Dear church family – Big news

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You may have no interest in what is to follow, so feel free to skip this one. This will give you an idea of how we make decisions and steward money as I announce some big news.

Backdrop.

Several years ago, we recognized that we were outgrowing our current property, so we prayed. We seriously prayed. I needed answers to questions. Do churches really need to grow? Why build buildings to honor the God who said, “I do not dwell in temples made with hands”? Doesn’t bigger often mean worse? Or corrupt? Or corporate? Church growth obsession feels to me something like the American-dream pursuing money-worship that afflicts so many of the Christians in our culture.

Yet as we prayed it was uncanny just how clear the will of God was: “Go East.” From multiple people, in multiple settings, there was prophetic direction that was unmistakeable. I cannot overstate how surprising and specific this direction was. In the light of the ever-present debate (and recent conference) questioning the legitimacy of present-day spiritual gifts, many people question how much stock one should place in “hearing from God.” We have the Bible, after all; what else do you need?

When we heard “east” we assumed  this meant we would purchase a piece of property, so we began to save money and look for land. But no piece of land ever worked out. I was disappointed. The only ray of hope was a potential partnership with a school on the east side of town, Lincoln Middle School. Little did we know how much we would come to love this school, their administration, and the surrounding area. The gospel is preached, kids are tutored and mentored, the community is being reached in sustainable fashion. I  baptized two more people right there in that auditorium on Sunday. It has been stunning to make much of Jesus in response to the Spirit’s bidding us east.

In similar fashion, we recently began such a partnership with another school on the southwest side of town, at Kanapaha Middle School. We’re already beginning to see evidence of similar happenings, and  I can’t wait to hear the amazing stories in the years to come.

Despite the fact that we kept adding services and campuses, we recognized that we would still be in desperate need of a main hub.

Extravagance as the default setting.

Again, I had to ask the question of growth. Isn’t it dangerous to grow? Don’t churches lose their edge and their perspective? And their first love. So we continued praying and fasting, as well as setting aside money, if the Lord would give us land that would help us make space. So little by little, month by month, we disciplined ourselves to set aside a portion of money.

Our commitment is to give first, save second, and spend third. But we want our giving to be exceptional. In fact, we have purposed to make extravagance our default setting. The result has been an increase in both our amount and percentage of giving to missions. And every year, somehow, we have ended with surplus. Last year we reached 50% giving to missions for the first time, a vision we verbalized a decade ago.

Some of you may remember that we sold a Christian radio station to a regional company several years back. We sold it with a generous interest rate on the loan. A couple years ago, we were meditating on the Torah where Israel was instructed not to charge each other interest on loans. We could not shake the sense that God was calling us to radical and extravagant obedience with this Chirstian-owned radio station. So we calculated the interest we had collected (in the many scores of thousands of dollars), and refunded it to our brothers. We still ended the year to the good.

It has been stunning to watch how God honors his Word – even during the worst economy since the Great Depression.

We still need a main hub.

Through all of this our Making Space fund kept growing as well. It just so happened that as the real estate bubble burst, we ended up with enough cash on hand to make a move if we could find a piece of property. While we were giving and saving, we also continued searching for a dry, flat piece of property that would help make space to make disciples. Within the last couple years the sense of urgency rose among our elders and deacon board, so again we sought the face of God. Praying. Fasting. Asking for direction from the Spirit.

And God is faithful.

Again, He has spoken with clarity and confirmation.

The net result was the discovery of 50 acres, in Gainesville, on 39th Ave, right off of I75. (Our current property is about 10 acres) The land was not without challenges. The price was higher than our savings, and our elders insist that we stay out of debt. The city & county would have to flex on various limiting challenges.  Yet we knew this was the will of God.  As we prayed, the price came down.  And then, with incredible flexibility and favor from the county, the limiting factors were removed. The property is viable. And we closed on Tuesday of this week.

It is paid in full. We do not owe a penny.

I remember sitting in a board meeting where we were discussing our space challenges and the challenges of another church came up: the Underground in Tampa. We love that church. They needed $64,000 to finish their new facility, which will be greatly used for the poor all over Tampa Bay. In a matter of minutes your deacons voted to withdraw the full $64,000 from our Making Space Fund to send to them. Within a month, the price on our property dropped by another $250,000. It was beautiful and confirming. God will always supply.

Where do we go from here?

We now stand in fear and trembling, desiring to submit to the Spirit and truly please our Father with every step we take from here. We make disciples – not buildings. We long for the activity of God – not bricks and mortar. We recognize that God needs no building to work his wonders. God does not “need” us. And yet, he chooses to use us, if we will give ourselves wholly to Him.

We have no confidence in the flesh. We do not trust human wisdom. We do not want the traditional American-dream building campaign that so often distracts churches from their mission. But we are going to follow His lead.

So with a sense of gratitude, and a sense of urgency, we called a prayer meeting out on the property this past Sunday at 4:30. We wanted the very first thing done on this property to be a prayer meeting. It was gorgeous. This Wednesday, we are calling a day of fasting and prayer so that we will only move in the will of God. Finally, this Wednesday night at 7pm, we will have an open forum to discuss the direction and possibilities of this property. I believe we have heard several things from God about this property … Prayer, the poor, harvest, and leadership. But we want thoughts, insights, scriptures, prophecies, ideas, creativity … anything that may help as we prepare for the next steps.

We cleared the bulk of our bank accounts to buy the property without debt, so we are especially interested in hearing from God about securing money to build in ways that will not compromise our commitment to missions and the poor. If somebody has been waiting for a good time to jump in and contribute toward some Making Space momentum, now would be a great time. (You can contribute to our Making Space fund here)

The eyes of the Lord go to and fro across the earth, looking for people through whom He can show Himself strong. I want us to be some of those people. We are debt-free, and I am asking God for nothing less than miraculous provision … so that everything we do will make people wonder – how did God do that? Half of our church is college students. Half of our money goes to missions. How will we ever find a way to raise money needed to move forward with God’s call on our movement?

Jesus.