Reflections of a church planter: Launch Day!
The room, known as Theater #2, at Parkway Cinema in Natchitoches, LA, was slowly filling up (well, about 1/4 full) as the countdown on the screen counted down toward 00:00. The anticipation welled up within me. It's been two full years since Shelly & I made the decision to answer the call to move to a community where we didn't know anyone and plant a new church through the LCMCOG Network. It's been nearly a year and a half since we moved to this community, and one full year since we began meeting weekly on Thursday nights with a small group of university students in our living room. The hours spent praying, the days spent planning/evaluating/re-planning, the moments spent laughing/crying, the sleepless nights, the questions/answers/more-questions... the conversations... the dreaming... the visioneering... ALL of this church-planting roller coaster ride found total impact within me in this moment. Awaken Church.
The countdown hit 00:00. The background music stopped. The congregation's buzzing conversations immediately faded. A young lady named Madison stepped to the microphone:
"The stone the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD's doing, and it is wonderful to see.
This is the day the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.
Please, LORD, please give us success.
Bless the one who comes in the name of the LORD. We bless you from the house of the LORD."
"...for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said,
'Awake, O sleeper,
rise up from the dead,
and Christ will give you light."
A funky bass line, joined by percussion as the band led a rousing Kirk Franklin version of He Reigns/Awesome God. As we sang the anthem "Our God is an awesome God!" I could only think, "What an amazing moment! God, You really are AWESOME!"
The transition to the second song was seamless, as the tempo picked up and foot-stompin' and hand-clappin' took over all of us. The song was a pop song that I had challenged the band to do: Good To Be Alive (Hallelujah) by Andy Grammer (of course, the Awaken Church edit changed a couple of words). By the end I was literally out of breath. Such a great way to celebrate Jesus with a team that is committed to connecting with our unchurched friends and neighbors!
Beau, our Worship Arts Team Leader, then briefly stated our music and singing is about both embracing what is happening now, and embracing what has brought us to this point. We then entered into Cornerstone, a modern re-visioning of the ancient hymn, The Solid Rock (which incidentally happens to be my favorite ancient hymn).
As I took my cue to welcome everyone and then dismiss the children to Awaken Kids' Adventure Club, I was so full of adrenaline (and coffee & a donut) that I felt like my spirit was about to just explode through my flesh. Then I prayed. We prayed. It literally felt like a blanket of peace and hope fell over us. In the flurry of activity of Launch Day, stillness was beautiful. Enjoy the silence.
The keyboard gently led us into the next song: There Is A Cloud, a brand new song from Elevation Worship. I lost myself in singing to our God for a minute, and then I looked to my side... Launch Team lost in worship... then I looked just behind me... university students lost in worship... then I glanced further back in the room... adults from 25-75 lost in worship... the LCMCOG Church Planting Team lost in worship... my parents lost in worship. The moment was so holy and just so good!
One of our Launch Team members, K.D., stepped up to the microphone (although she stepped away from it pretty quick, hahaa! We could still hear her though). K.D. was sharing what we call a "Life-Change Moment" where someone takes a minute to say what being a part of this new church plant means to them,
"I'm not really a church person... I mean, my only church experience has been bad... so to have Awaken Church... to just come and be myself, and not be pressured to join a religion is so great to have. I'm so glad to have this church in my life! I'm so glad to have Pastor Steve in my life (she totally blessed my face off), and I get to do this with my friends."
So authentic. So genuine. What a great way to move into the teaching/sermon time based on Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son found in Luke 15:11-24. I won't say too much about the message, except to say the theme was built around Jesus' story and content from a fantastic book by Dave & Jon Ferguson called, Finding Your Way Back to God. Teaching/preaching is the thing that energizes me more than anything else, and it felt really fresh and new to officially re-enter the world of preparing and delivering a weekly message. The sermon ended with a challenge to all of us to pray a simple prayer every day this week: "God, make yourself real to me. Awaken in me the ability to see that you are what's missing from my life."
The band returned and led us in a moment of reflection and decision as we sang Trust In You by Lauren Daigle. I then led us in a closing prayer and blessing, May you, when faced with waters you can't cross and answers you can't find, find the ability to say, God, I trust in you.
As we tore down and stored away our little "portable church," my brain was full of thoughts/ideas/questions, and my heart was full of... my heart was just full. Simple as that. My heart was, and is, absolutely full.
Thank you to everyone (and there are so many) that made this day, and the days to follow, possible! Thank You, God, for the calling, the vision, and the provision. On day one, as will be the case every day following, Jesus is the Subject!