Some days I sit down and go through the list of covenant members at Emmaus and I will consider how well I know each member. Those are discouraging days. They are discouraging because despite extensive effort, I simply can’t know all of our members well. Emmaus is now running over 200 people and by the end of October, we will likely have around 140 covenant members. That is not a large church, but it is too large for me to know each and every member well. I wish that I could. I remember crying myself to sleep at night in my previous church because I knew it was impossible for me to care for all the people God was sending to our church. Just today our elders were having a text conversation about the growth Emmaus is seeing and one said in a half-joking / half-real way, “I’m having panic attacks over here.”
I can only imagine what the Apostles must have felt as the church in Jerusalem exploded after the day of Pentecost. Suddenly their church of a few hundred was running in the thousands and would be considered a mega-church even in todays culture. I wonder if they cried themselves to sleep knowing they couldn’t know all of the new members of their church.
In Acts we see that it was at this moment that division began to grow within the church. Some of the people felt that their needs were not being met by the Apostles as much as the needs of others. There were hurt feelings, disappointments, frustrations and longings to know their leaders on a more personal level.
This is where we are introduced to deacons within the church. The Apostles called for deacons to be appointed for a specific purpose: to preserve unity within the church by caring for the needs of the members.
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Acts 6:1-5
Notice that deacons were part of the solution for a problem. The problem was a complaint of favoritism and neglect of some members (the beginning of disunity). The solution was that some of the members would be specifically tasked with the responsibility of seeing that the needs of all the church members were met so that unity would flourish. The deacons give their primary time and energy to this goal so that the pastors of the church can give their primary time and energy to pastoring the church through prayer and preaching of the scriptures. Obviously pastors do a lot more than this. Pastors care for needs, pastors equip the members to do the work of the ministry, etc. But the pastors primarily care for needs and primarily equip the members through “prayer and the ministry of the word.”
Deacons exist in the church as an extension of care from the pastors to the people in order to preserve a culture of unity.
In part 2 of this post, we’ll look at how deacons will serve the members of Emmaus.
1. Community Groups – With nearly 30 new participants in the last three weeks, we are starting new groups, reorganizing some old ones and gearing up for gospel-community that transforms lives!
2. Men and Women’s Mentoring – Last spring we held our first semester of Women’s Mentoring with over 30 women meeting in groups of 3-4 to study scripture together. This fall we are launching into it again, but also starting men’s groups!
3. Family Equipping – This fall we will begin to expand our intentionality in equipping families to make disciples. Expanded kids ministry (including 3rd-5th grade) and intentional sermon helps and catechisms for conversation between parents and kids are going to boost our process of making disciples.
4. Hospitality – This week I have had four people tell me they visited Emmaus and where greated with such hospitality that they aren’t going anywhere else. From warm greetings in the lobby to friendly faces in worship to invitations to lunch and to community groups by members, these four (and many more) have felt the hospitable grace of Jesus.
5. Gospel conversations – I won’t share specifics for the privacy of those still in these conversations, but we’ve had more post-service gospel conversations with unbelievers over the last month than in the two years prior. God is calling the lost to come, and our members are sharing Christ!
6. Church Planting – Emmaus has officially launched 2 church planting partnerships: Genoa, Italy and Seattle, Wash. May God save people, and may healthy churches be planted!
7. Refugee Ministry – This fall, Emmaus members are setting out to love, serve and disciple refugees in our city through ESL, tutoring and soccer. Pray with us for the nations to hear the gospel here in our own city!
I often get asked the question, “What kind of church is Emmaus?”. That is a tricky question to answer. Is the person asking what denomination we are? We are Southern Baptist. Are they asking “What style is your church?”. Um, we are simple, liturgical, biblical. Are they asking what ministry philosophy we hold to? We would say that we are gospel-centered. The list seems endless.
One of the ways in which a church can identify itself is through whom the church partners with. For example, we are part of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) because we greatly value cooperation in the advancement of the gospel and no one collectively cooperates through giving for the training, sending and supporting of pastors and missionaries like the SBC. The SBC has invested money and energy and prayer in our church plant and so many others. We love our SBC tribe deeply and are thankful to be part of the SBC.
In 2016 I and Emmaus were presented with an opportunity to join a network that would help us in 3 primary areas:
- Cultural Identity
- Missional Practice
- Relational Support
Acts 29 (A29) is a diverse global family of church planting churches.
A29 is not a denomination, and joining A29 did not forfeit our cooperation and affiliation as an SBC church. Rather, A29 helps us to more intentionally clarify who we are and what we are about while also providing the opportunity to practice what we say we are about. Here are 3 ways this is true.
When I speak of cultural identity as a church, I am not referring to the culture of the community our church is in. That is a whole other type of cultural identity. I am referring to the theological, missiological and philosophical culture of our church. Allow me to share two examples of this:
- A29 churches agree to a theological statement that helps us to more clearly communicate what we believe about several theological issues.
- A29 churches are church planting churches, meaning they give themselves intentionally and strategically to see more churches planted. This is not only done through giving of money to the network, but by every A29 church actively participating in the planting of churches. By joining A29 we are making a statement that a central part of our identity is that we will actively plant churches.
When we say we are an A29 church, we are saying something about our theology, our missiology and our philosophy; we are making a statement about our cultural identity.
A29 is a network of church planting churches. As I mentioned above, part of being in this network is that we agree to actively pursue and support the planting of other churches, not only through giving of finances, but through our physical and spiritual partnership.
Emmaus is partnered with an A29 church plant in Northern Italy to help strengthen it and plant others from it. In addition to our partnership with this church, other A29 churches have financially and physically supported us as we have planted. The partnership goes both ways. Through A29 we are able to partner with other church plants around the globe for the advancement of the gospel
Emmaus has a pastoral residency that allows us to journey with men for 2.5 years as they prepare to go pastor or plant churches. Not all of these men will pastor churches that are part of A29, but many will and A29 will be a resource for helping find partners for their churches as they plant and pastor.
Lastly, A29 has the best process that I have found for assessing, strengthening and coaching pastors and planters. By partnering with A29, we have access to this assessment for our residents who are being trained to pastor and plant. This helps us be assured that our guys are called, gifted and prepared to plant churches.
While planting my first church, most of those watching from the outside were simply caught up in the quick growth of our church and assumed that everything was ok because of our quick growth. But an A29 pastor put his arm around me and asked if I was ok. He proceeded to become a mentor and a coach through many seasons and decisions as a pastor and to this day is still a mentor as well as the pastor of one of our churches supporting churches.
That is not the only story like this; whenever I have a question, a struggle, or advice I need, the men that I go to are mostly A29 pastors. They have invested in me, poured into me, prayed with me, and walked with me.
In addition to these friendships, I went through an extensive assessment process to join A29, in which a room of pastors pressed on me, asked me terribly difficult questions, dug into my personal life, and more. All of this was so that they could encourage and exhort me as a man and pastor. I’ve seldom felt as loved as I did in that “gospel interrogation”.
A29 is a family of brotherhood and pastoring is a job of isolation. As a pastor, I am surrounded by people, yet often feel all alone. The relational support of A29 has been life-giving to me, and I believe it’ll be life-giving to all of our pastors.
How did we become A29?
My wife and I went through a long process of questions, tests and assignments for several months. These questions covered a wide range of topics including; our salvation, marriage, intimacy, parenting, finances, theology, ecclesiology, pastoral care, calling, personal health (mentally, physically, and spiritually), church life and more.
After completing this phase we had a phone interview and then were invited to an assessment week in Dallas where we spent 2 days with pastors, being assessed in pretty much everything we did. We were put into social settings, I preached, we had case studies to work through while everyone watched and listened to our reasoning and decisions, and we sat in a room of assessors as I described above and were lovingly pressed on to see if we were holistically healthy.
A few weeks after the assessment week, we received a report of our assessment that had several conditions we needed to address and work through. These were things they saw at our assessment time that they thought could be hindrances to our ministry or dangers to ourselves and others. After several months of working through these conditions, we submitted a report of our progress and were granted membership in Acts 29.
Why Did I Write This?
My goal in sharing this process with you, Emmaus, is so that you would know that your pastors and their families actively submit ourselves to the oversight, rebuking, and coaching of others to ensure that we are healthy leaders of our church. In addition, we seek to join Emmaus with organizations and people that will help us to clarify our cultural identity, practice our mission, and strengthen our leaders through relational support. Acts 29 is a network that takes this process seriously and therefore it is a network that we are excited to join.
*Coming Soon: Why We are Southern Baptist and Why We Joined the SendNetwork at www.emmausblog.com
If you did not see our announcement on Monday, Emmaus Church is moving to North Kansas City (NKC) this summer! We are incredibly excited about this opportunity. I’ve had several people ask me why we are moving, so I thought I would take the opportunity to share that with you briefly.
Emmaus is a Growing Church
We planted Emmaus in 2015 with a few dozen people. Today, Emmaus is averaging just under a couple hundred. The last two years have seen growth, and one thing keeping us from continued growth at this point is space. This move allows us to double our worship capacity and remain in one service at this time! We have considered remaining where we are and moving to two services, and we have looked at other options as well. At the end of the day though, those options continued to have closed doors for either logistical or philosophical reasons. NKC, however, continues to have an ever-wider open door. We are excited to double our space and continue to reach people in the Northland.
Emmaus is a Church for the Northland
When we planted, we planted in the community of Parkville. Our desire was to reach the people of Parkville with the gospel. That is still our desire! We can say that because when we planted we were not only planting to reach Parkville, but the Northland. If you are not familiar with that term, the Northland is everything north of the Missouri River in Kansas City). Parkville is part of the Northland, and so is NKC. God has brought Emmaus members from every corner of the Northland, and by moving to NKC we are centrally locating our gathering location for all of the Northland. With 5 interstates and highways flowing through NKC, we will be under an 18 minute drive from anywhere in the northland. Our members will gather together in the center of our region to worship Jesus each Sunday and then will be sent back out to their corner of our region with the gospel to be missionaries in their communities throughout the week.
Screenland Theatre is a Unique Gathering Space
Our new location is the Screenland Armour Theatre building on Armour Road in NKC. The Screenland is not going out of business. In fact, their business is doing very well. We will be renting the theatre from them on Sunday mornings. This is costing us less money than renting a school, requires less setup and provides a great gathering space for our church.
In addition to the Screenland theatre, our kids and office space is located in the same building. This will be permanent space to meet in throughout the week, and we do not have to leave the building for our kids ministry on Sundays. This unique blend of permanent and mobile setup fits our church well.
One of the most confirming aspects of this move is that we were able to secure all of this space for less money than we have currently be paying for half the space.
North Kansas City is a Unique Community for our Church
Emmaus is a young church organizationally and individually. We often joke that if you are 30-35 you are middle age and if you are 35+ you are a senior adult at our church. That makes yours truly a senior adult. (I’d like my discount please). Our people are a people who care greatly about social needs, community investment, racial reconciliation, refugee relocation and sharing the gospel with those who are not believers in Jesus. NKC is a community that offers a plethora of opportunity for our people to engage in these issues. NKC is becoming the urban hub of the Northland. With restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and more opening up almost weekly, it is an area that is gaining the attention and presence of people from all walks of life. The racial diversity is greater than in many Northland communities and the socio-economic diversity is even greater. I believe that God has uniquely gifted Emmaus members with the ability and the desire to immerse themselves in a community like NKC in order to see it flourish while also reaching their own communities throughout the week.
I had been in a 3 week span of much discouragement and despair. My heart was riddled with doubt and fear, and my disposition dripped of frustration. It seemed like one thing after another had gone wrong. A decision I had made at church was getting some backlash, our heater died and it took the warranty company 4 weeks to replace it only to find out the next day that our air conditioner isn’t blowing cool air. In the midst of all of this we are walking through a new diagnosis for our son that is emotionally, physically and financially taxing on our family. As all of these things piled on top of each other I found myself tired and wanting to quit everything. I just wanted to sit and cry.
This was my state when I took my son to Chick-fil-A. Now perhaps you are thinking, “Yes! That’s what I do too when I’m discouraged, I go to Chick-fil-A!” Believe me, there are many lower level discouragements that Chick-fil-A can meet the needs of. But this was a higher-level discouragement for me. This was not going to be solved by chicken, bun and a pickle, no matter how much Chick-fil-A sauce I put on it.
Asa and I ate our chicken and dipped our fries in ketchup and went into the play area. It was a zoo for children. They were like monkey’s — jumping and squealing and swinging and beating their chests and throwing their… shoes.
Then into this chaos came a cry. It was not my son’s cry, but you could tell that this cry was not a hurt cry, but a scared cry. Asa heard it, too. Asa was playing on the floor — I saw his head spin around and begin looking. His hand went into the air as if to say, “What’s happening? Where’s it coming from?” and he said, “Baby? Baby?”. That’s when Theology 101 began. My son got up from the floor and headed up into the playground. When he found the little boy who was crying, Asa gently reached out and patted him on the shoulder several times to console him. He put his arm around the boy, gave him a hug and continued to pat him until the boy’s father appeared. When the dad showed up, Asa used his sign-language to tell the father that the thinks the little boy is tired. He stopped patting him, and ran and played as if nothing had happened.
I sat on that bench looking up to my son with tears in my eyes. Emotions flooded my heart. I was so proud of him. He had just shown this little boy so much love and care. As all the other children ran around him and looked at him like he was an inconvenience, my son stopped what he was doing and cared for the scared. There is nothing my son could have done to make me more proud of him. When he came down and sat by me I bragged on him and high-fived him and celebrated with him and I told him that he was being like Jesus — caring for the scared, alone and hopeless. He cared for the one who was lost, and that is what Jesus does.
That’s when the second round of emotions flooded my heart because in that moment my son had not only been Jesus to a little boy, my son had been Jesus to me because my son showed me what my savior does. My savior sees my discouragement, he sees my fear and he sees my doubt. And he doesn’t leave me there to wallow and drown in it, rather he searches me out, he embraces me as his own. He gives his Spirit to comfort me and care for me, and then he presents me to the Father and says, “Let all who are weary and heavy laden come to me and I will give them rest.” Sitting there in the Chick-fil-A playground I was taught one of the most freeing theological lessons of my life — “Jesus sought me and Jesus loved me and Jesus will present me to the father where every tear will be wiped away and there will be no more sorrow and no more pain.”
So today I would like to challenge you in two ways:
First, rest in the caring embrace of our Jesus, whatever your discouragement or fear. Rest in his embrace and find comfort, knowing that he will present you to the father.
Second, sign up for a theology class with your children. You may be astounded at what you will learn about our God and faith by watching your children.