We launched EPIC Community Church in March last year and are now preparing to celebrate our one-year anniversary on Sunday, March 25. Over the past year, it is easy to say that God has done so many wonderful things. Church planting is truly hard work, but we have discovered Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9 to be SO very true (“His power is made perfect in our weakness”). I feel like I could already write a book about mistakes made and lessons learned. Here are just a few of the urgent lessons that God has taught me.
First, I have witnessed first-hand how important church planting is.
I have heard for years that planting is the fastest and most effective way to reach lost people. I believed that personally, but now I have experienced it, too.
Someone asked me recently what has excited me most about the first year of EPIC. The answer is easy: changed lives! We have seen lives transformed by the grace of God.
Our mission is to help people treasure God more than anything. Seeing that happen in the lives of many people has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life. We have witnessed God’s handiwork in so many ways: many previously un-churched people have been drawn to EPIC; people are serving who have never served in the local church before now; the hearts of many people have been softened who were previously bitter towards God and the church; and, many people have put their faith in Jesus and are now growing in community.
If we had not planted EPIC, God in His Sovereignty could have used somebody else. But He didn’t; instead, He chose us and it has been a ride I don’t ever want to stop! I want to do this over and over again. We are already searching for opportunities to help plant more churches in the USA and also in South Asia. To all church leaders and Christians: invest in church planting! It will change you.
As much as I love the church and church planting, I have been reminded numerous times that the goal is not church planting, but discipleship. I am haunted by the reality that we could have a great crowd coming on Sunday mornings (currently, we averaged 225 this past month), good outreach events and many other excellent activities, but still fail genuinely to worship Jesus and make disciples. Too often, we are content with good numbers and good budgets, rather than transformed lives and true Kingdom growth.
So I ask us all: do we have a good, effective strategy to make disciples that leads to multiplication? If our model doesn’t lead to multiplication, then it isn’t a good model! If we just teach people to follow Jesus without teaching them to reproduce themselves, then it is not Jesus’ model of discipleship. Jesus taught His disciples how to “fish,” not simply how to follow Him.
God has also reminded me this year that the church serves the Kingdom, not visa versa.
The word “church” is only mentioned a few times in the Gospels, but the “Kingdom of God” is mentioned almost a hundred times. The book of Acts starts in 1:3 and ends in 28:31, explaining that Jesus and Paul were both on mission to testify to the Kingdom of God.
So, make sure that your passion for God’s Kingdom is greater than your passion for the church. The church is beautiful (it is, after all, Jesus’ bride) but it is a means to an end; it serves the King in His Kingdom. Anything less and we may be in danger of serving ourselves and existing more for our agenda than His alone. Be saturated with a passion for the King and His Kingdom!
Finally, I now immerse myself into just two things: the lives of people and the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Before launching EPIC, God led me to 1 Thessalonians 2:8 where Paul says, “We were delighted to share with you not only the Gospel of God, but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.” We have since sought to make this verse the heartbeat of EPIC.
We are delighted to be deeply involved in other people’s lives. As a result, I have seen God work in my life and the lives of those around me in ways I could have never imagined. My resolve in this has been tested as we have encountered many difficult and messy situations.
This has led me to cling more to Jesus and the Gospel. Like Paul, we have also made it our aim and delight to share the Gospel. We seek to be Gospel-centered in everything that we do and we evaluate ourselves constantly on this. We firmly believe, as Tim Keller states, “The Gospel is not the ABC’s of conversion, but the A to Z of the Christian life.”
We must have messages and ministries that are saturated with the Gospel, not merely as a way to get right with God, but as the key to everything including our growth and sanctification. We must derive our identity, our mission, our pattern for living and the lens through which we look at the world all from the Gospel.
At EPIC, we have learned much over the past year! Of course, we recognize that we have much room to grow, but God has certainly been gracious to give us a wonderful team, a solid foundation and a clear vision. We are eternally thankful for that. To Him be glory, forever and ever!
Brian Watts is the church planting pastor of EPIC Community Church in Aberdeen, Md. Brian can be reached by phone at (410) 459-3656 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.