Outta Here

KL 3Over the last few months our family has charged headlong into a series of firsts. Our oldest, Jacob, has naturally been the one to break us in on the first-time parents thing in just about everything he’s done over the last 18 years: teething. Walking. Kindergarten. Drivers license. High school graduation just over three weeks ago.

And last week: sent.

We use the S word a lot around the Summit. We talk about sending our best. We want to plant a thousand churches in forty years. Pastor J.D. encourages college students to give their first two years after graduation to ministry, unless God specifically tells them no (we call that “the Mormonization of the Christian church”).

So when our Student Pastor Jason Gaston approached me last year about involving Jacob in an immersive overseas summer project, I couldn’t necessarily lock my kid in his room and hope that the bug didn’t bite.

On Thursday, we put him on a bus that started a 40 hour journey to the Southeast Asian city that he and seven other Summit students will call home for the next four weeks. The eight of them plus two leaders will spend a month building relationships, looking for opportunities to share their stories, and engaging university students in everyday life.

Proud? Yep. (I’m a dad. That’s my job.) But this transcends the “You got an A” / “You won the game” / “You’re a special snowflake” kind of pride. This is a pride that’s broken on a foundation of gratitude: gratitude for a God who’s a better Father than I could ever be. Gratitude for his prompting in my son’s life to do something bigger than life. Gratitude for student leaders who have spoken into his life, discipled him, and mentored him. Gratitude that Jacob is willing to be used at 18 to invest in the lives of complete strangers.

Gratitude that he’s sent.

As me and Merriem and fourteen other parents said goodbye to our kids last Thursday, I suspect we all carried the same thoughts in the backs of our minds: Is this just the beginning? Does this trip symbolize a lifetime lived overseas? Does it herald a call to ministry? Does it mean that what we thought was true for our children and their futures may not necessarily be true?

Maybe a better question: does it mean that God knows our kids and loves our kids better than we do?

I wouldn’t dare guess what God will do in the lives of these eight young adults over the course of this summer. But I do know that I’ll pray for them, and cheer them on, and encourage them to not only let him work in others’ lives, but in their own.

Would you join me in praying for them? The parents received this list of prayer points in a pre-trip meeting. I’d be honored and grateful if you’d print this and pray over it several times this summer. You can also keep up with the team via their blog.

  • That students would seek and know God. 
    • Matt 6:33
    • Psalm 1
    • Deut 6:5
  • Wisdom in all situations: how to interact with each other and with new friends. 
    • James 1:5
    • Psalm
  • Fruit in ministry
    • Psalm 37:39
    • Jonah 4
    • Romans 10:17
  • Perseverance
    • Hebrews 12:1-3
  • Grace giving to each other 
    • John 13:35
    • Eph. 4:1-7
  • Not a burden to the local body, but a blessing 
    • Isaiah 52:7


My friends, what you’re about to read is going to make you put down your electronic device and thank Jesus for the next generation.

I am incredibly excited to be on the Lemonade for the Least of These bandwagon. This project was conceived, fleshed out, meticulously planned, and is about to be executed by my friend Ava Forrest. Her goal is to bring attention to the plight of the fatherless and raise funds for an Ethiopian orphanage through something as simple and iconic as a lemonade stand. Ava is an inspiring entrepreneur, a tireless businesswoman, and a passionate visionary who is doing whatever it takes to see a world with one less orphan.

Oh, and I guess now is a good time to mention that she’s nine years old.

You read that right: a kid who hasn’t mastered elementary school is already following the mandate of James 1:27. Ava is running circles around most of us in the evangelical world, taking our good intentions and actually acting on them.

Her recent history gives her good reason to be passionate: three years ago Ava gained a new little brother through adoption. Judah is a child we prayed for and begged God for. He was a child that Ava, her other brother Marshall, and her parents James and Julie fought for. And now, he has a forever family and Ava has a vision for more.

Last summer Ava and her mom had the chance to visit Hannah’s Hope, the orphanage that Judah once called home. That trip planted a seed of an idea: what if she could raise a few dollars in order to purchase some much-needed supplies for kids at the orphanage?

So Ava did what most of us are too lazy / scared / apathetic to do. She took action. She enlisted a friend to design a logo. She put her mom to work creating a website. And to date, she has hundreds of kids in multiple states planning to set up lemonade stands this weekend.

Here’s my ask: I want you involved. If you have kids, I want you to encourage them to run a stand. If you have money (five cents or five hundred bucks), I want you to donate to the cause. If you’re a believer, I want you to pray for this effort. If you’re on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or whatever, I want you to promote the bejeezers out of this thing. Because at the end of the day this isn’t simply about helping a third grader see a dream come to life (although that’s awesome, too). It’s about taking a practical step to care for the fatherless.

I’m thankful for you, Ava. You’re a hero and an example to all of us. Thank you for loving the least of these.



My very real view this morning. I almost have the place to myself. This is a great time to practice my yodeling.

As I type, a portion of our church offices (including my own) are getting a quick paint job. Our offices are mostly populated by guys in their 20’s to 40’s, so the walls are not what you would call “pristine condition.” Sure, they started out beigey when we moved in a few years ago, but over time they’ve become rich shades of scuff mark gray and chair ding brown. (No, I don’t know how chair dings leave “brown.” It’s an illustration. Move along.)

But I digress. The paint job has required that we vacate the premises for a few days, because apparently painters don’t like you standing around watching them and making helpful comments (“That’s gonna need a second coat.”) or questions (“Can you do me a mural of a bear holding a sword?”). And so a couple dozen of us have left the building and been forced to fend for ourselves at coffee shops and fast food joints around the Triangle. Today is the last day of this great adventure, and I am both broke and obese.

I’ll admit: I enjoy the occasional day out of the office. Sometimes there’s nothing better than holing up at a local Starbucks to get caught up on email or finish a project while listening to some electro-pop-jazz-funk music blaring in the speakers over your head, all the while eavesdropping on the guy next to you loudly explaining how the Christians stole Christmas (true story).

To do that once every week or so? Glorious. But I’m discovering that working remotely for an extended period of time just ain’t my cup of tea. Even if the refills are free. (Did you see what I did there?)

In preparation for the exile, our Missions Pastor Curt Alan sent out a very helpful memo to remind us how to be good remote workers. I reprint it here without his permission, because I’m 96% sure he doesn’t read this blog so what does it matter.

Hi folks,

With our office and meeting space in transition, I suspect more and more of us will begin to “office out of” and hold meetings in local business (e.g., coffeehouses and restaurants).

As such, we need to be keenly aware that our neighbors (and small business owners) are watching and forming opinions of us, the Summit, and what and whom we represent.

To that end, I’ll offer some well-placed and very specific reminders:

  • When you hold a meeting of 5-10 people for several hours in a local business and only 1-2 people actually order something, people notice.
  • When you do buy something but don’t bother to tip (even minimally), people notice.
  • When you regularly office out of a local business for 3-5 hours at a time, multiple times a week, and only order a small coffee that you periodically refill (for free), people notice.
  • When you office out of or hold a meeting in a local business, rearrange tables & chairs, and then leave without putting things back the way you found them and not cleaning up after yourself, people notice.

This kind of behavior reflects poorly on all of us so let’s be extra vigilant.

(I would also add “Don’t leave your Panera pager on your formica-topped table and walk away while it incessantly buzzes.” I’m talkin’ to you, Lady-Who-Just-Left-Her-Panera-Pager-On-The-Formica-Topped-Table-Six-Feet-Away-From-Me.)

I appreciate Curt’s reminder to be good ambassadors not only for the church, but for the kingdom in general. So how about it, remote warriors? What other tips do you have for us? Or better yet, a question for the food service folks: what are your squatters’ horror stories? Comment below. 

(photo courtesy Mike McDaniel)

(photo courtesy Mike McDaniel)

This weekend the Summit commissioned 108 people to four North American church plants. Over the next few weeks we’ll be seeing these folks move to D.C., Wilmington, NC, and two locations in Durham. Our Summit Network has been training up the lead pastors of these plants, preparing them in part for the rigors of planting a new work.

In full disclosure, not all people on stage were covenant members of the Summit. We were missing some of our covenant members who are going, and in their place Grace Park Church and Waypoint Church both had part of their core teams that were there. But the majority of people standing on that stage have been an integral part of life at the Summit. We’re sending pastors and interns, worship leaders and elders, First Impressions and Summit Kids volunteers, college students, older people, younger people, married couples, singles…you name it, they’re going. People have given up jobs, sold homes, given sacrificially, and poured out their lives to see the gospel go forward in new places.

At the Summit, one of our plumblines is We send our best. We don’t want to be guilty of hoarding talent or gifts; we recognize that God gives us great people so that we can give them back as a faith offering elsewhere. But while we’ve said that now for several years, this weekend I felt it in a real, tangible way.

Two of the men standing on that stage represented the best of the best. Josh Lawrence and Clayton Greene have been my fellow pastors, team members, and personal friends for the last several years. When they made the decision to be a part of The Bridge Church in Wilmington, they represented 50% of my Connections team. One-half. Two out of four. However you do the math, that’s a chunk of “best” that is heading out.


Josh was my First Impressions Director in our Brier Creek South venue, and held down a side role as my Special Events Coordinator. That’s a lot of hats for a guy workin’ intern hours. Nobody thinks through the logistics of an event and gets volunteers where they need to go quite like Josh. He was the calming force to crazy moments, the unsung hero of all kinds of behind the scenes magic, and just simply got the job done. In addition to that, he served as the small group leader to my two oldest sons for several years, so Josh is a part of our family’s fabric.

Clayton was the First Impressions Director in Brier Creek North, and the evil genius behind a tremendous amount of the “why behind the what.” Clayton has suffered through – and subjected me to – hours upon hours of conversations on why we do what we do, how we do what we do, and how we can do it much, much better. We’ve never met a whiteboard or a blank sheet of paper that we couldn’t fill up with ideas we just knew would change the world. I never walk away from a conversation unchallenged or discouraged. He gets guest services at the heart level like no one I’ve ever seen, and he wants to do whatever it takes to help people take a step towards Jesus.

Send our best? Yes we do. My buddy Ethan Welch, lead pastor of The Bridge, is getting the cream of the crop, as is Waypoint, Grace Park, and Restoration City Church. Whenever we send our best, we are making a sacrifice. There’s no way around it. There are tears. There are losses. There are real, gaping voids that are left behind.

But here’s why sending our best is vitally important: I’d rather give away good people than get greedy with good people. I’d rather see the gospel take root in new places than just build a deep bench of talent in RDU. I’d rather lose geographically-close friendships if it means seeing friends use their gifts to do some serious damage for the kingdom in another city.

We’re called to send. It’s in the DNA of the Christian, and it’s in the mandate of the gospel. So if we’re called to send, why not send our best?


photo credit: Brett Seay

Yesterday afternoon marked the launch of the eighth campus of the Summit Church. Summit Blue Ridge kicked off with two services, a huge army of volunteers, and over 600 people in attendance.

As I wandered through the parking lot, the auditorium, the back hallways, the volunteer headquarters, and beyond, I was – once again – humbled by what I saw.

You see, Blue Ridge prepped for launch over the course of just a few weeks. Rather than our traditional incubation period where the core team comes together for a few months’ worth of weekly worship, Blue Ridge’s first corporate worship gathering was yesterday’s 3:30 service. Rather than a group of volunteers who had been fully trained and meticulously placed, Blue Ridge utilized passionate, committed, flexible people who showed up to get the job done and serve their little hearts out.

Fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants model of launching a campus? Maybe. But maybe it’s also the sign of a God who delights in doing something so huge that there’s no way we can take credit for it. From Bowe & Derrick (the guys leading the campus) to Alex (our campus admin) to every single part-time staffer, intern, volunteer, and attendee, there’s not a single one of them who had the audacity to say, “We got this.”

On the contrary: it was lots of sleepless nights, anxious days, and the very real realization that we could fall flat on our faces.

But instead, we fell on our knees to thank a God who does the impossible, a God who specializes in the details, and a God who cares more about our neighbors in Raleigh than we do.

Summit, let me remind you that this is not normal. What we’re seeing isn’t explainable. 600 people don’t just show up to do church on a Sunday afternoon. 115 volunteers don’t just manifest to serve in Summit Kids, First Impressions, and Production. Dozens of first time guests don’t just wander in. There’s a work of the Holy Spirit that we must be aware of, and we dare not take for granted.

This is not our movement. This is God’s movement, and for some strange reason he’s allowing us to join in. We can’t waste it. We can’t ignore it. But we can and certainly should celebrate it.

So as you read this, would you join me in thanking God for what he is doing, the people he is drawing, the leaders he is raising? Would you pray with me for our Blue Ridge leadership team, that they would rest well going into week number two? And best of all…would you watch for those other “not normal” areas in your life, and join God where he’s already working?


DPAC is back.

Last year’s services at the Durham Performing Arts Center were a high-water mark for our church. We swung the doors wide open to our community, inviting them in for two days as we celebrated the sights, sounds, and story of the season. Jesus’ birth was celebrated through spoken word, video, drumlines, rap, solos, and the proclamation of the gospel. Thousands experienced the Christmas story all over again…for the very first time.

We’re just days away from Christmas at DPAC 2013, another opportunity to invite friends and family to a common venue as we observe the birth of the King of the ages.


Like any Summit event, this one is going to take volunteers. Lots of volunteers. 1274 volunteers, to be exact. And we need them in Summit Kids, Guest Services, Prayer, Set Up, & Tear Down. We’re challenging everyone at the Summit to consider attending one service and serving one service. Or, if you want to make it on Santa’s Nice List, you can attend one and serve four. Ho ho ho.

But let’s be realistic: you don’t really have time to serve during the holliest, jolliest time of the year without a really good reason, do you? Here are three:

  1. This is our gift to our city. It would have been far more convenient to pay DPAC to provide their own staff to open doors, point out seating, and welcome people to the venue. And while they’ll have a few of their folks helping us with some of those tasks, this is an event that we own. And as owners of the event, we want to own the experience. We’ve made huge inroads to our community with events like ServeRDU and Church at the Ballpark. Let’s not stop now.
  2. Your personal gifting demands it. Many of you reading this have gifts for serving kids or being hospitable to guests. You need to exercise those gifts. Do we need you to serve? Yes we do. But more than that, you need to serve. It’s how you’ve been wired.
  3. The gospel still starts in the parking lot…even when it’s not our parking lot. Every weekend we challenge people to share the gospel in the way that they serve. Just because we’re offsite doesn’t mean that challenge stops. With hundreds (perhaps thousands!) of first time guests expected, we have the opportunity to introduce people to Jesus by the simple act of serving them well and loving their kids.

So here we go again, Summit. Step up. Serve with abandon. Sign up today. We’ll see you at theDPAC!


In light of our current Staying Faith series, I thought this was a fun post to pull out of the archives for today:

Our people simply respond well to the call to give. Whether it’s turkeys for the Durham Rescue Mission or coats for students at Neal Middle School or school supplies for teachers at Eastway Elementary, they just give. And give. And give.

And it’s not just structured giving – the kind where somebody stands up and tells a sad story and shows pictures of sick kittens and plays a Sarah McLachlan song and then asks people to empty their pockets and maybe sell a vital organ and then go dig a well. No, this culture of generosity goes deeper than a corporate call and digs into the heart of individual mission.

It’s the small group raising money to pay for an uninsured surgery. It’s the campus staff gathering funds to fill a family’s propane heater before winter. It’s the sound tech arranging for a sound system to be loaned to a school for their Christmas program. It’s the young professionals who host an auction to fund a ministry to street kids in Rwanda.

Read the entire original post.

(photo credit: caufields.com)

(photo credit: caufields.com)

It’s that time of year again: fall (or Autumn, if you consider yourself better than the rest of us). The time when hipsters break out their slightly-less-ironic scarves, pumpkin flavoring seeps into everything, and churches everywhere roll out their 14th annual HallelujahWeen HarvestFest Trunk or Treat Hoedowns.

Full disclosure: I have both participated in and organized my fair share of the aforementioned event. The purpose of this post is not to be critical of churches who pull dunking booths onto their property once every October. Intrinsically, I think we’d all agree that there’s something more to a Halloween event than the event itself. And to be fair, these are questions that I’m asking of myself more than of other churches (more on that later).

So the post’s purpose isn’t criticism. Rather, it’s to ask a question that’s been rolling around in my own hollowed out pumpkin skull:

Are these types of “community outreach” events effective? 

My personal experience tells me that these events largely work to serve people at your church, and maybe people at other churches. (We all know the families who put trick or treating in the same category as – oh, let’s say the Bubonic Plague – but think nothing of loading up the minivan in their Moses / Esther / Seven Headed Beast of Revelation costumes and hitting every Holy Ghost Weenie Roast in the greater tri-cities area.) But when the hay dust has settled and the last bit of apple cider is gone, can we say we’ve had an evangelistic impact on our cities? When an outreach only reaches in, can we really call it an outreach?

Maybe it’s what we call them that gives me pause. I’m not sure that I’ve ever known an unbeliever who’s passed a church with a “Hallelujah Festival” ad on their marquee and thought, “That’s something that I just have to be a part of.” No, in most cases that would be viewed as an odd, insiders-only ritual that just makes them want to step on the gas and drive on by.

Or maybe it’s the “why” behind the “what” that I’m having problems with. If Trunk or Treat events only exist to provide a safe alternative to Halloween and to keep sinners with cooties at arms length, then we’ve missed the bigger picture. If our entire evangelistic goal of the evening is to hand out a Chick tract designed to scare the hades out of people, then maybe we’re doing it wrong.

Critical? Well shoot. Maybe so. But before you angrily toss your leftover fun size Almond Joy bars at me (because let’s face it, even the kids who don’t get sugar 364 other days a year ain’t touching those), what if we found an even better substitute for Halloween?

What if we discovered an alternative to our Halloween alternative?

What if we built the event on pre-existing relationships? What if we didn’t pour time and energy and resources into an event, and then opened the doors and hoped people from our neighborhood would show up? What if we didn’t engage the unchurched in our community only for special events, and then ignored them the rest of the year?

What if we encouraged our people to have real, authentic friendships with people they already live around? Work around? Play around? And what if we leveraged our “community outreach” events to maximize the outreach we’re already doing every single day?

What if we scrapped the event altogether and encouraged our people to get out on the street on October 31st and meet their neighbors and build a friendship?

Confession: the deeper I go into this post, the more I realize how much I stink at this personally. While our church no longer has Harvest Parties, we do have community outreach events on a massive scale. And so many times I get so busy investing in the event, I forget to invest in something even bigger: my relationships with unbelievers. I realize how far I have to go in befriending and serving the people on my street. I discover how many things I do in the name of “outreach” that really just reaches in.

So how about it, church leader friends? What if we got crazy intentional this year about hosting church events that unchurched people might actually show up for? What if we built new relationships outside rather than simply maintaining relationships inside? And most importantly, what if you mailed me all your unused Snickers Bars, because those things are awesome?

What successes have you had in community outreach events? I’d love to hear ’em. Comment below.


That’s right, boys and girls: Christmas is coming again this year. Even better, it’s coming back to Durham Performing Arts Center.

More info is coming later on tickets, service times, and how you can volunteer to serve the RDU community as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But for now, a recap of Christmas 2012…

Raise your hand if you’re sick to death of clicking on this blog and seeing posts about Church At The Ballpark!

(Oh, that’s right. I can’t see you.)

But I promise, this is the last CatB post. At least until tomorrow. I’m still just scratching my head at what God accomplished and how he was so gracious to allow us to see it happen.

As Pastor J.D. said on his blog last week, the work is just beginning. Campus Pastors and campus staffers are processing through long, long lists of names, making phone calls, sending emails, setting up a time to grab coffee and begin or continue a fruitful discipleship process. We know that it’s not healthy to baptize and run. No, our commitment needs to be to stick it out over the long haul to see the gospel continue to infiltrate the lives of 554 baptized on September 15th, and the 83 more who were baptized last weekend.

I’ve seen our Campus Pastors take all manner of approaches to continue to preach the gospel to those who were baptized. One of my favorites came from our North Durham Campus Pastor, Ryan Doherty. Ryan sent the following letter to everyone from his campus who was baptized at the ballpark. And as good of a reminder as it was for those fresh out of the water, it was just as good a reminder for me, 28 years after my own baptism. I hope this encourages you to remember today.

September 15, 2013

We are so excited that you decided to take the next step in your faith by being baptized. I want you to know that it was my privilege, honor and joy to baptize you and to share this experience with you. I am excited about the work that God is doing in your life and can’t wait to walk this journey of faith alongside you. This is an exciting time in your life in that you got to publicly express before others, that God has saved you and that you are now a follower of Jesus.

I want you to keep this letter as a reminder of the decision you made this past Sunday at the Summit Church. I want your baptism to serve as a “marker” in your life that you can look back to when life gets tough. I want you to read this letter and remember the decision you made to follow Jesus. Especially when the enemy starts whispering doubts about God being good, doubts about God loving you and doubts about your salvation, I want you to be confident that in Christ, there is NOTHING you can do to make God love you anymore than He does right now. And there is NOTHING you have done, can fail to do or will do to make God love you any less than He does right now because of Jesus.

Remember that you shared your decision to follow Christ through baptism in front of thousands of people at the Summit Church because you wanted to be obedient to Christ’s command to be baptized. Remember also that you believed that baptism is not a requirement for salvation, but is an important next step for you as a Christian.

Remember that the waters you were baptized in were only symbolic to what has already happened in your life. This external symbol was showing others what has already happened in your own heart and soul. Remember there was nothing special or magical about this water you were baptized in. Durham’s City water didn’t save you-Jesus did!

Remember your new life as a Christian. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). “For by grace you have been saved though faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Remember the symbolic picture of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection: “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). “Buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12).

Remember that your sins were paid for and you were given hope for eternal life because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Remember that you were completely submerged under the water to show that Jesus’ blood completely covered you from head to toe, removing ALL sin by washing you white as snow.

Remember that when I asked “do you believe that Jesus has done everything necessary to save you” You said, “Yes!” and then when I asked, “Since, Jesus is now Lord of your life, are you willing to do whatever He asks you do to and go wherever He asks you to go?” You said, “Yes!”

Always remember the day you decided to follow Jesus, it was the best decision you could ever make!

I am so proud of you.

Ryan Doherty
The Summit Church|North Durham Campus Pastor

Next Page »