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Taking A Step In A New Direction

TakingAStepInANewDirectionLet’s put something out there really quickly. This is a long post. If you’re looking for something to read while you’re in between jobs or waiting on your kids in the car-pool lane, you’ll probably need to come back. This is one of those “my life is shifting” posts, so settle in! Given the nature of this story and the amount of people that I want to share it with, this seems to be the best medium. So here we go!

I was born in 1983…

(just kidding)

If you’re reading this, you probably know that we moved to Columbus, Ohio almost two years ago to plant a church. If you followed our story, you know that we started a Bible study in our home in February 2015 that grew to 35 some nights. Then, you watched us launch Access on Sunday, October 11, 2015. You gave financially, celebrated with us and prayed for us (for that, we are eternally grateful).

Between October 2015 and May 2016, we did everything we know to do. We relied on God for resources, prayed for Him to allow us to have a great impact in this city that we love, and tried our best to keep in step with Him along the way.

In late April, I went to Exponential Conference, a fantastic church planting conference in Orlando. I left that conference fired up and ready to go. At that time, God put it in the heart of a friend of mine to shoot me a text:

“I have some ideas that I want to run by you next week. You game for that?”

That friend is Travis Davenport, Lead Pastor of Covenant Church. Covenant Church is our local sponsor church here in Columbus. Travis, the staff and volunteers have been nothing less than VITAL in our lives as we planted Access. They have given us so much encouragement, prayer, financial support as well as just having my back in general.

I replied yes and that I was ready for them at that very moment (because you would too, right?). He responded:

“Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to pray between now and when we talk next week that god would prepare your heart to hear what I have to talk to you about. These are MASSIVE ideas.”

(gulp). Ok.

That weekend, I prayed and prayed and was ready for our conversation that would happen a few days later on Monday.

God had placed it on his heart to offer me the opportunity to do a leadership residency with Covenant Church, which would mean stepping back from Access Church for about 6-9 months. This residency would include training, an opportunity to lead a team of volunteers on Sunday mornings at Covenant Church and the chance to learn all their systems in outreach and discipleship. I would walk away with a reproducible model to re-launch Access Church. Last, but not least, Travis pledged to send us with at least 30 members of Covenant Church, who would be sent out to help us re-launch (there are a lot of nuances in this story that I won’t be able to cover in this post).

My gut reaction: “What are people going to think?”

I verbalized that fear as we talked it out. I knew it wasn’t key in decision-making, but I needed to give it a voice, because it was very present. One of the most helpful things that Travis offered up was he didn’t view me as a failure. That failure would be me quitting, and I definitely wasn’t there yet. He continued, “I know you’re not ready to throw in the towel and that you probably don’t feel burn-out yet; I just want to catch you before you get there.”

He was right. I wasn’t anywhere near ready to quit, but as I talked it out with wise counselors in my life, the unanimous response was that it seemed like a good, healthy idea. Everyone responded that they were glad I had someone that had my back that much (I agree wholeheartedly).

True story: right after I got off the phone that afternoon, I went out to mow my lawn. It was one of those days that was not ideal to mow, but it was the only day that week that it wasn’t raining and my yard looked like the Amazon rainforest. In the middle of mowing, the self-propeller broke, and I ended up having to finish my muddy back yard without the help of a self-propelled mower.

At the risk of sounding like a sissy, I feel like God used that moment to paint a picture of what could have been. Grunting out the rest of the work, leaving me exhausted, sweaty and hating the actual work (and I love mowing the lawn). It’s as if God was showing me what burnout feels like before I could actually feel it.

So, Christi and I continued to pray, and agreed to move in that direction. We talked with several members on our team, wrapped up our last service, and packed up the church equipment. Our team was very gracious and understood completely. We are beyond thankful for that.

To catch you up on the timeline, Travis and I had that conversation on April 28. We had our last church service on May 15. It was his purpose to allow us a season of rest between our last service and the beginning of the residency starting at the beginning of July (I didn’t realize how much that would mean to me). Without going into much detail, I’ll sum up that six-week period as a roller coaster of emotion. One day, I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. The next, I felt like I was totally worthless (not hyperbole). I battled through a season of unexpected depression as well. Some day, I’ll talk more about that. It’s just too recent to even know how to articulate what I was feeling.

Fast forward to today. I started my residency with Covenant on July 5, and am already hearing God whisper ideas for the future in my head. He has been restoring my confidence in myself, which had pretty much tanked. Travis and I have spent time in prayer together over Access moving forward. I’ve been reading non-stop and learning a ton. Most of all, I have a growing sense that God isn’t done!

So that’s the basic story. You’ll have to pardon me, as I haven’t fully processed everything that is going on. The truth is, I wanted to write this blog post a long time ago and just flat out couldn’t. Over the next several months, I hope to be able to speak to the good and the bad of what I’m experiencing. Big questions like, “What happens when you step out in faith and it doesn’t go like you hoped?”

I will say this (and ask for your prayer). The bigger conversation in my heart has been less about church and more about me. That’s not to say that I’m not concerned with what’s going on with Access, but I was flatlined there for a minute. I had real moments of doubt and hopelessness to be 100% real.

It wasn’t until I was jogging late one night last week that I realized that I had thrown all of me into this thing called Access Church. When it didn’t go as I planned, Mark Cox came crashing down, too. I’m talking my IDENTITY was in that thing. When your identity is in something that fails, you fail, too. I can honestly say I have never felt like that in my life, and wouldn’t wish it upon my worst enemy.

I know it was wrong to put my identity in Access, and in my defense, I didn’t even realize I did it. After talking with a few close friends, I realize it stems all the way back to my early days in student ministry. I did it back then, too. It’s just that it never crashed. Everything was up and to the right. So the symptom was silenced and the disease was very much alive and well.

Without going into too much detail, I’ve realized that I am going to have to walk through some personal changes if anything in my life is going to be healthy moving forward. Things like personal health, boundaries, starting a hobby, healthy work rhythms, and much more.

I recently heard someone say in an interview that 33 years old, being the year that Jesus died, is the year in most adults life that sets them up for the rest of their life. I turned 33 in February. As much as you may think it’s lame, I’m making it my mission to become a healthier version of me before I turn 34. I want to be healthy for my wife and kids. Lord knows my boys are close to being able to gang up on me and beat me up! We want to be an active family, and I don’t want to hold us up (if you’ve followed my wife’s progress in fitness, you get what I’m saying…so proud of her!!!). I want to be more proactive with everything in my life. I’ve never really had a hobby, which I realize would be very therapeutic for me. I’m scheduling in more time for prayer and meditation. These are all just what I’ve experienced in about the last two and a half weeks.I say all that to say this: God is doing a work in me and my family.

I can also honestly say that this is nothing close to the church plant story I wanted to tell. Real talk: it can be embarrassing at times. But this is the story that we’re walking out, and I’m praying that God does EXACTLY what He wants to do in and through us.

Some quick thoughts about the future. I’m spending the next 6-9 months with Covenant Church doing the residency. Practically, I office there three days a week and will be there every Sunday until we re-launch on Easter 2017 (Lord willing, that’s the plan). We are fervently praying that God would provide everything that we need moving forward. Will the name change? Maybe. Will the location change? Maybe. We’re 100% open to whatever God wants to do and everything is on the chopping block right now.

Lastly, I just want to thank every one of our family members and friends for having our backs. A few of my friends really stuck with me through thick and thin and walked me through some hard moments. For that, I’m eternally grateful. My wife is still my biggest cheerleader and my best friend. I would crumble without you, Christi! To all of the churches that have kept up with us and partnered with us, we are incredibly grateful for your sacrifice in making sure that we can be here to walk this journey out.

And to Columbus: We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be back. And the best is yet to come!

Here’s the video that was used in the services at Covenant Church to introduce this new direction:

What Was Toughest About Abraham’s Call To ‘Go’?

Genesis04_SocialQuote_Insta2This week at Access, we talked about Abraham and how God called him to leave everything behind.

His property. Friends and family. Everything he knew. Anything he owned. Left behind in the pursuit of a supernatural mission that God had called him on.

He became a sojourner. Someone who depended on God for everything. He slipped up in the midst of a famine shortly after beginning his mission, but apparently the New Testament didn’t have harsh words for him; only affirmation (Romans 4:3, Hebrews 11:8-17).

God told Abraham that He would bless all the people in the world would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-3). As awesome as that moment must have been, I imagine that he woke up the next day with all the fears of walking away from everything he knew.

Sometimes, we’re tempted to need a mountaintop moment with God, when His past promises still stand today. His call to “go” is no different today than it was yesterday. So, we either sit in our fear and let it paralyze us or trust that He is equipping and sending us out!

It’s still scary when you take the step of faith, whether it’s mending a broken relationship, or reaching out to offer help to someone in need.

Before I step out, it’s always scary.
But after I step out, I’m always glad I did!

As terrifying as it may be to take a step of faith in our own lives, in which God is calling us to “go,” I hope we can remember that He also promised to walk this road WITH us (Matthew 28:18-20)! It’s not meant to be easy, but His presence gives us peace in the midst of any circumstance!

Maybe the first step for us today, is to remember God’s past faithfulness. Think on those moments where you knew He was walking with you through a difficult time. Let those be the moments that remind you of His faithfulness along with the Scriptures that anchor your faith in Him.

I told our crew yesterday that Psalm 121 is an anchor passage for me. When I’m doubting or struggling, I run back to this passage:

1 I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
    the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
    he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
    your going out and your coming in
    from this time forth and forevermore.

Four Things I Want Our Launch Team To Know

4ThingsLaunchTeamAs we get ready to get ready to launch Access Church, I want our team to know a few very important things:

1. I recognize your sacrifice. You guys have given up so much time and energy to get Access off the ground! I know that some of you have had to turn down some great opportunities to make it to meetings, go on shopping trips for the church, set up bank accounts, buy trailers, and meet with friends. I am so thankful that you would consider this worthy of sacrificing your time, talent and treasure!

2. It’s an honor to serve in the trenches with you! We’ve already been able to walk through some of life’s issues together and I am thankful for the opportunity to grow together! When one of us is hurting, others can surround them with love and support. I truly am honored to be in the trenches with you and I pray that we’ll continue to get each other’s backs!

3. I am so thankful for your friendship! Growing/learning/serving together has not only prepared us to launch Access; it has forged together relationships that will not easily be broken. It is such a great support for me personally as we launch! I’ve felt the love and support coming from you guys and I can’t express how thankful I am for you!

4. Get ready…it’s about to get real! So far, we’ve been able to see what it’s like to grow our team internally. While that has been exciting, we’re about to watch God do amazing things! And we’ll get front row seats! But know that Satan will be coming after us. Some on our team have already experienced this! So I’ll be praying for you each by name throughout the week, and I would ask you to do the same for my family and the rest of our team. Let’s cover Access in prayer as we dive in!

“Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you!”

Joshua 3:5

Monday Night Mind Dump // 09.21.15

There are several times I have an idea for a great blog post, but don’t have the time to put in to editing. Other times, I just want to tell people about what’s going on in our life. Again, time. Editing.

So this is a shot at taking a (dangerous) peak into what is going on in my head these days. It’s raw. Proceed with caution. You have been warned :).

1. We’re in what I call, “Launch Season.” We’re quickly gathering all the equipment that we don’t have yet. We’re shoring up our systems and processes. We’re trying to make sure that everything works (technology, branding, equipment, flow, etc). I am absolutely experiencing the most stressful season of my entire life. To be totally honest, I’m a blend of anxious, afraid, stressed, excited and expectant. But it will be worth it to see people experience life change!

2. We left Arkansas on September 15, 2014. When I put that in perspective, I’m pretty excited about all that God has done in just a year! Who would have thought that we would be able to start having services a year from the point that we literally pulled into town? God has given us some really great people and I’m so thankful for them! They are hard-working, committed and are ready to see what God will do with our little rag tag group of friends :).

3. I have learned a lot about myself in the last year. I got started with the work of starting a church and didn’t look back. I became associated with all the options (which is what is so enticing to church planters…having creative freedom). I wanted to learn everything I could about everything before I started (which sounds smart, but is totally unreasonable). I ended up paralyzing myself with the list of choices. What night will we meet? What kind of coffee will we serve? What is our website going to look like? How do you go about inviting people to your church in a non-invasive way? Where are we going to meet? What is our structure going to look like? For some people, that’s energizing. For me, it has been quite paralyzing. In the past, I knew that I had the opportunity to be a third chair leader, as a student pastor. That provided me with so much freedom. Someone was paying for me to have an office, and a printer, and utilities for that office. We had a building that we didn’t have to haul a trailer to every week. Everything just stayed there! It’s crazy how foreign that is to me now! And I’ve never been so thankful to have been surrounded with such great leaders in my past to lead me to this point. Having stepped out, I’ve learned my limits and have become more acutely aware of my shortcomings. I am thankful to learn about myself, even though it has been learning more about my weaknesses. I believe that will make me a better leader and an even better husband and father.

4. One of my greatest regrets from the last twelve months is that I haven’t stopped to reflect as much as I promised myself that I would. I’m a sap, so I love to look back at the big moments that God showed how good He is. Unfortunately, I have very little written down from the last year. I think I’ll pair that up with my day off. This (mind dump) is honestly going to help me process through what God is doing and how I’m doing.

5. I have a strong belief that God is going to use our little church plant to do something pretty big. As I tell the story of Access Church, I usually say that, and I bet it comes off as youthful arrogance or the desire to have a big church. Please don’t misunderstand me: I have never wanted to run from the public eye as I have these last few years. I have no desire to be famous or to have “a big church.” But I believe with EVERYTHING inside me that there are all kinds of people that are hurting with nowhere to run. And I want to be someone who will offer them help…to invite them into a community of loving friends who are all striving to surrender more and more of our lives to God. And I want to surround myself with people that exhibit that same surrender. When I read through the gospels, I see Jesus CONSTANTLY reaching out to people that are at the end of their rope. And He doesn’t give a crap what anyone thinks about it when He gets down on the ground to comfort them and offer them healing and a road to true life. And that’s what inspires me most. We will probably be met with strong opposition as we move forward to offer help to the hurting and broken. More than ever, I am afraid that I won’t be able to stand up to that opposition. And more than ever, I am acquainted with my need to start my day in prayer, asking God to give me strength. I repeat: I have never believed in something so much in my life…we are here to be a part of something that truly changes the direction of peoples’ lives that are searching for the abundant life that Jesus offers!

6. I just got word that one of my best friends on this planet, Jared Clifton, is going to come visit me in November! That’s pretty freaking awesome and I can’t tell you how therapeutic that is for me! Big props to his awesome wife, Katie, for hooking that up!

7. Caden turned 3 this month! This picture pretty much sums up his personality. If you know Caden, you already knew that 🙂

IMG_1416

 

This post probably breaks every rule of blogging. That’s not lost on me. If nobody reads this, it still would have benefitted me for processing it all. Thanks for hanging with me! On with the adventure!

Soundtrack today:
Bethel – “No Longer Slaves”
Twenty One Pilots – “Goner”
Lowercase Noises – “This Is For Our Sins”
The Brilliance – “Yahweh”

VLOG // Midtowne Mission Team

Midtowne Church is an awesome church from Benton, Arkansas. They are invested in what we’re doing in Columbus, Ohio and they sent a team of high school student leaders to serve in our city! In this vlog, you’ll see us working at Stowe Mission, grabbing coffee at Fox In The Snow Cafe, and playing a game called One-For-One, which isn’t fun for anyone!

VLOG // Clippers Game w/ Cohen

Our friends invited us to go to a Clippers game and sit in their box with them! Between the food and the mascots, Cohen had a great first baseball game! Shout out to Kiera, Sara, Janie and Alan for having us!

VLOG // Kipton Goes To Kindergarten

Our firstborn went to school! Where did the time go???

VLOG // Arguing With Arkansas Fans About College Football

When a group of high schoolers came up to serve in Columbus, we had a lot of fun talking college football. This is just one of those conversations. I didn’t turn the camera on until about halfway through the conversation. Here’s what happens when you put some passionate college football fans (from the Big Ten and SEC) in the same van for a 30-minute ride.

Family VLOG // Family Walks

Family Walks, Baseball, and neighbors!

Beanboozled 2: Barf Is Back With A Vengeance

We introduced the Beanboozled game to our friends Kiera and Sara. The following is what ensued. A fair warning to people with weak stomachs!