Category Archives: Vision

Big News for Austin New Church

A message to the ANC Family:

Words cannot describe how amazing the last few years have been. I know I echo the thoughts of all the ANC staff when I say that it has been a joy to serve shoulder-to-shoulder with those of you who call ANC home as we seek to follow God wherever, whenever, and however He leads. It’s also incredibly refreshing to help lead a church that values transparency, authenticity, and humility as we seek to be good news to a city and region in need of good news.

Recently I’ve asked you to join together in prayer as we continue to seek next steps as a faith community. As we grow, we need to continue and be good stewards of the vision God has given us. We hope to continue and see people come to faith, find their identity in Christ, and find their purpose in His mission. We believe the greatest way to do that is to continue to equip and empower people to serve not only where they have been sent, but also where they are being sent. This recognizes a call to learn to be Jesus’ hands and feet to both our neighbors as well as to those in need… whether across the street, the tracks, or the ocean.

In answering this call, we believe that where we do “community”, where we “serve”, and where we “gather” for worship matters.

As I mentioned on two recent Sunday’s at ANC, we have been given the opportunity to join forces with a ministry in southeast Austin named The Well. Together we will serve a community called Dove Springs, which is one of Austin’s areas of greatest need. While The Well is a much smaller ministry than ANC, they have a very similar vision, and are excited about joining us and coming under our leadership to reach the Dove Springs area by becoming “ANC Dove Springs”. They have amazing partnerships already in the community with the River City Youth Foundation and the Dove Springs Recreation Center. They have a fantastic facility where they meet in the heart of the community. And in the middle of us searching for a place where we can (1) begin a new service identical to the one we have now, as well as (2) begin to invest ourselves deeply in the middle of need, and (3) serve in partnership with others already impacting a community… this is an amazing opportunity that certainly fits the bill.

As a friend of mine recently said, “So many churches are willing to go, but so few are willing to stay.” This is our opportunity to not only go, but to stay.

After a several months of consideration and prayer with both our board of directors and pastoral staff, we are in complete agreement that this is an opportunity God has placed in front of us to continue to be the church He has called us to be. I assure you that no rock has remained unturned. Not only does this answer the questions, “As we grow, how do we stay small? (for the sake of community)” and “As we go, how do we stay ONE? (for the sake of unity and mission)”, it helps us answer the call to serve our city in new and more sustainable ways. We’re literally moving into another neighborhood and adopting a model for church that is committed to being “sent”.

So how does this affect you and what does all this mean? Here are some important thoughts:

1) What will it look like? Our goal is to make the southeast (Dove Springs) gathering identical to our current Sunday experience. We will have live music and live teaching at both locations. You’ll see the same faces on stage, whether teaching, leading worship, leading communion, and doing the announcements as you do now. It might best be described as adding another service… but instead of a different time we’re choosing a different location. There will be one ANC staff, one ANC board of directors, one mission.

2) Where is this place? The location of our new gathering will be at the Dove Springs Recreation Center. The center is located 1.7 miles east of I-35 between William Cannon and Stassney. This is only a few miles away from our current location. For nearly half of you the new location is either CLOSER to where you currently live or EQUAL driving time from where you live.

3) What about the current ANC gathering? Our current location will stay the same. Same location. Same experience. It will now be called ANC South Austin. While we hope to go to one service at each location in May (at least through the summer), this is important for you to know. Each location will be equally valued, staffed, and led.

4) If I attend the gathering at this location, am I leaving ANC? No. In fact, this is what we believe to be the answer to staying (while going). While we need many of you to prayerfully consider attending ANC Dove Springs, attendance on Sunday will take very little sacrifice or change (it’s serving there that will take sacrifice). Some of you are already excited. For many, it simply makes sense. For others, you may desire to attend there for a season to help us make the transition. Some of you will serve there with your Restore Groups. Some will move there (believe it or not). But don’t panic, you’ll have plenty of time to both experience what’s happening there and come to a decision as to how God is leading you.

5) What are our next steps? We want to make sure that the community of Dove Springs understands that we are here in full support of them and their community. We also want everyone at ANC to know, see and experience the community first hand. With this in mind, we are planning a handful of things we hope will accomplish these objectives:

  • We will serve with them: As a church we are partnering with both the Dove Springs Recreation Center and the River City Youth Foundation for their Community gatherings during the Easter season (For those of you not already committed elsewhere). These are being held the two Saturdays prior to Easter. Last year, with a simple egg hunt, they served over 1300 children from the community (More details to come on this).
  • They will serve with us: On Easter Sunday, those from The Well will be joining us for our Annual Downtown Grillout and communion service with the homeless. It’s a perfect time for them to see who we are on such an important day (our 4th Anniversary by the way).
  • We will worship together: The TWO Sundays following Easter we are closing the doors (Temporarily) at our South Austin location and will all worship together as one body in the Gym at Dove Springs Rec Center. This will be an amazing time together and the first chance we’ve had to worship together since we moved to multiple services. We are praying God moves as we come together in unity IN and FOR the community. We pray He opens our hearts and minds for how we are to respond personally.
  • We will serve together: The following Sunday will be our regularly scheduled Serve Austin Sunday. As a part of our previous plans to expand SAS to Restore Weekend (Including both Saturday and Sunday projects) we will have additional projects serving the Dove Springs area. Some of you will serve there. Many will not. But it will be an intentional place of engagement from now on.
  • We will start our new “normal: The first Sunday in May, following Restore Weekend, will be our first regular worship gatherings at both locations. Time and details TBA.

6) Are we going to do this again? Yes. In fact, Our hope, is that as our church continues to grow, that we continue to move closer to where our people are as we continue to move closer to and into areas of great need. We hope ANC always has a culture that celebrates the opportunity to expand our ministry and bring hope to new areas. Imagine if there was a mid-sized ANC gathering of people committed to gospel community and mission not only in south and east Austin, but also in central and north Austin, in the Buda and Kyle areas, and maybe even San Marcos. Not only would we be able to maintain what we value about how we gather at ANC, but we’d be able to do so as a people committed to making disciples, “learning to do right”, loving mercy, seeking justice, and who value authentic faith community that understands and seeks to “speak the language” of their neighbors (understanding culture and context).

While we know that’s a lot to absorb, we ask you to simply pray for God’s will to be done as we put one foot in front of the other. Pray for His Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven. And pray that God would lead each of us on how we should personally respond.

If you are involved in children, youth, or other ministries at ANC… expect your leader to contact you shortly with details on how we are proceeding. If you are currently serving regularly outside of ANC, keep going! We are thankful for what you are doing and are certainly not asking you to abandon your post for something new. But what we are asking is that we all worship together there for a couple weeks and a portion of us begin to foster these new relationships through serving the existing partnerships in the area.

There are so many more details. But for now, thank you. You’ve always been the church we dreamed of. And we know God is about to do something even more amazing in and through all of us.

See you Sunday,

Brandon

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Championing the Call to Serve

I run into pastors all the time asking where to start in making their church more socially aware and active. My short answer:

You cannot outsource a call to social action; You have to champion it yourselves.

Pastor, there is literally nothing holding you back except you. You have the authority. You have the influence. You have the calling. And you have the gifting and ability to do whatever God is calling you to do. That being said, you should still start at home. Prayerfully involve your wife and family. Prayerfully digest the tension in your own life and ways. As we all know, we cannot lead others where we have not gone ourselves. But here’s three things I feel are necessary:

1)    Be Convicted: This has to be something that God is putting on your heart for the right reason. If it is not, it will just be burdensome to you and your leadership. Start with prayer and end with prayer. Ask the Spirit to show you where you yourself are falling short. You don’t even have to know exactly what you’re being convicted about, you just have to feel something, know something has to be done, and be willing to do something about it.

2)    Be Convinced: Settle the issue of theology. Study the scriptures on serving the least. Not everyone agrees, so expect conflict, pray and do some more research. One way or another you’ll either land on seeing social action as a significant piece of the gospel, a necessary part of a Christians life running parallel to the gospel, or something completely unconnected. Two out of three of those demand a response. Without being convinced that you are pressing forward out of biblical mandate or moral imperative, your leadership will lack the power and confidence you need. Those following can see the difference.

3)    Be Confident: Confidence is the fruit of the first two steps. When the tension comes, you’ll either forget why you’re doing it and bail or remember Gods leading and instruction and fight for it. There will be a time when you’ll feel you l have to remind God that it was His idea. He already knows that. Do you?

(Excerpted from “Barefoot Church: Serving the Least in a Consumer Culture”)


Understanding the Suburban Poor

One of the surprisingly refreshing parts about being a church planter is found in leaving the environment of the seemingly “known” and being forced into a world of “unknown”. It’s refreshing to recognize how much we have to learn. It’s refreshing to get beyond our arrogance and pride and to be a learner again.

Not surprisingly, today I learned something new about the very people I hope to serve: The poor.

Although I’m aware of the common observable cultural shifts, I’ve remained pretty oblivious as to the depth of demographic impact by the gentrification of city-centers, and it’s impending influential waves. What I forgot to consider was the where, why, and how it impacts BEYOND the city-centers themselves.

Linda Bergquist, a New Church Starting Strategist in San Francisco and co-author of Church Turned Inside Out, wrote a recent post on the LifeWay Research Blog about the suburbanization of poverty. Here’s just a taste:

“The stereotypical suburban community is becoming extinct in the United States. Today, a million and a half more poor people live in the suburbs of major metropolitan areas than in the center cities. It would be easy to blame the change on the recession, or to ignore the facts by proclaiming that the recession will soon be over, but that would be negligent. By 2005, when the economy was prospering, there were already more poor people living in suburbs than in U.S. cities. In 1970, only 20.5% of America’s poor were suburbanites, and by 2000, the number increased to 35.9%. Between 2000 and 2008, the poor population in the suburbs of the nation’s 100 largest metro areas grew by 25%, almost five times faster than in the cities they surround. At the same time, the suburbs are also becoming much more ethnically diverse. Why the change? Here are a few theories:

a. Employment decentralization. Major employers in every sector have moved their bases of operation to the suburbs. Population sprawl followed job sprawl.

b. Immigration. Some new immigrants now select suburbs as their primary points of entry into the country because the jobs for which they are most qualified exist in suburbs rather than in city centers.

c. Gentrification. The status of status is changing, and the upper middle class is choosing high-rise city living over suburbia. There is a values shift from ownership (automobiles, large homes) to accessibility (public transportation, proximity to work, arts). As cities become more attractive to them, housing costs rise, thrusting the poor down into the streets and out into the suburbs.

d. Perceived cost of living. Sometimes poor people move to suburbs because it seems more affordable. However, while housing costs are less, there are hidden expenses, such as car ownership and less access to human services.

e. High unemployment rates. Certainly the recession economy is a factor. It has not brought the poor to the suburbs, but it is the reason why many middle class people are suddenly poor and in need of assistance.

The most challenging aspect of poverty’s suburbanization is that it has caught social sectors by surprise. Governments, nonprofits, schools, healthcare systems and churches lack the infrastructures to help the way they do in the cities. Funding agencies are prepared to help the “urban poor” but have no mental category for the suburban poor. Money and volunteers flow inward to the city cores. Many nonprofits have lost the grants they need to provide wages for employees, yet have long lists of newly poor who need their services. Suburban schools are also unprepared for new kinds of students who enter the system from non-English speaking or reading impoverished backgrounds. Health care providers are serving new constituencies that lack insurance. Likewise, some suburban churches are facing membership declines and their congregations can no longer help fund programs. They seek causes, but are often unaware of shifts in their communities.

In the face of radical change, it would be humanly understandable for suburban Christians to assume a defensive posture. However, for such a time as this, the church is being called to a proactively biblical, missional and ethical response. To begin with, most Christians are aware of God’s commands to care for the poor (e.g. Proverbs 17:5, 21:13, 28: 27; Ezekiel 16:49; Mt 19:21, 25: 31ff), but in the suburbs poverty is less dense and therefore less visible. God not only demands giving to hoards of visible poor, but to any one with need “If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother…therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land (Deuteronomy 15:7, 11).”

You can read the rest of the post as well as some pretty insightful comments and dialogue HERE.


Shaping Church Culture: Social Action

When I was in college, my adviser instructed me to be aware of how I use my time. He said that students typically have three areas where they delegate their time: Sleeping, Playing, and Studying. Then he said that my college career would be marked by how I choose to balance the three and that if I’m not careful, studying can easily be replaced by the other two.

Church has a similar tension. We have worship (focus on God), we have community (which traditionally focus on us), and we have service (focus on the least). We love to worship. We love to be in bible study and hang out together. So much so, that serving the least can easily be neglected, often getting only what’s left over of our time, our budget, and our efforts. And when we do serve, we often serve ourselves or our agenda.

While our current missional momentum has brought with it a refreshing change in posture for helping us focus outward through incarnational community, it doesn’t automatically translate to serving the poor.  It requires an additional and intentional effort to take service beyond our neighborhood and into the streets of our city and the slums of our world.

Introducing social action as new value into an existing church structure is difficult but not impossible. Here are a few suggestions:

1. COMMUNICATE SERVING AS A PRIORITY:

In order to create a culture of service, we have to communicate and structure serving as a priority not an add-on or optional event. If it doesn’t feel like a priority to you, it won’t become a priority to our congregations. We can do this in a number of ways:

  • Use Your Platform: The most underutilized platform is Sunday morning. We need to use it not only to preach our sermons, but to also cast vision regularly. The mistake we sometimes make is waiting until we have it all figured out before we share. It can be an effective leadership strategy to bring your congregation in on the journey. Being vulnerable, even starting with a confession of neglect, can be one of the most powerful ways to lead towards service. This is a great time to proactively address anticipated objections, concerns, or misunderstandings. If we are not willing to utilize our Sunday mornings to regularly communicate serving, it’s simply not our priority.
  • Use more Scripture: We would never make a point during a sermon without building a scriptural foundation, yet we tend to expect people to serve just because they should. Share not only from your heart, but also from your bible. Scripture has plenty to say about serving the least. We can have confidence that the Word will not return void.
  • Call your people to Prayer: I know, sounds pretty basic, but do we do this? We pray as leaders, but we don’t call our people to prayer often or early enough. We often rob them of making change a personal and spiritual journey. Whether we’re making a major transition or a simple tweak, if it’s a Biblical mandate, prayer might be the most underutilized weapon in our arsenal. We need prayer even without change. How much more do we need it while leading others through change?
  • Be strategic in calling out Leaders: The best leaders don’t have to search for something significant to do, they are being asked by everyone to join their effort. One of the most effective things we can do is to schedule a lunch or a coffee with a key leader, share our heart with them, and ask them to be a part of it. Don’t expect them to fully understand what you’re doing or why, but ask them to be a part of exploring scripture, committing to prayer, and evaluating the process.

2. GIVE PERMISSION:

Permission means letting go and is therefore one of the toughest things we do. However, giving permission to try new things and to think outside of the box can end up being one of the most empowering and freeing things a leader can do. New leaders are birthed and old leaders have breakthrough moments through being empowered and released. Until we let go, our people will continue to check the box. We also need to give permission for our leaders to stop doing some things:

  • Permission to stop showing up to every program, freeing up time to fully vest themselves in their new mission.
  • Permission to do not volunteer on campus, freeing up time to pioneer ministry outside of the church.
  • Permission to fail and learn from their failure. One moment of failure allows a learning opportunity for every group from that point forward.

3. PROTECT MARGIN:

We simply cannot ask people to keep adding things to their ministry life. If we do, service will be the first to go. We have to simplify our forms and find ways to create margin in our current structures. Celebrate addition through subtraction. It’s worth the effort to give your people (or yourself) the time to do what you’re asking them to do well. Some of the greatest ways to protect margin are to:

  • Evaluate: Cut events and projects that don’t serve the mission.
  • Consolidate: Identify our most effective existing forms and find ways to utilize them as a funnel for service. One example is missional community. If we value community as much as we claim, is it possible to utilize it as a funnel for all things outside the Sunday experience? This will communicate a clear and simple path as well as make missional community a priority.
  • Reshape: If the structure of our community groups are our main emphasis outside of the weekend gathering, yet meet the same need as Sunday – on the micro level – we may need to reshape what our community groups do. Consider serving primarily through community instead of as a church wide project. Delegate the responsibility of finding a ministry, planning, inviting, and carrying it out to community group leaders. Give permission to replace part of their regular schedule, moving away from the “event” mentality, not just adding on to what’s already there. This will up the ante for each group and increase involvement exponentially.

4. FIND A COMMON LANGUAGE FOR SERVICE:

The breakthrough point in supporting the vision is often found in finding a common and concise language. This requires us to do the necessary groundwork of landing on a structure that supports the vision. We can’t communicate concisely if we’re not sure what we’re doing. Everything we do at ANC happens through what we call a Spiritual Formation Funnel, overlapping the call for communion, mission, and community:

  • Expose Need: Utilize the Sunday morning worship time to EXPOSE relational, physical, and spiritual NEED through scripture, creative elements, media, and seasonal focus.
  • Experience Need: Consider a quarterly event to help people EXPERIENCE NEED as a first touch to serving the least. We do this every fifth Sunday, in place of our Sunday morning gathering, communicating priority, and creating a safe environment for first timers to serve in a group setting. This is only a “taste and see” event and is not the end all. It is something that by itself only creates consumers of the service project. There must be a next step.
  • Engage Need: Missional/Incarnational community is not only a great place to build relationships, fellowship, pray, and learn together, but also to ENGAGE NEED on a more personal level. Our missional communities are structured to give away as much time as we keep, alternating the focus of each week on biblical community and service.

Social Gospel v.s Gospel Justice

There has been much debate today about the church’s resurgence to serving the poor. Good and Bad. Some believe it to be a strategic attack against consumerism, some a potentially dangerous return to historical social gospel, some a superficial attempt by the church to follow Hollywood and remain socially relevant, and others to be an honest attempt to respond to the biblical invitation to “Pure Religion”.

I’ve heard some describe today’s movement as “Gospel Justice”, a seemingly intentional attempt to contrast with yesteryear’s “Social Gospel”.

I’d love your thoughts. Why is this happening? Is it a good thing? What are you seeing in your community? In your church? Impact? Fears? Theological ramifications? Gospel implications? What are you doing… and why?

Ready go…


Encouragement from “AND” for Austin New Church

Last week in Orlando at the Exponential Church Planters Conference a new book was released in the Exponential Series by Zondervan called “AND: The Gathered and Scattered Church“. In it, authors Hugh Halter and Matt Smay (Tangible Kingdom) wrote some incredibly encouraging words about Austin New Church that I feel really captures our heart and hope for mission. I just thought I’d share with those of you of the ANC community:

“ANC, like Adullam, found that if you try to start a church or grow a church, you often attract people who just want to do “church things”; but if you start with a mission, God will draw people together and a church will happen naturally. ANC isn’t a church that does mission; it’s a mission that has become a church, and the people who now do church together clearly acknowledge that this new way of living is a better ecclesial rhythm than simply adding a church gathering at the end of every week. Again, what brings meaning to your gathering is how well you scatter. Jesus gave us the key to helping people find meaning when he said, “Whoever want to save their life will lose it” (Mark 8:35 TNIV). Corporately, it’s the same. If we want people to find meaning in our church gatherings, we must help them to gather for the purposes and people outside the gatherings.”

Thanks again, Hugh and Matt, for the encouragement.


Network DNA – Church Planting

While discussing the idea of Networks serving Networks, specifically in the efforts between organizations like MISSIO and FORGE, Alan Hirsch (Author of The Forgotten Ways and ReJesus) shared the following DNA pieces of the existing Network. These are great thoughts for those invested in apprenticeship networking. They might be in a book somewhere, but I’ve never seen them compiled in this fashion so I thought I’d pass them along.

1. Context is Everything.
• Place interns in context.
• Academy is not the best place to form missional leaders.
• Just as we cannot learn leadership outside of influence of leadership, we can’t learn missional outside of context.

2. Teachers must be Practitioners.
(Reflective practitioners, created ethos)
• Cannot teach what you do not know.
• Lead from the front.
• Beyond Theory.

3. Put Risk into the Equation.
(Becoming a learner instead of expert).
• We only learn what we know in comfort zone.
• Take two steps out of comfort zone.
• They need to feel the potential of failure.

4. Action Reflection Learners.
• Do it, then reflect. Evaluate, critique.
• Assumption is that we will learn as we do.

5. Relational Empowerment
• Coaching with emphasis on relationship

6. Inspiration THEN Information.
• Major on motivation and inspiration.
• Quantifies the information

7. Imagination is a Key Resource.
• Not just pragmatism
• We repeat what we know
• Helping us find our new maps.
• ReImagination is a cultivator for leadership
• “If you can’t imagine it, you can’t do it.”

8. Intellectual Engagement.
• Theology
• Missionaries should be our best thinkers.
• We’ve got to be thinking better.
• Become learners, but also become thinkers.
• High Quality information. Web is a wonderful resource.