Church Like Leaven

In Matthew 13:33, Jesus says that the kingdom of God is like leaven worked into flour that raises the whole batch. No one notices leaven but it somehow it infiltrates and raises an entire lump of dough. Jesus says that’s one picture of what the Kingdom of God is like. It is simple and understated. In works its way into every corner and affects the whole thing. It is subtle but powerful. That’s what church feels like for me these days. This (the first picture) is what church looks like for us. We were meeting for church in a student’s (tiny) apartment. 

Church isn’t what happens in most college apartment complexes. I’d love to see that change. 

Our student host told us that when she washes dishes, she prayed over this view in the picture above. She has a desire to have a church start out of the harvest in this complex. 

Each week when meet for church we practice sharing 3 Circles in pairs. We make do with simple things because simple things can be reproduced

 

Baptism Celebration

Church in the Harvest is a fun life. Sometimes it feels like wandering around in the wilderness, but days like today are pretty amazing. Wesley grew up in church but until last week, he had never decided to follow Jesus. Once he did, he immediately wanted to be baptized. I love seeing rapid obedience in the harvest like this!

Dunkin’ time!

Thankful to call him my brother now!

Wes had family, friends from home, and friends from Church in the Harvest joining us!

Nothing goes with baptisms quite like feasting as a family!

From Campus to Community

I’ve only recently discovered that I’m more of a “Church Planting Movements” guy than I am a strictly “Collegiate” guy. When I look at a college student, I don’t see their year in school, their major, or their age. I see a potential church planter and movement catalyst.

Today was a special day that reminded me of something important. In the center of the picture above is one of our guys who is graduating in just a few short weeks. He has spent this last school year with us, leaning in from the very beginning. Every time we would go out into the harvest, Jordan was with us. He’s quiet, huble, and committed. Over the course of this year, he has been faithfully (and quietly) reproducing our training and practices in his home church in Ronda, NC (pop. 417). Today, he had arranged for a small group of us to come down the mountain to model Entry Strategy for them.

A wide-angle of this picture would reveal that in this group are his pastor, his parents, one of his Timothys (a disciple he is intentionally mentoring), and his Timothy’s grandfather, among others. As a young man not even out of college yet, Jordan is helping to lead his legacy church into the harvest to make disciples.

If we raise the bar and set higher expectations for our students, they will turn the world upside down. We will still coach him and connect with him from a distance, but he is a great example of one way God can use college students post-college to spark movement beyond their campus for the gospel and the kingdom of God.

Baptism Celebration

Today I had the pleasure of joining with my extended family to celebrate the new life in Jesus of John! A couple of our freshmen students (one is a new believer herself) shared the gospel with John on campus, led him to Christ, and baptized him! When we raise the bar of discipleship for Christians, so many will meet that bar.


These students (college freshmen) are disciple makers and church planters. This is fruit of their obedience and the natural outcome we expect. When they asked John what is next after this moment, he simply said, “Obeying Jesus and sharing the gospel.”

Thank you, Jesus, for letting us be a part of your work! This is one step closer to accomplishing the #NoPlaceLeft vision!

Two Kinds of Goals We Set at BCM

Follow me and I will make you become fishers of men.

–Jesus (Mark 1:17)

Setting goals is a great way to move yourself or your ministry (or both) forward. As a part of a part of a 4-Day 4 Fields training I attended last summer, I was challenged set 90-day goals for my ministry to help me work toward accomplishing a much greater 3-year plan. Over the last few years I’ve made a practice of setting ministry goals each semester, but what helped me tremendously was refocusing my goal setting on the 2 highest value activities in a movement, sharing the gospel and training disciple makers. We would usually set goals in keeping with the vision and focal points of our ministry, but we would set too many goals, and often they would be about keeping the machine running smoothly – but we weren’t really making disciples.

As I rediscovered this simple little verse in the opening chapter of Mark’s gospel, I saw the profound simplicity of two major domains for goal setting as it relates to ministry and leadership.

  1. FOLLOW Jesus (Abide)
  2. FISH for Men (Make disciples)

Follow Jesus
In John 15 we are commanded to abide in Jesus and the expectation is that without abiding in him, we will lack fruit and be lopped off. That’s pretty high stakes.

Make Disciples
We are all aware of Jesus’ command to make disciples.

Because these are such critical areas, we would be wise to set goals around them. For us, each week in our meetings we are setting new goals for the coming week about how we are going to Follow Jesus and Fish for Men and we’re holding one another accountable for following through on those goals. This is critical for moving forward in both areas.

How One Question Changed my Perspective on Ministry

We are hard at work trying to catalyze movement at Appalachian State and graduate movement catalysts for the rest of the world. ASU is the flagship university of Northwestern NC and one of the top-tier schools in the state. It’s our primary context for making disciples, but it is only one of 14 campuses across this corner of the state. The 18,000+ students of ASU are just one segment of the 83,000+ students in our region. We are realizing that what we do at ASU isn’t very likely to translate well to the wildly different campus cultures in our region.

  • Appalachian State University
  • Lees McRae College
  • Lenoir Rhyne University
  • Catawba Valley Community College
  • Caldwell Community College, Watauga
  • Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, Hudson
  • Wilkes Community College, Wilkes
  • Wilkes Community College, Alleghany
  • Wilkes Community College, Ashe
  • Mayland Community College, Spruce Pine
  • Mayland Community College, Newland
  • Mayland Community College, Burnsville
  • McDowell Tech Community College
  • Western Piedmont Community College

If you were counting, 11 of the 14 campuses in our region are Community Colleges, and a number of them are satellite branches of lesser-known Community Colleges. The No Campus Left team has reported that roughly 80% of the 1.2 million college students in North Carolina are Community College students – 80% of our campuses in the list above are Community Colleges.

These schools are as different from the “flagship” state school as they can be. We cannot simply port over what we do at ASU to the rest of these schools. We engage heavily in the dorms at ASU. Not only do most of these schools have no dorms, the majority also lack a student union or some other on-campus gathering space. One other key thing Community Colleges often lack is community. They are in, of, and for their local community, but they have no community of their own. The key connection points we leverage on a state school campus are non-existent on most Community College campuses.

When we made the shift from ASU BCM to BCM of the High Country, we recognized that these campuses would never have a gospel presence pop up without someone targeting them specifically. Why shouldn’t we adjust our vision and mission to include them? At first, I assumed that we would raise up a full time, (or part-time if necessary) staff to lead the new work at each new campus. While that works just fine at the state school level, it makes a lot less sense at a smaller or mid-sized Community College.

To help me get my head around more than one campus, I needed to be able to see where the unengaged campus fields were. I created a simple Google Map of all the campuses in our region, where there was little or no gospel engagement happening. A list is one thing; a map is another thing. The start icons represent the 3 residential schools and the rest are Community Colleges.

“What is it going to take to engage every campus on this map with the gospel so that there’s #NoCampusLeft without a reproducing gospel presence in our region?”

I’ve addressed this question as it relates to ASU – my primary campus. This question forced me to recalibrate my expectations of what gospel engagement and the reproducing gospel presence would look like when I broadened it to all the campuses in our region. This is the beginning of our journey on this mission. The broadening of our vision is forcing me to get outside of my perspective as a campus minister and start thinking more like a missiologist and a movement catalyst.

What would it take for you to engage other campuses around your primary target?

More With Less

A year ago, we couldn’t remember the last time someone decided to follow Jesus as a result of our ministry. We also couldn’t tell any specific stories of sharing the gospel. In that same year, 9 ASU students died, most from suicide. We were broken-hearted for those students, for our campus, and for the lack of fruit we were seeing in the midst of it all. A sense of holy discontent was starting to crescendo for us as we were facing relative fruitlessness, ministry decline, and the many crises happening across campus. The tug of war for us was simply trying to keep students in regular attendance at our weekly meeting and trying to exist for more than just maintaining attendance.

One area where we saw a glaring issue was sharing the gospel – we weren’t doing it. Our top 1% of students would share the gospel occasionally. We celebrated it when it happened, but I rarely heard stories of students sharing the gospel. I also didn’t have stories to tell of sharing the gospel personally.

We lacked two things – expectation and training.

This year we started regularly communicating our expectation of 100% obedience. We expect every staff and student to be obedient to the Jesus’ command to make disciples. We tell them this. All the time. And we build loving accountability for sharing the gospel in our regular ministry rhythm. And we model it for them.

Expectation was a critical component for us, but training everyone with some simple tools to help them actually make good on this expectation was just as critical. It isn’t fair to try to hold someone accountable for something they don’t actually know how to do. The first step for every Christian student is training them.

A couple of years ago, we set the goal that our entire ministry (around 80 people) would share the gospel 100 times throughout the school year. By the end of the year, we shared the gospel 3 times. THREE. Only around 1% of our people were sharing the gospel. We lacked expectation, accountability, and training, and I wasn’t modeling it myself. Our results should have been no surprise.

This fall semester alone our ministry (now around 20 people) shared the gospel over 300 times! We had a radical decrease in students but an exponential increase in gospel shares. Turning the corner toward 100% obedience set a bar that lots of people weren’t willing to meet. But it wasn’t our bar – it was Jesus’ bar. Our numbers aren’t as important as the trends they represent. One of the most exciting results was actually seeing 100% of our ministry be 100% faithful to the great commission.

Training Trainers

The two highest value activities when working towards a Church Planting Movement are sharing the gospel and training disciple makers. Last night we trained a new partnering church to share the gospel. Trainers solidify their skills in the process of training others. It also finds the faithful people – those who take the training and put it to use.

Jordan training

Right after we finished training at this church, I found out that one of our students was leading the same training at his home church 20 minutes away. He has helped us train before, and he has the skills to train on his own or with his own team. This was a clear reminder of the multiplicative potential of training. We train, but the big win is training trainers.

Decentralize or Die

fire

The biggest mistake I ever made in ministry was starting a worship gathering. I had 35-40 students between 4 campuses and the only thing they all had in common with one another was me. We needed connection, and what could connect us better than a weekly worship gathering? When I pitched the idea of starting a combined worship gathering at my church (which was roughly equidistant from each campus), they got excited about it.

Two students led worship. One ran sound and lights. The rest attended – most of the time. Attendance ranged from 20-45. Then 12 on one night. I preached to 12 students in a cavernous sanctuary one night. This all took place in a sanctuary with scarlet carpet that could seat as many as 300 if you packed in tight. Think about that.

The reason it was such a mistake to launch this worship gathering wasn’t because we didn’t have enough students yet (we didn’t). It was a mistake because the moment we launched the gathering, it took us 10 miles away from any campus. It capitalized on my time and took my focus away from the reason I was there in the first place — to reach students who were far from God with the gospel. I told myself that the gathering would help us reach students more effectively and that it would unite all my students across campuses.

None of the students ever really connected with anyone in a new way, and we became less connected with campus life. The weekly gathering quickly became our biggest distraction from mission and our biggest barrier for community. It hijacked our mission. Simply ignoring this fact would be a convenient negligence on my part.

What would you do if you had no ministry facility, no budget, no tradition, and the campus wouldn’t grant you Registered Student Organization (RSO) status? In my time starting that campus ministry in Ohio, I never had these luxuries. If our ministry model demands that we fit everyone in the same room at the same time, our response to ever-increasing campus restrictions might be simply to resist and fight for “our” territory. I never had territory in Ohio. I suggest an alternative. Let’s stop fighting the loss of territory and reconsider how we structure our ministry. We can either be proactive and prepare for the future now, or we can be reactive and wait for our campuses to squeeze us ever tighter.

We are currently multiplying to a new campus and we haven’t created any promo materials, we are not seeking RSO status, and we aren’t seeking to start a weekly worship gathering. Rather, we are relying on a simple process for multiplicative disciple-making.

Decentralizing a ministry isn’t a choice of preference. It is about the end-vision. Our end-vision is that we want to see no place left without a gospel presence on our campuses. If we truly want to saturate our campuses with the gospel, we cannot truly believe that a one-size-fits-all approach will work. It hasn’t yet. Why should we expect that to change? I think we can do better. Ideology is the fuel for a decentralized organization. Without a shared ideology, a decentralized organization will simply fall apart and wither away. Our vision is our ideology.

In a centralized ministry, evaluation is often based on attendance at the central gathering. The assumption is that if attendance is high, something must be working. We are successful. If it is low, something must be wrong. In a decentralized organization, metrics for success must be reevaluated. A decentralized organization is built on a network of circles (we call them “Gospel Communities”), so we must evaluate not just the number of circles and number of circle members, but we must evaluate engagement with outsiders, activity of circles, multiplication of circles, etc. Note that this is not a plea for more “Small Groups” or “Community Groups” or “Sunday School” etc. What I am talking about is a network of self-contained, self-sustaining, totally independent and autonomous groups, each containing our complete DNA.

I have often tried to keep my ministry as neat and tidy as I can. I seek order and try to contain and eliminate chaos. I don’t think we always understand the messiness of ministry. In a manner of speaking, Proverbs 14:4 says that we should expect a healthy and growing ministry to be messy. We must tend to the mess, but we shouldn’t avoid it. Decentralization recognizes the messiness of ministry, and sometimes even empowers it, especially as movements break out. In a decentralized ministry, if we try to control everything, we will stifle and kill it. We must trade control for cultivation.

Sometimes there’s nothing more comforting than sitting around a campfire with close friends. A campfire is safe as long as it is contained. Some campfires are large; others are small. I am proposing that we abandon our controlled campfires and start unleashing wildfires. Wildfires are not controlled and they can barely be contained. They are a living example of the power of a decentralized movement. May God engulf our campuses with uncontained wildfires of multiplying gospel impact!


I wrote this post initially for the No Campus Left blog and it was then published on Collegiate Collective.

Entry Strategy: Prayer

This morning I went for a prayer drive around our local community college. It has one of the most magnificent views in town, due in part to its location on the fringes of our little mountain town and the community itself. Most community colleges I’m aware of tend not to have this kind of view but all tend to be on the fringes of their community, mostly forgotten.

Part of our mission is to see No Campus Left without a reproducing gospel presence. The Watauga Campus of Caldwell Community College lacks that presence. We want to see that change.

There are a few difficulties in reaching this particular campus. Visitors must collect a visitor parking pass from the receptionist. The campus is so small that there aren’t many people congregating anywhere at any time. And there is a security guard keeping an eye out for anything out of order.

Besides the fact that it was 14° out this morning, these difficulties are why I went for a prayer drive rather than a prayer walk. Our first priority with this campus is Entry. Somehow, we need to enter the field before anything else can happen. One of our first strategies for entering a new field is prayer. We are praying for open doors and for God to raise up laborers from the harvest to reach the rest of the campus. Would you pray that with us?