Monday, December 29, 2008

The 2008 Christmas Vacation Saga

We're in California now staying at Andrea's parent home. They are always so gracious to let us stay here when we visit - we are so thankful. But boy, what a trip down.

If you haven't been following our Facebook updates and Twitters, our van broke down in a snow storm in Idaho just about 300 miles out of Helena on Christmas Day.

A little better conditions than the snow storm our van stalled in

We were sitting in a snow bank with not a car in sight and we didn't know if we would get it re-started. I was a little nervous about that, but after about 30 minutes we got the van started and we limped to the town of Dubois, Idaho with about half power from our engine and the engine light on.

When we finally got to Pocatello, Idaho, we figured it would be wise to stay the night and have the van checked the next day. We got a discount at the hotel because of our sad story :-)

Us, stuck in motel in Pocatello on Christmas Day

Only place open on Christmas + lots of people = 3 hours at Denny's

After a few hours at the Dodge dealer on Friday, we found out that the parts we needed for the van wouldn't be there until the following Tuesday. After much calling to friends in Helena for mechanical advice, we weighed our options and then decided it would cost the same renting a car and continuing to California rather than staying in a motel in Pocatello all vacation. :-)

The car next to ours at the Dodge dealership - Pocatello got a lot of snow

We got a late start on Friday, and drove through the night to Fontana, California arriving about 7:00am. Whew! Andrea and I were tired.

Approaching Las Vegas about 3am - 34 degrees

Anyway, we're here in California now. Saturday, we took it easy and went to Vince's Spaghetti - hands down, the best spaghetti in the world.

We saw Andrea's grandmother in an Poway (San Diego) hospital yesterday. She is looking good, but has a logn road to recovery of she's ever going to get out of the hospital again.

Us and Andrea's grandpa visiting Grandma

Also, we visited the famed Killer Pizza from Mars restaurant in Escondido before we headed back up to Rancho Cucamonga. By the way, the Chargers killed the Broncos!

Fun photos from "Killer Pizza"

Today, we're gonna see several friends at Chili's and El Torrito. We're really looking forward to seeing them.

Tomorrow, we're going see my Mom. She has some major blockage in arteries through her neck and had two strokes in last two months. She lost sight in left eye first time - then during a medical procedure to determine the extent of the blockage, she had another stroke loosing some usage of her left hand.

We've gotta be back in Pocatello on Friday to turn in our rental and we're praying our van will be fixed. Funny thing - wasn't even a mechanical problem with the van - just the "computer." But it still cost us more than $1K with the rental and all.

Our rental - the "mini" version of our Dodge Grand Caravan

After all, we're still actually in a good mood. It was just a little set-back. We know that somehow through all of this, God has a plan. Can't see it yet, but we know things could have been worse. It's been a blessing to see family and friends and we definitely feel a bit refreshed.

This will be a Christmas to remember for years to come. And looking forward to 2009, we know it will be equally challenging and rewarding as we move forward to plant Encounter Church in Helena.

We could use all your prayers and thoughts - and we're looking to connect with many of you who don't yet know what Encounter is all about. Feel free to contact us and we'll get together to talk about it.

Have a blessed Christmas and hopeful New Year!

We'll be adding all of the photos of our trip here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Being Attentive to God's Moving

In addition to ARC, I mentioned in a previous post about another established "network" of churches in Montana that has been seeking to partner with us in planting a high-impact church like the one we've outlined in our Launch Prospectus.

We had a follow-up meeting in Butte with a few other leaders in this network. During a deeper conversation, we discussed the expectations on both sides, and explored how such a partnership might work. We see it as a great benefit to partner with a network that knows and understands Montana culture, but also had a large infrastructure throughout the country to support us and our vision with resources and funds.

I have to tell you that Andrea and I are really excited about this opportunity, but It is a difficult decision that we must consider carefully. Can we join this Montana network, and also partner with ARC? It may be possible to draw from our ARC partnership financially and from the other resources and the relationships we've already formed with other ARC church planters.

We can't ignore how God has set upon our hearts to plant a missional, outward-focused, and relevant church community in Helena — while at the same time, He's led this network of churches to plant the same kind of churches in Montana's biggest cities. And then He's allowed our paths to cross. We must always be attentive to God's moving in our lives and circumstances. This is why we've pursued this opportunity in addition to the other partnerships that have emerged.

We ask that you pray for our wisdom in this decision of partnership. We want to be able to clearly hear and heed God's guidance as we consider which network partnerships will allow Encounter to effectively seek out God's vision for us.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What Does It Mean to be Missional?

I've mentioned a few times that part of the core DNA of Encounter is being missional. But sometimes there is some confusion about what "missional" means. To be missional is much more than just to evangelize.

I came across the following in Dan Kimball's book, They Like Jesus But Not The Church. As I think of being missional as a church community, I feel these characteristics best describe our desire and approach to impact Helena.
  • Being missional means that the church sees itself as being missionaries, rather than having a missions department, and that we see ourselves as missionaries right where we live.
  • Being missional means that we see ourselves as representatives of Jesus "sent" into our community, and that the church aligns everything it does with the mission of God.
  • Being missional means we see the church not as a place we go only on Sunday, but as something we are throughout the week.
  • Being missional means that we understand we don't "bring Jesus" to people but that we realize that Jesus is active in culture and we join Him in what He is doing.
  • Being missional means that we are very much in the world and engaged in culture but are not conforming to the world.
  • Being missional means we serve our community, and that we build relationships with the people in them, rather than seeing them as evangelistic targets.
  • Being missional means being all the more dependent on Jesus and the Spirit through prayer, the Scriptures, and each other in community.
I'd love to hear which of these resonate with you and why. Please "comments" below this post.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What's The Link? Looking at Hannaford Sponsorship and ARC

We still have a few more considerations before we can move forward with ARC. First, ARC requires us to secure a "sponsor" church to come alongside us. We've asked Hannaford to be our "sponsor" church through ARC. In this case, a sponsor church is expected to believe in our vision enough to vouch for us both spiritually AND financially.

The sponsor church must really be sensitive to where God is moving and trust that He will complete what He begins. Although ARC will match all the funds we raise dollar-for-dollar (up to $30,000), if the church plant fails,the "sponsor" church will commit to repay the funds that have been provided through ARC. Even if the church plant is successful, these fund must be reimbursed from the new ministry.

With that said, we submitted a proposal to Hannaford in September - and then I had an opportunity in early November to meet once with the elders to explain our passion and how Hannaford can be a part of reaching this un-reached group. Their response was cautious, but we are still waiting to hear more.

Hananford is a great church home for many, but like many churches in Helena it has been largely ineffective at reaching the unchurched and dechurched of this generation. For Hannaford itself to be effective in reaching this generation, there is a good chance it would need to abandon it's core. A specific, targeted approach is required to reach this generation and it would be difficult and possibly unwise for Hannaford to make the required changes.

This is why I have asked Hananford's leadership to partner with us so that we can work together to expand God's kingdom in this way. We are currently preparing a list of specific ways Hannaford can help launch this new ministry of Encounter and are praying they will see the benefit of sponsoring us through ARC.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Our Heart And Passion For This Generation

Andrea and I feel called to launch a new community of believers, specifically focused on reaching the unconnected of this generation. That especially refers to those unchurched and dechurched in their 20's and 30's who haven't found church to be relevant and essential to their lives.

So while we are creating a faith-community that is welcome to young and old, believers and nonbelievers alike, we will design our gatherings and events for a younger audience. Experiential, relevant, and technologically-enabled gatherings are more likely to reach a younger generation AND also reach older adults. But the reverse is not true. When we design our services for an older audience, the younger crowd will not show up.

These are environments where people can be excited about bringing their friends; where people will experience something so different, unique, and life-giving that they want to come back, whether they believe the teaching or not.

These are environments where people can experience God through "touchstones" in their life experience and culture; environments where things are done with excellence and where people will encounter a creative God as a result of everything we do. This is our passion and the embodiment of both our vision and strategy for this new church plant, Encounter Church.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Decorations or God's Light?

Amazing Christmas display with 176 channels and 45,000 lights! The show is so popular that it requires a crew of 3 people to manage the traffic. Very cool.

Many of us put up Christmas lights or have neighbors that do. While the light strung on homes or in our front yards may seem commonplace, they are still reserved for the Advent season.

As we see them, be reminded that they can be more than just pretty decorations. May they serve as symbols of God's great love, given to us through His son Jesus Christ - the great light of this world.

Another Possible Partner for Encounter

As one of our new church planting friends expressed it, we are beginning to burst through the doors that God is opening. Before our trip to Atlanta last week, we also had a meeting with another network of churches right here in Montana.

This network of churches is looking to plant new high-impact churches that are life-giving, missional, and relevant to this generation. And they are focusing on the seven largest cities (Helena is one) where 65% of our population lives.

In the next 24-26 months, they want to see a significant spiritual impact by planting a new church in each city. Here are some of the characteristics of the churches they will be planting:
  • Strong lead planter with planting team
  • Large launch: 150-200+
  • Utilizes media, music, and technology
  • Multiplication built into the DNA
  • Above average funding
  • Above average expectations
A local network and partnership intentionally focused on reaching the unchurched and dechurched of this generation could be a great benefit. This is an established network in this area that understands the culture of Montana.

In this network however, these new high-impact churches will be the front-runners of their existing churches in these cities. We would be blazing new ground without the benefit of sharing in the experience of churches that have already been successful with this type of approach (like we would with ARC). Right now, we need to learn more and we need to learn soon.

It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Negative 1 degrees here in Helena today. Brrr.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

An Important Phone Call...

Been blogging a lot about starting a new faith community in Helena over at the Encounter Helena blog. (That's why there haven't been so many posts here at e|Something.)

We have a vision to provide an engaging and irresistible way for the unchurched and dechurched of this generation to enter into an authentic relationship with Jesus.

More specifically, I've been blogging about the ARC Church Planting Assessment we just attended last Monday and Tuesday. We just got an important phone call and I blogged about it here.

It's official, ARC wants to partner with us to plant Encounter Church here in Helena. God has great things in store!

By the way, please subscribe over at the Encounter Helena blog, too. :-)

Quotable Quips - Encounter

"The word ENCOUNTER carries a nuance of surprise with it. Encounters are not always planned; in fact the cliche 'chance encounter' is nearly redundant. Well it is simply a spiritual truth that encounters with God usually occur, not when they have been planned, but in unexpected places when God chooses to reveal Himself in a more personal way."

David M. Edwards, songwriter, worship leader, and editor of Worship Leader Magazine. Quoted from his book "Encountering God"

Encounter is a great word that is packed with meaning!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

ARC Assessment – Reflections

We arrived back home today, met with the kids, and headed out to Hannaford to help with some tech aspects of the Christmas production there. In addition to that, a dear friend's battle with cancer is getting more intense - and so have our prayers for him. It seems like there hasn't been a moment to breath since we flew into Helena this afternoon.

As I sit here tonight, I can't help but look back over the last few days in Georgia at the ARC Assessment. What an amazing experience of growth and encouragement! In addition to the obvious purpose of pursuing ARC's help to partner with Encounter, we've come back with so much more.

We spent nearly two days with 11 other couples who are on a similar journey. They are each taking the biggest risk of their lives, giving their all, and seeking to follow God and His specific plan for them. Each couple is stepping out in faith to see significant growth in God's Kingdom in their specific community. One plant is a downtown, urban church. One is already holding a worship gathering in a bar. Another is seeing people of different classes and races truly know Jesus for the first time - all in a community wrought with racism.

After hearing these stories, I am humbled to know a God that can start such exciting and bold endeavors. I also know that He will continue to radically supply the strength and provision to help these faith communities grow so that Jesus will be made famous through them.

Finally, I just feel blessed to have met, struggled, and discussed our passions with each couple. All day long in different airports and at home, I have already been connecting with these new friends, encouraging them, and in return being encouraged by them.

Another blessing we've come away with from the ARC Assessment is meeting the individuals of the assessment team itself. The team was comprised of pastors, planters, and ARC associates that were all there for one purpose - to see new life-giving churches come to life. We were blessed with words of wisdom, encouragement, and challenges all designed to make us more "successful" in fulfilling God's vision through Encounter.

Finally, Andrea and I were challenged. In participating in the exercises and in our private discussions with the ARC counselors, we were able to identify some key growth areas we need to work on. We were inspired by the vision of the other couples and realize that we, too, need to be able to clearly communicate Encounter's vision. We have realized that Andrea and I make a great ministry team, and should not be ashamed of, nor shy away from that blessing. We were challenged to clearly define the "win." But most of all, we realized that what we've been saying is really actually true: relationship and growing faith are the key to pursuing God's dream.

ARC is dedicated to seeing new life-giving churches planted. Every new church plant presented at the ARC Assessment was determined to reach the unchurched and the dechurched of this generation - which tells me several truths: 1) those are the types of dynamic and relevant churches that ARC plants, and 2) that is what is missing in many of our cities and towns across America.

I thank God for challenging Andrea and I with this vision, but now we also pray for others to come along side us and become a part of what God is doing in Helena. There is much to be done, there are many needed, and there will be funds required. Please pray whether God is calling you to this vision as well...and if so tell us.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

ARC Assessment – Day 2

Day two of the ARC Church Planting Assessment was intense, challenging, encouraging, and insightful. One thing I can say...we are exhausted!

The day began early with a devotional by pastor Chuck Angel, who hosted most of the day's activities. Angel encouraged us church planters to be as skilled in encouraging and building our relationships as we are in building a church, vision, and structure. Focusing only on the latter can be lonely. And we are most vulnerable when we are lonely.

Throughout the day then, we participated in mostly group simulations and exercises in which each individual planter's character qualities and job tasks were being observed by the ARC Assessment Team.

One exercise was an analysis of a church planting scenario. A potential scenario was presented and the attending church planters were divided into groups to determine the positives and negatives, as well as the pros and cons of the situation.

Another challenge was to create a comprehensive church plant proposal in a short amount of time. Divided into groups again, we were to choose a city from a preselected list, research demographics, develop a vision, strategy, ministry approach, and financial needs. Each group was then required to make the proposal in front of the panel of 15 ARC Assessors who played the role of potential partners and investors.

Comprised of pastors, pastors' spouses, church planters, counselors, and marketplace leaders experienced with church planting and ARC churches, the assessment team uses a predetermined grid of standards by which to record and measure their observations.

Each church planting couple had one more private interview to discuss the passion, vision, and strategy of their church plant. And then finally, there was a special time in which the ARC assessors prayed over each of the church planters for encouragement and God's blessing.

As I said, the day's events were exhausting. Not so much because of the time, but because of the effort and concentration put forth for each of the activities and assessments.

As hoped, Andrea and I were able to identify some of our unique strengths and also some weaknesses. The key now is to build upon our strengths and to intentionally complement our and/or improve our weaknesses.

We will now be looking for the panel to meet together to discuss, evaluate, and collate their observations and impressions from the two days and pre-assessment tests, and then to return one of three assessments:
  • Recommended for ARC church planting.
  • Conditionally recommended for ARC church planting
  • or not recommended for ARC church planting at this time.
The Assessment Team was very clear that ARC's determination does not necessarily reflect God's calling for us to plant a church, but merely whether we are a "fit" for the ARC life-giving model and methodology of church planting.

Andrea and I are assured of God's direction in planting Encounter here in Helena, whether ARC decides to officially partner with us or not. While we feel Encounter may be a good "fit" as a life-giving ARC church, ARC may not. And so that will move us on to our next step in securing the partnership that God has already prepared for this church plant.

Helena needs a faith community like Encounter - a faith community with a vision to engage this generation into a growing relationship with Jesus through an invest and invite culture, authentic small group opportunities, and excellent and irresistible worship gatherings.

Monday, December 01, 2008

ARC Assessment – Day 1 of 2

Today was the first day of our ARC Church Planting Assessment. Earlier in the afternoon, we participated in an individual couple interview answering personal questions about our marriage, life experiences, and ministry.

Later in the evening, we gathered with 12-14 other candidate couples. After an initial mixer and then dinner together, each couple was given ten minutes to share their story and vision for a church plant.

It was amazing to hear from the different couples and hear how God has led them down this path of church planting. There were some amazing stories. I wish I could share some right now, but I feel the need to keep some of the discussion confidential.

Each couple's sharing was also followed by an open Q&A time when ARC assessors asked direct questions regarding the couple's vision and life experiences. They had some very good and very difficult questions. Good stuff!

All I can say right now is wow! What an amazing group of people. It will be interesting to see how the day plays out tomorrow as we share more, break into groups, answer more interview assessment questions.

Until then, please keep praying for us!