A long survey of Christ Pres' short history- 2015
January 13, 2015 - Conference Recap
YOU ARE THE 300!
We reached 300 prayer partners this last week. We now are aiming to have 500 before we move. This week I fly to Connecticut on Wednesday to spend most of my time with the church that will be planting us. Please pray:
* for strong growth in our partnership
* for good communication about plans for the future
* for my meetings with the New England Presbytery
* for Lauren who will be teaching 2 classes on evangelism to the women of our church in Charlotte
January 26, 2015 – Recap January CT Trip
A very productive 4 days in Connecticut.
I often forget how beautiful my home state is… Over last weekend, God reminded me of my love for Connecticut and my passion to see the gospel deeply rooted in the lives of her residents. I had great meetings with Christ Presbyterian Church, (our sending church), and several other church leaders in the area. I attended the Presbytery that I will participate in (the leadership/fellowship body of my denomination in Southern New England). There were probably 10 Brazilian and at least 5 south Asian pastors in this network. We also had a joint service of the 3 churches in the church-planting network that I will be in. It was sweetly diverse and spiritually exhilarating. I can’t wait to step up and take my place in the line of gospel ministers for New England.
Meet the Shepherds! (Ashley, Milas and Micah)
This week our sending church in Connecticut officially extended them an invitation to join the Holbrooks as Campus Ministry Apprentice! Milas will spend part of his time pursuing theological training and part of his time ministering to the 10,000 college students in Fairfield. Both Milas and Ashley grew up at Christ Covenant (our church in Charlotte) and were college students involved in our ministry. Milas has been working as a teacher the last 3 years and Ashley has been serving as a children's minister for our church. I feel like I am getting Steph Curry and Serena Williams in the draft! They are going to be game changers for Connecticut.
Welcome new prayer partners!
We have another 40 new prayer partners since my last email. Thank you for joining us on this endeavor in this way. Please pray for:
* faithfulness in my own prayer life as we focus on full time fund raising
* that 100 partners would pledge $1000 a year for 4 years. (this would cover our annual salary)
* for 10 more churches to pledge $4000 for 4 years. (Along with the money already pledged from 3 churches, this would cover the expenses of the church budget - worship space, staff, outreach).
* for Milas and Ashley Shepherd- our new Campus Ministry Apprentice for Fairfield! They will begin fundraising for this role over the next few weeks and hope to move with us this summer.
February 5, 2015 - First 50 Support Meetings
What kind of team member might you be?
For the last 15 years, I have been asking people to join us with financial support by becoming a part of our team. A few months back, I found the biblical proof for this instinct of mine. 3 John (the oh so passionately studied book of the N.T.) verse 5 says, "Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers...for they have gone out for the sake of the name...therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth." Paul says that when we support Jesus' missionary servants- we are FELLOW WORKERS with them. That is incredible and that is why I always tell you as prayer and financial partners that we are doing this together. The bible is clear that we really are.
Over the next 50 days we will meet with over 50 potential supporters. During group presentations, over lunches and dinners, and over the phone, Lauren and I will present the need for planting this church in Fairfield and invite people to join our team prayerfully and financially. I also will be completing applications for over 10 church mission committees and seeking meetings with their pastors. Would you pray that by March 30th we would have at least 50 pledged supporters and 5 churches committed to funding us?
Prayer team up to 350!
We have another 40 new prayer partners since my last email. Thank you for joining us on this endeavor in this way. Please pray for:
* 4 different support gatherings that friends are hosting for us. There will be over 50 people at these events. Dates- February 7, February 10, February 15, February 28.
*For the Campus Outreach Winterblast (yes, I still have my day job) that will be next weekend. We hope over 300 students will come. Last year, 17 students made professions of faith at this event. Pray for similar results.
*This is a profound season in our lives. Would you pray in particular that Lauren would have such a sweet journey of peace, rest and wholeness as God moves us into this new calling?
February 13, 2015 – Winterblast and Support Meetings
* Don't forget to pray for the Winterblast retreat that starts tonight!
* We will be speaking with over 70 people in the next 4 days regarding prayer and financial support.
We are so thankful for all of your faithful labors for the Lord on our behalf. We can’t do this without you.
February 26, 2015 – First 20 Days
We have already had contact with 50 potential supporters and we have many more meetings to come. This next week we will be back in Connecticut for a missions conference at the church I grew up at. We also hope to meet with several of our existing supporters to discuss partnering with us into the future with the church plant. Thank you to many of you that have already made pledges.
We are so close to 400!
Once again, another 40 prayer partners since my last email! This has been the most fun part of this process. I love how many people are getting drawn into a passion for New England and church planting. Keep praying!
* We put our house on the market March 4th. Wow. What a grueling process getting everything ready with 2 little girls pulling everything back off the shelves and a dog that keeps getting the carpets dirty. SPECIAL THANKS TO THE MANY PEOPLE THAT HAVE HELPED US OVER THE LAST WEEK!
* We will be looking at homes in Fairfield March 9th and 10th. Please pray for wisdom and that the Lord would lead us to a home with many neighbors looking to grow spiritually.
* pray for another 50 contacts over the next 20 days so that we can hit our 50/50 goal.
March 2, 2015 – Church Planters and Elders
This past week we focused on church planting at Christ Covenant. I sat and listened to 8 pastors share their heart for the people of their cities and their love for Christ. These men here are faithfully serving Christ in some of the more difficult cities of the world. Troy, on the left, moved from Raleigh NC to plant a church in Boston, MA four years ago. Besides having to shovel snow off his roof, he also has the hard task of serving a city that is only 3% evangelical. Matt, on the right, is co-pastoring a new church in Manchester England. He had lunch with our family and we talked for hours together about our passion to see revival once again in our land. Both Troy and Matt expressed their desire for real collaboration in the years ahead. Matt even expressed their 5 month old church's desire somehow to be in strategic partnership with us in Fairfield! This was so encouraging to me and set a model for the kind of church I want us to be. A church that is living on the mission of Christ for the world from the beginning.
Please pray for great wisdom in our house sale and search.
Pray for grace and favor as we participate in the missions conference at Walnut Hill, the church I grew up in.
We have dinner with two families in the Fairfield area on Monday March 9th. They are interested in hearing more about the vision of this new church.
March 8, 2015 – Prayer Cover Needed
Urgent prayer needs
Three of our appointments have been canceled due to snow. The whole family arrived with colds and now the stomach bug is sweeping the house- catching my parents up in it too. This has been by far the hardest trip up here yet.
But meanwhile, new supporters keep making spontaneous pledges, we have 2 people seriously interested in buying our home in Charlotte and I will get to preach the gospel this morning to the youth group I grew up in. Please pray for us over the next 4 days as we meet with several potential church members, a Hollywood assistant director about the Fairfield Theater project, and look for houses.
2 Tim 1:12 "I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me."
March 12, 2015 – Spring is in the Air
We were affected by obstacles of all sorts - sickness, snow, sadness. But below the surface God has been preparing the soul of our hearts and life for his continued, kind provision.
WE SOLD OUR HOUSE IN CHARLOTTE IN 6 DAYS! Thank you SO much to the many, many people that God used to make this possible. There were over 30 people instrumental in this deal. People were in our yard making it beautiful. One amazing family came over on 3 different occasions and scrubbed toilets, painted, polished floors, moved furniture. We had artistic design directors moving out furniture and adding accent decorations. It truly was a community effort that taught us so much about the wonderful beauty of the church and God's presence in her.
God continues to go ahead of us in Fairfield, giving us really unique opportunities to minister to our real estate agent as she took us to over 25 houses in 2 days. We have not found anything that is a slam dunk, so please pray for wisdom in the coming weeks. Our closing date in Charlotte is April 30th, yet my responsibilities at Christ Covenant don’t end until May 30. We have a lot to consider over the next few weeks.
Please keep praying for a few specific things:
1) Despite the joy of not having to get ready for showings or the stress of waiting on potential buyers, we both are finding ourselves very sad. The reality that our home is sold has set in. We are so grateful to God, but also grieving the sale of the home that we brought both of our daughters home to and did so much life in. We keep telling ourselves that this is the reminder that we are not made for this transient world and that Jesus is making the perfect eternal home for us and that is what our hopes should be set on.
2) Pray for the appraisal to come through at the price our contract is for. This can be a tricky market to get the right appraisals for.
3) Pray for wisdom about what to do from April 30 until whenever we decide to actually move up to Connecticut. We have some plans and are excited about the summer but want to be wise with our family life.
Thank you so much.
March 19, 2015 - 50/50 Update
29 pledges made; 26 more in the pipeline! As I should have expected, this has been a wonderfully humbling process. What with church presentations, small groups, networking dinners, Sunday school classes, and one on one meetings, we have shared the vision for reaching New England through church planting with well over 2000 people. We have sent at least 50 letters and had probably 20 face-to-face meetings. But of our 29 committed partners, 18 of them approached us voluntarily, unsolicited, to join our team. These kind of voluntary participants are so encouraging to us and remind us that this is Christ's church and God's kingdom. Thank you to many of you who have made pledges. I am hoping the next 21 partners will commit by March 31st.
Prayer team up to 425!
* Pray for the 8 churches that are considering becoming financial partners. Praise God for Stonebridge Church's commitment to partner with us over the next 4 years.
* Pray for wisdom as we keep looking for houses in Fairfield. Also, continue to pray for the inspection and appraisal of our home in Charlotte.
* Praise God that some great friends of ours in Matthews have invited our whole family to live with them after our closing date April 30th!
March 26, 2015 – 40/50 Update
Hopefully this hasn't felt like an NPR pledge drive... but we only need 10 more partners to hit the 50/50 goal. It has been so fun to see the Lord move in many of your hearts. Please keep praying.
* I had two great meetings to discuss intentional, long-term church partnerships. Really excited about where these conversations will lead.
* We have another core group leader committed to move with us! I will wait to share more of this story, but we are SO excited for this like-minded friend to be joining us.
* Please pray for peace, patience and love in this season of transition. We have less that two months to pack our house, prepare to move, try and find a new house and say many good byes. It honestly has been difficult not to succumb to the stress.
March 31, 2015 - We Did It!
Twice in the past two days I have told the Lord, "I am uncertain where these next partners are going to come from but I am excited to see you move." And then he responds with unexpected phone calls or pledges in just the right moment. This afternoon, we needed two more partners to reach the 50/50 prayer goal. I went in to a meeting with a perfect stranger and left with a new family wanting to partner with us. By the time I reached the car, I had an email from a church that only just started 5 months ago, telling me they wanted to see this church get started in Fairfield.
This has been such a faith builder for us! Praise God.
* The appraiser came yesterday and deemed our house "best in the neighborhood." So we should hear by the end of the week if that last hurdle is cleared.
* I preach the Good Friday service at Christ Covenant. Please pray for conviction, freedom and joy as Galatians 6:11-16 calls us to glory only in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
* We still have not identified a house in Fairfield. Pray for the Lord's guidance and harmony in our search.
April 6, 2015 – Quick Prayer Request for Examination Before New England Presbytery
The appraisal went through, our house is 75% packed up and I am studying for exams. Wait, what? Yep, church planters have to take exams too. Whenever a new pastor transfers into a new region he gets examined on his views of the faith and scriptures. I have a preliminary meeting tonight with one of the committees of our denomination. Would you say a quick prayer for me - that I would have quick recall of the scriptures and would communicate clearly and briefly?
Things are moving and so are we!
April 10, 2015 – The Hard Part
One of my friends is leaving the CO Charlotte staff team to move to Africa with his family. He used this analogy to describe what his emotions feel like. All the plans, preparations, good byes and love-you’s are so intense that it seems your emotional experience of them are standing in a line waiting to be felt. I keep saying that I have to put that experience in the suitcase to deal with later. There is just so much happening I can hardly get enough space to celebrate or grieve, whatever it might be. So this week:
1) I passed the first part of the Presbytery exam and was recommended to stand before all the pastors from Southern New England April 25th.
2) We sold our rental home. Back in 2010 we tried to sell our first home but in the housing market were unable to do so. We received a contract on this home yesterday without ever listing it or using any agents.
3) We are living in an empty house. On Saturday, some students helped us move about 3/4 of our house into a storage unit.
4) Next Friday night, CO Charlotte will officially "send off" the Holbrooks with a roast and toast.
5) On Saturday, CO Charlotte will host 160 alumni back for a reunion and celebration of the last 20 years of ministry.
And this says little of what is going on in all our interpersonal dealings. To say the least, we need your prayers.
Our first 50 partners were all insiders committed to us and the church. Now begins the hard part. Over the next 2 months I will reach out to another 50 people who are more distant friends or old youth leaders or new referrals, etc. Many of these people are very important to me and they love the Lord, but it has been a long time since we were in touch. Please pray that God would open their hearts to my family and this kingdom project.
Our prayer team is now over 430 people. Keep praying we reach 500. Please pray for:
1) The ability to celebrate at our send off and the 20-year CO alumni reunion
2) Wisdom in searching for a home in CT.
3) Skill in communicating my heart and the scriptures before the New England pastors April 25th.
4) A great rest and recharge from April 19-23rd. We were given 5 nights in Hilton Head by a church member!
5) The last 50 partners to join our team and 5 more churches to sponsor the plant.
After 2 days of packing we needed a spontaneous ice cream run. Please keep the girls in your prayers. Transitions, I am sure, are also demanding on them. I have been selling lots of things on Craigslist, so this morning Haddie asked, "Are we going to sell Scout (our dog) Daddy?"
April 24, 2015 – A Hard Time to Leave
After sending over 70 people off the Campus Outreach Charlotte team, Lauren and I learned last week just how hard it is to leave. God has used many of them to change our lives, serve our children, train our minds and comfort our souls. They are the closest taste to New Testament community I have ever known. Friday night they roasted us- me in particular for being a cheap skate, sleeping with a pillow over my head, speaking with my hands, and being generally un-cordial when I am in office mode! They could find nothing bad to say about Lauren as you can imagine. But they also toasted us - which truly was a toast to Christ. I found myself worshipping all night as people shared ways that Christ had moved through our ministry. At the end of the night, I had to say to everyone- "You thanked us, but really all I can say is thank YOU. This has been the greatest privilege of my life and none of the things you said that we did could we have done without Jesus. He is the real center of this story." To all of you who had a hand in helping write his story with my life- thank you as well.
* The 20 Year Alumni Celebration went so well! Thank you for praying- I will share more next week when I have more time.
* Vacation in Hilton Head for the last 5 days was amazing. A Church member hooked us up with this incredible timeshare with literally 10 pools to choose from and a short walk to the beach. First day on the ocean, all Haddie could do was just jump up and down and say over and over, "I can’t wait!" We were already there but she couldn’t stand the excitement of all the other things we were going to do.
* Tonight, I fly to Connecticut for 2 days. PLEASE PRAY. Tomorrow, I am examined for the final time by the Presbytery in Southern New England. My denomination re-examines all her ministers when they change calls to be sure they are still believing within the bounds of the scriptures. Pray for freedom of thought and skill in my communication.
* Also, I will look at 9 or 10 houses. 2 of them are very real possibilities for us. Pray that I can see with Lauren's eyes as I look at these homes without her. We probably will need to make an offer once I return home if we are going to get either of them.
April 28, 2015 – Amazing 10 Days
On Saturday I was unanimously accepted into the fellowship of pastors and elders that serve the 30 PCA churches in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. I couldn't be more excited about the prospect of serving with one of the most diverse group of Presbyterians I have ever seen. Almost 25% of our Presbytery is either Asian or Brazilian!
From Turkey Plain to Blueberry Lane.
After seeing hundreds of houses online and visiting almost 30 homes personally, Lauren and I decided to make an offer on this home this morning. I grew up on Turkey Plain Road, so Lauren has laughed that we might now live on Blueberry Lane.
Throughout the day, we were negotiating over price and it was not looking good. Tonight, another buyer made an offer. Having given the seller the final offer we could afford I spent the next 30 minutes in prayer. I was praying, "Lord, you have done so many remarkable things to confirm this call. I just am waiting for you to do so again. If this is not the house you want for us then I know you will have something far better. I trust you." With that on my lips, my phone rang and our agent said, "What have you been doing for the last 30 minutes?...
Praying? They accepted your offer." They dropped their price $30,000 for us to have it. God our Father so loves to take care of us.
We have virtually everything out of our house and will move in tomorrow night with some great friends for the next few weeks. This season of homelessness has been and will be challenging, I am sure more so for the girls and for Lauren, but for me it has felt like a fast. With almost all our earthly possessions jammed in boxes and crammed into a storage unit, I have realized how little we really need. Speaking of Abraham, the writer of Hebrews said, "By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents." For all of us who are in Christ, we have made our home in the promised land. This season is helping me remember that.
On Saturday the 5 other people that are praying about or planning on moving to Connecticut with us will hopefully be gathering together for a morning of fellowship and prayer. Praise God for these amazing people.
Pray that all the details of the house closing both on the 2 Charlotte houses and now the Connecticut house will be covered in the Lords' peace and wisdom.
I preach my last sermon at Christ Covenant May 10th. Pray for a great unction from the Spirit as I begin to prepare.
I can’t thank you enough for the ways you have covered my family in prayer. God's movement through your prayers has really been one of the most amazing parts of this grand adventure.
May 8, 2015 – The Magnificent Seven
On Saturday morning, the seven of us gathered in one room for breakfast. It was the first time the launch group was all in one place together. It was amazing.
We shared our testimonies:
3 of the group had grown up at our church here in Matthews NC.
4 of us had graduated from Davidson College,
2 had come to faith in college.
All of us have a passion to share Christ in New England.
We looked at Matthew 16 where Jesus promises to build his church upon the rock of Peter's life and profession of faith. The passage begins with Jesus asking the disciples, "Who do you say that I am?" We all acknowledged that this is the question that will define our lives and our church. In the face of all the obstacles in this next season of life, the answer to this question is the only thing that really matters- Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. He is the one building this church. I can’t wait to see how he does it.
I am going to profile each one of these amazing people in future posts but for now I have to share two amazing testimonies.
Dan Whitney - He will be a Davidson graduate in one week. Three years ago he became a Christian through our ministry. He grew up in Connecticut, so when he heard about our plans he told us if he could find a job back there he would join us. Last week he was offered a job as a financial planner in Westport, the neighboring town to Fairfield!
Lindsay Thompson - She has an incredible story and a passion for filmmaking. She graduated from film school with a desire to make movies in a way that is worship. When she heard about the potential connections to the theater in Fairfield she started seriously praying about joining us. This past week she was offered a summer fellowship with the Emmy award winning PBS writer of the children's programs “Arthur” and “Curious George.” It gets her to Boston for 8 weeks but could very well result in a job that she can do from Fairfield!
I can’t wait to tell you more.
From Turkey Plain to Blueberry Lane.
Lauren and I flew up for a quick 10-hour trip to see the house and walk through it with the inspector. His exact words- "They don't build houses like this anymore!" Lauren loved it and we signed the contract this morning. Lord willing we will close July 1 and then begin a grueling 6 week sprint to update bathrooms, the kitchen, repaint and just get the home ready to try and start a church out of. The girls will stay in Charleston and I will take trips back and forth over those weeks. We met another neighbor who has two kids Haddie and Evelynn's ages and have already begun praying for them. LET’S GO!
The girls really are doing SO well. The friends we are staying with have been amazing. Your prayers have been greatly felt. We have experienced so much provision from God. Thank you!
¥ Sermon on the forgiveness of sins this Sunday
¥ About 12 potential supporters who we are waiting to hear from
¥ A big support gathering Tuesday night at my brother in laws
¥ Final good byes and final push- we have about 75k in pledges right now. I would love to be at our 100k goal by the time we pull out of Charlotte on May 31.
May 22, 2015 – The Red Zone
While the last two months have been consumed with good-bye's, transitions, house selling, house buying and Presbytery exams, God has continued to move the ball forward in raising the necessary funds and recruiting the needed partners for this church to get started. WE ARE NOW IN THE RED ZONE! We have reached 80% of our goal for individual donations and have 68 partners committed to helping fund this work over the next four years.
Right now there are 30 people who we have spoken about partnering with us. We are waiting to hear back from them and another 10 that we will meet with over the next month. There are also another 7 churches that we are in the application process with. Please pray that God would confirm our team and release us to the field with 100% of our need met.
WE HAVE OVER 500 PEOPLE ON THE PRAYER TEAM!
You amazing people are the most valuable part of this whole process. I can't thank you enough for your faithful service to our family, this church, and the people of New England. Your prayers are carrying us through what should be the most hectic, disruptive and difficult season of our life with such ease, harmony, and peace. God has been answering your prayers and sustaining us in so many remarkable ways.
Sunday will be my last official service as a pastor at Christ Covenant. There will be a commissioning and reception afterwards for our family. We are deeply grateful for this church and have learned so much from so many people. We hope some day to be a part of a church that has the kind of influence in Connecticut that Christ Covenant is having in Matthews and around the world.
* Final packing and transition as we pull out of Charlotte on Monday.
* Grace and harmony as we will live with Lauren's parents in Charleston from June 1 until we move to our new house in late July or August.
* Final support push. Final support meetings. Final partners recruited.
* Over the next 10 weeks, I will have a mini-sabbatical to prepare for the hectic season of church planting. More details to follow...
June 9, 2015 – Preparatory Prayer
Last week we settled into our temporary 2-month home outside of Charleston, SC where my in laws have graciously allowed us to stay. Here we will spend a much needed season gearing up for the exciting days of church planting by slowing down for a concentrated time and investing in our walks with God, family and marriage. Already, after only 6 days, I feel so rejuvenated. The space has allowed us to focus on our life rhythms and relationships with each other in significant ways. Thank you for lifting us up in this important season of preparation. Lauren and I have agreed that the most important thing we can do for each other, our family and this church is to enter into deeper fellowship with God through prayer. Please ask God to honor this desire and "give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we know him better." Eph 1:15-19.
We spent our last week as an official CO staffer ending where we began- at the Summer Beach Project. It was a sweet and surprising joy to come full circle. I was reminded over and over of the incredible grace of God in our lives over these years.
This may not be a Sabbatical for some of you, but I have a book list of over 40 books! And I have already finished 3 of them. So happy to be pouring over fiction, poetry, golf instructionals and spiritually renewing literature. Some of my list below:
¥ Solomon's Mines - H. Rider Haggard
¥ Scarlet Pimpernel - Emma Orczy
¥ At the Back of the North Wind - George MacDonald
¥ Autobiography of Mark Twain - Mark Twain
¥ Prayer - T. Keller
¥ Dynamics of Spirituality - Lovelace
¥ Peacemaking - Sande
¥ Modern Fundamentals of Golf - Ben Hogan
¥ Theology of Jonathan Edwards
¥ Jayber Crow - Wendell Berry
¥ Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton
¥ American History Stories
¥ Ulysses - Joyce
If you have been a regular supporter through CO I ask that you would continue your pledge until August. My salary with the church plant does not begin until September but CO has graciously agreed to pay us through this sabbatical/transition period. If you have already begun to give towards the church plant that is great. It simply will be creating a small surplus over the summer months for us to draw from next year. I will send info both through this email and in hard copies for how the funding will begin for the church plant at the end of June.
We are close to reaching our goal. Keep praying for just a few more connections with folks that I have been unable to reach.
June 29, 2015 – Closing Time
It's a bit dramatic, but the fact that we are closing on a house on Wednesday in Fairfield, CT makes me feel a little like Abraham. In Genesis 23 Abraham barters for a burial plot for his family. It is the first piece of dirt that he can call his own that's in the promise land. That is how I feel about buying this house. It is the first fulfillment in a series of pending promises that God has made about his church in this part of the world. We have navigated all the details of selling our houses in NC, have been homeless for 2 months, and now begin the journey of building a life with Christ back in Connecticut. The family won’t move up until the middle of August. But over the next two weeks, I will be in Fairfield beginning the hard work of remodeling the kitchen and doing some major home improvements. We have at least 4 teams of people coming to help us do this work! God is good.
Providential provision: In light of the house sales, I wanted to share a simple way that God has providentially taken care of us. We signed a contract to sell our rental house in Charlotte in the middle of April. Within 4 weeks, all the details were taken care of, the buyer was told he had everything needed to close, and then we made plans to get our mortgage in Connecticut. My broker and real estate agent, however, were very uncomfortable about the sale of my rental house. They were very insistent that we change the closing date on our NC home so we would have at least a week between its sale and the purchase of our house in CT. Honestly, I was a little annoyed by their nagging but finally agreed to it. Well, last Tuesday I drove from SC to Charlotte for the closing. When I was an hour away, the buyer called to tell me that his mortgage company had messed up big time and there was no way we were going to close the next day. As it turned out, his mortgage broker was so behind they had to delay the closing 4 days! (P.S. I would seriously reconsider ever getting a mortgage with Wells Fargo). Had my broker and agent not pushed me to change our schedule and allow for more margin, all this would have been much more stressful and could have significantly affected the purchase of our home in CT. Instead, it was relatively stress free and I learned an important lesson about trusting wiser and more experienced people and about leaving room for the weeds and briars of the curse to affect all your plans. God is good.
I completed Spurgeon’s All of Grace this week. After each chapter, I went back and re-read chapter 4 because it was so rich. One quotation - "Justification without sanctification would be no salvation at all...it would be like cleansing the leper but leaving him with the disease."
Over the next 10 days I hope to meet with several potential donors in Connecticut. Please keep these meetings in your prayers. We still need about 10% more to be at 100% for our personal funding.
Also - please pray for the Shepherds. Milas and Ashley are the young couple moving up with us to serve college students. They got discouraged this past week as they looked for housing in a shockingly expensive place to live. Pray for a sweet provision of a perfect place for their family to live.
July 13, 2015 – Quick Request
20 people will gather tonight in Charleston SC to hear about the plans for the new church in Fairfield. Would you say a quick prayer that these individuals would be moved to give and pray? With another 4 or 5 partners we could reach out 100% personal support goal.
More info to come this week about my exciting last two weeks!
July 14, 2015 – First and Goal
Last night was another great gathering of like-minded believers who are committed to seeing Christ made known in New England. We really just need 3 or 4 more people to solidify their pledges and we will be 100% funded for our personal support goal. Over the next 6 months we will continue to cultivate relationships with churches around the country to help store up the funding for the church budget (rental space, equipment, office, administrative staff costs etc.) But we are excited to be so close to the goal line.
Please pray for this final push, as we will be sending out all the details regarding the funding process both via email and through snail mail over the next week.
On July 1 Lauren and I became Fairfield, CT residents! With the help of many gracious friends, I immediately began getting the house ready for the family. John and Joeanne Stokes drove their plumbing truck up from Charlotte and did at least $5000 worth of plumbing for free! Mike and Connie Miller flew in from Charlotte and helped with the reframing of the kitchen (we took out windows and doors and reframed much of the room) and Connie and Joeanne removed wallpaper and cleaned EVERY wall downstairs to remove the residual smoke smell from the previous owner. Dan Whitney (future church member from Davidson) spent 3 days stripping wall paper and removing nails from boards! 2 friends came from my home church in CT to remove cabinets and my mom and dad spent a day removing sheet rock! It was an amazing display of the love of God coming through his beloved people. This is already my favorite house I have ever lived in!
AMAZING ANSWERS TO PRAYER.
Throughout the week I was in Fairfield I was regularly asking the Lord to connect me with my neighbors. Every time I saw someone walk by the house I would drop whatever I was doing and rush out to the street and meet them with the introduction, "I am new here! We need friends! Who are you?" Within a few days I had met at least 6 or 8 families this way. On July 4th, I asked the Lord to get me an invitation to a neighborhood picnic. At 4 o'clock, I saw a woman with her children walking with a bowl of fruit salad - I thought this might be my answer! After meeting them, however, they walked on to their event without an invitation. So I turned to walk back into my house only to be stopped 15 steps in with the words, "Hey! We are going to a neighborhood block party that only happens once a year on July 4th - you should come!" I spent the evening with 12 families eating great food, playing kick ball and watching a highly illegal but wonderfully entertaining firework display in our cul-de-sac. In just 4 days, I had met more people in our neighborhood than I ever met in 4 years in our previous house.
Another amazing connection happened last Sunday morning. I woke and decided to go to the local breakfast place to see if there was a strong Sunday brunch culture. Sure enough, there were dozens of families eating together. The waiter seated me next to a young couple with two girls who appeared to be the same age as our girls. The wife, I noticed, spoke with a South African accent. I introduced myself only to discover that their girls were the exact ages as my girls, the wife had attended WITS, the main South African university that I have invested in over the last 15 years, and they were looking for a women's bible study for her to attend! Of course they lived in the very region of Fairfield we are focusing on and they have attended PCA churches in other cities where they lived. These types of amazing providences just keep coming and confirming this calling.
One last testimony that only God could orchestrate! As I was leaving the house one day, I drove by my neighbors to discover them in their back yard playing spike ball. This game is beginning to gather some interest but for the last 6 years I have never known ANYONE except our students with CO to play this game. Literally, I have never seen it played except by CO folks. And here was my neighbor playing with his two sons- they even needed a 4th person to play the game properly! I jumped in - old guys vs. young guys and lost 19 to 21. But it was an entryway into a 30 minute conversation with my neighbors where I was able to share my testimony, explain our heart for Fairfield and some of the stories of God orchestrating connections to this town. God uses everything to build his church.
Despite lots of travel the last 2 weeks, the family is doing great. We are excited for the days ahead and look forward to the adventure with Jesus. Please pray
* That all the details with the house renovations would come together with great wisdom, safety and beauty.
* That the final verbal commitments and final partners would make pledges in the next 2 weeks.
* That I would be able to reengage with the Lord in my study and focused time of preparation.
* For several of our very close friends who are struggling through very difficult pregnancies in which the babies’ lives are at risk.
* That Christ would continue to prepare a place for us in Fairfield and Bridgeport CT.
July 25, 2015 – Quick Prayers for Grace Church South Hampton
Preaching tomorrow at 10am in South Hampton
Great 4 days in CT, lots of progress on the house, and lots of opportunities for praise.
I look forward to telling you more about this latest trip, but I wanted to quickly ask that you pray as I preach at a supporting church, Grace Church in South Hampton, Long Island. Much of this region is unfamiliar with the bible, so preaching is always an interesting balance of not over explaining and not taking familiar things for granted. Please pray for wisdom and a great sense of God's Spirit leading me.
Also, please pray our kitchen remodel passes the first inspection on Monday so we can stay on schedule for its completion before we move August 15th!
July 31, 2015 – Final Update Before the Move
"I love to make things beautiful..."
So said the elderly Jewish interior designer who sat next to me at dinner at the Southampton beach club last Saturday night. I had been invited by one of the church members I was preaching at to a wine pairing dinner. As I arrived, I was wondering what the Lord had in store for me.
I have been thinking a lot about a reforming of my theology around evangelism as I approach a highly secular culture in the Northeast. I wanted a way to communicate my desire in order to relate to people's most basic desires and design as image bearers of the living God. I am calling it "be human" evangelism. I just want to live as a normal human being and relate to people in a similar way. Maybe you all do this normally - but I find I often am in such a hurry in all my activities that I don't simply treat people as the image bearers of God. Then what happens is I have to step into some "evangelism" mode and begin to "share" with someone. Once I start daily, moment by moment, trying to treat people in accordance with their human dignity I have found it so much easier to discover very lovable things about them, and then I find I have a natural and appropriate compassion that compels me to want to share with them about God's love and Christ's sacrifice for them. One of my friends said that when we start treating people this way we discover so many ways to relate to them from a "me too" mentality instead of coming at them with a "not you" attitude.
After my new friend at dinner told me about her deep passion for beauty, I found myself spontaneously saying, "me to." Then I was able to share with her how my ministry is fundamentally about helping people discover the ultimate beauty of God that is all around them.
If you have made a verbal pledge, you should be getting a newsletter in the mail this week. If you wish to support the Holbrooks in their new ministry to plant a church in Fairfield, CT, or if you have already made a verbal commitment but have not given your gift or made an official pledge, please go to www.cpcnewhaven.org. In the bottom left corner of this page is a link “Give Online.” This will take you to a page where you can give with a credit card. Change the “donation frequency” to your preferred option monthly, annually etc. and you can register a date that you would like to make your gift. Under "donation applied" select Fairfield Church Plant: Andrew Holbrook.
If you would like to simply mail a check put "Fairfield Church plant" in the memo and you can send it to:
CPC New Haven
135 Whitney Ave
New Haven CT 06519
Or, you can just sign up with your own bank on an automatic payment – make to Christ Presbyterian Church New Haven - the payee - Address: 135 Whitney Ave, New Haven CT 06510
Last week was another whirlwind 4-day home-make-over sprint. It was greatly helped by many different individuals who served us by painting, building and hanging insulation. Two girls, who are CO students, and who happened to be in the area, came for the day to paint the girls’ bedroom. I also had a professional painter from North Carolina who helped me drive a moving truck up and then paint our bedroom. Also, a group of middle and high school boys, an old and new friend from Bethel, and my parents once again throwing in their involvement.
As the final preparation approaches please pray for great grace, patience and love for the family.
Praise God that Milas and Ashley Shepherd are approaching 100% of their funds raised. They will be moving a week after us.
Pray for our move date - August 14th and 15th. It’s a long way to drive a 24-foot moving truck while pulling a car and Lauren driving the girls! We have a volunteer willing to drive the moving truck so we will see how it all pans out.
August 10, 2015 – Move Day!
"DEALS - save 40% on moves from the Southeast to the Northeast!"
This is what I saw on the webpage as I went to book our rental truck for Friday. Haha. And people think that God is unconcerned about even the simplest details of our lives. I just smiled and saved, enjoying the special favor from God along the way.
Please pray as Thursday we will leave Charleston and drive to Charlotte to pack the moving truck. On Friday morning, Lauren, the girls, our dog and I will drive North. A great friend of ours is going to drive the moving truck later that evening and tow our other car behind it. Pray for safety and great harmony and rich times of thanksgiving and joy as we say our good-byes one last time.
Then, pray for Saturday as we hope to have 10 to 15 volunteers to help us unpack and settle in to our new home. The kitchen is only about a week away from being completed. Praise God for skillful contractors and amazing grace in the timing of all the remodel details.
Learning the people of Fairfield and the culture of Connecticut again is going to be one of the great opportunities of this next year. It also has allowed for easy conversations with strangers and has led to the gospel.
I have to admit, I used to dread the moment when I sat on an airplane...I often felt this spiritual pressure that as a good Christian I had to strike up a significant conversation with the stranger next to me, share the full gospel and direct them to some great next step in their journey of faith. Many times, deep down, all I wanted to do was mind my own business and read my book. This notion of "be-normal evangelism" or "be-human evangelism" has been really changing these experiences.
So this week, as I sat once again on a flight from Hartford to Charleston, I simply asked my seatmate if he was flying home or to work. When he explained that he owned a business in Connecticut, it was an easy segway to ask him to help me better understand what people in Connecticut are experiencing in their work lives. After an hour of really helpful information about the great difficulties of running a business in this state, he said to me. "You see, people here are under SO MUCH pressure..." Ah...and so enters Jesus Christ into the conversation. By this point, I had discovered so much about this man and his interests...that I found I really did care about him as a person. My goal no longer was to get my 4 gospel points across...my goal was to be human with this fellow human and tell him how the scriptures teach us about a Savior who delivers us from the daily pressure to succeed and sustain the gravity of our responsibilities. I was able to tell him very naturally that I was coming to start a church so people could discover again that God wants to lift the weight of their pressure from their shoulders and show them once again that they can trust him and rely on him and find their life in him instead of in the things of this world. Amazingly, as this man got off the plane, he handed me his card and said, "Our business partners with charities once a year to serve the city. Give me a call when you get started and lets see if we can do something together." It was a great testament to the power of just being normal and how God's truth is always compelling and winsome when we relate to one another as the simple creatures he has made us to be.
WE ARE ONE PLEDGE AWAY FROM our 100% personal goal! We still need to raise about 40% in church partners to help cover the churches operating expenses but this looks promising as well. I have a meeting with a key church on Thursday and several other good contacts in the works.
I got a message this week that could result in a huge open door for serving the colleges in the Fairfield area. I don't want to share more until I understand all that this opportunity entails but I have a very important meeting on Monday- PLEASE PRAY. If what I think is going to happen happens, this message could initiate YEARS of fruitful ministry in the city - potentially even open doors for college ministry in all the other parts of Connecticut and New England.
The girls are getting ready to love our region. A few quotes from recent days:
Haddie: "Mommy, if you like butterflies you need to like them more than yaks."
Lauren: "Why, Honey?"
Haddie: "Because butterflies are more beautiful than yaks."
This is Haddie's favorite line when she jumps in the pool:
"On your MARKER...Get set...Go!"
Lauren asked her what color marker it needed to be. She said, "Black of course."
September 2, 2015 – Settle Down
Thursday, August 14, this crew and several others helped us pack the moving truck. I am no way stretching it to say that I honestly think God defied the physical properties of nature to get all our stuff to Connecticut. After 2 1/2 hours the truck was 3/4 full and about half of our stuff was still spread all over the driveway. Somehow it fit without an extra foot of space anywhere.
Friday, August 15, we set out from Charlotte to head North... for some reason our car didn’t think it was going to be too hot up here because the AC konked out the minute we left. So 16 hours with the windows down, music blasting, kids dancing, daddy driving, mommy entertaining, and we made it. Hot, sweaty and tired to a house...whose AC was out, too. Ah. But a good nights rest in the basement prepared us for an amazing next day.
Two amazing friends from our church drove the moving truck all night. They arrived at 7:30 am just in time for the 25 volunteers to help clean the house, unpack the truck and reset all our stuff! It truly was one of the most blessed days of my life. Old junior high youth leaders of mine were there, leaders from my home church in Connecticut. My cousin from Malaysia was there. 4 college students connected to CO came. We even had several complete strangers from the church here in New Haven show up with bags from Bed Bath and Beyond. They proceeded to take over our kitchen - lined all the drawers with liners and dividers and organizers and unpacked the whole kitchen. People weeded our flowerbeds, cleaned our windows, set up our beds and moved our piano. It was an amazing day.
Over the next two weeks we tried to get out of boxes so the girls could have a real bed, finish the kitchen remodel, and meet new people. The girls were great at it. Haddie told us, "I am getting in shape for meeting people!" Over the course of 4 days, God led us to 4 different people, each of who shared their faith story and encouraged us in our endeavors. Lauren met one Brazilian woman at the park who asked if she could come to any Bible studies we were hosting. It seems that God has paved the way for us.
A week after we arrived, Milas and Ashley Shepherd drove up. They had lots of amazing help as well and were quickly settled in to their new apartment. This is good BECAUSE WE BASICALLY HAVE BEEN GIVEN A COMPLETE OPEN DOOR TO MINISTER AT THE UNIVERSITY OF FAIRFIELD. I mentioned in a previous email that the director of Young Life in the area had called me. He asked if we would be willing to volunteer with them on the campus and disciple their student leaders. So tomorrow Milas will be on campus at U of Fairfield with a Young Life T-shirt on meeting students and building contacts.
We completed the kitchen on Sunday. I started my first "official" day on the new job on Monday. We are slowly settling in. We have already made some great new friends at the church in New Haven. We are sliding into healthy rhythms of life, rest and soul refreshment.
We also are missing our friends and the “knowns” of life in Charlotte as well. Please pray for grace for each other and for ourselves as walk with Christ in this new season.
September 7, 2015 – Labor Day
Say a quick prayer for us will you?
In about 10 minutes 25 or 30 of our neighbors are coming over for an impromptu Labor Day party! We got lots of help but a party for 50 folks and 15 kids is going to incredible. Pray that Christ's presence is known.
September 8, 2015 – Labor Day Report
We had over 45 adults and 15 children at our house last night. Thanks to Youtube we had our own kid version of American Ninja Warrior with lots of games and a great time. It amazed us how hungry people are for community. We had 7 families from our neighborhood come, several of whom we had only met once. Within a couple hundred yards of our house are 5 families, all with kids under age 5, who only moved in over the last year. It was so evident that God placed us in this PARTICULAR house for these people. One of the guys looked at me almost in shock. "Thanks so much for inviting us..." he said, "all these people here are so nice." It was exciting to see the church at work as members from several churches in the area, as well as our core launch team, were also in attendance and serving one another.
At the end of the night we looked at our stocked fridge with left over drinks, salad, dessert, soda, wine, flowers, meat and Lauren said, quoting the Psalms, "He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. I'm not going to have to cook for a week!"
October 7, 2015 – Love Your Neighbor
"I didn't know that this is what life could actually be like..."
So said a new friend that I met with last week. It seems he has been converted in the last 4 months. He told me, "I used to wake up every day and just wish I would get hit by a stray bullet and go quickly. That’s alI I thought life was." But now? After 2 hours of hearing his life story, he couldn’t explain the transformation that happened to him. All he knew was that 4 months ago he wanted to die and now God has totally changed his life.
These types of interactions have been my favorite part of this new adventure. We walk through each day following up with contacts, hosting new friends and neighbors for meals, meeting people at parks and restaurants. Tomorrow I will get up to study the bible with two men. One of them is a new resident who I met in Chipotle! Last week, Lauren went out on a "ladies night" with 4 women from the neighborhood. They suggested they get dropped off at the bar and Uber home. Lauren volunteered to be the DD instead.
Some days I just wonder how is the Lord going to build a church out of these contacts. But most days, we turn to Christ in prayer for laborers and claim his promise again that the harvest is plentiful.
Who spans the oceans...?
I can’t say this enough, but we could never accomplish the purposes of God for our life without each of you and the churches that have come alongside us.
Ralph Cunnington and his co-pastor started a church in Manchester, England, a city of 2.5 million people. Only 4.7% of them attend church. Our church in Charlotte is helping support them. This one-year-old British church decided to help support us in Fairfield. Ralph will be attending a conference in Florida with Lauren and I this weekend, so he decided to come 2 days early and invest in our little church plant. He has met with our launch team, some key church leaders in the town, given lots of free consulting advice and, in general, been an absolutely brilliant guy (said with a British accent, of course). It is a wonderful picture of what we hope to start here in New England - a church-planting church that partners in church-planting movements all around the world.
P.S. - Please pray for this trip to Florida. I will give a presentation to a church board that has helped fund over 450 church plants in the last 30 years. We are asking them to invest significantly in this new church plant in Connecticut.
The launch team has settled well. The Shepherds are transitioning well and learning the area campuses. We continue to have open doors at Fairfield U. Allison Matlack has arrived, is living in our guest bedroom for now, and is investing in the grad pro group at our sending church in New Haven. Dan, the Davidson college grad from Connecticut, is working in Hartford until he finds a job down here and is fellowshipping with us weekly. Lindsay, the amazing film director/screenwriter is officially hired by PBS, working on the Arthur television show for the year in Boston, and will hopefully become a freelance script writer and move to Fairfield a year from now. (Pray that happens because my kids love her!)
There are another 8 families that we have connected with who could end up being a part of a core group. Pray that God will continue to lead us to future kingdom leaders who can help us start this church.
It has been an unexpected blessing to get to do so much ministry as a family. Two weeks ago, we were late leaving for church and trying to hurry out of our driveway. As we pulled out, a neighbor we had not met was walking by. Haddie yelled, "Daddy we have to meet them!" Despite my explanation that we were going to be late, Haddie insisted and we made a new friend. A future church planter in the making?
Our girls continue to progress in their understanding of Christ and what he has called us to. At the end of our bible reading a few weeks back, in response to the story of Jesus' crucifixion between two thieves, Haddie asked why someone would not want Jesus to save them. I explained that some people believe that they don't need God because they can save themselves. Haddie said, "But Daddy, people can’t save themselves unless they have super powers." Now that's good theology.
¥ Conference at Spanish River Church: Refreshment, vision, partnership, friendship and funding.
¥ Core Group formation: skillful communication and connection to potential core members of the church.
¥ Broad witness in Fairfield: open doors to new relationships and clarity in communicating the beauty of grace in Christ.
¥ Rich partnership with sending church in New Haven.
November 5, 2015 – First Gathering as a Church Sunday Night
"Pray big, start small, go deep with a few."
This is a regular mantra from our campus ministry days. Well, on Sunday night, November 8, six families will join our launch group for our first vision gathering in Fairfield. With kids, we expect to have 30 people singing, praying and studying in our living room. We will begin doing this once a month for the next 6 months, hoping that God will add new people every time. We expect Christ to join us in these times of worship and dreaming in order to fashion a small handful of his people into a healthy church in this area. Will you pray this verse that I read this morning over our time? Psalm 57:5 "Be exalted, O God, above the heavens! Let your glory be over all the earth!"
Partying for Jesus.
On October 14th, Evelynn turned two, and Mary Haddon turns four this weekend. It has been a sweet gift to have them be participants in our witness to this town. Their parties and school programs have been the easiest places to meet new people. Last weekend we ran around the town with 5 of the families from our neighborhood trick-or-treating. And Saturday, we will have at least 50 people at our house for Haddie's birthday party! I can’t really fathom how incredible this answer to prayer is. I started praying about this day last year as we left Haddie's 3-year-old party. She had so many good, important friendships in Charlotte. I feared this move would be traumatic as it wrested her and us from that community. I saw her first birthday party in Connecticut as an important family marker that we needed the Lord to show up at. There will be over 25 kids Saturday here to celebrate her. Pray that this is a special day for her and a great place for us to witness to this town about the beauty of a family filled with Christ and the richness of a Christ-centered community. Driving to church this past Sunday, Haddie drew a picture for one of her special new friends that she has met up here. As she finished, she asked me how to write "BEST." I helped her and knowingly asked why she wanted to write that on this note for her friend. She whispered in my ear: "Because Avery and I are a good team." We are so grateful to God for giving her new friends and a first "best" friend up here.
We continue to experience great open doors on the campuses here. Just last week, Milas and I met Fairfield University’s Chief of Staff. It just so happened that he was in a scotch club with several church members from our sending church in New Haven! Thank God for Presbyterians.
Milas and Ashley were on a retreat last weekend with 12 students involved with Young Life. And just this week a student from Sacred Heart, the other local campus in town, came to the weekly meeting for Young Life and wants to be in a bible study with Milas. We just keep walking and trusting.
With all the big events coming, I also must share that these have not been easy days. We have experienced lots of little threats to our peace and joy - from split lips, random 6-hour stomach viruses, sinus infections, and just internal unrest. We really need prayers for protection, perseverance, and faithfulness in the calling.
November 18, 2015 – Update from Vision Gathering and First Church Retreat
Many have asked what it looks like to start a new church.
I think this picture captures it well. Lauren is in the kitchen serving, kids are all around, new relationships are growing and deepening. And slowly but surely God builds us into a house where he dwells among us.
We had 15 adults and 12 children at our house 2 weekends ago for a great night of singing, praying, studying, and discussion. We had a catered dinner that someone donated, incredible deserts to celebrate Lauren and Haddie and the first gathering as a church in Fairfield was in the books.
Then this weekend the launch team (the Shepherds, Allison Matlack, Dan Whitney) plus one new family pulled away for 2 days to grow together and to pray.
Thank you for continuing to lift us up.
Many of you know that we have struggled for almost 9 years with infertility. Our girls are merciful gifts from God but the continued struggle month after month of waiting for God to answer prayers for more children is very wearing. Please pray for perseverance and the trust to receive everything in our lives as coming through the gracious hand of our loving heavenly father.
Pray for perseverance - I figured out that we have made about 165 contacts over the last months. Advisors tell me we need to do this 4 times over in the next 9 months. I don't know that I can go meet another 800 people! Pray that God would empower us as a TEAM to reach this town and gather new families into our community to help with this.
The several key new contacts- that these families would want to partner in this adventure.
December 5, 2015 – Prayers and Parties
We have 8 of our new friends from our neighborhood coming over for a Christmas feast tonight. Would you say a quick prayer that God's Spirit would be upon us, and this would be an important night in all of our walks with Christ?
Also, tomorrow night we have our second vision gathering for the church. There will be five new people coming. Please pray that it is a rich and meaningful time of fellowship and growth.
December 17, 2015 – Year End Review
Maybe you can settle an on-going debate. Do you pronounce "s'more" with one syllable or two? Of the 150 people that came out to our campfire in front of the Fairfield University library during exams, only one seemed to agree with me that it is properly pronounced with two. So much of this season has been focused on winning people's smiles, so that we can secure people’s time, so that we can touch people's hearts with the gospel. Last weekend, Lauren hosted 8 ladies from the area for an old-fashioned cookie exchange and used the night to invite them to join her in a bible study. We also hosted 8 of our neighbors for a Christmas party at our house. One of our new friends left the night and said to us, "It just feels so good to laugh!" Now, this isn’t the final goal for us. But we expect that people feeling free to laugh with us will result in people feeling free to cry with us. Whichever comes first, we see their openness to our lives as open doors to represent Jesus to them.