My Mom’s Advice to Moms

•May 15, 2013 • 3 Comments

We had a great day at Suncrest celebrating on Mother’s Day…and it was a great day with my own Mom. This is some more wisdom from her that we couldn’t include in the service. I can promise you she lived out these 3 pieces of advice herself!

If it is going to make a real difference for you, spend 90 seconds watching and then 90 minutes resolving to integrate this into life.

Outward: We Plant Churches

•March 8, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Leaders at Suncrest know Our Mission, Our 4 C’s (how we grow in our faith), and 5 DNA Markers (core values). These aren’t cute sayings that are in a brochure somewhere. They define everything. Many years we look for a value that may have slipped to the background and give it emphasis. This year that value is OUTWARD.

We use short sentences to give life to each value so today I’m starting a series of 4 posts to highlight each sentence attached to OUTWARD: Lost People matter uniquely to God. Their separation from Jesus drives us. We regularly sacrifice for those who are not part of our church. We plant churches.

We plant Churches. It would be hard to think of any three words that have had greater impact at Suncrest. Here’s how we think about it:

-Orchard, not tree. As much as God has blessed our own church, the greater blessing is through multiplication of new churches. Think about this: Last Sunday about 1400 people attended Suncrest. But…thousands and thousands of people have been reached by the churches we have started. Even better, we only plant churches that will also plant other churches. This isn’t about me, but personally I want to make the biggest difference I can in this world before I die…and along with raising my own 2 kids I’m pretty sure this is the way it is going to happen. Long after I’m gone, these churches should keep multiplying like bunnies!

-Giver, not taker. From Day ONE (thanks John Wasem!) Suncrest vowed we would set aside the first 10% of every offering we receive and be givers to others work in the kingdom of God. Right now almost 80% of that money (over $120,000 this year) is used for starting new churches around the world. I’m not certain of many things, but I absolutely know God has blessed Suncrest because of this, just as he blesses people who are givers.

Lunch with Joe

-Embedded, not an Extra. When our staff or I travel to help new churches get started we are not doing “outside consulting”, it is part of our job at Suncrest. Between travel, conference calls, and building partnerships, I’m sure I give more than 10% of my time to the movement of starting new churches. It’s not an accent to our ministry, it is part of who we are. Yesterday I had a phone call with Gary Davis (planting in Walkerton). Today I had a phone call with Jared Mehrle (planting in 9 days outside of Atlanta!) and I had lunch our Suncrest team partnering to plant churches in Liberia (pictured with Liberian leaders Joe/Marie Lieway). Last week Bobby Jackson was working with our new church in Providence, RI. Next week David Vineyard will begin work with a new church up around O’hare.

Where are all these new churches? We’ve partnered to start a number of churches in New England and the Chicago area, one in Tampa, another in Jackson, TN. We’ve done it around the world in Portugal, Poland, outside of Mexico City, and many churches in Liberia. We plant churches…it’s central to our church living OUTWARD.

Hang out with me (and all the cool people) Friday night…

•March 1, 2013 • 4 Comments

I hope you will join me Friday night (March 8 – 6:30pm) if you are anywhere close to Northwest Indiana for our Africa Dessert Night.

We do almost no fundraisers at Suncrest (lots of reasons for that…in another blog post), but we do this one almost every year because the CAUSE is compelling, the NIGHT is a blast, and there are some great deals at an AUCTION with no pressure!

god waterThe Cause – My definition of “cool” in my title is people who want to make a difference.   The dessert is going to help 2 ministries working in Liberia that are great partners with Suncrest.  One is “Impact Liberia” which starts new churches there.  The Other is “God Water” which is an incredible organization that has grown out of Suncrest attenders.  Just buying a ticket will help Liberians have clean drinking water.

The Night – It’s great dessert, lots of laughs from the entertainment, and a personal look at the dilemmas and progress of life in Liberia.

The Auction – Some items do get bid up past their actual value (it is for a great cause after all), but with so many items there is also a chance to get a great deal on some things if that is what you are looking for. This is far from a complete list, but I know this year there are items like Restaurant Gift Cards, White Sox Tickets, A behind the scenes fire station tour for a group of kids (or adults!), Music Lessons, Dance Lessons, Golf at Youche Country Club and White Hawk, Jak’s gift card, Beanies, Scarves…4 hours of work from a variety of Suncrest staff members, including yours truly.

(May I suggest you bid on both me and the golf at Youche?  Seems like a win-win if you put them together!)

Get your tickets this Sunday at any Suncrest campus or call the church at 219-365-9000!

Big News for our Walkerton Campus

•February 14, 2013 • Leave a Comment

We have some big (and wonderful) news about our Walkerton Campus.  This blog post could become a full book very quickly.  It could be about vision, God’s hand, hurt, perseverance, renewal, and more.  I’ll do my best to keep it brief.

The original vision:  Suncrest launched the Walkerton Campus as part of our “Jesus Mission”  in 2010.  We launched a campus in Highland, new churches in Liberia, and this campus in Walkerton within weeks of each other.  That was crazy, but we sensed it was of God.

The launch: Walkerton wasn’t in our strategic plan, but came out of relationships God had given us and a sense that we needed to live by faith and “go for it” even when we didn’t have the resources for a typical campus launch.  Very quickly, the campus was reaching almost 100 people and seeing stories of lives changed even though we had a shoestring budget and couldn’t send a launch team from other campuses.

A challenge:  We knew there would be some logistical challenges.  Unlike our other campuses, Walkerton is over an hour away, in a different time zone, in a smaller town outside of the Chicago suburbs and launched with the campus pastor as the only connection to Suncrest.  Even from launch, we made adjustments for this and there were definitely benefits to all the shared resources, but…

One year ago:  Last February the campus was 18 months old when the campus pastor, myself, and our elders all agreed we should set a plan in motion to “release/launch” the Walkerton campus as a church of their own.  It seemed a win-win-win.  The community of Walkerton would have the church they needed; Suncrest would be able to function with greater unity as 3 campuses in the same region; the Walkerton leaders were ready to step out in faith and take full responsibility for their own future.

The Crisis:  I don’t want to avoid the hard part of the story.  We were moving toward a launch/release and had a plan to announce this on September 5.  On September 4, the campus pastor shared a serious failure in his personal life with me and resigned.  (He continues to work through all of this and is experiencing God’s grace.  I’m thankful for that.)

Three challenging months:  The whole plan to launch was dependent on him.  I even wondered about the viability of the campus.  On September 6, two of our elders and I sat with leaders from the campus and we formed a plan to do only the essentials of Sunday mornings, Community Groups, and Serving the Community for the next 3 months.  I can’t tell you how much I respect these leaders.  They had no idea what they were REALLY signing up for, but they had seen lives changed and had their lives changed.  Their community needed this church.

A Re-Newed Vision:  Those leaders held it together for 3 months.  It was hard.  We had a decision to make about the future.  Those leaders rallied and said if Suncrest would help them, they wanted to go forward with the vision of becoming a church plant.  That was an easy one for our elders.  We believe God called us to Walkerton in the first place.  And we plant churches.  Of course we would help.

A New Leader:  Through an unlikely connection and covered with prayer, we were led to a pastor named Gary Davis who lives about 30 minutes from Walkerton and had a sense for sometime that he was to plant a church in his home region.  This could be it’s own blog post some time, but the result is that last Sunday their leaders announced to the whole campus there that Gary was coming to be the pastor to lead them as they launch a church of their own!

The Road Ahead:  On Sunday, March 10, the group in Walkerton will pivot from being a Suncrest campus to becoming a new church.  They will continue to meet weekly for worship with Gary as their pastor and prepare for a public launch as a new church with a new identity this Fall.  What WON’T change is their desire to welcome anyone and everyone just as they are and help them experience faith in a new and powerful way.

The Credits:  This isn’t a movie, but many people have been models of faith, vision, and perseverance over the last 5 months so I want to “scroll the credits here”.  I’m DEEPLY grateful for them.  This amazing story could not and would not have happened without the hand of God…or these people letting God use them.  I’m not trying to draw attention to them as much as I am thanking God for them as I type each name (from both Walkerton and Suncrest):  Eric, Ryan, Melody, Loretta, Jim, Michal, Randy, Bobby, Debby, Cindy, Laurie, and Rod.  It’s been an absolute privilege to walk these 5 months with each of them.

Overwhelmed This Morning

•November 7, 2012 • 1 Comment

On Sunday morning…I asked our church to care about the most important thing in the world.  (No, not the election…not even close.)  It is that our lives are connected to people who are lost…People struggling to know God or far from him.  We talked about the power of inviting these people in our lives to consider something different.

On Sunday afternoon…I saw it celebrated in this Facebook from Jaci Sutter:  Today I am thankful to Stephanie Olsen Sandoval for inviting us to Suncrest Christian Church, 5 years ago. That has change the life of me, my husband and my children. It  us down a rewarding journey with a Christ centered life. I am the example of a life changed just by asking!!!

Yesterday…Our campus pastors sent an email to our church telling them we would pray for the people they care about who are far from God if they just reply with a name.

This Morning…our inbox exploded with names of people to pray for.  I’m overwhelmed.  I’m grateful that “I care” is more than a catchy phrase for our church.

Now…I have some praying to do.  I fully anticipate that many people I pray for today will have a different life soon.  As I referenced Sunday, we do our part and we trust God to do what only he can do.  “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.” -1 Corinthians 3:6

Church Planting. An End. A Beginning.

•October 26, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Cool week for me.

Last Friday/Saturday I was in Boston for my LAST meeting on the Management Team of REUNION Christian Church.  Seven years ago Suncrest was key to launching this church that now has hundreds and hundreds of attenders in two campuses (Back Bay & Somerville).  Any observer would say it is now a model for urban church planting around the country.

The best part was the group of leaders from REUNION gathered Saturday morning.  I led a session about how we have developed spiritual leaders at Suncrest as the last element before THEY take the leadership/oversight responsibility for the church themselves.  The church will “fly on it’s own” from here forward.  Any formal role we have there is coming to an end.

Then, today I spent the day in Atlanta for my FIRST meeting on the Management Team for our new church here (Name to be revealed SOON!).  Unless you live under a rock, you know Suncrest is sending and supporting one of our former pastors (Jared Mehrle) to launch a new church in the Northeast Suburbs.  It was awesome to see him and his family.  And, it was awesome to see another Suncrest couple (Ryan/Emily Trisler) who have moved down here to help them.

A launch team is starting to form.  The Vision is big.  The plan is for launch in early 2013.  And sometime a few years from now I’ll write a blog post about them raising up their own leaders and our “outside” Management team handing off the reigns.

(Side Note:  Bobby Jackson was in Providence, Rhode Island last weekend serving on the Northpoint Christian Church management team.  Just sayin…We don’t have to wait until one ends for a new one to begin.  We are planting churches all the time!)

A Defining Email

•September 21, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I write an email to our church every week.  I get rushed some weeks and there are 52 of them each year…not every one is going to be a classic! But some should be.  And if I get to vote, I hope this one is.  I would love for this to be defining for Suncrest.


Hey Suncrest,

You hear me talking about “being used by God to change lives” all of the time.  I hope that desire to bring heaven to earth, light to darkness, healing to brokenness is a central element of your life and faith.

This week I came across some examples of this happening and it highlighted something very important to me.  Think about these 2 first:

  • Last Saturday, 35+ people from Suncrest rehabbed a house for a family in need as part of the regional “Rebuilding Together”.  Our Compassion Fund (from our annual Christmas Eve offering) funded much of the work.
  • This Sunday, we will learn how we can help re-stock the food pantry shelves at St. Claire’s Health Clinic.  We refer people to St. Claire’s often for the kind of assistance (medical, etc.) we can’t provide, so I really hope we’ll be able to bless them in a huge way.

It is cool that we do these things “through the church coming together”, but it is even better when you and I realize we are the church 24/7.  So it would be a TERRIBLE idea to rely on church-sponsored programs to do our “difference making” work.  The best chance to be the church is actually right where you are.  These things were even better news to me this week:

  • I opened up the Times on Monday and saw a picture someone from our Hobart Campus helping the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana distribute food.
  • When I mentioned a chance to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity this week, Tina Hines and Lynn Barbee spoke up about when they volunteered with them building a house in Gary.
  • Our neighbor (and Suncrest attender) told me this morning that the school where she teaches was getting recognized for excellence.  I see her (and many other educators) at our church give and give and give to help students every single day – in ways that shape lives far beyond test scores.
  • A guy who serves on our Business Management Team shared this on Facebook:  “A lot of people have asked me about the homeless shelter where I volunteer…well, they’re now on Facebook and in need of volunteers. So if you or a group of friends have 4 or 5 hours a month to volunteer, please contact South Suburban PADS.”
  • While Suncrest sponsored one “Rebuilding Together” project, a man in our church led his workplace to sponsor another.  He suggested his company financially sponsor it (which they did) and then a group from his company went and did the work on Saturday.

Friends, this is the path to really meeting needs.  So much more will happen in our region if we take this posture than we could ever do through Suncrest-sponsored programs.  Nobody thinks this is a bad idea.  Many figure they will be ready to engage it after their faith grows a little bit.  Ironically, serving others like this is actually the way your faith grows.  Just go for it!

Thanks for reading.


P.S.  As of Sunday, almost 200 adults across 4 campuses who weren’t in Community Groups before are jumping in for our 8 week study of Guardrails.  This is amazing!  Jenny and I leaving our old group to be part of new one with 10 new people…can’t wait!  There will be one last chance to connect with a group on Sunday!

9 favorite pictures from Liberia

•July 19, 2012 • 2 Comments

It is not an exaggeration to say our team took thousands of pictures in Liberia (I think Gina took thousands herself!).  I’ve had so much trouble finding the time to put all the experiences into words that I thought I would begin sharing the story this way.  Pictures are worth more than words anyway!

The people of Liberia are stunning in every way. These two guys won their pieces of gum from Rod Reutter playing the game they just learned – Rock, Paper Scissors!

Suncrest is investing in the education of Daniel and George to be pastors and they started one of our new churches in the process! Suncrest bought them this bike so they would not have to walk an hour each way back and forth to school.

Rod and Bobbie Reutter with our longtime partners in Liberia. We have supported the work of Danny and Bea Buegar for 18 years!

Part of our team went to the Village of Karnplay and the welcome was amazing. The churches we have started are dreaming about a new church here one day. Love the Vision.

Medical Clinic – Lisa and Emily taking Vitals, Donna teaching how to use the toothbrushes. I just wish Allie was in the picture – our Nurse who was a champ!

I took this group shot at Ganta Christian Church after I preached there. This church is one of 4 started by Suncrest’s “Jesus Mission” offering in the last 20 months.

This child…and a thousand others…will brush his teeth tonight because Suncrest kids gave so generously.

Ladies at Suncrest (and beyond!) made “Pillowcase Dresses” that we were able to distribute at an orphanage! Lots of gratitude.

You too could be a Pharmacist! Jenny, Brad, and Gina had it perfected by the end of the week.

Liberia in 3 minutes

•July 12, 2012 • Leave a Comment

One of the best things that happened on our Liberia trip this time was this:  We have a guy in our church who has great gifts in video/storytelling.  He’s used those gifts in our church multiple times, but this time he went above and beyond to recruit a friend, haul his equipment all over Liberia, and help to tell the many stories that are there.

There will be more videos to come, but here is one he did in less than 24 hours after he got home.  We showed it at St. John Campus on Sunday, but here it is for everyone.  Thanks Mark (and Brian)!

Trip to Liberia…Delayed

•June 22, 2012 • 2 Comments

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated.  Our team of 13 was supposed to be in Liberia by now, but instead I’m writing a blog post about not being able to go yesterday.

The details: I saw this graph today and it made me laugh.  International travel…to a 3rd world country…that requires pre-approved visas for entry…with a team of 13 people…is a challenge.  Yesterday we got stuck in “no man’s land” between the Liberian embassy, airlines, and the US Postal service.  There isn’t someone to blame.  In fact, I give a lot of credit for effort to the Embassy and Delta Airlines to work through a nearly impossible situation.  Despite our prayers for the visas to arrive when they should have, the trip could not happen yesterday because our approved visas actually arrived…this morning.

What now?  The trip will still happen with a slight delay and some remarkable flexibility.  We will now leave next week instead and extend our stay 4 days.  It is absolutely amazing to me that almost all 13 people (and it may still be all 13) will be able to make this adjustment.

Who I feel bad for:  The Liberian People and our Partners there.  We will still be able to serve our 4 new churches there is most ways we had hoped, but now it requires their flexibility.  In a country with so little and where our visit is such an encouragement to them, I hate that they pay any price at all.  I also feel bad for those on the team, but they amazed me so much with their spirit and flexibility that I’m almost over it already.  🙂

Why did this happen?  I don’t know.  If you know me, you know I think God is always at work, but I also think sometimes people assign things to God that were not Him.  On this one, I don’t know.  I had multiple people suggest how God may have a purpose for our delay that we are unaware of right now.  I think they were leading me spiritually when I should have been leading them.  I am confident that we will still do his work whether there is something unique about the new schedule or not.

What am I learning?  Bobbie Reutter (a team member) posted this verse today.  It was in a helpful blog post by @JenniCatron called “When you wonder the Will of God” and I think speaks to our situation right now:

“Be joyful always;

pray continually;

give thanks in all circumstances,

for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I Thessalonians 5:16-18

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