Monday, September 9, 2013

"Astonish people with the love of Jesus..."

Ephesians 3:20- God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (The Message)

A report was released a while back with information from a religious census that was very interesting. Among the other items in the report was a study of the 51 metropolitan areas in the United States with more than 1 million residents and their church attendance habits.  The city with the largest percentage of worship attenders was Salt Lake City, Utah. Number 51 on the list was Portland, Oregon. Then sliding in at number 50 was my home base of Tampa Bay. We ranked behind Las Vegas. More people go to church in "Sin City" than in Tampa Bay. That is not good news.  In a separate study, Tampa was ranked as the most stressful place to live in the United States.  As I heard one lady say in response to those two facts, "maybe they're stressed because they don't go to church!"  Hmmm...

This past weekend at Van Dyke Church (it's a large United Methodist church, although "Methodist" is seldom used to describe it!) Pastor Matthew Hartsfield unveiled a new initiative called The 320 Project.  Having worked in churches for nearly 30 years, I am always a bit skeptical of big new "programs" or promotional events.  But this one, based on the scripture from Ephesians 3:20 found at the top, blew me away.  It is a vision and means for taking Jesus to Tampa Bay in a bold new way- by doing everything possible as a worshiping body and then trusting the impossible to God.  And I for one could not be more excited!

The stated mission of Van Dyke Church is that "we connect people to a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ." Van Dyke has always been about loving people in the name of Jesus and connecting members to each other.  That's why the church has grown exponentially in the past 20 years, with over 3000 in worship on many weekends. As Matthew introduced The 320 Project on Sunday, he gave us 5 core values that will take the church into the future seeking to be bold for God.  As he said,"If you cut us, we bleed this stuff. And we are willing to give our time, talent and treasure to display these values to a broken and hurting world in need of Jesus."  Here are those core values:

  1. Daring Faith- We are innovative risk-takers, praying and acting boldly, expecting God to create supernatural breakthroughs.
  2. Fearless Service- We are action-oriented servants, pushing through all obstacles to astonish people with the love of Jesus. (AMEN!)
  3. Passionate Excellence- We relentlessly give our best to honor God and inspire people.
  4. Extravagant Generosity- We are adventurous givers, bravely sharing our resources to punch holes in the darkness with the light of Jesus.
  5. Unshakeable Focus on the Future- We make outrageous investments in the next generation, raising spiritually heroic children and youth.
From there Matthew highlighted 7 points of the vision that is springing from the process that is The 320 Project. Among them were an outpouring of prayer, every member in ministry and mission, programming for at risk kids and the special needs community, a Leadership Center, irresistible facilities for children and youth and a wave a new worshipers coming to Jesus. I am not part of the staff at Van Dyke (they are paid to be good, while I am good for nothing!) nor am I part of the lay leadership. I am just a praying peon in pew. But this project moves me.  It speaks to what the local church ought to be.  It is a big vision, a big dream- and only possible with God. Which is the way it ought to be...

Most of my readers do not attend Van Dyke or even live in Tampa Bay. So why am I telling you all of this? First of all because I know that so many of you are pray-ers, and I am asking you to pray for Van Dyke and for Tampa Bay, that God will use this effort to cause a great move of the Holy Spirit in this area. And secondly, to challenge you to pass it on.  What is it that Ephesians 3:20 can mean to your church? What are the big dreams you need to dream and big prayers you need to pray so that God can do things work through you to do what seems impossible?  I think it's time for churches everywhere to do something unexpected and amazing and "astonish people with the love of Jesus." Bring on the Jesus Revolution!!!

Because of Jesus,


  1. Anonymous9/10/2013

    I love this post, Big C! I will keep Van Dyke, Tampa Bay and your part in this in my prayers. Thanks for inspiring me this morning! Have a great day.


    PS: The Bible study I lead is starting back this Saturday and I plan to start it by sharing this with them. Love you, Big C!

    1. Todd, I am glad it inspired you as much as it did me, and I (and we) do covet those prayers! And you have a great day too, BIRTHDAY BOY!!!


Thanks for reading,and thanks for your comment!