In 2012 I chose to plant a church in a part of the world where every corner hosts a church building and every person has prayed the “sinners prayer.”
I chose to plant in the religious south because though I knew plenty of people who said they were “saved,” I knew few who would say they were enjoying God.
With this in mind, we planted out of a hope that Acts 8 would become a reality in our city.
In Acts 8 we read the following: “Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ. . . . And there was much joy in that city” (Acts 8:5, 8).
I love this passage because it reminds that the real Jesus brings a real joy when He comes to town!
The counterfeit Jesus of our heads is weak and unable to help us at all. The real, resurrected King Jesus is the good news to all people in all of life.
He is good news to the irreligious prostitute and the self righteous pastor. He is good news to the single mom struggling to pay rent and the wealthy business owner who sits alone at the top of his empire. He is good news to the 85-year-old man whose life is coming to an end and to the 18-year-old graduate who has the world at her fingertips.
Jesus is good news to the broken, burnt-out, and hopelessly lost! He is the joy we prayed for God to pour out on our city when we started our first missional community five years ago. By God’s grace, we have seen this dream become a reality.
Joy has flooded the streets of our city as marriages have been restored, addicts have been freed, sinners have been forgiven, the sick have been healed, and disciples have been made.
We recently had fourteen SOMA leaders from all over the country join us for our church’s bi-monthly prayer meeting. The commentary I received from these men after the meeting was that our church is filled with a joy that’s contagious and inspiring.
The question I often get is how did we get here? How did we plant a church known for its joy, not only among our congregation but throughout the city?
Here are six reasons we believe our church is marked by a contagious joy that is spreading to our city and beyond:
- We saturate everything we do with the gospel. From Sunday gatherings to missional communities, from membership classes to leadership training, we really believe that who God is and what He has done for us in Christ shapes who we are and how we are to live.
- We believe joy is always and forever a gift. Jesus has given us His Holy Spirit, and with the Spirit comes the free gift of joy. We have always placed a big emphasis in our church on learning to abide in the Holy Spirit. We want to become experts at being in two places at once. In the grocery store and in the presence of God. In the gym and in the presence of God. Changing diapers and in the presence of God. When this happens, joy spreads wherever we are.
- We take the gospel and our calling very seriously without taking ourselves too seriously. We laugh. We have fun. We also lead with a limp. We acknowledge our own need for Christ. We are real with our people, and through our realness we get to make the real, resurrected Jesus known.
- We know how to party. From a monthly celebration/trainings with our MC leaders to annual birthday bashes to baptism services to MC meals to you name it, we are looking for any opportunity we can to celebrate the grace of God together.
- We start with the end in mind. To this day, we spend an entire month assessing where we are as a church and where God is calling us to go in the next year. We revisit our vision and then replant our church in light of the people and resources we currently have. We then place a relentless focus on protecting the God-given vision and strategy He has passed down to us. From our yearly membership renewal and assimilation process to gospel shepherding to Sunday worship to hospitality, we continue to connect everything we do back to the vision of making Jesus known to every man, woman, and child so there will be much joy in our city. This means that in different seasons we’ve had to say no to some good things to focus on the greater thing. We have had to have difficult conversations and even let some people walk. This has been incredibly difficult but incredibly rewarding.
- We experience radical conversions. New convert joy has become our joy. Seeing the transformation of men, women, and children have reminded us that Jesus is alive and that He really is the good news to all people.
My prayer for Fellowship and each person who reads this is that we will never grow cold to the person and work of the real Jesus. He is better than we could ever imagine.
May we sit at the fire of His gospel until it warms our hearts. May we, out of an overflow of His own goodness, with a burning hot passion, give our lives to making Him known to every man, woman, and child in our cities so there will be much joy in our cities.
What prevents you from believing the real Jesus is good news to you?
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Jared, it’s so awesome how God is working there. Thanks for the encouragement in this post concerning mission in the “churched” South. We will be transitioning into that environment in the near future, and are praying about what our work will look like in the country. Plus, it’s my hometown.