Friday, January 30, 2009

Why The Name Encounter?

The vision of Encounter is to "be something out of the ordinary that catches people's attention so they can encounter God."

It is derived from Moses’ encounter with God through the burning bush in Exodus 3. Those far from God are living their lives apart from His will and purpose.

In the Exodus account, Moses was tending his sheep when the Lord "appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, 'I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.'"

Much like Moses, we are presented with potential "encounters" with God that will lead to a transformed life through a growing relationship with Jesus. But we are often too burdened and distracted to recognize and respond. Part of what Encounter Church is about is freeing people from those burdens and distractions and allowing them to take that next step.

No matter where someone is spiritually - skeptic, new believer, returning to the faith, growing believer - we want them to be moving forward in their faith relationship with Jesus Christ. That's because we see discipleship not as a goal to achieve, but as a process of becoming more and more intimate with Jesus Christ.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Staying Attentive to God's Leading

Several weeks ago we wrote about being attentive to God's leading. It seems that you can analyze and evaluate information, seek Godly counsel, and consider all the pros and cons - but after all is done, we need to be attentive to what God's Spirit is speaking into our lives. "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." (Galatians 5:25)

After much prayer and consideration, we HAVE decided to partner with the other network we've been discussing. You may know them as the Montana SBC. We have recognized that God was moving us in a certain direction to plant a relevant church in Helena for this generation, while at the same time moving the Montana SBC to do the same through their "AA Strategy."

We can't ignore that our paths crossed and we feel that the Spirit was leading us to this decision.

ARC is an incredible church planting organization and has been an important step in this process and we wouldn't be in this place without them. Attending the ARC Church Planter Assessment helped us evaluate ourselves and gave us a professional opinion as to our suitability as church planters.

We are so grateful they have recommended us as church planters and are willing for financially partner with us as well. We hope to nurture the relationships we've formed through ARC through the coaching and financial resources they provide.

There are comparable funds and resources available through the Montana SBC. In contrast to ARC, none of the funds from the Montana SBC will need to be paid back – regardless of whether we succeed or fail.

We are already forming some sponsorship relationships with churches here in Helena and Montana and will also receive assistance with fund raising a portion of our salary and startup costs through other churches in the SBC network. We are already praying that God will open those doors wide open. Like ARC, another portion of funds will come from our own fund raising and Encounter's Planting Team.

The relationships we've already formed within the Montana SBC have already been a blessing both on personal and administrative level. While the whole process through the SBC is a bit more fuzzy than ARC's straight forward plan, they do have proven success with our model. Here are some great churches affiliated with the SBC network:
One thing we were concerned about is the kind of oversight that the Montana SBC would have over us. We don't want such oversight and traditions to be a barrier to the vision God has given us to reach those who have been turned off by church. We've made it pretty clear that we are seeking to plant a relevant, engaging, missional church here in Helena.

We've gone over a number "hot-button issues" to see where we stand, but for the most part the SBC allows churches to be autonomous within the network. In addition, we are in theological alignment with the Montana SBC and are impressed by the SBC emphasis on global missions; probably the best organization for missions in the world.

We've carefully examined the implications of this partnership, and feel that we can still pursue a non-denominational approach while still aligning ourselves with the Montana SBC. We maintain that the un-churched are more open to attending a church that appears to not have the "baggage" and institutionalism associated with many denominations.

While Encounter is partnering with the SBC denomination, is in alignment with their theology, missions emphasis, and cooperative program, we will focus on the heart of Jesus in our teaching and practice. As Paul expressed it, we will be about "preaching Christ and Christ crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2) rather than building denominational walls.

One of our first training experiences with the Montana SBC was the Church Planters Boot Camp we attended last weekend. We are planning some more training near the end of February to follow up. As we move into March, we will be visiting potential sponsor churches and forming valuable relationships, and learning more.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Hannaford Transition News

About two weeks ago, our pastor and I discussed more about Hannaford's ability to support our calling to launch Encounter – and on Sunday, January 18, announced the time line for my transition from the Hannaford Worship Ministry. Our last day leading worship at Hannaford will be Sunday, March 1 and will be preceded by a service "sending us out" to this new ministry.

We are very excited and also just a little saddened. As I said last Sunday, Andrea and I have been greatly blessed by the friendships we formed here at Hannaford. And while we are excited about this great vision He has called us to, we will cherish these next weeks of worship we will share together.

As another church planter friend expressed it, "Moses has to leave his homeland to get to where the Lord had him to go"

We ask that you pray for a blessed sending out and commissioning service that will allow our family at Hannaford to support us and the mission of Encounter in prayer.

The night before the announcement, we gathered about 25 of Hannaford's Worship Ministry together to facilitate an informal time for fellowship, prayer, and Q&A. Our goals were to discuss any concerns and questions to help ensure a smooth transition while confirming Hannaford's commitment to excellence and heartfelt worship. Please pray for our ability to facilitate a smooth transition for Hannaford with such a short time line.

I was explaining to a friend recently that there is a lot of work to do before we launch. We've been working hard on financial backing and network support - and that work will continue. We have been quiet about this calling for months out of respect for Hannaford's leadership, but now we have the freedom to share the vision of Encounter with others.

During the next few months, we will be praying to meet others that share our passion to see the unchurched in Helena begin a growing relationship with Jesus. We'll be praying for God to bring people our way to join Encounter's Planting Team.

We 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 for this generation in Helena. There is much to be done, there are many workers needed, much prayer required, and there will be funds required. Please pray whether God is calling you to this vision as well...and if so, let us know.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2009 Is Here - Are You Ready?

As another year comes to a close, we can't help but look back. For some of us, 2008 was a difficult and challenging year. Some of us experienced setbacks and even life-changing tragedies.

For others of us, 2008 was a stellar year. Some of our dreams came true — those we hoped for and some that we didn't even expect. Most likely, however, 2008 was a mixture of blessings and challenges.

For us, we started 2008 in an atmosphere of uncertainty and burden. God had laid on our heart a passion which we had not seen pursued. A passion for the disconnected and un-churched of our generation. I saw young adults in their 20s and 30s that were disengaged in the life Christ had for them - and I began the year with a burden on my heart to do something about it.

I've said before that God places within us the ability to see “broken things” in areas that we are passionate about. God is not calling us to complain or fret over these “broken things,” but to let them serve as fuel for action based on His leading.

We acknowledged this burden and earnestly sought God's desire in prayer for many months. I can honestly say that it was an uncomfortable journey. After all, we were at a pretty comfortable place in life. We had been greatly blessed serving in worship ministry at a growing church in Helena. We had made many friends and really just begun to build this ministry.

Through all of this, God was speaking a deeper passion into our lives - the vision and desire to connect people with Jesus. Specifically what we call “this generation” and “those who are far from God.” We desperately resonate with those who are not familiar with or who do not connect with traditional church models — who see traditional church as lacking or irrelevant at best, and repelling at worst. And we want to be able to help the true, authentic Jesus become real in their lives.

As I said before, God was calling us to an uncomfortable place. We asked why He had thrown us this "curve ball" asking us to embrace a journey seemingly full of risk. Rick Warren says that “neither past nor future generations can serve God’s purpose in this generation.” What we’ve realized is that God has been preparing us for such a time as this. He's given us not a new vision, but a broader one encouraging others to worship God not just with song, but with their whole lives.

Our catalyst for planting a new church in Helena developed out of talks to form a strategic partnership with North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, and begin a journey into church planting. While talks looked encouraging, we eventually came to an impassible wall – our leading to reach young adults specifically in Helena, Montana. Had we been led to plant in a larger metro area somewhere else, we very well may be planting as a strategic partner with North Point.

But the need for a high-impact, relevant, and missional faith community in Helena overshadowed the ease of partnering with North Point. Our burden was clear and so as one door closed, we began to look for other open doors of partnership to plant Encounter Church, Helena.

While investigating church planting networks, we also presented our heart to our home church in hopes of partnering with them to reach an overlooked and un-reached group in a way that Hannaford has never attempted. We are still hopeful Hannaford will choose to act upon their spoken to desire to reach all of Helena in and effective and relevant way.

We also attended the ARC Church Planter Round Table to find our more about our compatibility with their initiative to plant 2000 churches. We were then invited to their select ARC Church Planter Assessment — resulting in ARC's recommendation of Andrea and I as church planters with their respected organization - a great encouragement.

Finally, we began talks with another church planting network – one with experience and ties here in Montana. I can say that Andrea and I have discerned God's Spirit moving in this relationship bringing their vision to plant high-impact churches in Montana together with our vision to build a relevant, missional faith community in Helena.

This new year brings in a whole new emphasis for us. These first months will solidify our church plant partnering relationships and we will begin to communicate God's vision for Encounter specifically with individuals. We will begin to build our Church Planting and Launch Teams. And by the end of the year, God will have prepared us to launch out into our community to touch lives like Helena has never seen.

We know that God has already begun to work in the hearts of those who also desire to see this generation grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. There are those who will be taking their first steps in exploring faith, those who will be finding out who Jesus is, and also those who will be making a deeper commitment.

Our challenge to you is this. Imagine what God will do in 2009. Imagine how He will move and change you. He may even make you uncomfortable this year and ask you to step out of your comfort zone. And I am challenging you to be recognize that going out on a limb with Jesus is really the best place to be.

As Mark Batterson says, "Jesus didn't die to make us safe. He died to make us dangerous." Are you ready? We are!