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.