Friday, November 4, 2011
Dear Hillcrest Church Family,
This weekend, we are going to make one of the most significant decisions in the history of our congregation. On Vision Sunday, I shared my conviction with you that God is calling us to rebirth our church downtown and I asked you to join me in 90 Days of Prayer leading up to Commitment Sunday. As each member of our church body shares their response to this vision, I believe God is going to speak clearly and decisively through the corporate voice of His people. By uniting around the direction He brings, we will be positioned to move forward into our destiny.
As we have sought the face of the Lord together about this matter over the past weeks, I have thought a lot about the following question: "Why is it so important that we relocate our ministry downtown?"
Four specific convictions have settled in my own heart as answers:
First…We will be following the express leading of the Holy Spirit.
The single most important factor in the spiritual health and fruitfulness of any church family is the degree to which they discern and do God's will together. Strong, godly local churches are not built through human wisdom or ability, but through the power of the Holy Spirit. Human personality and gifting can draw a crowd, but only the Lord can grow a New Testament congregation.
God works most powerfully in and through those church families that allow Him to guide their ministries. Sometimes His instructions seem counter-intuitive to our human reasoning, but He alone knows which hearts are most prepared to hear the Gospel and which places are about to experience unusual outpourings of His power and grace. Following His leading is the path to fruitfulness.
The Apostle Peter discovered this principle after fishing all night and catching nothing in Luke chapter five. Jesus then told him to cast his nets in a different direction. When Peter obeyed, they were suddenly filled with fish. The Apostle Paul failed twice in his efforts to take the Gospel to new places in Acts chapter sixteen. God then spoke to him through a vision in the night, telling him to reorient his ministry toward Macedonia. When Paul obeyed, he was able to plant one of the greatest churches in the New Testament in the city of Philippi in spite of fierce opposition. We have never needed God's guidance at Hillcrest Church more than we do right now. Our destiny will be changed forever by the decision we are about to make.
The Lord could have chosen to simply eliminate our debt without providing us any cash from our equity. Given the economy and the circumstances we faced not many months ago, from a human point of view that would have been a miracle in itself. Instead, God has deliberately entrusted us with an unusually large amount of money to use in replanting our church.
By loosing us from the entanglements and problems of the past, He has given us an incredible opportunity to completely reposition and reorient our ministry so that we are able to reach the greatest possible number of people here at home and around the world. This particular doorway will never open to us again. We must not allow our own personal preferences, comfort level, desire for stability, or anything else to keep us from stewarding this moment in such a way that the Kingdom of God reaps the greatest possible benefit. We must courageously rise up in faith, seize this moment, and do whatever He says.
Second…We will be able to raise up a racially, ethnically, and socially blended congregation.
This is at the very heart of what Jesus Christ is calling us to be and to do at Hillcrest Church. It is not enough for us to simply be a ministry that welcomes people of every skin color, culture, language, economic circumstance, and social constituency. God is calling us to target every sector of the population of Dallas equally. Simply put, unless our Sunday morning congregation comes to look like our city, we will have failed in our assignment, no matter how beautiful a building we might construct or how large our church might become. In order to fulfill our destiny and reach all people equally, we must be accessible to all people equally.
While the Lord is not calling us to plant an inner-city church, He is calling us to plant a city-reaching church…a church that looks like our city…a church that looks like heaven…! A downtown Dallas location will make this possible in a way that simply cannot be achieved from North Dallas. In the genius of the Holy Spirit, He is prompting us to move in the direction of major societal change so that we can reap the greatest possible harvest for many decades to come. A fully blended congregation may not symbolize what America has been, but it is at the very heart of what America is becoming.
Third…We will be able to reach people living in the heart of our city.
With the explosive growth of the entire DFW Metroplex, our city has reached the point that many people are beginning to view downtown living as an attractive alternative to long daily commutes. The number of residents in the central part of our city has begun to grow rapidly over the last decade. New condos and other types of housing are springing up throughout the area. Civic and business leaders have been tracking this very closely and are taking steps to encourage and capitalize on this trend. Last April, for instance, the Dallas City Council unanimously adopted the comprehensive Downtown Dallas 360 Plan calling for massive investment and re-development in seven central-city neighborhoods. Integral to the overall plan are many specific steps designed to greatly enhance the residential appeal of each of these districts. (Visit http://www.downtowndallas360.com online for more information).
As is the case with every part of our Metroplex, there are existing churches downtown, but none have our specific Word and Spirit, multi-racial, highly missionary DNA. The ever-increasing number of people who live in the central part of our city need our unique ministry. Most of our nation's greatest and fastest growing churches were planted in areas which were experiencing significant population growth. By moving us downtown at this time, the Holy Spirit is proactively positioning us to reap an unusual harvest.
Fourth…We will be able to leverage our new location and the city's existing transportation infrastructures to offer Christ-centered answers to some of our city's most pressing needs.
We are not called to be a rescue mission, but the Lord does want us to be His hands extended to people from every part of our city who are dealing with significant life challenges, whether educational, relational, financial, or some other pressing need. Many of these precious people regularly use public transportation to move about the Metroplex. Establishing our congregation's ministries close to a DART stop will make it possible for them, as well as for those who own vehicles, to easily benefit from the outreaches we birth.
When we purchase property close to a major expressway, our city's highly developed network of highways and thoroughfares, coupled with typically light Sunday morning traffic patterns, will allow most anyone living within the city limits or close suburbs to reach our new campus in less than twenty minutes. For those of us who already call Hillcrest Church home, this relocation may require a change of paradigm and a bit more effort, but the sacrifices we make will result in many more changed lives…spiritual fruit that will bring God glory and will be well worth whatever it costs us.
Once we unite together this Sunday in strong consensus around the vision God has given, we will immediately begin a multi-faceted process which includes the following key elements:
- RE-TOOL – We will begin readying ourselves and our ministries for this new venture by taking part in some of the excellent, innovative, highly specific, and proven training programs available for church planters today. Our ministry leaders and team will work with individuals experienced in church re-birthing and planting to clearly identify any changes we need to make in our ministry paradigms in order to reach and disciple the greatest number of people from our new location and target demographic.
- RE-ALIGN – We will examine every aspect of how we currently operate including ministry structures, staffing solutions, governmental functions, financial procedures, and legal parameters to ensure that we are completely focused on fulfilling our destiny as a downtown Antioch church with lasting fruitfulness in the Kingdom of God.
- RE-ALLOCATE – We will set aside a small percentage of the sale proceeds from our past property to "prime the pump" of both outreach and church growth in view of short-term increase and long-term sustainability. Our policy is to function on the income we receive from our tithes and offerings each week without dipping into our cash reserves, but we will make whatever strategic ministry investments from our capital funds are necessary to build a great church in this city and remain debt-free forever. Our goal will be very simple – to use the funds God has entrusted to us to reach and disciple as many people in our city from all ethnicities and backgrounds as we possibly can while continuing to touch the world through extensive missionary involvement.
- RE-IMAGE – We will do whatever it takes to effectively communicate our Antioch vision, values, and ministries to a broad cross-section of our city's residents. As part of our communications strategy, everything will be "on the table" for discussion, including our church name; the "look and feel" of our Sunday morning worship experience; our approach to advertising; involvement in media ministry; etc.
- RE-LOCATE – We will search for and secure a medium-term meeting location downtown while also moving forward with the process of purchasing and developing permanent facilities. Our parameters for the property searches will be the following: a downtown location; very easy access from DART rail and a major traffic artery; high visibility; room to accommodate future ministry growth; and debt-free acquisition/development. We will be very active and aggressive in this search, but we realize that the most important thing for us as a church right now is not buying property, but re-launching ministry. The momentum this brings will help clarify exactly which properties we should or should not consider for our long-term campus. We will take whatever amount of time is necessary to be sure we are making the right purchase.
- RE-LAUNCH – After moving our church downtown to our medium-term meeting location and having successfully ministered there for a period of several weeks, we will hold an official "re-launch" of our ministry. This will be designed to draw the largest possible crowd to our first official worship service in our new identity and to build maximum momentum in order to achieve rapid church growth. The input I have already received from people highly skilled and experienced in church planting has convinced me that with God's help, the significant resources available to us, lots of hard work, and strategic planning, we can launch "big" instead of "small."
In this letter, I have shared a few more of my thoughts with you. Now I need you to share your prayerful convictions with me concerning the following two questions:
- Do you believe we should follow the vision the Holy Spirit has given me?
- Are you willing to make a one-year commitment to support this vision by attending our services, investing your finances, and exploring ways that you can serve as a volunteer in our church's ministries?
I realize that I am an unlikely candidate for such a call. The past several years here at Hillcrest Church have been by far the most difficult and painful of my entire life and ministry. On a natural plane, nothing we have experienced together during this season would lead us to believe that our future will be drastically, wonderfully, even gloriously different than our past…and yet, deep inside my heart I sense the Spirit saying,
"Nothing is too difficult for me. I have brought you and this church through this long, fiery trial in order to purify, refine, and prepare you for this moment, so that the things I do in and through you all to shake this city will be for my glory and my glory alone. Dare to believe me! Dare to follow me! Dare to lay down your lives in service to me and I will be able to use you in ways your eyes have never seen and your ears have never heard, in ways that you would never have dared to imagine."As I typed those sentences, I remembered the prophetic word Dr. R.T. Kendall gave our church several years ago at the end of his sermon in our Sunday morning worship service as he quoted verses from a passage in Haggai chapter two,
6 "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,' says the Lord Almighty. 8 'The silver is mine and the gold is mine,' declares the Lord Almighty. 9 'The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the Lord Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the Lord Almighty."
That is what I sense the Holy Spirit saying to me. Now, I need to know what the Holy Spirit is saying to you.
At the end of our worship service this Sunday, I am going to ask everyone present to fill out a response device bearing these two questions. If you are unable to be with us in service, please download a copy from our church website (www.hillcrestchurch.org) and return it to our church office within the next few days.
The most important thing I need you to do is to be sure you respond exactly as the Holy Spirit has impressed upon your own heart, not as you think I or anyone else will respond. At every point in church history, whenever God has called a people to step out in faith to do something new, there have always been naysayers, gossipers, slanderers, doubters, and finger-pointers. Do not listen to them. Listen to Him. Listen to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit and then use this response device to communicate your own deepest convictions to me as we trust God together to overshadow the outcome.
I realize your answer to question number one may be different from your answer to question number two. Perhaps your heart resonates with this vision but your life stage or other constraints cause you to hesitate about committing to attend services downtown for a full year. That is not at a problem. It in no way affects my opinion of you or my love for you. Answering "yes" to question number one lets me know that I have your personal blessing to move forward with this vision. That is the most important thing I need to know.
Teresa and I love you very much. Our commitment to you goes far beyond the decisions as I have talked about in this letter. Whatever your answers are to the two questions I am asking, we want you to know that we will always be willing to serve you in any way that we can. We thank God for the privilege of walking together with you on this journey and we are convinced the very, very best is yet to come for us all.
You are important to us at Hillcrest Church. As we build our congregation through reaching unchurched people, we are committed to continuing to provide you with the highest level of ministry possible.
I look forward to hearing from you and to seeing you in service this Sunday…!
P.S. If you did not hear my message on Vision Sunday last August, I urge you to take a few moments and view it online by clicking on the following link: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/16499137/highlight/192963.
If for any reason you did not receive the letter I sent to you at the beginning of our 90 Days of Prayer, please be sure and do so before you respond. If you do not have a copy, you can read its contents online by clicking on the following link: http://hillcrestchurch.blogspot.com/2011/09/lets-take-our-city.html.