Starting Point

Today kicks off a new experiment on Connective Tissue – can a normally Wordy McWordington keep his thoughts to fifty words: no more, no less?  Five days.  Fifty words.  And no, the title and this paragraph don’t count.  Fifty words begin…now.

It was a big weekend at the Summit:  Twelve services.  Just over 4000 in worship (that doesn’t count the kids).  One message: the resurrection of Jesus.  Today we begin the task of going through cards and following up with guests.  Pray that we’ll connect and they’ll take the next step!

I had a great conversation with a friend and fellow staff member earlier this week.  She reminded me that part of the job of a pastor is to reject the idea of promoting one ministry over another.  You’ve seen that happen, haven’t you?  This is what it looks like in a typical church…

“Hey, you really should consider working in the nursery.  I hear that the college ministry is rolling in volunteers, and they’re having to beat them off with a stick.  God will love you more if you work with the least of these…the little babies.  All that stuff you hear about smelly diapers is overrated.”

“Psst!  Did you know that singing in the choir has been proven to reduce your life span by 12.5 years?  It’s true!  That’s why I’m pretty sure you need to work with teenagers.  They’re much easier than practicing for a cantata.”

“If you join the parking team, the leader will taze you on a regular basis, and you’ll be flopping like a beached carp out there in the parking lot.  We want you at the coffee bar.”

Rick Langston kicks puppies for sport.”  (Usually said by Charlie Dunn, rival Campus Pastor.)

I’ve been a part of plenty of churches where staff members would steal people from someone else’s ministry.  I’m ashamed to say that I’ve done it myself a time or two (or 168…not that I’m keeping track).  However, in a healthy church, pastors promote ministries that aren’t necessarily their own.  They understand that people should serve from passion, not from pushing.  They know that servants serve best when their wiring and their hiring are in alignment.  They get the fact that people would rather serve because they get to, not because they’re guilted to.

I digress.

In our church, that might mean that we don’t steal from other campuses, we send to other campuses.  We want to view each of our ministries as a training ground to eventually give someone else a really good volunteer.  For example, if someone is incredibly effective at working the First Impressions team, why not tap them to replicate the First Impressions DNA within the student ministry?  Or why not take a gifted musician from the main worship service and bless the children’s worship with them?

The point: the body of Christ is much too important to build fences and hoard volunteers.  We’ve got to be about the business of helping all ministries grow, all the time.  We need to constantly play the field and get people plugged in all over the place.

(And just in case you’re wondering about the conversation that sparked this post…no, I hadn’t stolen anybody from this person’s ministry.  But there’s still two days left in the work week…)

One AnotherAt the Summit, we’re currently going through the book of Acts of Sunday morning.  Our Cannonball series is walking us through the “why” of church life.  Because of that, I’m teaming up with the Small Groups Guy over the next few days as we take a team approach to the “one another” passages in scripture.  Make sure and check out Spence’s post for the day here.  

Romans 12:10: Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. (NASB)

My wife and I have an unhealthy addiction to the TV show 24.  (Sometime I’ll tell you the story of how we had seen only one episode prior to October 2008 – and as of last weekend we’re fully caught up and ready for season seven – but today’s not the day for that confession.)

One of my favorite Bauerisms is when he calls CTU and says, “I’m gonna need backup.”  Oh sure, most of the time that backup turns out to be a psychotic communist kleptomaniac mole, but still…there’s something really cool about knowing somebody has your back, as long as they’re not about to inject your back with a syringe full of death juice.  But I digress.

The Bible gives us nearly 60 “one another” commands.  I would argue that Romans 12:10 contains one of the foundational ones.  As believers, we are called to be devoted to each other, period.  We’re not told to go Lone Ranger-style.  We’re not told to do the best we can on our own.  We’re told to be devoted to one another.

Devotion to our fellow believers lays the groundwork for all of the other “one anothers.”  We can’t encourage one another if we’re not devoted to one another, nor can we encourage one another.  Devotion is the stuff of commitment.  It’s where we cross the line from casual acquaintance to “I’ve got your back” friendship.  

Devotion is not something that just happens.  It brings with it an intentional forward motion to go deeper in a relationship with another person.  As a believer, we will find ourselves in different levels of devotion.  As a pastor, I have different levels of involvement with people that serve with me in ministry, people in my SummitLIFE group, random people in the church, and other believers I know outside our church.  Not every believer gets the same amount of my devotion, but as a believer I’m called to pursue devotion with those God places in my path.

So here’s the question: do you have people that you’re devoted to?  Are there people who are devoted to you?  If not, perhaps your first step is to attend Starting Point, which is our event for people who need to be connected.  Or maybe you need to get involved in a SummitLIFE group.  Regardless, devotion is not an option…it’s a mandate.  Make sure somebody has your back today.

Unless they’re carrying a syringe, in which case you need to go Bauer on ’em.


Earlier this week I dropped by Blockbuster to pick up a couple of gift cards.  Here’s how the conversation went down…

Employee #1: What can I get for you, sir?

Me: I just need to get two $5 gift cards, please.

Employee #1: Not a problem, I’ll get those ready for you.

Employee #2 (interrupting the transaction with his own customer to interject in our conversation): You know, sir, we’re running a deal right now where if you buy $50 worth of gift cards, we give you a $5 gift card free.

Me: Ummm…yeah, but I actually just needed the two $5 ones.

Employee #2: Well, it’s a really good deal…I just thought I’d let you know.

Now, I’ll be the first to admit that ninth grade math was the best three years of my life.  But even a basic understanding of economics will tell you that spending five times as much as you planned in order to get a good deal…really isn’t.  Besides that, making the jump from ten bucks to fifty bucks just doesn’t make sense, no matter how you slice it.

I think many times, we try to get people to make the same way-too-far jumps in our churches.  True, we’re not hawking gift cards, but rather than giving people a small, measurable, easy next step, we try to shove the whole ball o’wax down their throats…

Church: We’d like you to fill out this guest card so we can have a record of your visit.

Guest: Okay, that sounds good.

Church: And we’re going to need your Social Security number, you need to quote five consecutive scripture verses from Leviticus, employment history, a letter of recommendation from your former church, blood samples, your personal stance on Calvinism, your shoe size, and you have to promise never ever ever to leave this church no matter how psychotic we get or how many splits we have or how many fights break out in business meeting, but we still reserve the right to talk bad about you if you ever wear a Santa sweater with 3-D beard fur.

Guest: Ummmm…why the shoe size?

Church: It’s a secret.

Please understand: giving guests a next step is vitally important.  It’s good for them.  It’s good for you.  It’s good for your organization.  But the key is that your next step must be easy.  Anything that smacks of huge commitment or discomfort or embarrassment or harassment…and your guests will go screaming in the opposite direction.  Or to put it in Blockbuster language: anything that takes them from a ten dollar commitment to a fifty dollar commitment, and you’re going to have problems.

We have a series of next steps that we set up as a goal for all of our guests.  Step one: fill out a guest card.  We put a huge emphasis on that, because your next step is impossible if we don’t know you took the first step.  Step two is a follow up phone call from a pastor or staff member.  This is much lower-key, lower-pressure than it sounds, but it gives an innumerable number of guests in the info they need to move forward.  After that, it’s Starting Point, SummitLIFE, serving on a ministry team, etc.  

One more thought on this: we attempt to give just one step at a time, not a full buffet-style menu.  It’s easier on our guests if they’re not overwhelmed with more info than they need at the moment.  The next step – whatever it might be – is clean cut and neat.  There’s no real room for embarrassment or mistakes, because the opportunity and expectation is perfectly clear.

If you’re new to your church, what’s your next step?

And if you’re a pastor or ministry leader, how easy is it for your guests to take the next step?

Chicken or the Egg?I always hated the “which came first?” question.  As a card-carrying elementary school legalist, I suspected that question was an underhanded attempt by liberal left-leaning communist God-haters to take our eyes off the biblical account of creation.  Of COURSE God created the chicken and not the egg.  Had he created the egg, that would have given credence to the Easter Bunny, and we all know the downward spiral that would create.

But I digress.

Yesterday Spence Shelton and I had a version of the chicken or the egg discussion.  It was a great reminder to me that even in a church our size, our pastors are still working out of the same playbook and operating under the same DNA.  Spence and I had an opportunity to have lunch with a guy who is building the small group ministry at a church plant in Mebane.  His question: at the Summit, do you encourage people to get involved in the church or in a small group first?

The answer?  Well, it’s a chicken or the egg.

We decided a while back that we couldn’t be too choosy in how people get connected to the Summit.  People tend to connect in areas that offer (a) the path of least resistance, (b) the faces or relationships that are already familiar or established, or (c) the best snacks.  For example, if you are new to the Summit but your co-worker is a SummitLIFE group leader, you’re probably more likely to connect via the group and then…someday down the road when it’s convenient…connect to the church via Starting Point.  On the flip side, if you’re new and don’t know anybody but smell pot roast after the 10:45 service…you can kiss your small group connection goodbye because doggone it, you’re going to the Starting Point Luncheon.

However, Spence and I are in agreement that in a perfect world, people connect to the Summit first, a SummitLIFE group second.  There are some good reasons for this:

  • Starting Point (our avenue for connecting to the church) describes the DNA of the Summit.  SummitLIFE groups live out that DNA.  If you don’t like the former, there’s no sense in you wasting your time in the latter.
  • SummitLIFE leaders are trained in and passionate about building disciples and fostering community.  If someone uses their group as the litmus test to see if they like the church, turnover rate becomes very high and frustrates the leader, the existing group members, and the guy who’s just scoping out the group.
  • Starting Point gives context to the why of church.  SummitLIFE gives tools to the how.
  • And perhaps the most important, Starting Point has beautiful up-front people whose sheer attractiveness can never be replicated by the leaders of most groups.

If you’re a pastor or even an opinionated church member, you could probably argue from the opposing perspective and it wouldn’t make me mad.  As I said, it’s a chicken and egg argument, but the preference of the two guys most responsible for connecting people at the Summit is that it’s Starting Point first, SummitLIFE / GroupLink second.

That said, if you’ve been through Starting Point and have yet to connect to a group, your next opportunity comes this Sunday morning.  GroupLink happens all morning long in the Brier Creek lobby.  

Still need to do Starting Point?  We kick off a new year on January 4th.

If you’re just tuning in, Sunday was a day for the history books at the Summit Church.  We saw 140 people get baptized among our seven services.  You can read more about that incredible event here, but the rest of this week’s posts are dedicated to the story behind the stories.

It was fun.

It was exhausting, stressful, nail-biting, heart attack-inducing, stomach acid-churning, immune system-destroying, but doggone it, it was fun.

A big baptism brings big challenges.  You have two choices: laugh about ’em or throw yourself in front of a moving train.  Unfortunately, we’re nowhere near a train track.  So I chose to laugh.

Laughing is all you can do when your three baptisteries pose three challenges.  At our Cole Mill campus, the heater went haywire to the point that when Campus Pastor Rick showed up on Sunday morning, the water temperature was a cool 115 degrees.  I think you call that a cannibaptism.

At our West Club campus, the baptistery has sat dormant for a while (we meet in an older church building).  Campus Pastor Brad needed to be updated on his tetanus shots due to the fine layer of rust in the bottom of the tub.

Brier Creek saw 123 of the 140 baptisms.  Because we provided black t-shirts and shorts for everyone, and because those shirts were new, and because black dye apparently starts to bleed after a while, the baptistery looked like something out of a horror flick titled Baptistery of Darkness.  (The guys who wrote Facing the Giants have already sought exclusive movie rights.)

Let’s see…other fun stuff…

  •  Watching pastors walk around after the PM service with towels wrapped around their waists.  Odd.
  • Getting the report that my 11 year old son was asking ladies if he could have their wet clothes when they were done so we could reuse them.  Bold.
  • Picking up bath mats out of the floors of bathrooms where dozens of people have just drip-dried.  Gross.
  • Seeing a couple of hundred people stick around after the 10:45 Brier Creek service for what would turn out to be a nearly two hour baptism service.  Energizing.

If you’re just tuning in, Sunday was a day for the history books at the Summit Church.  We saw 140 people get baptized among our seven services.  You can read more about that incredible event here, but the rest of this week’s posts are dedicated to the story behind the stories.

I work with some great people.

When attempting to pull off an event of Sunday’s magnitude, I definitely do not recommend being a control freak.  Sure, you have to have systems and processes and safeguards in place to make sure you’re being responsible, but something like this doesn’t happen as a one-man show.

I’d be a fool if I attempted to individually thank every single person who stepped up to help on Sunday, either as a counselor or a registration person or a runner or a water-logged pastor.  There was no one that was unnecessary, and no one who didn’t see a need and then do whatever it took to fill that need.

Through the daze that I call full-scale head cold mixed with busy Sunday hangover, I can remember a few stories of heroes that I want to pass along…

  • My Connections Team: Walter, Adam, Justin, Eric, and Leanne pulled off a thousand little details in the days leading up to Sunday.  The Connections Ministry is what it is due to these five, and the baptisms on Sunday were no exception.
  • Lori, the administrative assistant extraordinaire, braved life, limb, and a severe phobia of germs to gather used towels, t-shirts, and shorts after the morning service.  And I can’t remember for sure, but I’m pretty sure she skipped out of the service to come to the rescue when she sensed the bat signal going off.
  • Ainsley gave up an afternoon to accompany my wife and I to the laundromat, where we washed, dried, and folded what felt like a million towels and shorts to get ’em ready for the evening service.
  • Matt, Jennifer, and Carrie ended up spending the entire morning helping out with random stuff – replenishing copies, running sound, troubleshooting and resetting between services.
  • I won’t even try naming the dozens of counselors who performed the most important job there was…making sure that those being baptized knew what they were doing.  Although many of them were scheduled to be there, there were quite a few who sprinted to serve when they saw the overwhelming number of people respond to the message.  (Some of you, I never even knew you were there.  You just jumped in to help.)
  • Amber handed out Pepto when it was needed the most.
  • Jonathan and Austin had the very awkward job of posting themselves at the exit of the baptistery and asking for people’s wet clothes after they had changed into dry ones.  They then had the very gross job of squeezing out the water so we could “recycle” them for others.  (Although I was not “Ye of little faith” on Sunday, I did end up being “Ye of little supplies.”)
  • Spence and Courtney treated my kids to an afternoon with the Wii when it became apparent a trip to the laundromat was going to be necessary.
  • And finally, Merriem and the kids proved once again that we’re in this thing together.  They each logged about twelve hours of ministry on Sunday and did everything from emergency towel runs to handing out t-shirts to providing me with my much-needed Frappuccino.

For all of you who said, “What can I do to help?” and for all of you who didn’t ask, you just did…thank you.  You’re all a part of the story behind the stories.

If you’re just tuning in, Sunday was a day for the history books at the Summit Church.  We saw 140 people get baptized among our seven services.  You can read more about that incredible event here, but the rest of this week’s posts are dedicated to the story behind the stories.

Is this a good idea?

That’s the subtext of all of the voices in my head over the last few weeks.  When you undertake the planning of a mass baptism, the “good idea” question is going to inevitably raise its head.

I’ve been the baptism guy at the Summit for almost six years now.  In those six years, I’ve seen hundreds of people go through the baptismal waters.  In the vast majority of those cases, there has been a process.  People go through a class.  They talk to a pastor or trained counselor.  They have time to think it through.

In other words, it’s neat and tidy.  

I freely confess to you that I always have been…and in a way still am…one of the biggest critics of mass baptism.  Big baptism services scare me.  They are like a gangly, awkward teenager roaming haphazardly through the fine china section of Macy’s: eventually, something is going to go horribly wrong.

Over the past few years, our staff has brought the subject up on occasion.  And every time it’s brought up, the acid starts churning in my stomach, and the voices in my head start screaming: Are we being responsible?  Can we handle the Pandora’s box that we’re about to open?  Can we guarantee that we’re not riding some sort of drummed-up emotional wave?  In short, is this the wise thing to do?

140 baptisms are nothing to sneeze at, and they’re nothing to be taken lightly.  As a pastor, scripture is very clear that I’m going to be held to a high standard for what I teach and how I lead.  If I approach a baptism service of this nature with the same intense scrutiny as I would approach…let’s say…deciding where to eat for lunch, then the project is doomed from the beginning.  No, it takes an intentional process to do something like this and call it a success.  I define success not by the numbers, but by the authentic life change that the numbers represent.  Here are a few things that we set in place to make sure Sunday was more than making the Summit look like some sort of spiritual water park:

  1. Biblical precedence: it should go without saying, instantaneous baptisms were the rule rather than the exception in scripture.  Peter preached.  3000 were baptized.  The eunuch inquired.  He was baptized.  The jailer was saved.  He was baptized.  Understand that I’m not tossing out a process.  I believe in the process (without the process, I’d be without a job!).  But I also know that, while neither J.D. nor myself is Peter, we are filled with the same Spirit that moved in Acts. 
  2. Careful exposition: you can listen to the entire sermon for yourself on our sermon downloads page (it’ll be posted soon), but suffice it to say that J.D. left no room for error on what baptism is and is not.  It is not your salvation; it is a picture of your salvation.  We weren’t calling people to find Jesus by getting dunked, but to get dunked because Jesus has found them, called them, and redeemed them.
  3. Thorough counseling: read very carefully…no one was baptized on Sunday that wasn’t first required to speak to a counselor.  We asked questions, made sure they understood the gospel, made sure they understood #2 above.  And yes, there was at least one person that we asked to put the decision on hold.  The bottom line of all of our counselors’ training: any red flag should be thoroughly explored and rectified before moving ahead.
  4. No kids: we intentionally did not design this experience for minors.  At the Summit we offer a First Steps class for kids who are asking questions about the gospel and baptism, but we didn’t do so on Sunday.  Yes, there were two or three kids who were baptized, but these were only allowed because we had an age-appropriate ministry staff member who happened to be available to talk to them.  Do we ever baptize kids?  Yes…but only after we’re absolutely sure they know their stuff.
  5. Insane follow up: there is nothing more irresponsible than us baptizing 140 people and saying, “Go forth, drip dry, and good luck with that life change thing.”  Every single one of the people baptized on Sunday who have not attended our Starting Point process will be asked to do so.  This is where we talk about spiritual growth, involvement in small groups and ministry teams, and how to commit to a spiritual body of believers.  You can believe that I’m going to be like those little yapping dogs that you often find in a retiree’s RV park: loud, annoying, and intensely deliberate.  I won’t rest until all of ’em contextualize their commitment to Jesus alongside commitment to His church.

What are your thoughts on this?  I’d love to see comments from our counselors on Sunday.  

Tomorrow, we continue with the story behind the stories.


That’s really the only word that can describe this past Sunday at the Summit.  Not “awesome” as in the 80’s valley girl / surfer dude usage of the word, but “awesome” as only God can generate.

In case you’re behind the curve, let me help you catch up: for the past two Sundays, Pastor J.D. has been talking about baptism.  What it is.  What it’s not.  And why no believer is an exception to God’s command.  Baptism is for the believer, period.  And if you’re a believer and haven’t been baptized, something is missing from your spiritual walk.

Yesterday, J.D. lovingly but systematically blew every potential objection out of the water (pun intended).  At all of our campuses in all of our services, he ended his message with a simple challenge…

Stand up, take a step, and express your faith in Christ through an act of obedience.

And at all of our campuses in all of our services, 140 people did just that.

Stop.  Go back and read that again. 

140 people were baptized.

Even after personally witnessing a majority of those baptisms, I still have a hard time wrapping my head around that number.  What’s more, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the stories that the number represents…

Lindsey is a Duke sophomore who’s been at the Summit for a year and a half.  Earlier this year on Easter Sunday, she realized that her church experience wasn’t enough…she needed Jesus.

Ridge started coming to the Summit three years ago at the persistent invitations of a Summit member.  Yesterday after his own baptism, he helped baptize his nine year old son Andrew.

Pauline is one of our incredible office volunteers.  She’s retired and rides a Harley.  She was sprinkled after being saved at eight years old, but decided yesterday that Jesus was calling her to baptism by immersion.

Abby grew up in a home where both of her parents love Jesus, but her faith is just beginning to become real to her.  She was baptized as a public declaration of her faith – and so was her sister Valerie, who just happened to be in town visiting from Indiana.

Mark and Amy have been at the Summit since January.  As husband and wife, they made the decision to take the step together.

Eddie showed up at the Summit for the first time Sunday.  So did Jennifer and Heather.  All of them heard the gospel.  They understood the calling.  And they crossed the line of faith and were baptized.

The stories could go on and on.  We had grandpas and college freshmen and great big guys and little petite girls and husbands and wives and brothers and sisters and students from Duke, Carolina, and State…all in the same water.

This morning, you can bet that our staff will be taking time to thank God for what he did.  I’d encourage you to do the same. 

And by the way…if you’re reading this and you’re still white-knuckled from the death grip you had on the chair in yesterday’s service, it’s not too late.  E-mail me and I’ll get you on the list for the next baptism.  This stuff is too much fun for you to miss out.

Tune in the rest of this week for a series of posts titled, “The Story Behind the Stories.”  If you want to get to know some of the behind-the-scenes heroes who helped pull this off or you’re incredibly skeptical about an event like this, these posts are gonna scratch where you itch.

Next weekend we’re doing one of the coolest things we do all year here at the Summit.  It’s our annual Falls Lake baptism service, where we regularly see dozens of people paint a living picture of their relationship with Jesus.

You can get more information on the event here, and if you’re ready to talk about baptism, e-mail me at no later than Wednesday, September 17th.

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