Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why Oxford?

Hopefully so far along the way you're beginning to see and understand our heart and why we would decide to move. Oxford, Pennsylvania is about 11 hours from Manchester or about 729 miles. Why move our family? Why go there? 

When visiting the Philadelphia area in November of 2015 we visited several different suburbs. Culturally speaking we come from Manchester, which you know is a rural setting. We never believed God was calling us into the heart of Philly, but still had a drawing to the area. We are small town people. Oxford has a population in the zipcode of 17,847, which is a 35% increase since the year 2000. The population is expected to grow another 3.5% percent between 2016 and 2021. The size of town is very similar to Manchester. As a matter of fact there are several similarities between Oxford and Manchester. Both have an emphasis on a healthy downtown areas. Both have a farmers market. Both are about an hour from two major cities. Oxford is one hour from Philadelphia and about one hour from Baltimore. We believe we have an opportunity to influence both major metropolitan cities as people who live in Oxford work and play in these two cities. However, 57.5% of households are described as “Established Country Families”. There’s still very much a rural flavor to the community, as best we can tell, at this point. With the population growth people who are not from Oxford have relocated there. I believe this is because they want a more rural lifestyle, even if they have to work closer to Philadelphia. With this growth comes a great time for a church planter to move in, build relationships, share the Gospel and start a new church.

Oxford is located in the wealthiest county in Pennsylvania, but it’s the second poorest town in the county according to the Chamber of Commerce in Oxford. The average income in Oxford is about $87,000/year. We believe the more rural context and income demographics seem to indicate our family will fit in well as we make the transition.

The family structure in Oxford seems to be very traditional with an above average number of married people or two parent homes. While that seems like great news, some of the issues that most concern people in Oxford deal with day-to-day financial worries, better quality health care, adequate food, health insurance, parenting skills, and dealing with stress. We believe the Gospel offers hope to families and individuals who are facing these issues. We also believe, that given my background in Biblical Counseling, we’re more prepared to help people deal with these issues as we build relationships and establish trust with the people of Oxford.

We've seen God's faithfulness in Manchester and we're grateful for our family and friends that are here. God has been so kind to allow us so much time in this town. We thank God for the opportunities we enjoy and for the people we know. It's your kindness in loving our family that gives us confidence that God's with us and he's preparing a people for us to meet and share our lives with. As usual, we're grateful for your prayers, support and encouragement along the way!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Calling or Bad Burrito? How did we Discern the Will of God (Part 2)

Thanks for reading! We're picking up our discussion of how we figured out God was calling us to move to Oxford, PA. Click here for the first post. Here's a recap of the steps we used to make the decision:
  1. Prayer
  2. Scripture
  3. Seeking wise counsel from godly friends
  4. We visited the Philadelphia area
  5. We participated in the full assessment process with the North American Mission Board
  6. We prayed more!
We're ready to cover step # 4. The fourth step involved an airplane ride to Philadelphia. Just before Thanksgiving last year Jodi, Matthew and I flew to Philadelphia. Over the course of a few days we visited several different suburbs and boroughs outside of Philly. We found that we liked Downingtown and Oxford. Still we weren't totally sure God was calling us. We were still willing and open-handed but didn't have a strong sense of calling.

The next step in the process was going through the full assessment process with NAMB. Jodi and I flew back to Pennsylvania. This time we went to Pittsburgh. Overall, we found Pittsburgh to be a dreary and lonely place to be and we thanked God he wasn't calling us there. The assessment process evaluated various areas of our lives including our ability to plant a church, the strength of our marriage, and our willingness to exercise faith. The biggest concern for the assessment team was the issue of calling. Other than that, after some clarifying statements, everything seemed to be a go, if we could answer the issue of calling. We committed to pray until Dec. 2016 for clarity from God about staying or going.

This brings us to the final step. Again, we prayed. This time specifically about the issue of calling. In early June, our friend David sent us a list of 8 indicators of a call to plant a church. Here they are:
  1. A pattern of multiplication
  2. Entrepreneurial personality
  3. Confirmation from others
  4. Pull you can't resist
  5. Passion
  6. Buy in from spouse
  7. A Sending church
  8. A sense you can't do it
We felt like 7 of the 8 were done deals. #4 was the hang-up. Did we have that? That's what we began praying. If you want us to go, God, you're going to have to confirm this. As we prayed we consistently ran headlong into the reality that statistically speaking, as best we understood from everything we'd been told, only about 6% of the state of PA were probably believers. If that was true, then 4700 of the 5000 people who live in the city limits of Oxford are destined for an eternity separated from Christ, with the appearance of no strong evangelical, gospel-oriented church in sight. How could we stay, if we knew this and keep being drawn back it? In Manchester, we figure there are about 45 Southern Baptist churches within 30 miles and there are a number of other gospel-oriented churches also. Our estimate is that about 25-30% of people across TN probably are Christians. If both of those things are true, that means there's a greater saturation of churches and Christians in Tennessee than there is in Pennsylvania. We believe in our leaving, that God's raising up people in Manchester and surrounding areas to continue that work. Encounter Life will continue to Love God, Live His Mission, Love People and Lead them to Follow. Our leaving is multiply our gospel efforts. 

For us, the call to make disciples and get the gospel to as many people as possible means we're willing to give up our preferences and desires for the sake of carrying the gospel. We can't escape this reality and it's compelling us to go and tell! Throughout this process we'll talk more about that! The next post will talk about why we chose Oxford! In future posts I'll also talk about how we plan to start the church, how you can pray for us, how churches and individuals can partner with us and lots of other topics! Got a question? Leave a comment and perhaps I'll try to write a post about that too!

We'd welcome your prayers, thoughts, questions and support. We're grateful for an incredibly supportive church, family and friends! Thanks for your partnership along the way!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Calling or Bad Burrito? How did we Discern the will of God? (Part 1)

Since we shared that we were moving to Oxford, PA, we've had many people ask us, "How did we KNOW God was calling us to do that? Wouldn't it make more sense to be in Manchester since we're comfortably connected in the community? Why would we want to leave Encounter Life? Is moving away from our family the right thing to do? Why would God possibly want us to leave this community? What's wrong with Manchester that we don't want to live here anymore? What's wrong with the church that we wouldn't want to continue to serve there? Don't you like your job? Is your family enough to keep you here? The list of questions goes on and on, but the basic question remains the same? How did we know God was calling us and we can trust that we've actually heard from God.

In the next couple of posts, I thought I might try to give you a glimpse into how we made this decision. I think you'll find that we're not running from God and that we don't hate Manchester! As I shared with some people early on in the process, when I looked at the Bible, I believed God was calling us to go. When I looked at circumstances, I thought he was calling us to stay. So, given that, how did we decide to move?

We began the process by being, "open-handed". We prayed to God, individually and as a family, communicating to him that we were willing to do whatever he would want us to do. I'll confess though, I did pray "God I want to be in Manchester, but more than that, I want to be where you're calling us." We used a pretty thorough process to try to determine, as best we could understand, God's will for us. Here the list of the series of things we used:
  1. Prayer
  2. Scripture
  3. Seeking Wise Counsel from godly friends
  4. We visited the Philadelphia area
  5. We participated in the full assessment process with the North American Mission Board
  6. We prayed more!
We'll look at the first three areas in this post! Like I mentioned in the prior paragraph, we began with prayer. We tried to communicate to God that we were his people and we would submit ourselves to his Lordship. That meant we had and have to be open-handed in the way we live. We're trying to do that now in the way we live. Whether we decided to stay or go, we wanted and continue to want God to use us where we're at. 

Second, we tried to consider the Scripture. What does the Bible say about the issue of calling. We felt like we most related to Abraham. It seemed to us that we were either in a season like Abraham experienced in Genesis 12 where God called him to leave his home and go to place that he would reveal to him or we were more like the story of Abraham and Issac and God was calling us to put our total trust in him, but he was going to give clear evidence that though we were willing to go anywhere, he really wanted us to remain in Manchester.

The third thing we did was invite a few of our friends and family members to speak into our lives. We asked them if they believed God would call us to plant a church somewhere else. In other words, did they see that giftedness in Jodi and me. Did they believe God could use us in the Northeast? I hear the people are different there. They don't even drink sweet tea. Crazy, I know! We were also asked a lot of questions about our current situation. Were we running from something? Was there some reason we wanted to get out of Manchester? All of these questions and conversations helped us think through the situation. Our friends' prayers, thoughts and feedback helped us evaluate our situation and think honestly about our motivation to consider moving from Manchester.

In an effort to keep the post shorter, I'll finish sharing the process in the next post! Thanks for taking time to read!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Sad to Leave, but not Sad to Go...

Jodi and I announced our plans to move from Manchester a few weeks ago. We shared with our family and our church (Encounter Life Church) that we believe God is calling our family to move to Oxford, Pennsylvania to plant a new church in that community. We're excited to follow God's leading, as best we know how. I wanted to share with you the letter that I shared with our church a few weeks ago. Jodi and I appreciate your prayers and support as we continue to take steps toward moving. As best we understand God's timing and plan, we're aiming to arrive in Oxford on December 1, 2016. At that point, we'll have already had our fourth child and should be in a decent position to move without causing Jodi too much stress with a brand new baby.

Below you'll find a link to the letter that I shared with our church. I hope you'll take a little bit of time to read it, so you'll know what we're thinking. Along the way, I'll share more about exactly what we believe God is calling us to do, other ways you can pray for us, possible ways you could walk alongside us in support (I'll post a link to our church website below so you could give if you're already familiar with our plan and might want to support the work), and other thoughts as we run through a wide range of emotions and experiences before we move. I'm sure Jodi will even jump in and share some posts from her point of view. We'll also plan to use this blog to keep people updated about how life in Oxford is once we arrive there! 

Thanks for taking the time to check on us and find out what God is doing in our lives!

Click here to read the letter I shared with our church on July 10th.

Interested in supporting our efforts financially? You can give a one-time gift or a recurring gift through Encounter Life Church's website, by clicking here and following the steps. On the review page, you can leave special instructions, simply say "Oxford Church Plant". You could also mail a check to:
Encounter Life Church
PO Box 375
Manchester, TN 37349