Have you ever been in near-miss car accident?  Last night, Jenni and I were driving home and this cat ran out in front of us.  I saw it, but Jenni yelled “CAT!” and I jerked on the wheel and slammed on the brakes.  It wasn’t that big of a deal, but it got the adrenaline flowing and I single handedly saved a cats life (what was I thinking 🙂 – sorry cat lovers). That incident wasn’t too life altering, but I have been in a few instances in a car where the maneuvers I made and the corrections I engaged were literally a matter of life or death.  In those moments, as the driver, you have to make quick decisions and changes – you must react in order to survive.  We have all come across car wrecks where the situation or the driver were such that the proper corrections were not made (sometimes because there were no feasible corrections to stop the impending crash).

I have been thinking a lot about church planting, especially the way we planted Epic – it’s called “Parachute Planting”, the idea being that you parachute into an unfamiliar area and try to find people and help them get connected to God and form a church out of it.  There are better ways of doing church planting, but that was the option we had to work with when engaging Wichita.  The early days of a church that has been started as a Parachute plant feel a little like a car wreck that might be impending.  What I mean is that in order to survive the early days of this scenario (an organization full of people who don’t know each other being thrust into relationship and leadership) the organization operates in a “Correction” mentality.  Some of you who have been with Epic for a while will identify with this.  There is a problem, a systems issue, a new challenge on the horizon and “Kent” stepped in, exerted some influence to try and course correct and then stepped out.  The honest truth is, in order for us to make it to our second birthday (which we celebrated just earlier this month), this type of leadership was necessary.

While a correction type of leadership was necessary, that type of leadership has some definite drawbacks.  It has huge potential to hurt people.  It has huge potential to give leadership to someone who should have earned it instead of inheriting it.  It has huge potential to cause the organization to become risk adverse (being afraid to take the calculated faith steps that started the original organization in the first place). This is where we find ourselves.  We are on the verge of a shift in the life of Epic, and if we don’t recognize that shift, some people will feel very much left behind or fearful of the future.  We are moving from Correction to Direction.  The problem is, just like someone coming out of a potential car wreck – folks who have existed in the two years of correction leadership may feel the adrenaline still pumping and constantly be pushing on the imaginary passenger side break (you know you do it).  You know what I’m talking about, right?  I mean, you’ve felt that fearfulness and the high alert of the adrenaline after the near-miss that causes you to be fearful and apprehensive for the next hour of the drive.

We are on the verge of a seismic shift at Epic – some of you are already feeling it in your ministry areas.  But if we cannot acknowledge that we may still have left over baggage from the previous leadership style, we may never move forward to see people get connected to God, one person at a time! “So, Kent, what’s this direction then?”  I can share the big picture – and yes, as you hear it, you will say to yourself, “Self!  What about this?  What about that?  Have you thought about this?”.  As I share this vision and direction, I want you to know I am asking those questions too, that’s kind of the point.  To focus our energy as a church into asking the right questions to fulfill the vision God is giving the church!  That to me is exciting, because it means if you are asking the right questions, then you are in the right place!  I’m not presenting a solution – I’m presenting a destination, something to give us organizational direction.

The Direction:

I believe God is calling Epic to plant new life-giving churches in Wichita and then out into the rural parts of Kansas where the church is dying.  I am not talking about one or two churches, I am talking about the potential of a reproducing movement of churches of hundreds and thousands that would impact the rural parts of our country (I believe these places are raising up generations of children that move to our cultural centers, cities, and influence the American landscape).  I do not have the full picture lined out right now, and that’s ok.  I feel like my job is going to be to keep pointing us towards the end of seeing people get connected to God, one person at a time.

If you were to ask me what something like this may look like, I would tell you that I believe the end result may look something like a hub and spoke system.  Think tinker-toys (remember, the little wood wheels and sticks?) .  You would have a hub church that spokes out into a different area or region and plants another church – this church has within it the potential to hub and spoke out another church and is expected to do so itself.  the system would create a network of interlocking spokes and hubs of churches that are sharing resources across the system and working together to catalyze a movement that would connect people to God one person at a time. This is big!  Honestly, this was the vision we started with as we moved to plant Epic in the first place – this is what got me excited about church planting, this picture God placed in my heart to see people being connected one at a time.  But the truth is, I was afraid to share this direction because it seems so big and so unattainable.   What if we fail?  What if we can’t pull it off?  These were all of the what if questions I had and that kept me from sharing this vision clearly and you may be having them as well.

I have come to the conviction that  me not sharing this direction has left Epic stuck in a correction system that has hurt us.  I believe this direction, this vision of something so great that God would have to show up for us to accomplish it, is the kind of thing that He wants us to engage in.  It is the kind of thing that pushes us to rely on Him, the kind of thing that forces us to prayer, to engaging the mission of connecting people.  it is the thing that invokes creativity and drives us to raise up leaders.  It makes everything each of us is doing to further the mission of God in the world that much more important. I am not sure how all this will play out – I think this is a 10-15 year vision.  I am working with our team of leaders to start taking this direction and working backwards to today to say, “what are our next steps as a church in the next 6 months.”  I think you will start seeing things in the near future that look much more like direction than correction and my hope is that it makes your soul sing to know you are a part of the ground floor of something that could be huge! I will say this, as we move forward there are three values that we have begun to identify about this whole process that Epic must begin to embody.

  1. Reproducing – everything we do must be marked with an intentionality towards reproducing.  This means every leader in our organization is intentional about reproducing their position – if we plan on starting new churches the practical side means we have to have many more leaders and artists and so, reproduction is a HIGH value!
  2. Simple – we must maintain a model that is simple – complex systems are not reproducible.  This means we will continue to push harder into connection groups, stuff for kids, outreach, and Sunday morning celebration services rather than creating a bajillion ministries for ever single thing under the sun.  Simple is reproducible.
  3. Biblically Responsible – look, at Epic, we believe the bible to be God’s word, that means something for us.  It means we are going to do our best to speak where the bible speaks and be silent where the bible is silent.  We are going to be honest when we are operating in areas of opinion and take stands where we believe the bible is clear.  This matters because we are not trying to please anyone but the tri-une God of the Bible!

I believe that these three values give us a workable paradigm to begin exploring the direction God has called us to – planting hub and spoke churches to impact the rural part of Kansas and beyond!

I want to invite you to join us in dreaming!  I want to invite you to begin praying!  I want to invite you to begin getting involved and contributing your talents, energy, time and resources to be a part of the most compelling vision I have ever personally encountered!