned for “So Jeff, What Are You Doing Now?” (Part 3) coming next week!

Hey, would you consider a couple of things for us? First, would you please remember us in prayer? God has already acted supernaturally on our behalf in so many ways, and it is because of prayer. Second, would you prayerfully consider supporting us financially in this ministry? Just click on “Support our 320 Network Planters” on our website. Thanks!

 

I’m so glad you asked! You may or may not know that Mary Ellen and I have moved to Atlanta to begin the 320 Network. Let me start at the beginning…

Around Easter, 2013, I began to feel a “holy discontent” in my spirit. All was good in our ministry at Venture Church in Hattiesburg, MS, but internally I was unsettled. Having spent my entire adult life in ministry, I recognized the feeling – God was preparing us for a move into a new season of ministry. So we began to pray and listen to God.

On New Year’s Day, 2015, I was spending time with the Lord, and He clearly told me that it was time to go. He did not, however, tell me where we would be going or what we would be doing!

More prayer. More listening.

Twelve days later I was reading Genesis 12 where God told Abram, “Go forth from your country, and from your relatives, and from you father’s house, to the land which I will show you…”. Later that day I saw a tweet from Craig Groeschel, pastor Life Church: “In order to step into your destiny you must be willing to step out of your security.” I put down my Bible and called Mary Ellen.

“I have good news and bad news. The good news is God has told us it’s time to go. The bad news, I don’t think He’s going to tell us where until we leave.” Yikes!

And that’s what happened. A week later I resigned my position at Venture Church, and, for the first time since I was 23 years old, I didn’t have a full-time job.

A lot more prayer. A lot more listening.

Of course, God had a plan.

Watch for my next post to read the rest of the story.

Hey, would you consider a couple of things for us? First, would you please remember us in prayer? God has already acted supernaturally on our behalf in so many ways, and it because of prayer. Second, would you prayerfully consider supporting us financially in this ministry? Just click on “Support our 320 Network Planters” on our website. Thanks!