Where

Sometimes we tell people to "bloom where they are planted." Sometimes we tell people "it's about the journey." Sometimes we tell people we're proud of them because they're "going places."

Location is a hard thing to get our heads around, especially as Christians. We can confuse settings with the things that happen in them - even doing this with miracles of God. We've seen people be baptized in this spot, over and over again, and we can worry about whether it will be different if they get baptized in another. We receive Jesus' body and blood in the same sanctuary, over and over again, and we can feel weird if we experience it in a home or outdoors. 

We do the same when we start churches. Should it be here? Is this place better? Will that chunk of ground lead to more conversions than this one? 

In a very real way, location matters. Jesus didn't stand still and preach. He went to people. The apostles didn't work simply to create attractive content that people would come to experience. They left what they knew and went to find people. 

They did this because there are simply going to be places that, for one good reason or another, are a little more conducive to the human aspect of gospel preaching. (The Holy Spirit always does his work correctly.) So, are we finding them? Are we even looking? 

As Illumine, Rock Hill seems to be nearing permanency of campus, it is time to look out. Where are we going to go next? What makes the most sense? Where can we convert the most people? 

It is also important that those in Rock Hill not get confused about the location they have. This location is a helpful thing, for sure. But it isn't going to be the best location in Rock Hill to convert every single one of the lost. We're going to use this building as a center from which we go out into the community and serve. 

So let us bloom where we are planting. Let us go on big journeys for souls. And let's see if we can make this thing continue to go places. 

- Pastor Kent

Moonshot

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Who needs the moon?

The world spent a tremendous amount of time, effort, and money in the race to put a person on the moon. Heaven is further than the moon, and it takes more to get someone there.

In order to reach the moon, people had to do math that no one had ever done. There were problems that hadn't existed and questions that hadn't been asked, and figuring out both the issues and the solutions was necessary to making the mission work. It required using tools that already existed in entirely new ways - or inventing entirely new tools. 

Your effort to show someone Jesus is like a mission to the moon. In order to get the message of the Gospel to them (to get them to heaven,) you're going to have to do preaching and teaching and loving and caring that no one has ever done, at least not in that specific way. 

If you do it, though - if you push past the edges of what you've done or know how to do - if you let the hard questions come and search for the answers - if you learn to let your generosity counterbalance the awkwardness - if you find 372 ways to explain the same concept - if you lie awake and pray until you can't keep your eyes open anymore - and then, using the words you say or things you do God leads that person to believe... 

Who needs the moon?

---

Luke 15:8 | “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

Ache in My Bones

I have an ache in my bones to start new churches like Illumine in the Charlotte Metro Area. Watching God work through his Word and his people - if there are ways that I can be involved in the exponential increase of that miracle - please, Lord, let it happen.

Did you know Indian Land is the fastest growing part of the fastest growing part of South Carolina? Did you know Gastonia expects dozens of new housing developments in the coming years? Did you know Fort Mill is having to build even more schools because they can't keep up? Did you know that almost half of the population of Steele Creek has lived in the Carolinas for less than two years? 

It's not just about new movers, though. Rock Hill is averaging a shooting every week. One of the main reasons York County DSS case workers quit because they're overworked - too many cases coming in all the time. There are estimates that over 400 people in Rock Hill are homeless. Divorce lawyers aren't hurting for business. One of the most up-and-coming churches in this town just closed. People still ask me if Illumine is diverse - or if your skin has to be a certain color to belong there. 

It's not about new movers. It's about the sick who need a doctor. 

Sure, Rock Hill is in the Bible Belt, but in a real way the rest of the armor of God is missing - and we can bring it to them. 

We want to help so much it hurts. Can you feel the ache?

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:14-17)

-Pastor Kent Reeder

How Big is Too Small?

Illumine has always existed to help start more churches, because more churches (should) make more disciples. In planning documents, the focus has been on the number 50: whenever Illumine reaches 50 member families, a few of those families get asked to take the leap and start a church in another location. 

At the moment, there are about 35 member families, and there are a few more in our membership course. If things keep going at the rate they are now, 50 families could be here pretty quickly. That's exciting. 

It also brings a few concerns to mind. How can a church of 50 families (maybe 150 people) afford to have people go and focus on another place? Every family and individual who gets involved at Illumine is essential, valuable, and important to everyone else. So is it wise to split up a family like that? On a more practical note, can Illumine afford to have that kind of flux occur in membership and still maintain the ministry efforts at the level everyone would like?

Those questions definitely won't get answered in a single blog post (and that's definitely not the point of this one,) but let's start here: at what point could Illumine be sure? There will always be ways to grow and expand Rock Hill's ministry. Things could always be more secure. But at what expense? More churches can make more disciples than fewer churches. At the end of the day, even though it isn't about numbers in general, there are two numbers that matter: the total number of people who are in God's family versus the total number of people who aren't.

Whatever decisions we make, whatever calculations and specifications lead to those decisions, let's remind ourselves that those two numbers matter most. 

Matthew 28:19 | Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Kent Reeder

A Church in the Bible Belt

Last night, a waiter in a restaurant asked me what has been a pretty common question: "Why did you guys decide to start a church in the BIble belt?" It's reasonable; there's about a million churches here, and most people have some connection to one of one of them. More than a little bit of ministry difficulty here at Illumine has come because of the power that the "matriarchal church" (the church your mom goes to) has in southern culture. 

So why would we do this? Illumine's existed for 2.5 years now, but the question is still relevant, especially because (God-willing) in the very near future we'll be doubling-down on our commitment to doing ministry in Rock Hill by purchasing the Center. 

Here's a few reasons. 

There are things we offer that aren't offered by other churches. Certainly every church in Rock Hill or York County can say that, but for us it is true in a couple of ways. We are the only church that is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (our national church body) in York County...for now. This connection means that we have two top-of-the-line ministerial education high schools to offer kids. We have one of the best pastoral training programs, which means we can come close to guaranteeing that Illumine will always have a pastor who teaches what the Bible says. 

But it's more than just "affiliation"  or "denomination" that lets us offer something unique. Illumine is (along with having a super-unique name) is the only church in Rock Hill that emphasizes a discipleship cycle of Worship, Education, and Community Service the way we do, in that we prioritize all three of those methods of being a disciple equally. We show this to be true in a few ways. We don't act like Worship is the most important thing - in fact, for 3 non-consecutive months of the year we replace worship with education. We don't act like Education is more important than Community Service - in fact, for 6 months of each year we bring Community Service to the forefront on Sunday mornings. 

We seek to serve the de-churched and the un-churched. Yes, pretty much everyone who grew up around here can claim a church in one way or another. Some people can claim multiple (I went to VBS there, got married there, my mom went there...) That's a cool thing, and it binds our community together in a unique way. There are many, though, who currently don't attend church. Drive in Rock Hill on a Sunday morning and you'll see - the roads are pretty clear. So Illumine people are always talking about how we "make decisions based not on those who have been here the longest, but on those who aren't here yet." It's always going to be part of our DNA to think about what we do in that way. 

There are a lot of churches in this county, but there aren't "enough." One of the most encouraging things about starting Illumine is that whenever I (Kent) meet other pastors who serve various congregations in the area they are excited for Illumine, because they realize that the 75,000 residents of Rock Hill aren't all going to be able to come to or be served by just their church. Rock Hill has real, lost, hurting people - and some of them are going to be reached (or already have been!) through Illumine. 

New movers need a place to meet people. Rock Hill continues to grow very quickly, especially in this northeast corner of town (where the Center is located.) Illumine helps people connect to their community in very powerful ways - through fellowship at a church that really cares about individuals, through our regular featuring of local organizations so that you can know what's up in your community, and through our third-party and community based events. We were able to host a local power-lifting competition in April that brought in hundreds of people from all over the Charlotte Metro Area and allowed them to connect over something about which they were passionate. Our Mornings with Mommy program usually has 25-30 moms with their children, the majority of whom have moved to Rock Hill in the last 3 years. 

Why start a church in the Bible belt? In Charlotte? In York County, SC? In Rock Hill? Mostly, it's because Jesus loved the people in this place so much that he was willing to die for their sake, and he's called all believers to share that with the people around them. 

- Pastor Kent Reeder

 

Hi. Can we talk?

There are precious few situations in which you can meet someone for the first time and, in that same situation, have a conversation with that person about faith. At least, there are precious few where you can have that happen naturally. You could knock on somebody's door and ask them if they know where they go when they die, but that's really unnatural. And honestly pretty unappealing for both sides. 

Public events are very difficult arenas for meaningful conversation of any kind, let alone spiritual, because even though they are open to anybody, everyone tends to stick to who they know. 

And to try engaging people while shopping or running errands of any sort is difficult, because we're all on a mission then. We don't make eye contact let alone stop and have a conversation about the way our soul hurts. 

So we have to wonder - in what possible context can you speak the words of life and grace and peace that mean such a great deal to you and have an audience that wants to listen? Where is there no watch-glancing, no list-checking - just honest and heartfelt conversation about Jesus' transformative righteousness? 

It's not, unfortunately, at church. It can be, sometimes is, but we typically have our guard up a little when we are in the sanctuary. We check our hair in the car before we enter the building. We see people and we know they love us enough to keep us accountable and so we put on a better face for them. Not a bad thing, necessarily. (Though as we work on developing a genuine community of caring and real relationships we hope for honest moments and the downfall of pride.) 

The best place, though, to have a conversation that lets you express your faith and let's people honestly listen and respond is the home.  If they trust you enough to enter your living room, you can start being genuine. If they trust you enough to invite you into theirs, you can really show you care.  

The wonderful thing is that if, in fact, this is true, and it's in our homes and across our tables that the Gospel has the best chance of being honestly spoken and respectfully heard, then pursuing true, genuine, close, metaphorical-door-opening friendships is not just the way Christians live out the love the Spirit creates in them - it's the way the Spirit brings that love into the lives of others.  

Jesus didn't invite Zaccheus to worship. He didn't tell the woman at the well to come to Bible Class. He entered their lives and cared about them. He went where they would be and carried on meaningful conversations with them and proved that he really, really loved them. 

This is why a Christian person will not only seek to have true and genuine relationships filled with love and grace, but will also seek to make God's word a core, essential part of fabric of their lives. Because you can't learn some script and you can't memorize the right words in order to trick someone into listening to you. You can't randomly hand someone a tract or trifold and expect them to understand Jesus love. 

You have to show them that Jesus' love permeates you and transforms you every day - a feat only accomplished by consistent investment in the Word and the Spirit. You have to be prepared to answer not just their nifty theological questions but also their deepest, darkest doubts about death in Nepal and riots in Baltimore. You can't do that by just cramming before the tests come. You have to build simple daily disciplines that exponentially pay off over the course of the Christian life. 

You can knock on somebody's door and say, "Hi. Can we talk?" but I'm not sure how well that's going to work. Imagine, on the other hand, if they, knowing you care about them and knowing that some great love has made a real impact on your life, knocked on your door and said, "Hi. Can we talk?" Now that's a situation where we can have an actual, beneficial conversation about faith.

- Pastor Kent Reeder

The Multi-Ethnic Church Vision

Pastor Kent Reeder is at the Exponential Conference this week - April 27-30 - and will be regularly posting notes and thoughts based on the sessions and speakers in the conference. Please note that while many of the speakers at the conference are not confessional Lutherans and will, therefore, have some errant theology, the principles discussed are scriptural and godly. Pastor Kent will filter anything that isn't valuable out of these posts - you can enjoy the beneficial parts!

ADVANTAGES & CHALLENGES of planting a Multi-Ethnic Church by Ray Chang

  • Intro
    • The Challenge of diversity and division in the USA can be solved if churches will create a context for every tribe, nation, and culture.
    • Once you experience a healthy, functioning diverse culture, you realize that it has tons of value and that you wouldn’t want to live without it. May we work until the term “multi-ethnic” no longer has to be used because it is the standard.
    • The primary value and focus for us is Christ, and if he is what unites us then what divides us doesn’t really matter.
  • Planting a multi-ethnic church starts with a multi-ethnic leader.
    • The leadership, especially the pastor/planter has to have a multi-ethnic vision.
    • The leadership must constantly ask themselves: Is the church I’m in here on earth a reflection of what heaven will look like?
  • You have to state that vision.
    • Multi-ethnicity has to be part of what drives you.
  • You have to staff that vision.
    • Your leaders should be diverse.
    • Your resources should go into multi-ethnic teams.
  • You have to stage that vision.
    • That which is on the stage should reflect what you want to become.
    • The greeters, the volunteers, the whatever, must be diverse.

When planting a multi-ethnic church, you can’t afford to be ignorant of the details, because a person of any culture must be able to picture themselves thriving in your church. You have to apply your multi-ethnic goals to your vision, plans, and ministries.

Congregations that have a healthy multi-ethnic culture are very often congregations filled with people who have servant hearts. Being able to humble yourself to serve the needs of people from cultures that aren't yours is not easy, but it is Christ-like. The Gospel is for all people, Jew and Gentile, slave and free. While we would almost never deny this as true, it is harder to make this principle a central part of how we work. While we certainly appreciate the universality of salvation, it can be hard for us to live it out.

- Pastor Kent Reeder

Creating a Church out of the Culture

Pastor Kent Reeder is at the Exponential Conference this week - April 27-30 - and will be regularly posting notes and thoughts based on the sessions and speakers in the conference. Please note that while many of the speakers at the conference are not confessional Lutherans and will, therefore, have some errant theology, the principles discussed are scriptural and godly. Pastor Kent will filter anything that isn't valuable out of these posts - you can enjoy the beneficial parts!

Loving People “Not Like Us” by Eric Bryant

How can we go about overcoming the barriers that exist between Christians/Christian families and people who have grown up in a more post-Christian, biblically illiterate culture? Here are a few principles to keep in mind.

Cause creates community.

  • Our cause can’t be any less than increasing the number of people glorifying God.
    • Having "good fellowship" is not enough.
    • Having "great worship" is not enough.
    • Even "individual personal growth" is not enough.
  • “The church is not here to meet your needs. We are the church, here to meet the needs of the world.” - Erwin McManus, An Unstoppable Force

Meet the “Felt" Needs of the People Around You

  • While people may be repelled by the belief of Christians, they ought to be intrigued by the character of those same Christian people.
    • This is not only a good strategy for evangelism, but it is also one of Jesus’ most significant encouragements to his people.

Reach for the stranger.

  • There are certain folks that “church people” tend to run away from. 
    • They are frequently the ones who need Jesus, and they are most likely to be very impressed by an invitation from someone as different from them as you.

Develop authentic, sacrificial friendships.

  • Consider all the people in your sphere of influence. 
    • The barista.
    • The neighbor.
    • The postal worker.
    • Relatives.
    • Friends.
  • Realize that people don’t know you care about them unless you do a lot of things to show them. Not one thing, not two things - it takes a consistent stream of loving actions.

Allow people to “belong” before they “believe."

  • “Come as you are, but you don’t have to stay that way.” 
    • Romans 2:4 "Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?" If God's kindness leads us to repentance, when we reflect God's kindness to the people around us it can do the same.
    • Your convictions are not a litmus test for Christian friendships. In fact, we should actively pursue friendships with people - even those with whom we disagree morally, politically, etc.
      • You don’t have to compromise in your life, but you can’t forget that there are people who don’t know what you know!
    • Unbelievers expect judgement from believers. They are blown away by forgiveness.
      • So many more people today don’t know anything at all about Jesus. 
      • Maybe in the Charlotte Metro Area there is still a predominantly Christian culture, but the trend is not “up and to the right.” 
    • Remember, we do this all the time in the church - with children. They don’t understand or believe what we believe. That’s why we have confirmation classes and Sunday School - to teach them! If we’re willing to 

Make decisions based on “who isn’t here yet” rather than on “who has been here the longest."

As you look over this list and consider the encouragements here, one important thing is of note: if you put these principles into practice, not only will people start to see Jesus and love Jesus because of what you’re doing, but you will grow and be challenged in your faith yourself.

- Pastor Kent Reeder