Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rich & Stephanie Barrett

We've been telling stories on this blog about the families who helped Access Church get off the ground. For many of these families, it has been a two-year journey of praying, giving, inviting, and serving—all the time wondering what God might do if they submitted their plans to His.

For Stephanie and I, the road to Access Church began when we visited North Point Community Church in the summer of 2003. Our church in Ohio had just launched a second campus, and we were interested in comparing notes with the staff at North Point about the recent launch of Buckhead Church. I had the opportunity to meet with David McDaniel, and those hours proved fateful.

As we learned more about North Point, we fell in love with this simple, focused model of ministry. We had pastored at some great (but cluttered) churches, and the clear strategy of reaching people, rather than keeping people, was invigorating! David and I stayed in touch and, over the next couple of years, we met with David and other NPCC staffers whenever we passed through Atlanta.

In December 2004, David explained that North Point had just launched strategic partnerships in Dothan, Alabama, and Athens, Georgia. These churches operated much like a North Point campus, showing Andy Stanley's messages, except that they were farther from Alpharetta and were independent churches. David asked if I would be interested in leading a strategic partnership. I laughed! I had never been a senior pastor and considered myself unprepared for such a venture. But the idea began to germinate.

Over the next year, Stephanie and I met with many of the NPM staff members and discussed several possibilities of what it might look like for us to join in what God was doing through North Point. We immersed ourselves in the culture and learned all we could about this fascinating church. Finding the right fit proved to be a challenge until finally David and I found ourselves at Starbucks (again) shortly before Christmas of 2005. We discussed the strategic partnership model again, and Stephanie and I agreed that we would lead the next North Point partnership. But where?

Stephanie and I are both originally from south Florida, and immediately began to think about how exciting it would be to return to Florida and take the North Point ministry model with us. West Palm Beach was home, had all the right demographics, and seemed like a perfect opportunity. But David kept calling us and telling us about this amazing story God was writing in Jacksonville. Every time I would call David to discuss West Palm Beach or some other location, he would tell me about all the people you've previously read about on our blog. "Go meet them," he said. "They're amazing people."

David was right. By the time we'd made two trips to Jacksonville in the spring of 2006, God was convincing us that Jacksonville was the right place to move our family and begin a new ministry. The launch team here was everything you'd want from a group of people starting a church, because they understood that this wasn't about them! In fact, these people—the ones you've read about—made it clear to us that they believed the last thing Jacksonville needed was another church. Instead, they wanted to create environments where people of all backgrounds and beliefs would be encouraged to pursue a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.

Soon, we were packing our boxes in Ohio and saying goodbye to friends of 15 years. It was surreal. For years, we had prayed that God would return us to the South. For years, we had studied and admired the North Point model of ministry. Now we would have the opportunity to launch a North Point partnership in our home state!

In July of 2006 we moved to Alpharetta and began a four-month internship at North Point, which allowed us to meet some of the greatest people you'd ever want to know and ask a lot of questions about the philosophies and strategies of ministry at North Point, Buckhead, and Brown's Bridge. We've lived here in Jacksonville since November and are enjoying it more every day. It's home!

We are so blessed to have been given this opportunity. We're operating way beyond our level of knowledge or expertise and completely relying on God to build his church. We repeatedly say, "This was His idea, not ours, so we'll trust Him to work out all the details!"

The road to Access has proven to be an amazing ride. God's given us a great launch team, great staff, and an unbelievably exciting response in the community. Thanks to all who read this and pray, give, invite, and serve! Thanks for partnering with us to lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus Christ!

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Sunday, May 27, 2007

Masters Weekend

Since I seem to have collected quite a few golfing readers, let me set the record straight: this is THE Masters! In fact, each Memorial Day weekend Callaway Gardens hosts the most revered tradition in waterskiing, The Masters. This year is the 48th Masters, and the best waterskiers in the world will be making the trek to Pine Mountain Lake.

For those who'd rather stay a little closer to home, you can see the Senior Masters, taking place right here in Duval County. Those of us spending our weekend at Victory Lake will see the best 55-and-over skiers the sport has to offer.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Director of Family Ministry

After a long and careful search to fill the position of Family Ministry Director, Access Church is excited to announce the addition of Adam & Kristen Flynt!

Adam & Kristen are well-qualified to lead in this area of our church. Married for eight years with two children of their own, the Flynts have their very own Waumba Land every day! Gavin (4) loves swimming and anything to do with cars and trains, while Sophie (2) loves to climb and jump from high places!

Adam grew up in Jacksonville and loves the people and the area. In fact, Adam writes, "We love the ocean, the smell of sunscreen, and hunting for shark’s teeth and sea glass. I grew up life-guarding, fishing, scuba diving, and surfing. If it involves the water, count me in. Growing up in the cold of the Chicago area and northern California, it didn’t take much for Kristen to fall in love with white sand and warm water. There’s nothing like a good book and a sunny day for her!" Yeah, we'll have a tough time getting along...

Adam graduated from The Bolles School, University of Florida (I'm warning you, he bleeds orange-and-blue!), and Columbia Theological Seminary. He has served two congregations as their Family Ministry Pastor.

Adam and Kristen love Jesus Christ and "can't wait to help create environments where we all can invite our friends to experience life to the fullest." Adam & Kristen became familiar with North Point during their time in Atlanta at Columbia, and have several friends among the staff of North Point Ministries.

Adam begins at Access June 17. Look for the Flynts in the hall and introduce yourself. They can’t wait to meet you!


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Sutton & Debbie McGehee

Several years ago, Sutton and Debbie McGehee made a trip from their home in Jacksonville to visit their daughter, Amanda, who had moved to Atlanta. Amanda had been telling Sutton and Debbie about her church, Buckhead Church, a satellite campus of North Point Community Church, and she was anxious for her parents to attend with her.

Sutton and Debbie weren’t sure they would like Buckhead Church. The idea of viewing the message on a large video screen instead of seeing a live communicator didn’t appeal to them. But once they attended, they had only great things to say about Buckhead Church. “The quality of the screen was outstanding,” Sutton said. “It really seemed like Andy Stanley was right there in the building.”

The excitement at Buckhead Church drew Sutton and Debbie, and they liked Andy’s teaching. “Andy is a gifted speaker,” Sutton said. “He held my attention the entire time.”

Debbie said, “The way Andy delivered the message was relevant, pertinent, and upbeat. He was in tune with people. I took his message away with me.”

Back in Jacksonville, Sutton and Debbie got involved in North Point’s CD ministry. They listened to Andy’s messages regularly, and they attended Buckhead Church every three-to-four months, whenever they visited Amanda.

In 2005, Amanda told Sutton and Debbie that Michael and Zoie Morales were considering starting a North Point strategic partnership church in Jacksonville. Not long after, Michael emailed Sutton and Debbie to see if they would be interested in helping start a church.

Michael and Zoie had grown up with Sutton and Debbie’s daughters, so they knew each other, but Debbie was still surprised to hear from Michael. “Starting a church was an overwhelming idea,” she said. “I wasn’t sure it could happen.”

Sutton and Debbie jumped on board. They felt that there was a need in Jacksonville for a North Point church. “North Point knows how to excite youth,” Sutton said. “And there are so many unchurched youth in Jacksonville.”

Over the next several months, more couples joined the group that would later become Access Church, and the strategic partnership gained momentum. “It has been incredible to see how God has brought this idea full circle,” Debbie said. “He provided the key people—people who didn’t even know each other but were all on fire for the Lord.”

Sutton has found that, in Jacksonville, there is a lot of interest in Access Church. “Many people around here have heard good things about North Point or Buckhead Church, so they’re interested in Access,” he said. “I hope people will check it out, get a good impression, and want to come back, especially the unchurched youth in the area.”

Debbie also believes there is a lot of interest in Access. “People are excited and keep asking about it,” she said. “Jacksonville is growing quickly. We’re busting at the seams, and this new church is the best thing that could happen here.


Monday, May 21, 2007

Fields of Gold

Recently, a friend and I have been having a lot of discussions about our giving. We've been asking each other questions like, "If you give out of every paycheck, does that take away from the 'cheerful heart' aspect of giving? What if you don't give from every paycheck—are you neglecting the principle of first-fruits?"

As God-followers, we know that money is important to us and to God. We know giving is part of our worship, but under the growing pressures to make ends meet each month, fear often stands in the way of letting go of our finances.

Soon we become irrational in our thinking about God, his faithfulness, and our role as stewards of His resources. And when we let it, this fear has the potential to rob us of an intimate trust relationship with God.

So, last time I was in Atlanta, I picked up a copy of Andy Stanley's recent book, Fields of Gold.

Fields of Gold reminded me of some core truths about money and giving. Andy Stanley writes that if we truly believe that God is who he says he is, we have every reason to be generous.

When we truly understand God's power and presence, we can't help but trust him to meet our needs. Doesn't it make sense to trust the God of the universe with our finances? Isn't it time to put aside the worry and start living in confidence?

There are scriptural principles that tell us those who sow generously can expect to reap generously and receive a bountiful return: fields of gold—in this life, as well as the life to come. I don't understand that, exactly—it's certainly not a magic-genie formula, but there is definitely something to the principle of letting go of what was never ours to begin with.

Hey, let's be honest. God's a big God. If he really needed your money, don't you think he'd just take it? The fact is, God wants our hearts, and he knows that money is just one way that he can teach us that he really is trustworthy. He really loves us, he really wants what is best for us, and if we will trust him, he's big enough to make it happen.

I highly recommend this book. It's a quick read, and I guarantee it will help you understand the relationship between money and faith a little better. Grab a copy at our resource center on June 3, or order a copy from North Point Resources today.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Foyer, Living Room, Kitchen.

At Access Church, we believe that environments are very important. In fact, we would presume that significant spiritual growth in your life has probably been the result of truth being introduced to you in the right environment. The right people, the right setting, the right message. We have found it useful to employ the metaphor of a home as we explain three key aspects to our church life.

The place in your home that serves as the welcome area for guests and new friends. It is the first step, and it’s often your only chance to make your guests feel comfortable enough to return. That’s exactly how we’ve designed our entry environments at Access. Our Sunday-evening worship services are foyer environments. We want our guests to come back, so we do everything with them in mind. This environment serves as the perfect place to introduce newcomers to the life of Access.

Living Room
Once your guests arrive and are welcomed into your home, you invite them into the living room. Everyone finds a comfortable place to sit, and the interaction begins. At Access, our living room environments are designed to help you connect with people like yourself. Through fellowships like GroupLife Preview (starting June 3), strategic service teams, and other events, you will begin to develop relationships with others in a smaller and more interactive environment.

Think about it. What is the most popular room in your home? Where do you end up when guests or family come over? The kitchen. This is where lasting friendships are made. And that’s the kind of environment we are striving for in our community groups. Community groups are where people meet regularly for Bible study and prayer and commit to accountability, friendship, and support. They are the safe places to open your heart, share your life, and ask the tough questions. There are small group opportunities for both adults and children. Community groups are the places where ministry happens at Access. We're launching dozens of new community groups in the fall; perhaps one in your own home!

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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Speed Dial

What does persistence have to do with God and prayer? Apparently, a great deal. This Sunday, we will discover the implications of persistence for your prayer life. It will affect not only what you ask for, but also your understanding of how and when God answers prayer.

Come Sunday and enjoy Andy Stanley's presentation of Speed Dial, the final message in this practical series on prayer, and be led in an acoustic worship experience with Todd Fields.

Click here to invite a friend!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Free Andy Stanley Messages

If you're looking for a free & easy way to get your hands on some great teaching—the kind of teaching that can make sense of the Bible for everyday life—you really ought to click on this link.

North Point Community Church has begun podcasting some of Andy Stanley's message series, and this iTunes podcast already includes Pause, Permission to Speak Freely, and Breakaway.

You don't have to have an iPod to enjoy podcasting. It's simply an easy way to download audio right into iTunes (Mac or Windows) so you can burn a CD, transfer it to your MP3 player, or listen at your computer. Each new message posted can be automatically downloaded to your computer.

Enjoy it yourself or forward the link to a friend who might enjoy Andy Stanley's teaching. Happy Mother's Day!


Friday, May 11, 2007

Golf is a Religion

I'm writing this from the Starbucks in Ponte Vedra, while a constant stream of golfers, golf-fans, and wanna-be-golfers passes through.

You see, it's a big weekend in Jacksonville. We're hosting THE PLAYERS, and that means we're hosting Tiger Woods, Rory Sabbatini, Phil Mickelson, and anyone who wants to be anywhere near them. I heard someone say today that "Golf isn't a sport, it's a religion." And the more I contemplated that, I have to agree.

It's not just that golfers have their own vocabulary, dress code, and spending priorities. The game itself has a lot in common with religion.

You see, golf is impossible. Trust me. I've tried it. They give you this little white ball and tell you to hit into a hole barely larger than the ball. Mind you, the hole is three or four football fields away! If your swing is off, the ball knows. If your back is stiff, the ball knows. If you're having a stressful day (or game) and you tense up, the ball knows. No mercy, no grace from that cursed little white ball.

The players are no better. They love to be exclusive, enjoying membership at the local country club. Worse, they are sticklers for the rules. And there are a lot of rules. I learned you can't just pick your ball up and throw it over the *&#^*# water hazard. Someone told me, "You shouldn't play golf with someone who challenges a seven." Good advice.

Golf requires dedication and commitment. Passionate golfers agree that you can't get better if you only play occasionally. And getting better, make no mistake, is the goal. A constant, relentless pursuit of "The Handicap." (Don't ask me. I have no earthly idea what that is.)

It made me think today about the guys that invented golf. Somewhere in Scotland, I believe. Could they have ever imagined it would become what it is today? That their fun pastime would become a multi-billion-dollar industry? Once again, a lot like religion.

The Church hasn't done a very good job over the centuries of preserving the intent of Jesus Christ when he established the church. For that, we are deeply sorry. The Church has developed a lot of rules. Created our own culture and vocabulary. Drawn clear lines between those "inside" the faith, and those "outside" the faith.

Hey, we're not alone. Have you seen the rules other religions offer? The fact is, every time man tries to come up with a way to get to God, it involves rules and country clubs. But, when God came up with a way to reach women and men, it was all about relationship. Imagine that. God loves you. Not in a trite, "Have a nice day!" way—but in a real, passionate, "I would die for you" kind of love. Intimacy with our creator and our savior. God. Loves. You. Stay there just a minute. So much that he knows you're never going to get the ball in that little cup on your own, so he offered himself as the solution.

I've read that among professional golfers there is a little bit of a stink about being partnered with Tiger Woods. It seems that players consistently play worse when they are paired with Tiger. No surprise. Can you imagine the pressure?

I realize that a few of you reading this are probably golfers, so bear with me as I try to put this into your language: Imagine if you were paired with Tiger, not just once, but all season. And imagine that he was just as nice a guy as we all want him to be, but even more so. In fact, he helped you on each tee. Gave you tips and advice. Not in an arrogant, all-knowing way, but in a kind, helpful manner. Helped you navigate the course, and gave you really practical instruction. And then, at the end of each tournament, he traded scorecards with you, and you went home in the new Buick. That, my friend, would be a picture of grace.

God wants to develop a relationship with you. Desperately. And Access Church exists for the sole reason of helping you along the way in that relationship. We don't ever want to become the rule-keepers. We're not setting a dress code. We're not experts at the game. And we hope to never become a country club. I guess you could say we're just the greenskeepers, working hard to create environments where you and God can enjoy a great game. Grab your sticks and invite a friend to join you on the course!

Atlanta Events

Concert on the Lawn
concert on the lawnTraveling to Atlanta anytime soon? Be sure to consider getting tickets for Concert on the Lawn (June 1, Marrieds) or Gig on the Grass (June 2, Singles). It's guaranteed to be a great time with great music, and an encouraging perspective on what's ahead for Jacksonville!

Night of Worship
You might also enjoy a less-publicized "Night of Worship," featuring North Point worship leaders, scheduled to take place in Alpharetta on May 18, 7:30pm.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

We're Building a Church!

The time has come to unveil our latest plans at Access Church. After two years of careful planning, the time has come to build a church!

Where? All over the region! When? Every day!

In fact, this building project is already well underway, and you may be part of it. You might already be inviting friends, praying for Access, serving in one of our ministries, and faithfully giving. You are building a church!

Okay, you say... don't be a smart-aleck. When are we really going to build a church? And where?

Well, I'm serious. There is no better use of our time and resources right now than to build a church. Not a building, but relationships. A relationship with the God who made us, loves us, and wants us to enjoy him forever. Relationships with other God-followers, who need encouragement along the way. And relationships with those outside our community of faith, who will only know God's love if they see it demonstrated through us.

Our goal at Access is to provide environments to promote these relationships. A fantastic worship environment where you can worship with authenticity and without distraction. An environment to which you can invite others who may not agree with us, but are willing to listen and dialogue. Predictable, encouraging Community Groups where you can grow with other God-followers. And great environments for kids to be introduced to the God in fun, age-appropriate ways.

Encouraging these relationships is our primary focus right now, and it requires just as much planning, prayer, budgeting, and hard work as building a building. In fact, as a pastor I've been through two building projects, and the hardest part is not building the building, but filling the seats with the right people!

Let's engage, right now, in this formidable, enthralling, Herculean, gratifying task. Because God couldn't care less about a building. He wants to build a church!

Friday, May 04, 2007

Sunday is Coming!

Some of you might remember the old Tony Campolo message, "It's Friday, But Sunday's a-Coming!" Campolo draws from the grief and discouragement that the disciples must have felt when Jesus was buried on Friday, and with him all of their hopes and dreams. Little did they understand... Sunday was a-coming!

For two thousand years since, Sunday has been a day for the Christian community to celebrate the empty tomb, hope come to life, and a God who always keeps his promises.

Some of us who have been involved with the set-up and tear-down processes of Access Church go home pretty tired on Sunday night. For about sixty of us, Sunday is an eight- or ten-hour day. So, the fact that April had a fifth Sunday gave us a nice little break. But, we've missed it!

We've missed you! We've missed the chance to worship with you and corporately recognize that Sunday is an important, symbolic day. We've missed the chance to meet you in the halls, love on your kids, sing and celebrate together.

Our saviour is alive. God wants us to know him. We can join together on Sunday to say thank you to the one who made us and loves us and wants us to love each other. And now it's time to jump back in!

Maybe today is the end of a long week for you. Lots of phone calls, emails, stress points. More tasks than minutes in the day. Maybe you're exhausted. But guess what?

Sunday's a-comin'!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Different Kind of Communion

Some of you were a part of Buckhead Church long before they built a building. Now they are about to move into their new (but surely not their last) building—this Sunday!

Consider joining us Thursday night at 8pm, when Buckhead Church will host an online gathering for prayer and communion. Everyone who feels a connection to this event can come from all over the world to pray together before opening day on May 6. All you will need to do is visit the Buckhead Church web site shortly before 8pm on Thursday, click on the webcast link, and be prepared to participate in communion (have juice and bread handy) and pray with us online. You could do it with a group or by yourself.

Personally, I've never done communion like this before, but I'm willing to give it a shot and pray for this amazing next step in the journey that is Buckhead Church.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Making Your Minutes Count

For some time now, we've been saying that Jacksonville doesn't need another church. However, Jacksonville does need environments where those who are still unsure about how God fits into their lives can ask questions and learn what the Bible has to say in a very non-threatening way.

Perhaps there is no better starting point for that kind of conversation than around the topic of prayer. Everyone I know prays—even a woman who insists that she is an atheist. There is something in everyone that desires to reach out beyond ourselves and connect with some kind of "higher power."

Is there a right way to pray? A wrong way?

Join us this Sunday as Andy Stanley teaches the second part of our "Permission to Speak Freely" series on prayer.

But don't come alone—bring a friend! It's a great environment to ask spiritual questions. A while ago I introduced a suggestion for strategic and repeated invitations. "3x3x3" means that you invite three people that you really care about and have invested in. Invite them three times. People rarely respond to the first invitation. Invite them today. Again on Thursday. And again on Saturday. Finally, invite them to try it three times. They need to give this church thing a chance. They need to get used to our music, Andy's humor, and the kids environments. So, ask them to give it three shots.

This week we'll examine the Lord's Prayer. Some of us have memorized it, but when did we last stop to consider the words? Challenge your friends to come and consider what Jesus was trying to teach us through this very familiar passage of Scripture. Take the time this week to read through the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13, then join us Sunday, and see if it changes your perspective on prayer.

Michael Gleason will be with us to lead worship, and it'll be a special day for us to celebrate our volunteers, as well!