Future Becomes Clear

The Future Becomes Clear 2009-2011

On the seven year anniversary of our church, Pastor Nathan shared with NEHBC what he believed was the Lord's vision for our church. This vision for our future, called Glory to God, was explained to the church over four sermons in September 2009, and was subsequently enthusiastically endorsed by the congregation. The following are some excerpts from those vision-casting sermons.

I. Our identity: We want to be a living community of God.

Philippians 1:2-11 is profound in its explanation of the necessary relationship between a rich environment of biblical community and strong Bible teaching in order for a church to be most effective at producing disciple-making disciples.

The apostle Paul began his first century letter from his Roman incarceration to the Christ-followers in Philippi, modern day northern Greece, with some very interesting opening remarks. The Philippian Christians seemed to have a rich sense of community with their church planter as he began his letter with, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (vs. 3), “always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (vs. 4), “it is right for me to feel this way about you all, because I hold you in my heart” (vs. 7), and “for God is my witness how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus” (vs. 8). Imagine how the Philippians felt hearing their beloved church planter express such strong feelings for them. Clearly, there was a very strong sense of community with Paul and the church body; a deep commitment of love and genuine care.

Then, within this rich environment of community in vs. 2-11, Paul described for them a process of spiritual growth rooted in Scripture that would result in the greatest good in all the world . . . the glory of God. In vs. 9-11, Paul describes a spiritual maturation continuum rooted in learning the Scriptures. The process of spiritual growth in vs. 9-11 was presented in the greater context of rich Christian community in vs. 2-11.

Over the course of the book, Paul would teach biblical truths to the Philippian Christians that were difficult to swallow, stepping all over their toes, even naming names (4:2)! But, it appears they were willing to listen, consider and digest these difficult biblical truths because they were delivered in an environment of rich Christian community. Paul delivered the Living Water to them in the cup of community. There is a necessary and essential relationship between this cup and this Living Water, between a rich environment of community and strong bible teaching.

Therefore, at NEHBC, we must strive to make rich biblical community the environment inside of which we carefully and systematically teach the Scriptures. This is how Paul led his churches; this is the way to effectively make disciples. If we are going to become more effective at making disciples, we must be transformed from a gathering of individuals into a healthy, living community of God. Biblical community must prevail over rampant individualism within the local church.

A lost friend of mine sees people in churches like poker players in a casino. When poker players feel like playing poker, they show up at a casino, walk up to a poker table, find an empty chair, hardly glance at who is sitting next to them, barely speak to anyone, and are dealt a hand. If they like what they are served, they play the hand, but if they don’t like it, they reject it (fold). Sometimes they regrettably give away money, but the reason they came to the casino was to be served and to make money (gain personally). Sadly, this lost man’s perception of the local church is too often reality. People walk into the worship center, hardly notice who is sitting around them, barely talk to anyone, get dealt a sermon, and if they like what they hear, they embrace it, and if they don’t, they reject it, and along the way they may regrettably give away some money, and then they leave.

That is what I mean when I refer to a “gathering of individuals”. Simply attending a Sunday morning service and then departing is not church, that’s attending a Sunday morning conference. A loose commitment and attachment to a local church is a mark of individualism and is not seen in the Scriptures. “Church” happens 24/7/365. Biblical community among believers is a way of life. A church is a living community of God that reflects His person, His attributes, and His glory to a watching world. The service(s) is simply when we all gather together in one place to worship the Lord and hear from our shepherd, the pastor. But the Lord is calling you to something so much bigger than just attending a Sunday morning conference. He is calling you to live your life in a local community of Christ-followers. He is calling all of us to make a serious commitment to each other, to this body.

What does a living community of God look like and value? Let me make some statements that might be helpful:
  • Community believes unity amidst diversity can only be attained through a devotion to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and a belief that the Bible is the final authority on all matters of faith and practice.
  • Community is more concerned with the holiness and sanctification of our gathering than with the size of our gathering because the collective witness of our community to the lost world is as important as any verbal message we have to share with them.
  • Community means our members understand that ministry to one another is a way of life and thus does not necessarily need ministry to be programmed and scheduled. Often, the most Christ-honoring ministry is unscheduled, unplanned, unexpected, and at first, appears to be an interruption to one’s day.
  • Community means we value the unity of our gathering over individual wants, and excess, and preferences. We are considerate and sensitive to the conditions of other members in the community. (1 Cor. 11:17-22)
  • Community requires a spirit and culture of giving, serving, and sharing with one another. (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:34-37)
  • Community means each member values humility and considers the other members to be more significant than himself, and therefore worthy of being served and ministered to. (Phil. 2:3-4)
  • Community means every member has a place of service in the community for the good of the community. (1 Cor. 12:7)
  • Community values cross-generational interaction and fellowship and sees the inherent danger of a strict age group/season of life segregation. (Titus 2:2-6)
  • Community values hospitality, the spiritual act of hosting strangers and outsiders. Community prepares for and plans the hosting of strangers and outsiders that are not yet part of NEHBC. (Hebrews 13:2)
  • Community has small group gatherings as its backbone because in a church of our size, meaningful relationships cannot be built through our worship services.
  • Community requires personal sacrifice for the common good in terms of time, energy, and personal priorities. (Acts 2:44-45, Acts 4:34-37, 1 Cor. 12:7)
  • Community values ethnic and racial diversity. (Revelation 7:9-10)

II. Our purpose: We make disciples.

Matthew 28:18-20: “Jesus said, all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, as you go, make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the ends of the age.”

This directive from Jesus Christ is our commission. Amidst all those words is a single command: "make disciples". NEHBC's singular purpose is to make disciples through the means Christ indicated: evangelism, Bible teaching, and prayer. I like to say our church is driven by evangelism, built on the Bible, and sustained through prayer.

EVANGELISM: Baptizing them in the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit

  • We believe the best form of evangelism is personal evangelism—Christ-followers sharing their faith with the lost in the Christ-follower’s circle of influence—family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and with strangers through “divine appointments”. This is not to say that we do not welcome the lost to our services. There is much for them to learn from observing the corporate witness of a community of God at work, and we always share the message of salvation in the services in the hope that they will be saved. However, the greatest likelihood of a lost person coming to saving faith in Christ is through someone who loves them sharing the Gospel with them one-on-one. Therefore, NEHBC’s primary evangelism strategy is for the members of our church to share the Gospel “as you go” about the week. We live on mission.
  • We believe that we are to take the message of salvation to all four levels of Acts 1:8 concurrently: our city (Jerusalem), our state (Judea), our country (Samaria), and overseas (uttermost parts of the earth). Therefore, we are committed to frequent short-term mission trips, and motivating as many of our members as possible to participate in mission trips. We also pray members of NEHBC will be called by the Lord to be full-time missionaries overseas.
  • We believe that according to the book of Acts, God’s primary method for spreading the Gospel around the world is through the planting of local churches. For a sustained effort of Gospel distribution to exist in any location around the world, there must be the presence of one or more viable, healthy, local churches. Thus, church planting and church revitalization projects must be a priority for NEHBC, both in our city and around the world. Our international mission trips are primarily church planting in nature.
NEHBC sums up our evangelism strategy as “person-to-person” and “churches planting churches”.

BIBLE TEACHING: Teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you

  • Christ’s commission was not evangelism alone, but also Bible teaching. Disciple-making requires two steps: salvation and baptism followed by being taught to obey everything God's Word commands us. The local church should pursue Bible teaching with the same passion it pursues evangelism. One should not be practiced at the expense of the other. Discipleship of believers is as important as evangelism of the lost.
  • We hold to expository preaching and teaching of God’s Word because it is a method that allows us to carefully and systematically teach EVERYTHING He has commanded us.
  • The process of spiritual growth practiced at NEHBC is pictured for us in Philippians 1:9-11 where we see the picture of the process of sanctification in a Christian. One could call the model in these three verses the continuum of spiritual growth. Put simply: Bible knowledge, discernment, personal integrity, Christ’s fruit in us, the glory of God. NEHBC offers her members a sustained “push” to continually be moving along this continuum of personal, spiritual growth in Christ.

PRAYER: And lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age

  • This statement speaks to the necessity of Christ’s presence and power for effective disciple-making. The only way we have to access the presence of Christ is through prayer. Thus, we hold to the third part of disciple-making—the prayer life of our living community of God.
  • We believe that a significant purpose of prayer is to pray God’s will into reality (Matthew 16:19 illustrated by Genesis 20, Job 42:7-9, Luke 10:2) Thus, if we do not spend significant time praying God’s will for more disciples into reality, our disciple-making efforts will be in vain.
  • NEHBC strongly encourages her members to practice the spiritual discipline of prayer through a regular, personal prayer life. However, NEHBC also deeply values our church body praying together. This is most often done in our small groups, midweek worship, and special convened, church-wide prayer gatherings.

III. Our Strategy: Church Planting

What Is Our Strategy?

I believe the Lord is calling us to a significant church planting enterprise, but not the kind of church planting strategy that starts a lot of very small churches and hopes some survive. We can’t use the “throw a lot of mud at the wall and hope some sticks” approach to church planting. Research shows that the majority of church plants do not survive and the number one reason is lack of resources—people and money. So, when I say church planting, I’m talking about NEHBC giving +/-$250,000, and 100-200 of our members to start a new church.

I’m envisioning us doing about 10 of these kinds of churches; possibly one every two years --- not satellite campuses, but independent, autonomous churches with their own pastor and name.

I’m envisioning us identifying roughly 10 of the major intersections and hubs of the new north arch of Houston and planting a church like ours, there. Have you stopped to consider that the vast majority of future growth in the nation’s fourth largest city is on the north side? With the new Grand Parkway, housing developments, and evidence like ExxonMobil's new campus, Houston is coming out north over the next decade. Statistics show that a population of one million people are yet to move to the north side of Houston in the coming years. We need to provide churches like NEHBC to reach those people for our Lord Jesus Christ. What if over the next twenty years we put 10 NEHBC’s across the north arch of Houston?

Did you know that 2,000 people is the megachurch benchmark? If we seeded 200 people to 10 church plants in the next 20 years, that would be 2,000 people we would give away. While so many churches are trying to build a megachurch, we would give a megachurch away!

God is calling NEHBC to become a church planting church. The recent movement of local churches to multisite formats is based on statistical evidence that more people will be won to Christ by the church going to them instead of asking the lost to drive a significant distance to a local church. NEHBC does not have a vision to launch satellite campuses. We have a vision to plant 10 or more autonomous Southern Baptist churches that have the personnel and financial resources to have critical mass from their very first worship service.

Far-fetched, you say? Consider that if such an undertaking had not occurred by a local church in 2002, NEHBC would not exist today. If you were not a member of our original core group, you are evidence that planting viable churches works! We have reached thousands of lives in Houston, across America, and around the world in just ten years because another local church practiced this strategy and planted a church called NEHBC. Sure, it will require us to walk by faith and not by sight, but this vision from God will be accomplished by His grace.

One concern common at church planting churches is the loss of members and potential shrinking of the mother church. First, I believe that we can’t out-give God. However many people and however much money we send out, the Lord will bring back tenfold. This strategy will not deplete the community of God called NEHBC. It will only enrich us in every way. What if we only grew to a church of 1,500 but we planted 10 churches that each grew to 1,500…and some of those churches planted churches that grew? Their harvest would be our harvest as well. Imagine standing before Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church one day, knowing you were part of a God-sized effort that left a legacy of 10-15 significant churches in the fourth largest city in America.

To sum it up, NEHBC's vision is to become a living community of God that exists to make disciples from our city to the ends of the earth - primarily through one-on-one relationships and church planting - because of the call of God to go and the cry of the lost to come, that ultimately, NEHBC can bring glory to God.

What Will It Take to Make This Vision a Reality? How is this vision going to become a reality? Do we have a plan to get there?

We have a clear path we are traveling to our future by the grace of the Lord. If Glory to God is our destination, then The Vision Continues is our plan to get there.

Continue the story...