Over the past year we have been trying to see new church plants started in Middle Tennessee. Trying to pioneer in an area FULL of churched people has been…well…fun! People’s idea of faith and church have been a major challenge. We have had some mild success in reaching new believers this past year. We’ve baptized a few and seen our Father do amazing things among them. But trying to establish new bodies of believers has been difficult.
One example is with giving. We have tried to get church members to “bear one-another’s burden’s”, give toward meals, give to their communities around them. In the end, none of it stuck. In fact, it seemed the more we tried to implement the faster things fell apart. It was frustrating and I personally struggled with failure.
So what’s with the title? Well, over a 1-month period while I was praying and meditating on this challenge, I had 3 different people randomly tell me the story of how Thomas Edison tried (200 or 2,000 depending on the story) different filaments when creating the lightbulb. Someone interviewed him and asked how he felt failing so often. He responded, “I didn’t fail, I learned 2,000 ways how not to do it.” I got the point and was encouraged.
Then, in March of this year our Father spoke something to me that has been a pleasant turn from the past failures. “Just create a community of believers who care enough for each other that they continue meeting if you are missing.” So, I abandoned all methods from “Church Planting Movements”, broke all the rules, and decided to just start inviting every young 20-something guy I had been mentoring to my house once a week. It was slow at first with only 1 or 2 of them able to make it. Then, it picked up a bit just before summer hit. Several college students went home for the summer. But, the ones who were local kept coming. They started hanging out outside of our meetings. They started talking about moving in together and doing life together. Something was happening my methods couldn’t create.
One night, for one of our church gatherings we had been going around the room talking about what is going on in our lives. People were confessing sins and struggles, asking for accountability and prayer, sharing stories of overcoming and really just opening up. One young man (we’ll call him Jason) shared about some struggles in his past that had brought about a large fine that needed to be paid soon or more trouble could come. We had been made aware of the fine in prior weeks but not the details or amounts. Earlier in the day I was asking the Father about our evening and He had impressed on me to teach them about prayer by recognizing Jesus was actually in the room. After sharing our burdens we began to pray, thank Jesus for joining us and for being a part of our conversation. We asked him to help us take care of the needs and worries presented that evening. Then, I asked the group to begin asking Jesus what He wanted to say to those in the circle or to them personally. We sat in silence waiting. A word of encouragement for one of the guys comes out. Then, another guy shared what Jesus had just told him about his situation. It was amazing but what happened next blew my mind.
One of the guys in the circle said, “Um, Jason, what is the total amount of your fine?” Jason responded “$4,000.00”. The young man said, “Well, Jesus just asked me to take care of it. I don’t have $4,000.00 but I do have $1,000. Let me get my checkbook.” Immediately the presence of the Holy Spirit was THICK! Both Jason and I started crying as we heard Jesus say, “YES!” It was beautiful! Within minutes others started to join in on the giving. I could see Jesus just sitting there laughing full of joy.
The lesson I received from it all was simple. Methods can be great! Focusing on exact models of church planting may work in some cases. But rarely will the same model work in every context. Regardless of the context, planting churches methodically (doing any ministry methodically) without love is completely useless. You may see results, you may build a following, but nothing can build the kingdom like connecting people to the Father’s heart. This group is flourishing and more stories are in the making. We are starting to live life together and the way Jesus is invading our lives in wonderful!