Super Heroes


(photo credit: Chris Haston / NBCU Photo Bank)

(photo credit: Chris Haston / NBCU Photo Bank)

True story: I was just a little bit old for the Saved By The Bell. I was 16 when it premiered in ’89, and besides, it didn’t really take off until Mr. Belding hired his brother Rod as a substitute history teacher and the kids had to convince him that – even for all the charm and charisma of Rod – their principal was the better Belding.

But I digress.

If you watched SBTB much (unlike me, who again was way too old for it), one of the common themes was that those six kids did everything. Can we agree on that? Zack, Slater, Screech, Kelly, Jessie, and Lisa had a larger on-campus presence than a Zack Morris cell phone. Band? They were all a part of it. Sports teams? On ’em. Debate team? Swim team? Student council? Check. Check. Check.

It seemed that everywhere you looked you had six kids as the primary do-gooders, surrounded by a chorus of extras who may or may not have been engaged. It’s enough to turn a teen to caffeine pills to keep up, which may finally explain why Jessie was SO EXCITED! SO EXCITED! SO…so…scared. (Arguably the best dramatic moment in television history. Yes it is. Shut up.)

Watching those wacky Bayside kids get involved in everything can kind of remind you of your core team of church volunteers. Maybe they serve on the parking team, moonlight in the first grade classroom, step up to help with the offering, tutor kids after school, and show up to help stuff envelopes for the quarterly mailing. And it’s volunteers like that that we’re grateful for. We thank God for. The activity of the church is built on their backs, and we couldn’t do it without them.

But is it healthy? Is it sustainable? Is it a workable model for either your dependable volunteers or your dependent church? I’m afraid that we’re all too eager to cultivate a Bayside atmosphere with our volunteer team. They’re up front, they’re willing, they’re doers, let’s just let ’em do more.

And all the while they’re strung out on caffeine pills. And all the while there are others in the background who should serve, can serve, and maybe even are willing to serve, but for whatever reason, they don’t serve.

I’m not knocking faithful volunteers. Again, I thank God for them. But are we being faithful to their faithfulness? Do we better serve our servants by helping them target their service? And do we better serve our congregation by encouraging those on the sidelines to step up?

Figure this out…help your congregation see the beauty in involvement and shared responsibility…and you too can be the better Belding.

Go Tigers.

Advertisements

change-the-world

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.

cropped-lemonadelongerheader1

(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.

2Musketeers

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 courtesy @AaronJCoalson)

(photo courtesy @AaronJCoalson)

We’re coming off of another incredible Easter weekend at the Summit. 18 services at seven locations, plus two worship events on Good Friday. 169 people who symbolized their faith in Jesus through the act of baptism. Nearly 10,500 people in attendance. Hundreds upon hundreds of faithful volunteers, many serving multiple services over several days. And oh…did I mention that two campuses combined for a first-ever service at Carolina Theatre downtown?

I don’t take any of those things lightly. Lives changed through the gospel is nothing to sneeze at. Our volunteers are my absolute heroes, and there are not many words to express my gratitude to them. Hundreds of first time guests were exposed to the resurrection message of Jesus. God did more than we could have asked or imagined, and we are grateful to him for that.

But there is one aspect of Easter weekend that cannot be missed. It has nothing to do with baptisms or first time guests or volunteers, and yet it has everything to do with that.

Like most churches with multiple services, we made a big push for our regular attendees to attend at a service they normally wouldn’t, to free up seats for those who may be showing up for the first time. At our Brier Creek campus, we asked for people to consider coming on Saturday (same experience, more elbow room) in order to create room on Sunday (a more traditional time for a first time guest to surface).

And boy, did they ever.

We saw 1110 people show up and scoot in for the 4:00 Saturday service. Our previous “high” for that service is 740. Folks, that’s a 50% increase, even by common core math standards. We packed the auditorium, packed the lobby (pictured above), and tossed 100 more into a secondary venue that wasn’t supposed to be used until the following day.

And because of everyone that showed up at a time normally inconvenient to them, we created space that lasted us the rest of the weekend. What we thought would be crowded, wasn’t. Where we didn’t believe we’d have room, we did. The “80% full is full” rule didn’t apply. Not a single guest was turned away, not a single guest was put off by the sardine-like conditions, and I credit that largely to the faithfulness of our regular crowd.

Here’s what we’ve learned over the last several years: mission trumps need, every single time. Many times churches appeal to need: “We need you to come at a time you hate so that we don’t have to turn people away!” “We need you to serve in the nursery or we’ll have to toss babies on the sidewalk!” “We need you to volunteer or this place will go down like the Titanic!”

And while need always has it’s place, it’s not sustainable. People get tired of responding to need after a while, and so…they don’t.

Instead, we prefer to appeal to mission. We asked people to temporarily move to Saturday because it was a missional opportunity to make room for guests. It was a way they could practically, easily serve. Was it a need? Sure it was. But more than that, it was a part of the mission. We say all the time that people are the missionand for that reason, making room for new people was a critical step in the mission.

How about it, church leader? Are you banging the drum of need? Or are you faithfully casting vision for the mission?

 

(photo courtesy WRAL. Click for more.)

(click for photo credit)

Our Summit family lost a warrior this weekend.

Noah Spivey was a seventeen year old who had seen more than his fair share of suffering. For the last four years he’s battled Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare bone cancer that took him in and out of hospitals and clinics around the country as doctors struggled to find a cure, a treatment, anything that would bring healing or at least minimize his symptoms.

I met Noah for the first time a few days after his initial diagnosis four years ago. Yesterday, I told his mom Christine that I remember walking into Duke Hospital, trying to come up with something to say that would encourage him. One chat with Noah assured me that I never needed to worry about that again. That’s because whenever you talked to Noah, you were rarely the one doing the encouraging. You walked away challenged, you walked away humbled, you walked away grateful for how God was working in a young man’s life, even as his life was slipping away.

Noah wore his cancer as a badge. It wasn’t a badge of pity, but rather one of opportunity: he realized that with the cancer came the chance to put his faith on display.

And display it he did.

Noah never lost his love for Jesus. I never heard him question God’s faithfulness even in the midst of excruciating suffering. On the contrary: he said over and over that “What Satan meant to kill me, God is using to give me life.” Those weren’t just clever soundbites for a video, it’s what we all saw Noah live every day.

Even as cancer ravaged him, Jesus was restoring him.

We don’t know why Noah’s story turned out as it did. Our pastor reminded us this weekend that we may never find the silver lining in our suffering. And yes, as a church we prayed for an outcome that would be much, much different.

But the truth is, Noah was healed. Because as we worshipped through tears this weekend, Noah’s faith became sight. His journey with pain was over, but what he believed in his heart is now being seen with his eyes.

As you pray this week, would you pray for Noah’s family? John, Christine, Lisa, Brooke, and Timmy are just beginning life without Noah. Pray that they would live with the same gospel-driven strength they’ve shown throughout Noah’s illness. Pray also for Jason Gaston, our Family Ministries Pastor. I’ve watched my friend Gaston walk faithfully with the Spivey family, and was humbled to see him lead our church so well through a time of grieving reflection this weekend. No student pastor should ever have to bury a student, but he has shown us what it means to trust in Jesus even while dealing with his own pain.

Noah Spivey wasn’t just a special kid. He was a young man who led our church on a journey of faith. He preached the gospel to us constantly for the last four years. He reminded us that joy is not found in perfect health, but in Jesus. His faith led us to greater faith, and our church family is stronger because of what God did through him.

May we all live lives marked with such courage and faithfulness.

Raleigh Boy Scout battling cancer receives high honor (via @WRAL) If you’re not a part of the Summit, you may not have had the opportunity to get to know the incredible Noah Spivey. Noah’s fierce faith in Jesus has been inspiring all of us from the early days of his cancer fight. Watch the video to see why.

13409968-1392853539-640x360

“I wouldn’t say I’m the best Scout, but I try to be,” Spivey said. “My journey’s been rough. I got a lot of crap on my plate, but that doesn’t stop me. The Lord is greater than all the crap on my plate,” he said.

32 photos that will make you fall in love with Durham (via @movoto) I do love my adopted hometown.

Screen Shot 2014-02-19 at 8.41.30 PM

(click for photo credit)

Netflix introduces new “Browse Endlessly” plan(HT @LaughingSquid) It’s funny ’cause it’s true.

1619161_10151856349261604_188963311_n

In December I shared the story of Ryan, Morgan, and Charlie: two dear friends and their little boy who is stuck on the other side of the world.

Today, Ryan will land back in RDU after being in central Africa for 65 days. In that time he has followed every lead, checked out every contact, and met every conceivable person of power who would sign the paperwork so that Charlie – his legally adopted son – could leave the country and come home.

It didn’t happen that way.

Oh, it could have happened. Ryan could have shelled out some money and signed a few papers and corrupted officials would have looked the other way while he put Charlie on the plane. But my friend has too much integrity to let such a story cloud Charlie’s story. And so he returns to Durham today, alone yet not alone, and yet without his son.

It’s not supposed to be this way.

I don’t understand it. I can’t wrap my mind around it. There was supposed to be an 11th hour miracle, a story that we could celebrate, a prayer that was answered, a door that finally opened. Today was supposed to be the day that we all met Charlie, that Raleigh-Durham Airport was overrun by well-wishers, and the day that Charlie would meet his big brother and sister and sleep in his new bed in his new house in his new city.

I don’t know why this has happened. I don’t know why Ryan and Morgan have to wait even longer and spend more money and take more trips and beg more politicians to release their son. I don’t know why adoption has to be such a struggle…a spiritual warfare battle of epic proportions where evil is tangibly felt and good seems to be in short supply.

I don’t know any of these things, but I do know this: the story has not ended. The period has not been added. The chapter has not been closed. The outcome is still unknown. Yes, there may be more agony before there is relief. But what Ryan and Morgan know is that Charlie’s story is still being written. And they know that because they trust in a sovereign God who may not show his hand, but he most certainly extends his heart.

Is it easy? No. Will that knowledge help them sleep better tonight? Probably not. But as I watch their faith rise through pain and their grace displayed through tears, I know that they’re not just seeking their son, they’re seeking their Daddy. And he loves them even more than they love Charlie. His plan reaches farther, spreads wider, and delves deeper than they may ever know this side of heaven. That may sound like so many platitudes, like Ryan and Morgan are simply stepping out in faith. But I ask you: what else do they have? What else do we have? Had all of this gone textbook-perfect and we were cheering Charlie’s homecoming today, it would still have been a journey of faith. To accept the joy but reject the sorrow is not faith. To understand the mind of God is like a sponge absorbing the Pacific: it can’t be done.

So readers…believers…I’m asking you to petition God on behalf of Charlie and trust God on behalf of Ryan and Morgan. They need us to stand with them now as much as we ever have. Charlie’s heavenly Father remains by his side even though his earthly father is an ocean away. And that heavenly Father can do more than we can ask or imagine, and he will accomplish and complete Charlie’s story in a way we can’t fathom.

This weekend our pastor very wisely walked us through a time of prayer for the Dohertys, helping create a framework for how to trust God when our prayers don’t get answered the way we think they should. I would encourage you to take eight minutes and watch that video.

Ryan shared the following passage from John 14 on his Facebook post before boarding the plane in Africa. I think it’s timely not only for Charlie and Ryan, but for the rest of us as well:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going….I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you…Because I live, you also will live…Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid… the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father.”

Next Page »