SPARK was the theme of Exponential 2015, where a gathering of thousands of church planters met in Los Angeles, California to learn and grow. 
SPARK…
Inspired by these words, Paul wrote to Timothy: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1: 6-7). Inside every follower of Jesus is the spark of multiplication and when that spark is “fanned into a flame,” it can ignite an entire culture of multiplication. But it takes friction—the quick strike of the match against a rough surface—to start the process of turning a spark into a flame and ultimately a raging fire.

We’re here! Our little spark is here.

Our spark has been craving the fellowship of other like minded, church planting crazies like ourselves. We’ve often asked ourselves, who in their right mind plants a church?!  No, really! Who does this?! “But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:16)  It’s Jesus who builds His church (Matthew 16:8). His charge and calling compel us.  When you surrender to God, He takes over. Thanks to Exponential, we found there are thousands of other crazies like us with the mind of Christ who crave to see the Gospel radically transform lives! It was utterly refreshing to connect with so many other church planters.  It was impactful and cathartic. And nice to know we’re not alone.

It’s been over a year since we planted Disciples Church.

It’s been both an incredible gift, and a difficult journey. If you’re compelled to plant a church or be a part of the team, put on your thick skin and think long term. It’s a wild, shaky, yet wonderful ride. (Let me keep it real, some of the shaky includes times I want to quit and move to Italy. Lake Como to be exact:) 

One of the most healing aspects of the conference was sharing our stories.

We’ve seen some pretty awesome churches bear much fruit and some, just as awesome, close their doors. Door closures can appear to be a sign of failure. But, if Jesus leads us towards something, and later closes the door, that’s no more failure than success. That’s the reality of His upside-down Kingdom. I truly believe there is no failure in God’s Kingdom. He’s in charge of the outcome. He sees the full picture. It doesn’t always make sense. It’s not supposed to. Our part is simply to obey the call to GO, regardless of the outcome—even if it looks like failure. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” – Henry Ford. Another good reminder from Dave Ramsey, “Success is a pile of failure. You’re just standing on top of it and not underneath it.” 

The greatest achievers succeed on the heels of failure.

Take Jeremiah for example. In Jeremiah 25:4-7, we read that for nearly 23 years, he preaches the same message, to the same hard-hearted people, with no results. NO RESULTS! Let that sink in. No.Results. I wonder if he asked himself, “Who in their right mind does this?” Who? Someone who knows their purpose. God gave him his purpose (Jeremiah 1:5). That made him certain about his calling. However bleak it appeared (TWENTY-THREE years), he knew the results belonged to God. (But still, I can’t imagine he didn’t have bouts of wanting to move to Lake Como.) Today, we see and celebrate the fruit of his labor. His success is rooted and established in the life he lived so intimately with God, and in his obedience to plant the seeds that God called him to plant. Seeds that bear fruit in our lives today!  

I believe some church planters are called to be the Jeremiahs of our day.

Not an attractive option. And especially hard when many churches have a hyper focus on numbers. More = success. Numbers are good. We like numbers. Especially when it comes to salvation. Throughout Scripture we read about mass conversions, thousands at one time. But when numbers are the primary focus that define a ministry’s success, it’s time to refocus. Success in God’s eyes is about repentance and transformed hearts devoted to Him alone (1 Samuel 16:7). With God, ONE is a majority. 

In God’s church planting economy—craziness, drama, frustration, loneliness and seasons of swimming upstream are real…but failure…not so much. 

Not if it’s truly HIS vision and leading. What we perceive as failure could be the very catalyst that fuels a greater victory. It could simply be an opportunity to start over with greater experience behind you. Low attendance, and tight finances can result in door closures, but maybe it’s a sign to rethink your strategy.  What may appear bleak in our eyes, may not necessarily be the end, maybe there’s a new beginning around the corner? (Italy? Lake Como? Could that be prophetic? But I digress.) Are we willing to seek His will? Are we willing to think out of the proverbial box? Are we willing to hang in there? For 23 years? With NO.RESULTS? Gulp…

I’m preaching to myself.

We lost our building in August of this year. They raised the lease so significantly we had no choice. The initial blow was hard to accept. We called our church body to pray and fast. How to proceed? That was the question we asked back to God. To make a long story short, we agreed Church is not about a building, it’s about a people, on-mission, for the glory of God. So….we’re meeting at our home and trusting God to lead. 

Early on we asked ourselves, “What’s worth doing even IF we fail?”

“What do you love doing so much that failure doesn’t have any meaning?” We’re doing it. We keep those questions visible on a chalkboard cabinet in our kitchen. Regardless of what the journey looks like, or if quitting seems like the best thing to do, Jesus strengthens and reveals glorious sights that refresh us every time. His blessings far outweigh the challenges. His miracles keep us rejoicing. Experiencing His abundant love keeps us clinging to the Cross for more. He asks, “Am I worth it?” Clearly, He’s worth all we have!
  • So in light of the fact that we lost our church building and we’re now meeting in our home —He’s worth it!
  • Regardless of the fact that we lack just about every accoutrement that fellow OC churches possess—He’s worth it!
  • Having to navigate through the ubiquitous question, “So, how big is your church?” or “How many people do you have?”—He’s worth it!
  • Considering the fact that we’ve lost the participation of a few dear friends in the process—He’s worth it!
  • Having to explain why we chose to plant “when there are so many churches already?”—He’s worth it!
  • The reality is that this adventure of church planting is one that’s lived between the gates of heaven and the hard surface of earth. Right in between. It’s a heavenly Spirit-led journey full of twists, turns and surprises…some AWEsome, some not!—And He’s worth it!

Some great reminders from the conference:

  • God doesn’t tell us to GO to church, He calls us to GO & make disciples, to GO into your communities and love the people.
  • Church planting is not about building a church (Jesus does that) it’s about sending out…it’s about engaging culture, reaching out into your community and having a heart for those who don’t know our triune God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
  • It’s not about conversion, it’s about transformation!
  • Church is not about a building, it’s about people on mission. Missionaries here. In your community.
  • If you’re not having fun, something’s wrong. (This last point warrants another blog!)
Thank you to everyone past and present who contributed, and to those who continue to roll up their sleeves and bring God’s Kingdom here on earth, as it is in heaven!
About Alicia Hilton: Her Peruvian/Italian descent = Passion for everything, especially Jesus. After almost ten years at their home church, she and her husband were led to plant a church in Mission Viejo  Their greatest desire is to cling close to Jesus (John 15) and watch HIM do all the work. Alicia and her husband Tyson planted Disciples church in 2013. You can find more of her stories on www.allthegrainsofsand.com
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