All right, if you would pray with me. Father, I'm grateful to be here at this time, I ask that the words that I will say will bring life and not death to us. Pray that your spirit would breath here in your midst, have his way with us. Pray that my words would fall to the ground and blow away and not be remembered anymore, Lord may your words remain; may they change us. We pray this in the strong name of Jesus. Amen.
There are two types of people in the world; there are those who love group projects and there's those who hate them. You could put me in the later category mostly because I'm not a slacker all right. I can remember, I went to the University of Georgia and I had a class and a ... Yes, go dogs ... They placed me in a project. They divided the class into groups, and I knew it was going to be bad because, it might surprise you, but the University of Georgia is not a Christian institution, the people there are not exactly the most responsible, so I didn't know what I was getting into. So, I went to the teacher and said, "Is there any way I can maybe just do this project myself? I'll do more work but can I just do it myself?" And the teacher just kind of went on and on, something about this being a class about group dynamics, and I really needed to be in a group. She had a point. So, I was in this group for 25% of my grade. I was like, "Well, how bad can it be?"
So, we gathered all together at somebody's apartment, and I remember this so vividly. We're sitting down on the ground, we're in a circle, and a person just brings out this little cigarette that had this unusual odor to it and started smoking that there and then started passing it all the way around my group to where it go to me, I was like, "No thanks, I'm good." And I was looking at my group, and I was like, "Everybody here is high, and my grade depends upon them, my grade depends upon them."
All right, this conference is about partnership, which essentially means group project all right. It's a group project. So let me ask you, why in the world would anybody here want to be part of a group project? Why would you want to be a part of that thing? That is, unless you were a slacker. You feel like you can't do it on your own. Or, I'm seeing a lot of pastors in church planters here. Maybe you see partnership, "Well, I need the money." "That's why I'm in this partnership; let's call a spade a spade." "I just need money to do really what I want to do." If money wasn't an object, if money was not any kind of concern, then why partnership? Why collaborate with other churches and with other pastors to do the work that you need to do.
That's the question that I want us to look at this morning is why in the world should we try to collaborate together and form partnerships for the sake of church planting? Now, when Dave asked me to speak on this, I just thought, "Are they crazy? Seriously, are they crazy?" For one, talking about partnership in church planting to a group that already believes in partnership in church planting. I mean, we are the Sojourn church planting network. All of you here already believe in the importance of partnership for church planting. So I'm essentially preaching to the choir. That was crazy reason number one and crazy reason number two is this, I planted redeemer without any partnership.
So, nine years ago, I didn't have any network I was a part of, I had no sending church, I had nobody. It was just my wife and I starting the church. I'm thinking, "Did you guys do your homework when you asked me to do this?" They've actually explained why he'd asked me to do this last night when he said, "They believe in taking risk on messy people." That's why I'm here. I've actually been trying to get out of this now for a couple of months but Dave and Dave, D and D, they're quite powerful, persuasive, so here I am. The more I thought about it, the more I thought, "You know, I might actually be a pretty descent choice for this because I know what it's like to plant a church alone." You should never plant a church alone.
Now hear me, if you want to plant a church and it really excites you about doing it all by yourself, hear me, you're probably not called to plant a church. And at the same time, if you think, "There's no way I can plant a church all by myself." You also might not be called to plant a church. Because there are times that you will have to just put things on your back and carry it all by yourself. But that should only be for a short season because God has called us to do this, in the course of collaboration in partnership or what I would say, friendship.
Let me tell you just a little bit of my story. So, I live in a 106 year old house in the city of Birmingham. We're just a couple of miles from downtown and I live in what used to be a pretty unchurched area. Really not unchurch, it was anti-church. So, to paint a little picture for you, my neighbor on the right, she was a vampire all right. I mean, more than like loving Twilight novels. She had surgically implanted fangs, surgically altered body, she was a vampire. We had a great relationship but when people would come over, she would literally go out on her front porch and hiss at us. So, she was our good neighbor. On the other side, we had an idol worshiper. Not like your Tim Keller kind of in your mind kind of idol worshiper, no, a legitimate setting up idols in their house, worshiper. The man that lived there, our relationship ended in court but the man who lived there, he had shaved his head, he had the number, I believe it was 243, tattooed on top of it in big letters because he believed he was one of 243 purely evil people on the planet. So those were my neighbors. Like I said, it was not just unchurched, it was a pretty anti-church area and actually both of those people grew up in church. They had just got disillusioned by it.
So there was a great need there. So, my wife and I, we began, you know, having these people over for dinner constantly, began sharing our faith with them regularly. I actually got the purely evil guy, who came to church with me one time, and it was really, really, awkward. You can't hide the fact you have a giant tattoo on your head that says you're the most evil guy on the planet. But people were friendly to him but it wasn't what he needed. So, finally my wife and I, we just thought, "It's time, we got to start a church here. I mean, there's just a huge vacancy here, this vacuum that needs a church in this community. So, I've been serving at a church now for about nine or ten years and so I went to my boss, I explained to him the need, I explained to him what I wanted to do there and how I wanted our church to plant there and I was expecting him to be like, "This is fantastic." And he said, "No, can't see it happening." So, you see the need there and he's like, "Yeah, I just ... No, I don't think this is for us." I was really taken back by that, I was really surprised.
I'm not sure what the church planting culture is like in your city but let me describe what it's like in Birmingham; we're pretty much behind the times by 20 years in everything. So, church planning in Birmingham doesn't really exist or it didn't 10 years ago.
So, if you want to grow as a church, if you are growing as a church, you grew by expansion. You simply had to make larger sanctuaries or add services. If you really wanted to be innovated, there was this thing called multi-site by video. That really kind of took off a little bit if you were innovative but really that's just another way of expansion instead of multiplication because the church has found that we can still call these people members at other campuses, we could still collect their tithes, we could still have total control. If you were a church not growing or dying, well of course you weren't going to think about planting in the city. Planting just didn't really exist except for just maybe on the fringes. So I realize, "Okay, so this is was a new thing I was bringing to my church. I took a year to educate them about this. I sent articles to the elders and to the pastors, and I met with every elder one on one. I explained to them all the things that most of you in this room already know about why we plant churches. It's the best way to reach the lost, the best way to change the culture in a community, the best way to unleash the gifts within the church and explained to them all of these things and I thought I had everybody on board.
So after a year, I, once again, I met with the lead pastor and the executor pastor, they had me into their office, and they said no. They said, "Hey, first off, we want you to know that we love you dearly. We see that you're so gifted for this. We see that there's an incredible need for this. But we just don't think it's the right time." Now keep in mind that this church here already had over 1,000 people, they were still growing, they had already done two sanctuary expansions, they had huge financial resources, I had a proven track record with them, but it wasn't the right time. Bottom line is they were scared. They were scared. Scared of the unknown, scared of possibly losing members to this new work on the other side of the city, they were scared of losing some of their resources. And if I could be so blunt, I would say this, they were scared, even though we were on the other side of the city, they were scared of what they saw as competition because the Birmingham church culture is a competitive culture. Why would they finance competition?
Let me tell you, if you ever view a gospel preaching, bible believing church is competition, you're no longer storming the gates of hades. You're circling your wagons and have a defensive posture and that never advances the kingdom. But the church was circling its wagons. I was stunned, absolutely stunned. I'm not an emotional guy; I didn't cry during Schindler's List, when Hans Solo died, you know, I didn't shed a tear. You come to my office for counseling, and you're just balling, I'm looking at my watch thinking like, "Can we speed this up." That's just the kind of guy I am. I once told somebody, "Your tears mean nothing to me all right." I'm in this office and I get this news and I broke. I mean, I absolutely broke, I could not stop crying. This wasn't one of those like pretty cries where you're like, "There, there." It's one of those incredibly awkward cries where you don't even know where to look if you're in the same room because it's too awkward to look at this person, so they're looking at the ceiling, their shoes, and I'm just losing it. I'm losing it because I just felt something break. My heart broke for them and the decision that they had decided that they needed forever to keep expanding. I kept thinking, "If they're not going to plant now, they never, ever, ever will."
Then my heart broke for me because I didn't want to do this alone. There was not a part of me that had even considered doing this work alone. But alone we started Redeemer Community Church.
We started a little house church in 2008. Great year to start something, 2008. During that first year, our lives fell apart in so many ways. We burnt through all of our savings, we had health problems, my wife was eight months pregnant with our third child, always a good time to leave a stable job and to start something in your house. Our third daughter was born with complications, nearly died. Kind of the cherry on top was God sent some freak storm to Birmingham, which destroyed one house, mine. So this storm came and the winds, and a tree, and things just ripped through our house at over $100,000 worth of damage while we were in it. Thankfully we were not hurt, we all had plaster and stuff all in our hair. After one of the trees that literally took off the entire front of our house, our house looked like a doll house; it had no front, it was just gone. And after a tree had ripped through then the wind literally lifted it up to go and demolish my truck on the street. You know, you've seen those games wack-a-mole, like when you're doing this, it was like God had just picked up a tree and he was just like, "You know let me just put this thing out."
We never felt more alone. Nobody from our previous church stopped by. Nobody even gave us a call. Now, we don't have really a place to meet, I still don't really have an income or an office there, I don't have any transportation, we're still dealing with this third child, who was born with those complications, it was hard. Let me tell you, church planting is brutal. It's absolutely brutal and you shouldn't have to go through that alone. But we were. Five or six years into this, we had finally grown to about 200 people. We were now discussing planting a church; it's time for us to plant a church. So as we're thinking this, do you know what I felt during that time? I was scared. I was fearful. I had the fear of we're going to lose too many members, I feared us losing our resources, I feared us moving into the unknown, I feared competition.
Around this time, there was a church planter, who's thinking about coming to Birmingham and I remember I met with this person and when this person left, I had this thought, "He's no threat." Wasn't impressed with him and I thought, "He's no threat." Can you believe that? So immediately I just wet to my elders and I had to confess that. I went to my entire congregation, I said, "You need to hear what you pastor thought this week. I thought of another church planter as a threat." Something like that so dark just needs to be exposed to the light.
I knew I needed to get into some kind of partnership. I needed people around me to help. Now, I had been trying to get partnership all along. When we started the church, after the church I worked with rejected us, I then went to all these other churches and I wasn't even asking for money or anything, I was just asking for friendship. Maybe could we get together some time and like pray or have coffee. All of these pastors of larger churches just simply didn't have time for a nobody. So I went to the outcast and I went to the lepers. I went to other church planters. I tried to pull together as many other church planters I could and we had formed our own little group. Of course we didn't even know what we were doing, we didn't know what it was going to look like in the years ahead for us. But we just thought, "Maybe if we get together, we could kind of encourage one another." That group lasted almost two years. Four of them committed moral failure, destroyed their churches, four of them got so burned out they left ministry, two of them moved on to different places. Once again, church planting is brutal.
So, I knew, "Okay, that didn't work." But I still need partnership. I just felt it, I felt all these fears in me. I felt like my heart ... I needed somebody to speak into me, I don't need to keep going at this alone. So I began exploring networks. So, I went and I examined all these different networks and I would reject one because they had this bad reputation or I would reject another because they had no theology, reject another because they had bad theology. I once rejected one network because it just had a really cheesy name all right. And I was like, "We just can't have that name. They're still around so I can't say it. It wasn't as bad as People of Destiny from back when, but it was bad. Somebody told me about Sojourn, I thought I would check them out. Sure enough as I'm reading through everything, they're checking all the boxes. So, I thought, "We'll go check them out." So, I actually came to one of these conferences and that was just three years ago. Can I say, I never, think in my life, felt more out of place. It's like I'd walked into a flannel beard convention and I had forgotten to wear my skinny jeans. I didn't know what to do, I just knew that I stood out. I shop at Sam's or Costco all right.
But I'm trying to fit in and I remember at one point, some pastor here who was nice enough said, "Let's meet for breakfast." And we're meeting for breakfast, he goes, "Can I get your contact info.?" And his jaw literally dropped. He couldn't stop laughing. I was like, "Yeah, I use a flip phone." So, I'm talking to our leadership, who's all with me here and I said, "We're out, we're out." This is absolutely a square peg in a round hole, we're out." One of my guys, he said, "If not them who?" If not them who. It's like, "All right, I'll give it one more chance." I'll give them one more chance. There was a gathering of pastors afterwards and I was like, after one of the talks, I said, "All right, we'll go meet with them."
It was one of the nighttime functions. I went there and I remember everybody is just having a great time, you know, and I'm settling into this a little bit better. There's a table there and there was a pastor of a rather large church, he's now a friend of mine, I've asked if I could share this story, and he's there and I could tell the people around him, a lot of them were were southern students, they were much younger, and they were just enthralled with this guy. Drinking some bourbon, and he drinks a little bit of bourbon and he says, "I love the vanilla tones in this, you know, with the like hazelnut splashes." Whatever, you know. Passes this thing around and everybody's like, "Oh yeah, I mean, the vanilla is kind of strong for me." It was just a bunch of crock all right. But I remember looking at them and they're just so enthralled with this guy, which so many young pastors are absolutely enthralled with pastors of larger churches. I saw that and was like, "No way, I'm out." So, once again I went to my leadership, I said, "We're done, I've given it a try, we're going home."
One of my pastors, a good friend of mine, he was faithful, he said, "Hey Joel, don't take this the wrong way but that's you. What you just saw was you. You don't see that do you?" I mean, you have people over to your house all the time and you don't have a drink with them, you'll pour some bourbon and like you have people from some like legalistic baptist background, who are coming up and like, "Wow, there's a pastor of a growing church and he's drinking bourbon." And looking at you. He's like, "You don't see how enthralled these people are with you? Enthralled at the work that you're doing? You don't see it do you?" I didn't. I was like, "All right, we're joining the Network to act as a mirror." That's what relationships do. Relationships, they help you to see yourself better. The good qualities that you have and the bad qualities that you have. Its a way of sanctification.
I actually learned through the sins of other pastors. When I see that, it actually reminds me of like, "Oh gosh, I do the same thing." Or people look at me the same way and when I see some of the successes, I'm like, "Gosh, you know, I'm kinda doing that as well." You learn through relationship. A lot of self-awareness about who you are. So we joined the network.
First thing we did when we joined the network, was we got invited to the lead pastor and wives retreat, which was at the beach. Do you know what I spent, I think three days doing? I said the same two words over and over, and over; was this, me too, me too. For the first time in six years, I was around other people who understood. "You struggle with that? Me too?" You feel like, you know, your church rises and falls with every new person that comes? Me too. You struggle with being gentle, and patient, and kind with your elders? Me too. And we just kept saying me too, me too, me too, over and over and just being there was like the biggest drink of cold water you could imagine. Just being now in partnership, friendship with all these other pastors and church planters. If you're a member, if you're an elder at a church and you were finding it hard to encourage your lead pastor, I want you to be comforted. You can do some encouragement. But you know what? There's some encouragement that can only come from people who have been in the same boat.
It's kind of like if a single without kids tries to encourage me in my parenting. It only goes so far. I appreciate the effort but if I'm at Chick fil a, and I've got my kids and they're screaming all over me, you know, and I see some other dad there who's got kids screaming all over me, he can just look at me and nod. That is more encouragement, more than 10,000 words that a single, who doesn't have kids, could ever offer me. That's no fault of them. One of the reasons you need partnership in collaboration is because we're in the same boat. We know what it's like, we have the same struggles, we have the same joys. It felt incredible to not be alone.
Paul when he wrote Timothy in second Timothy, he said, "I want you to come to me." He's in prison, he says, "Come to me, bring these three things will you? Bring my coat, will you also bring my books, and the parchments, will you bring Mark?" Right there he speaks to what I see as the three basic needs of any church planter. You need provision, just basic provision, you need to keep studying, you need to be in the word, and you don't need to be alone. You need companionship. I don't care how long you've been in it, you need companionship. So, I joined the Network. Now the primary reason I really joined the Network is because I saw that flaw in me. It was hard for me to like get past my fear and to start planting. So, I thought, "Well, now I'm going to be with a bunch of other church planters, and the Network, they're going to encourage me to plant, they're going to enable me to do this faster, better, wiser, I'm going to have more resources." Sure enough, the network has been a tremendous resource in doing these things. But what benefited me most, was not that the Sojourn Network really just kind of help train me or help me in my gifting, it was that the network was looking at my fruits.
The other pastors were far more concerned with my character and my fruits then what I was doing. They were looking at my heart. Way more concerned about my heart than all the things that I was trying to accomplish. Now do you have any idea how rare that is? Dave Hardy would call me up three weeks ago and we're talking about different church planting things and sure enough he's like, "Hey Joel, I know that you could train other church planters, I've seen you do this but this is what I want to know; are you going to love them, are you going to care for their soul? Because that's who we are as a Network.
That's what I see Network as, is we're looking after one another's souls, we're trying to speak truth into one another's hearts." This is huge; Dave could speak to me and it can encourage me in that area because he was also a pastor, he is a pastor, he has the same struggles of anger, same struggles with fear, same struggles with being patient and kind, and gentle with elders. He could speak to me in a way that no other person at my church could. That's one of the incredible benefits of partnership.
Hear me, if you are a pastor of a growing church, no one is asking you about your fruit. No one is pointing at you and saying, "You really need to grow in this fruit." But everybody is asking you to grow in your gifts. As a church grows, everybody is asking me like, "Hey, you know, you probably need to grow a little bit more in your preaching gift, hey you need to grow a little bit more in your leadership gift, hey you need to grow a little bit more in your management gift, hey you need to grow a little bit more in your knowledge gift. So can we send you to a conference to where you can grow more in all of these giftings." And they are just pounding you to grow, grow, grow, in all of these gifts because gifts carry the load of a church, fruit doesn't. You need those gifts but what will happen is when that happens year after year, after year, you become a very gifted yet fruitless pastor. You become hollow and you need other pastors who will speak that truth into your life; people who have been there. You need partnership, you need people looking after more than just your gifts but looking after your character.
Now if I could just go on a little aside here on gifts, just a little aside, this is for free all right. The whole thing might be for free, I have no idea. But this is certainly for free. I grew up in my generation, I'm 44 years old, and I grew up there was this total fascination with gifts. So we took all these different spiritual gifts, exams, remember those? We're just taking them all the time. Every youth group that's what you did, spiritual gifts, inventory tests. I would take those and on multiple tests, I actually scored martyrdom. That was my spiritual gift, martyrdom. I'm thinking like some guy on [inaudible 00:30:30] is just messing with you even putting that as a gift. And then there's so much pressure with that one, I mean, you could only use it once. You gotta be careful with it. That's largely gone away but you know what it's been replaced by? Endless personality tests. If I get asked one more time what I scored on the Enneagram test, I'm going to punch the person all right. For those of you interested, I'm an eight. I'm an INTJ on the Meyers-Briggs, I'm a 4566 on the Colby, I'm a 3233 on the Style of Influence, the SOI. If you know what all those mean and it makes you giddy, you just need to get off Facebook and get a job all right. I'm just going to say it how it is. I know some of you are like, "That's exactly what an eight would say." You know, yep. We could meet afterwards and I can tell you a few more things an eight's going to say all right?
So we're obsessed with these personality tests, but here is the thing; personality might not match up with your gifting. I'm a dyslexic introvert. Basically, the worst profession I could go into is pastoring, in which I have to study all the time, organize stuff on paper, and meet new people and get in front of new people all the time. It's my job, it goes completely against my personality but it's my gifting.
You know Paul, Dave talked about this last night, but he's encouraging Timothy and he has to tell Timothy, "Hey, do not neglect the gift that you have." Says that in his first letter to Timothy. Then he has to remind him again in second Timothy, "Hey don't let the fire die, fan into flame your gifting, you do not have to tell somebody to do that if they enjoy their gifting." They naturally just do it. If it was Timothy's personality, he'd be doing that but he was gifted in a way that was against his personality. But you know why this is so liberating? Because everybody else is trying to find joy in what they do and they try to match up their personality in what they do; I don't try to match that up. It's not in what I do, it's who I do it for. I get so much joy in who I am doing it for.
I get joy in washing the dishes, not because I like washing dishes but because I love my wife. When I get to see who I'm doing it for, I get incredible joy in doing this. So, I have so much joy in doing things that are completely against my personality and some of you need to be open to the fact that your personality exams have nothing to do with your calling or gifting. You're shutting off a tremendous door of ministry that the Lord is bringing your way. That was for free all right. That was my little aside, I don't even know where I am in this talk but church planting, partnership.
Another benefit of church planting with partnership is this; not only are only pastors going to look into your heart and speak the truth there, but you can do a greater work when you're not alone. You can do a greater work when you're not alone. Now notice I said greater not more. You could do a greater work but you might not do more work. Once again, group project. Do group projects bring headaches or do they alleviate them? They bring headaches. Honestly, most of us could get more work done apart from a group, just let me do it myself. If you want to just plant churches, if you want to just start new ministries, and your just kind of like, "We just got to do this and do it fast," don't join a network. Because all the money or time or resources you actually are going to give to a network, instead just hire a church planner; do it. I'm not going to give money to a network, I'm just going to higher a local guy and do it here and then I'm going to keep doing it. Then I'm joining the network because they do retreats and training. Shoot, spend that money and just go to Hawaii once a year. Get some rest. You can actually get more work done; it might not be the best work, but get more work done when you just go at it alone. But there's something about the work itself.
What if the work in a group project, your grade wasn't anything you did, it was actually just in the way you related to one another? That was the greater work. That's what Jesus says in John 17. When Jesus prays he says, "May they become perfectly one so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me." So when we partner together, it helps the world see Jesus; who he is. When I unite together with other churches, and I'm giving money through the network to like Jeremy in Columbus, or Rusty in Chattanooga, or Dustin and Thomas in Atlanta, my money's going to them and some of my time and energy is going to them. You know what it says? I'm not trying to build my kingdom, but I'm about something so much greater, I'm trying to build God's kingdom. It testifies to who Jesus is and that we are part of something so much greater. So, partnership actually is the project, it actually is.
A year ago, we planted a church or hired a church planter six months ago, we planted through Joel Busby, who's here, we did it through partnership. This person, we brought up through the Network, the Network did a phenomenal job just assessing Busby, training him. He was able then to join in a cohort with all these other young church planters. Hopefully friendships that they will maintain for life because they are just bouncing ideas off one another, praying for one another, speaking truth into each others hearts. We were able to obviously just partner with him besides just the Network, our church, to where Busby and I get together every week. We have staff meetings together, our church is financing this mission for three years. I still have fears, especially with us being more of a inner city church planting in a wealthier neighborhood in the suburbs. Are we going to have mass exodus of families leaving us and going to this new work over there? Are we spending too much of our resources on this? Is this really going to train wreck our church? I still have all these fears, but through partnership now, we're praying through these things together and those fears turn to joy.
So we get together and you know what? I get to celebrate his wins because I'm partnered with him. He gets to celebrate my wins because we're partnered together and just the encouragement that we get from one another as we see the kingdom of God advance. Oh, how I wish I had had that when I planted Redeemer. Yes, by God's grace, we are where we are but I would never want to do that again alone.
If you would pray with me, Lord Jesus I pray that you would just take these words and however you see fit, may you use them as an encouragement for the people here. Lord, we all come into this place with fears, nobody, naturally wants to risk but you are worth it. You are absolutely worth it and we don't have to risk alone. I thank you for the gift of friendship, partnership, collaboration, I thank you for this Network, and I ask your blessings upon it. In the strong name of Jesus, I pray. Amen.