Below is text from a college I spoke at in Memphis. If you need a speaker for your school, church, or group click here.
All God’s people here send you greetings, especially those who belong to Caesar’s household.
I highlight this verse before talking to you about church planting in New Orleans because today we expect to find Christians everywhere. Especially here in the Bible Belt. You can go to the mall and meet Christians, you can go to a store and hear Christian music, you can go almost anywhere, do almost anything and run into Christians or a minimum a Christian influence. There are some places in the world where that is not the case and Caesar’s house would have been a place like that. You would not expect to meet a follower of Jesus. You would not expect to see the influence of the Gospel and yet it was there. Making cracks in the Roman foundation, starting to grow and reproduce. No matter how hard they tried to stop it, the Gospel because was taking root in the home of Caesar.
Let’s say Philippians was written sometime in the mid-60s. At that time there were Christians in Caesar’s house. It was not until about 313 AD that Christianity was officially tolerated in Rome. It took 248 years from there being just a few Christians in Caesars house to it being tolerated and then a decade or so later being adopted as the official religion of Rome.
On one hand that is a long time, on the other hand, that is a blink of an eye and it happened because Christians were willing to go to the hard places and do the hard things.
When I started seriously thinking about planting a church about 5 years ago my requirements were not where do I want to be. It was not where would I like to live. Those are fine questions and to some extend played a part but my main question, my wife’s main question was where are we needed? Where can we go that needs a church? That was the question. That was the drawstring to our bow. We spent time in France. We were about to move to North Africa. We talked about Las Vegas, and we looked at some other locations. They all had one thing in common; there was a need.
In New Orleans, there is a need. In New Orleans, there is a spiritual heaviness. It is a bit dirty; sin is common, people are a little rough and rude, and you do not drive by a lot of churches. Just this past Sunday after church I saw a guy in the Walmart parking lot kick a car because he didn’t like how close they parked to his car.
The Christian community that is there is a bit tightknit. And most people in leadership know each other. There is also a heritage of Catholicism there, but it is somewhat of a memory. When I invite people to church, they are a bit shocked. I invited a young man at Target to church the other day and he was grateful and surprised. Church, the Gospel, and Christians are not expected there.
Some of the churches we do have are either closing or close to dead. This makes me incredibly sad. I hate seeing a church die.
When my family got close to the point of moving, we sat down and talked about it and realized that we were going to have to think about NOLA as a mission’s field. And that was a blessing from God because it is very much like a mission’s field. And that is OK.
I asked John what he wanted me to talk about and he said, Passion for church planting in New Orleans, challenges, opportunities, and victories.
Passion is easy and that is what I started with. I have passion for church planting because I spent my formative years in New England outside of Boston. I had a troubled childhood to say the least and to my knowledge I never knew a Christian and I was never invited to church. I have a passion for church planting in hard places because I believe that is where they are needed most.
If I could elaborate a little more, I would say I feel compelled. Paul says in 1 Cor 9:16 woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel. Four years ago, I went to New Orleans for the first time, and instantly I knew I wanted to do ministry there. I felt it in my bones. We took and family trip and it did not look like it was going to happen. Four years later and many other changed plans later and we are there. It is hard, it is tiring, I work 60+ hours a week between the church and another job, but I know I am doing what I should be doing.
I am happy and willing to lay down my life, time, and desires to serve in New Orleans because the work is needed. One study I heard said there are not enough evangelical Christians to fill the Superdome. Which by the way was recently bought by Caesars Entertainment? So now, New Orleans is home to Caesar.
I could honestly spend our entire time together talking about my passion for church planting in New Orleans and my passion for church planting in general. But I want to share some things with you about how we see God moving.
When Hurricane Ida hit it felt like a pause and to be clear it was. My family lost our home, the church building was damaged, people were left abandoned to the elements, and worse. But it was also an opportunity. In two weekends with the help of other churches from the Gulf area, we served around 10k meals, gave away tens of thousands of supplies ranging from food to cleaning products, tarped roofs, cleaned debris, fixed fences, and more. What looked like a pause was an invitation to get to know people that we would have never met before.
We can make a lot of plans, but we must remain flexible. There are two verses that I believe are important to remember when thinking about missions and church planting
James 4:15 says
“Instead, you should say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”
In the morning sow your seed, and at evening do not let your hand rest, because you don’t know which will succeed, whether one or the other, or if both of them will be equally good.
We had planned our big grand opening on September 12th to try and introduce the community to the new church. Our plans changed but for the better in my opinion.
We had two teams from the Gulf come in and for two weekends we served 10k meals. It was insane and awesome. One day for lunch we ran out of food in record time. Numerous people told us they had not eaten in a few days, and they were just so grateful. But this day we went through our 1000 meals at lunch in 45 minutes max. All of a sudden, this lady we had never met before pulls up and brings $2000 worth of food and made-up quick lunch bags for a few more hundred people.
One night after the dinner rush a lady came who had a premature baby during the hurricane. She had nothing for this baby. The team told her we did not have anything but would find it. 20 minutes later a guy showed up out of nowhere with preemie supplies and asked if we needed them. God is on the move. I could go on, but we have seen God move in crazy ways!
In everything we see God moving.
Four months ago, I began praying for a new worship leader. I knew the guy who was there was going to be leaving and we were going to have an opening. After the storm, a friend of mine called me and said he wanted to come down and serve for a week. He took a week off work and came down. He had been praying about moving down and thought he would come to serve first. We got to talking and while he was a rapper, he has been leaning more towards worship. He moves down in late November and will start helping out with worship for us. I would have never guessed he would be on the team, but God is good!
I met a guy in Houston when we evacuated, and he happens to live just down the road from us. I have been inviting him to church for a month and he finally came.
God is moving and in the moving, we need to be actively following and seeking Him.
See we are not trying to grow a church for the sake of growing a church but change two cultures and bring light to the darkness.
The first culture is in our church itself and with other Christians in the area. Inviting people to church, outreach, evangelism, these things are not generally on the radar. One way to do this is like old quote says, “if you set yourself on fire the whole world will come to watch you burn.” So that is exactly what we are doing. We are first setting ourselves ablaze and telling the Holy Spirit to have His way with us.
We are trying to help people who know Christ set themselves on fire for the Gospel and to ignite others.
The second culture is the outside world and for that we need help. Drug abuse, sexual sin, moral failures, mental illness, poverty, these things are all common down there. It is life. We have a guy who regularly gets high and hangs out at the church property. We have had to call the cops at the church on other people. It is not an easy place. I tell you this for two reasons. One I don’t want to paint some pretty picture and make someone think they should come down and it’s going to be easy. But two there is someone or someones who hear this and think YES, I WANT THAT! It is not all crazy but crazy is there.
We need Christians to come and serve and work. We need a move of the Holy Spirit. We need to see workers come and work the harvest.
I can fully understand the sentiment and energy behind Isaiah 6:8
Who will I send? Who will go for us? I said: Here I am. Send me.
We need workers, who are willing to come and put their hands to the work. People who can bring in fresh energy, fire, passion, ideas, and talents. There are only so many people I can invite to church on my own. There are only so many people I can meet and invite into life with me. I am not one to just invite people to church. That is good, needed, and helpful, but I want to invite people into life. I want to invite them into my home and get to know them and grow with them. I want to see them see Jesus on Monday and Thursday and not just Sunday. We need others who are willing to come and do that.
We want to see people come to Christ and experience life change. The church needs workers, but we also need people to find faith in Jesus who provides life change. As a leadership team, our goal is to see people set free by faith in Jesus.
Just a thought,