Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shawna's Tulsa Chapter 1

I loved this email from our daughter Shawna so much, I had to repost it here in case some of you aren't on her email list. I love her writing style and the way I identify new feelings when I read it. She is an amazing young lady who I had the privilege to raise, and am amazed at how she seems okay with that. So here you go...

Tulsa, chapter 1
Hello, fantastic human beings. It is with the happiest sigh and fist-supporting-cheek that I bring you the first of several letters, from a Midwestern town far far away from home.

Tulsa is a city of many opportunities, and I intend to greet them each.  There are so many places for an artsy-fartsy wildebeest like me to find a watering hole. The Blue Dome District, for example, is a little area around 2nd street where handmade shops and dirty music venues aplenty give me great delight. History lessons have taught me that in the 1920s, the Blue Dome District was originally just a grimy gas station where weary travelers from route 66 would stop at all hours of the night and wake the attendant who lived in the upstairs dome-shaped part of the building, to get some service and travel on. Today, it’s about as charming.

Our life here is a pleasant one. Living with my two very best friends- my husband and my brother- has proved comical and vexatious, encouraging and ball-busting. And I am learning all sorts of things about my friends. I have noticed that Evan makes his bed every day.  Jake, also and as always, is a wonderful person to live with. He has made good friends with an elderly gentleman that lives next door. Norville and his wife, Leeann, are just the sort of neighbors we had hoped for, as they are sweet and eccentric indeed. All around the clock, Norville watches our coming and going from his window, and assures us that he’s keeping an eye out for each of us. He has often reported to us how many times we’d left and came home in a given day, just so we’re aware. On the other side of us is a young single mother, Tiffany, and her little boy, who are equally fine neighbors.

I have begun employment at Pier 1, and it has surprised me with its rewards. Kristen is my sales leader, and the sweetest human I’ve ever encountered. Her warm smile and little pregnant belly match her kind words and gentle personality. She is to be wed to a military man, when he comes home from the war in March. Their baby is due in July. There are other coworker friends, too. Jennifer has worked there for three years, and has recently finished her degree. Jared opts to skateboard to work, rather than walk or drive, and lives with some friends in a soon-to-be art gallery/music venue. Margie is my oldest coworker, in her forties, and is married to a geologist. His work has caused them to live in ten different states, and three different countries, including Indonesia, where they lived for six years. When she talks about the adventure of living in so many different places, one can see all of her teeth. I am proud to know such people.

As for our team that is working on the new church, they are terrific. I thank our good God for them daily. It is also a blessing to me that so many of them are children. Last week I got to hang out with five-year-old Annie Trout, and we played Star Wars for hours. Because of our lack of light sabers, we each clutched a bunny slipper in our right hand, and fought like fierce Jedis. The force was strong with her. Earlier this week I spent time with six-year-old Colin Fitch, who told me with all hope and intent that he wants to be a great donut-maker when he grows up. As he described in great detail the kinds of sprinkles he would adorn them with, I knew without a doubt that if anyone can be a great donut-maker, it’s Colin Fitch.

And for now, I’ll leave you with this. I don’t have much money, and my life is not so fancy. I don’t know a lot, as far as smarts generally go. My two ears are very different from one another, in size and location, which causes my sunglasses to tilt noticeably. Sometimes I snore a little. But I am married to a kind, respectable man. I have a generous and caring family. My life is adventurous and decently sensible, and filled with beauty. I’m happy.
I hope you are happy, you fantastic human beings.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

doing the groundwork for a great outreach

So I spent all this week in the Dominican Republic preparing for a huge crusade in Padre Las Casas this Fall.

I need two huge things to happen here:

1. I want to make many thousands of disciples of Christ in the DR!
2. I want to learn more about asking God for a nation, planting clusters of churches, and doing events that truly make a difference for eternity.

We spent the week looking for a hotel that could handle a large group (found one in San Juan!), a way to feed crowds of people (found it!) a place to hold a crusade of thousands of people (ballpark in Padre Las Casas) and public transportation options to get people there (started the process).

Could you please pray with me that God will protect the ideas He gave us, and make this thing matter for the eternal souls that it will affect? I am very serious about seeking ways to make a difference and ask God for a nation. My faith may be small, but it got to start somewhere and this seems very clearly where God called me so far.

But that isn't all for this year: 1. In April a team will accompany Johannes Amritzer's team to Nepal to reach thousands there. We are asking God to be able to help Johaness with more than $10,000 toward this incredible outreach, and to see many souls reached and discipled there.

2. This summer our youth will do a missions trip- hopefully to the DR as well to prepare for future events.

3. The Dominican Republic trip will happen in October (exact dates to be announced) and we want YOU to come with us and help! You will learn to cast out devils, heal the sick, and watch the Kingdom grow in Book-of-Acts proportions! This will be the trip of a lifetime I think!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

and what a weekend it was

Over the past week, I prayed with about 7 people to salvation in Jesus. I am a happy Pastor.

Wait. I just read Harold Eberly's book where he blasts church leaders for trying so hard NOT to use Biblical titles because they don't have the guts to call themselves what they are. But though I am certain that I am called/gifted to be an apostle, it does seem odd, even to me. My sensibilities have definitely been trained by my culture. I even wavered writing this.

But don't mess me up now with trivial things like a job description- I am celebrating!

The Freedom Valley Red Lion site had a HUGE record attendance this weekend (largest attendance in years to be in a weekend service there-97!). Red Lion also experienced salvations, a huge offering, and lots of excitement about the presence of God being experienced in the building! Very exciting stuff, according to Pastor Rob Costello.

At the same time, the Hanover site experienced a huge blessing that will really add excelleration to the work there- a huge financial blessing of $19,000. This will make it so much quicker and more effective for that site to move forward in confidence and momentum. Jeff and Leah Dietrich, along with Daniel and Deanna Scotten, are being confirmed by God week after week with great stuff happening. They recently took a gutsy step to move locations- from the permanent building to a temporary one so that more money could go into effective ministry instead of into rent. Fruit is coming, in so many ways, like the youth ministry's attendance doubling! Good stuff.

Our new youth group at York Road- The Edge, is experiencing something out of the ordinary as well with a powerful team of almost entirely volunteer leaders who work incredibly hard to reach kids for Christ. They are now ministering to more than 140 kids per week, and the main leaders of this thing are still in high school themselves. This is not your ordinary youth group.

And while we are on The Edge, I gotta say this; I have never seen a team of people who have done a better job of choosing to keep their egos in check and bless young people to become leaders themselves, take all the credit, and soar! This team is awesome; Luke, Jordan, Charity, Alisa, Jason, Tiffany, so many more. These guys are amazing.

Growth groups are off to a huge start, and already recruting for the next cycle is in full swing and going well.

God is very, very good to me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

the sending process

Every time we send out a team of church planters and supporters, we go through a celebration process, and then a painful adjustment period. It's maybe something like the celebration when a much wanted pregnancy is announced (yea-a-a!), and then the less pleasant birthing experience happens. There are periods of happiness, and periods of hoping for better times ahead.

I'd say we are in the adjustment time right now. Heroes willing to serve kids are in short supply, as we sent a lot of faithful and excellent people to Tulsa. Finances have been surprisingly good, but we ave not yet seen the increase and multiplication that we have boldly been asking God for. And attendance hasn't soared yet quite to where we hope and believe that it will.

So this is crunch time. There is always a season where a vision is tested and it feels like "maybe it not going to work this time."

It's testing time.

But here is what I believe and ask God for: I am asking God for 10 good replacements for every person that we sent to Tulsa. That will be 320 new people added to Freedom Valley sites who sowed into that church plant! I believe they are coming and that we will see many this weekend!

I am also believing God for a major swelling of our finances where we are sowing seed. We have sowed several thousand a week into Tulsa alone. I am asking God for a return of not less than $20,000 a week in our tithes, and additional $10,000 a week into our Hope Initiative building fund.

So this is my notice, Devil, and my statement of request to God: Let there be huge increase so that we can sow and send, and give like never before. There is much to be done, and we are going to do it.

This will be a year unlike any other, and increase will happen all over the place as we Chase the Wild Goose. At least four new plants or sites will open this September after a season of hard work and adjustment. These four are all now being sown into, and we are expecting an unbelievable harvest. This is the period of time others will not see so much, the 'overnight' that they refer to when they say "it grew overnight".

I believe the Wild Goose knows where the harvest is, and is leading us there, right to it!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

watching a new site emerge

I feel like I'm in a birthing room.

I'm sitting in the Freedom Valley York Road sanctuary around people that have been Freedom Valley York Road people. There's about 80 people in the room I guess.

But they won't be long. York Road people that is. This is one of the kick off meetings for a new Freedom Valley site, called The Intersection; "where faith and creativity meet". In this meeting Jeremiah is challenging the group to walk by faith into the creation of a new site of Freedom Valley.

In about 6 weeks, this groups will kick off monthly meetings. In about 7 months, they plan to kick off services every Sunday.

You can feel the energy in the room as people step out in scary new faith. There are a lot of possibilities felt. And energy. Everything feels possible, in fact. Faith is running high like the energy after a huge caffeine jolt, where you feel ready to take on something big, and you feel invincible.

We've been involved in the starting of a lot of new sites, churches, re-plants, and ministries. A lot. But this will be different- we hope. This time we will build on the many mistakes, the many false starts, and the many issues that we have had to learn to conquer over the past decade or more.

I think the worst word ever spoken in the house of God is "lay". Lay people, lay ministers, lay whatever. There are no lay people in The Kingdom. We are all ministers. It's tough to describe the difference between ministers and non-ministers because there isn't any. At least not in calling. We are a "Kingdom of priests", where the only differences are where you minister or IF you minister. Not whether you are called.

A new site/plant causes more people to step up and feel needed. More people to use their gifts and develop themselves. More people to ask themselves if they too could step up to greatness in God. More people to begin believing Kingdom truths and living by them. I love that energy and vitality.

And I am sitting in God's birthing room as He does it again.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

1422, 117%, and 234

Lots of things are changing at Freedom Valley York Road. I am learning and growing all over the place. recently God gave me a voracious appetite for reading and I have been chewing up books like a crazy man. Good stuff.

On my learning journey over the past months, came the leading from the Holy Spirit that Freedom Valley's growth is being hindered by our structure as well as our space (most services are over 70% full.

So we have been working on some stuff- among which is a need to grow in our small group structure. After some research, we found only one system that has the history and potential to get huge results as measured by percentage of church attendees that sign up for it. Nelson Searcy's system.

Nelson claimed that he could help us get more than 100% of average weekend attendance in small groups. That is a tall order, especially based on the fact that the church that sports the highest numbers that I know of in this area, has only about 50% of it's weekend attendance involved in small groups.

So we took on Nelson Searcy's system and copied it lock, stock, and barrel (not sure what that means but my Dad used to say it and it sounds cool).

The result? 1422 people are signed up to be involved in Growth Groups! Our average attendance is about 1200 here at York Road, so that brings us to 117% of weekend attendance in Growth Groups! 234 people signed up who had never signed up for anything before!

I believe this creates a whole new era for us as a church. More and better disciples, more leaders, and more spiritual development. Exciting stuff!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Three Springs, South Hanover, and Tulsa

Ever hear of Living Waters Christian Outreach in Three Springs Pennsylvania?

Probably not. That would be because it did not exist until last Sunday, even it opened it's doors for the first time! This church opened with 129 people in attendance, in a town that has a population of 420! 10 people got saved and/or rededicated to Christ!!

This church is meeting in a building that has housed Three Springs Assembly of God for the past 100? years. In recent decades, attendance rarely reached 40. These gutsy people gathered with me in early November, mapped out a plan to close and re-open under new leadership, new vision, remodeling, and a whole new effectiveness. The South Central Section under Jeff Kettering, provided many thousands of dollars to make it possible.

Also in Site news; The South Hanover site experienced a growth high while opening their new location at the South Hanover YMCA! Jeff and Leah Deitrich are doing a superb job of leading this newly aggressive site!

Jeremiah and Cori Herbert are set to open up a site somewhere here in the area this Spring. And Jason ans Sara Fitch will open in Tulsa (many of the 32 movers will have moved by this weekend)this Fall! And more churches are coming!

Yesterday I heard of another church grand-baby on the way; the church that opened early this year called The River Church of Juniata County, announced that within the next 9 months or so it plans to give birth to its first daughter church! This will bring us to TWO grand-baby churches this year! (Brian Bolt is also opening the Braddock site).

So I am a happy, happy man today. Jesus is building His church like He promised that He would, and I get to have a little role in it!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

emotional adjustments

I have enjoyed the process of dreaming and developing new churches. It is what I live for, and was put on this planet for.

But this morning, about 6 am, we returned from helping Shawna, Jake, and Evan move to Tulsa for the Freedom Valley Tulsa plant there.

I could not be happier. Jason Fitch and his team have an amazing plan. They have researched and read tirelessly, and built a plan like I have never seen. I believe they are on their way to founding an amazing and world changing church there.

Nor could I be sadder. This represents a huge change for Freedom Valley and for me, and I am wildly nostalgic even while being very proud and happy. As we left Tulsa yesterday for the long drive home, I couldn't even speak. Nor am I sure if I can speak now.

I raised my children (spiritual and physical) hoping and praying that they would far exceed me in every way. They are. I am very proud of them and happy. But I also have some huge adjusting to do, and find myself pathetically in need of prayer more than ever.