Anchor # 1 - Holistic Discipleship

The 10 Anchors of Union Church are theological convictions and philosophies of ministry that we are tied to in order to remain faithful to our core values of Gospel, Community and Mission. These Anchors inform everything from our partnerships and budget to our church government and Sunday liturgy. We believe that a strong commitment to these Anchors will create a culture that will bring God glory and us joy.

Anchor # 1 - Holistic Discipleship

We are committed to holistic discipleship – a method of training that assumes the total and integrated surrender of every single area of life to Jesus’s kingship. When Jesus speaks of obedience, he defines it as loving God with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind (Luke 10:27). When he speaks of discipleship, he says disciples should be totally immersed into the ministry and identity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19). Paul echoes this idea in 1 Thess. 5:23-24.

The implication is that obedience to Christ is total and holistic – with no category of life unaffected by His lordship. Therefore, discipleship cannot only be intellectual by digesting doctrine alone. It cannot be privately sustained, but must be lived out in healthy community; and it cannot be activist – only interested in progress and production, unattached to orthodox motivations. Holistic discipleship engages the "head, heart and hands," specifically through a steady diet of Gospel, Community and Mission. This approach ultimately leads to the development of the foundational Christian identities of Gospel Learners, Family Members and Kingdom Ambassadors.

We are commissioned to make disciples in the name of the Son; making us thoughtful Learners of what the Son accomplished for us on the cross (the gospel). We pursue gospel fluency (maturity) through a lifelong devotion to and study of the Scriptures in an effort to love the Lord with all our mind. (Col. 1:9-10, Josh. 1:8, Deut. 6:4-15)

We are commissioned to make disciples in the name of the Father; making us a diverse Family of adopted sons and daughters – brothers and sisters, committed to loving each other inside a safe and nurturing community where we are free to love the Lord with all of our heart and soul. (2 Tim. 5:1-2, Eph. 2:19, Gal. 3:26)

We are commissioned to make disciples in the name of the Spirit; intentionally sent out into the world as Ambassadors of the Kingdom, acting as servant-missionaries, verbally declaring but also physically demonstrating and the gospel with our hands. (Matt. 28:18-20, 2 Cor 5:18-21.)

We believe that when the head is reoriented around the gospel, the heart is cared for by the family and the hands serve in mission, we more closely resemble who Jesus created us to be.

Status Quo

Someone asked me the other day what kind of people I was looking to recruit to make up the core team of Union Church. I was a little embarrassed that I didn’t have a specific demographic or population segment in mind. I said something generic, like “we’ll take anybody…” (which isn’t untrue, I guess). Several days later, that question has festered and I’ve thought more about it than I care to admit.

If I had to answer that question over again, this is what I’d say: I want people who are discontent with the Church being the chaplain for the status quo.

Now, what I am NOT saying is that I’m looking for anyone in the Auburn/Opelika area who has beef with an existing church. As a pastor - but mostly as the son of a pastor – I have zero interest in disgruntled church folk who complain, bounce, repeat. Those guys are the worst. I’m also NOT suggesting that any church planted prior to 2018 is part of the problem.

But the reality of our situation is pretty bleak. There are zero studies that suggest Christianity in America is trending anywhere but down. The status quo is unacceptable – in terms of both quantity and quality. We are planting 4000 new churches every year but we’re also shutting down 3700 right behind them. So, either we have a volume problem, a method problem, or both.

The established church as she is currently constructed isn’t enough – even if she was theologically orthodox, socially engaged and fabulously resourced (spoiler alert: she’s not). There are simply not enough healthy churches to keep pace with the population growth, much less a rapidly changing spiritual landscape.

One of my favorite missiologists is fond of saying that the church is perfectly organized to achieve exactly what she is currently achieving. Meaning, if you’re cool with the mass exodus of college students from the faith, rampant misogyny and sexual misconduct of male leadership, doctrinal infidelity and widespread institutional racism, then yeah, we’re doing fine. But if you think the Church can be more than that we need to A. repent (looking at us Southern Baptists), B. plant new churches, and C. plant new kinds of churches.

It’s time for new mindsets, new wineskins that are still pliable and haven’t assumed definite shape yet (Mark 2:22). It’s time for Christians to remember that our Lord wasn’t meek and mild but was considered a threat to the status quo (Mark 3:6). It’s time for churches to wake up (Eph. 5:14) and see that this is no time for business as usual and start taking justice as seriously as our public relations.

So, I don’t need social justice warriors, I don’t need Facebook trolls. I’m looking for people whose hearts break for what Jesus’ heart breaks for. I need people who have the courage to swim upstream and yet at the end of the day, can still muster the strength to be gentle, patient and faithful.

Anyway, that’s who we’re looking for.

Interest Meeting

The very first Union Church event is officially on the calendar. We will host an interest meeting in our home to pitch the vision of our church on May 30. Over the last year we have developed relationships with about two dozen Auburn/Opelika residents who have expressed some level of interest in partnering with our church plant.

Technically, this is the second official Union Church event. Almost a year ago to the day (May 31, 2017) I was invited to participate in a community wide prayer meeting in Opelika, representing Union Church as we prayed for new works to begin across Lee County.  Just under a year later – here we are – with towers of still-packed boxes in our garage and a partially furnished living room. However unsettled as we sometimes feel, we are still overwhelmed that the Lord provided this opportunity and this house – and it continually serves as a reminder of his provision and answer to those early prayers.

As we head into this initial interest meeting I’m reminded that God uses small things to advance the Kingdom.

“He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches…” Matt 13:31-32

Because when I catalog Union Church’s assets it’s hard to imagine us making much of an impact here:

-       1 partially furnished house

-       1 partially completed website

-       1 partially funded budget

-       28 potentially interested contacts

But then I read passages like this:

“And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied…”  Luke 9:16-17

Specifically, for this meeting and broadly for our church’s entire ministry, our prayer is that God would use our small, slow, ordinary resources and supernaturally multiply them to feed people in this city.

 

 

 

Pray For Laborers

“And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – Luke 10:2

This verse seems to suggest that the Lord is eager to produce spiritual fruit but somehow limits or slows its growth to match the availability of workers and the authenticity of our prayers. This is not a precise formula that activates a genie from the lamp, but there is some type of mysterious participation that God is waiting for before He acts. John 15: 5 goes even further by saying, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”

Several years ago, a friend told me that I needed to be as intentional and aggressive in raising prayer support as I was in raising financial support. That has stuck with me (more accurately, haunted me) – given the absolute necessity of raising money for our family and church – that if there was to be any hope of spiritual fruit – prayer must be our primary tool, not a secondary accessory to talent, resources and connections.

If our church succeeds it will be because a small group of people prayed for God to move. I can guarantee that the lead pastor does not have the talent, resources and connections to pull this off. To his credit, however, he’s smart enough to realize this and is trying to get people to join him in prayer.

To that end, Cara Jane and I have begun setting the alarms on our phones for 10:02, in reference to Luke 10:2. So twice a day we are reminded to pray that God would raise up a team to join us in planting Union Church. Specifically, we’re asking the Lord to provide 12 people from Huntsville to be sent out with us as well as 12 people already on the ground in Auburn who would begin laying the ground work before we arrive.

If God would be gracious enough to put this team of missionaries together, the first thing we’ll do as an official Union Church team, will be to launch a prayer meeting. Missional communities, preaching, finding a building, all that is important, but it comes later.

Please join us in praying that God would burden 24 people for the Auburn/Opelika area, that we would be united in the vision and mission of Union Church and that God would bring healing and reconciliation to a stagnate culture. Who knows what 24 people abiding in Jesus, praying for a harvest could accomplish?

Nazis and College Towns

There is always that one pundit on cable news who will inevitably draw comparisons between the policies of whatever party he/she doesn’t like… and the Nazis. As if the Third Reich is the inevitable trajectory of anyone who disagrees with him/her. This historical hyperbole can be drowned out and dismissed easily enough but the recent events in Charlottesville, VA has knocked our country on its heels – because this isn’t dramatic rhetoric anymore, these are actual, swastika waving Nazis! We’re reeling, not only because innocent people are being killed but because we seem to be experiencing (or probably more accurately re-experiencing) a cultural moment where multiple environmental factors are colliding together to allow Alt Right/White Supremacist/Neo Nazi violence to occur… right in front of our eyes!

I believe this perfect storm is made up of at least five elements: 

  • There seems to be a traumatic realization that racism is not a historical problem that America has already legislatively solved but, in fact, is a brutally present reality that is alive and well. This seems to have annoyed the Right and confused the Left.
  • There seems to be a political climate that openly encourages polarization, extremism and fear mongering, thus discouraging any form of cooperation and compromise.
  • There seems to be a digital climate and a cultural attention span that prefers soundbites and headlines in 140 characters or less – making reasonable, thoughtful, nuanced debate virtually impossible.
  • There seems to be an administration (I’m trying to be as charitable as I can) that won an election, in large part, due to the support of disgruntled, white voters. Therefore, this administration is, at best, slow, vague and mild in addressing the concerns of minorities – in an effort to maintain that original bloc of support.
  • There seems to be a significant portion of the American church, for whom political power and stability is simply a higher priority than racial reconciliation and social justice. We’ve seen this movie before (Israel in the time of the prophet Amos, Pharisees in the time of Pontius Pilate, German Lutherans in the 1930s, American Evangelicals in the 1960s…). Rather than being the prophetic advocate she is called to be, the Church has once again looked for comfort in political parties and court nominees rather than the character of our sovereign God…

This is the reality that we live in. The American church, as she is presently built, for better or worse, led us here, and Dr. King already warned us about it…

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice… I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other Southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious-education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: ‘What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?” (Excerpt from A Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

The Evangelical Left has compromised theologically to appease the broader culture and the Evangelical Right has compromised politically to hold on to whatever structural power is left. Either way, the unbelieving world sees absolutely nothing unique about the way we live and we’ve sold out our minority brothers and sisters in the process.

But what if out of this dumpster-fire of a moment came a tribe of people that believed the gospel was good enough – and required no alterations to make it palatable for liberal ears – and was strong enough that it didn’t need the structure and systems of the conservatives? What if these people planted new churches – uncompromised by theological drift or political pressure? What if they strategically planted these churches in places like Berkley, CA, Auburn, AL and Charlottesville, VA?

The University of Virginia in Charlottesville has 20,000+ students – from all 50 states and 148 countries. Its faculty and alumni have significant influence across a number of industries all over the world, particularly in the political arena of nearby Washington D.C. What if there were dozens of churches planted there to reach that particular people group? What if there were dozens of multi-ethnic congregations where black and white believers worshipped together? What if you were a student at UVA and were forced to deal with the reality of those faith communities? Would that shatter your preconceived ideas about religion? Would that affect how Jesus plays into the way you view politics, money, sexuality, race, ethics?

Luther, in the first of the 95 Theses said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance…” Centuries later, Karl Barth, channeling St. Augustine, said that “the church is always reforming…” The American Church should repent and reform and as far as I am concerned, the most effective way of doing that is to plant new churches in college towns… because the Nazis are already there.

Prayer

My primary position over the last several months could accurately be described as overwhelmed. There has not been one day in which I have not thought to myself that we have bitten off way more than we can chew. We are moving 800 miles and 5 states away from our friends, family, and the church we helped build from scratch. We currently have less than 50% of the money we need to make ends meet, and my wife could literally go into labor any minute with our second child.

Our objective is to plant a church that is intentionally multi-ethnic in a part of the country that literally fought a war to prevent that from happening. Our primary strategy for this church plant is to engage college students and minorities, two people groups not historically known for their financial stability. Furthermore, I am convinced that my skill set and personality are nowhere near sufficient for the task ahead. There is nothing on my resume that suggests our church plant will be wildly successful. I’m not trying to be self-deprecating – I believe I’m both qualified and called to this task – I’m simply trying to express the enormity of what is on the Bristers’ plate.

On the bright side, desperation and spiritual poverty seem to be what the Spirit is attracted to (Matthew 5:3). As J.D. Greear is fond of saying, “If dependence is the objective, then weakness is an advantage.” So, it is precisely because of my profound state of insecurity along with a deeply held theological conviction… that we need to pray like crazy.

Sam Storms points out that virtually every believer values prayer but “there is a difference between being committed to prayer and being committed to praying.” Our first year of networking, training, and fundraising in Huntsville will almost entirely be devoted to not only personal prayer, but also building a prayer network who will intercede for our fragile new work. A friend who I met during my Soma residency in Fort Worth described to me this idea of a prayer network and I have not been able to shake it. He worked for an organization that when they polled their most effective leaders, the single overlapping element of their successful ministries was their personal and corporate commitment to prayer. It wasn’t budgets of a certain size or a critical mass tipping point or even a certain personality type, it was simply a commitment to prayer and fasting.

This pattern is all over the New Testament: movements of prayer always precede movements of God. Pentecost was a result of a prayer meeting. Peter, the ultimate knucklehead of the Bible, preached for ten minutes and 3000 people got saved, all because the church prayed.

It was said that a young American pastor once traveled to England to find out the secret behind Charles Spurgeon’s megachurch in downtown London. Spurgeon assured him there was no secret, simply a commitment to prayer. So, while 10,000 people gathered in the massive assembly hall above, Spurgeon led this pastor down to the church basement where 300 people were on their faces, in prayer.

I’m an Acts 29 dude. I place a high value on the preached Word, but Union Church is not going to be started with a sermon. I’m a Soma guy. I have a high value for missional communities, but Union Church will not start with a small group. I grew up Southern Baptist. I have a high value for worship services, but Union Church will not be started with a Sunday gathering.

Union Church will start with a prayer meeting – an old school, unsexy, no-frills prayer meeting. Regardless of how the church changes and grows, the one constant, from beginning to end, will be the prayer meeting (and we’re not naming it with one of these hipster nonsense monikers like Ignite or Glow or something lame, it’s just The Prayer Meeting). One of my main roles as the lead pastor is to model and build out a culture of prayer. Prayer will be part of the gathering, the missional communities, the elder meetings, the deacon trainings, the kid’s ministry. Everything.

Calling black and white families, with generations of baggage, to worship together is too complicated. Calling religious consumers to become servant missionaries is too nuanced. Calling college students to rethink their careers is too far-fetched. The only way this works is if a lot of people spend a lot of time asking the Father to do only what He can do.

If you want to pray for us, here’s where you can start in the short-term:

  • Pray for our transition out of Norman.
  • Pray for full financial support for our year in Huntsville.
  • Pray for our house in Norman to sell and for us to find a place to live in Huntsville.
  • Pray for a smooth delivery of Ellie Jane and our transition to being a family of four.

And for the long-term:

  • Pray for Black leadership to join us in Auburn.
  • Pray for a multi-ethnic core team to develop out of Norman, Huntsville, and Auburn.
  • Pray for our strategy in reaching Auburn and Opelika.
  • Pray for early influence on the Auburn University campus.
  • Pray for a strategic gathering space and a strategic neighborhood to live.
  • Pray for a worship leader to join us.
  • Pray for financial support as we begin our work in Auburn.
  • Pray for more people to pray for the work of Union Church.