My mind is stuffed! Exponential is a conference held every year in Orlando. It is the largest gathering of church planters on the planet. I sit with 4,500 other pastors and church planters in First Baptist Church of Orlando to listen to some of the world’s best orators. Their information is enriching, empowering, useful, and proven. I only have several pages of information to look back on to memorize in order to be just as fruitful back in Raleigh.

This conference is intense. I’ve been learning about different church plant models, how to craft and present vision, different discipleship paths, etc., etc., etc. Sitting at the feet of church planting experts is exhausting! The mind is constantly turning and churning as it tries to absorb, process, and figure out how to apply this information. The information is exponential!

Yes, there is a lot of information, but it’s also been convicting. It’s impossible to try to capture everything, but hopefully these quotes below will give you a sense of what we’ve been invited to chew on for the last couple of days:

“Teachers hate big classrooms because only 20% learn through auditorium lecturing. Why is it that all pastors want what teachers hate?” Jim Putman

“Lives of godliness is worth following.” Tim Keller

“We are more concerned about our public image than private devotions. We are more concerned about bringing people in than bringing glory to God.” Craig Groeschel

“You are the sum total of your relationships.” Chris Hodges

“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Information does not transform, relationships do.” Chris Hodges

“It’s easier to duplicate than incarnate.” Chris Hodges

When Tim Kellers says that godliness is worth following, I need to grow in godliness. I need to set up the spiritual muscles necessary to remember that any hint of success is by the sovereign work of God and His all-powerful grace. Any giftedness I may have is by the sovereign work of God and His all-powerful grace. I need to grow in abiding in that grace and daily dwell in personal discipleship.

That takes work.

Craig Groeschel said, “The things that no one sees results in the things that everyone wants.” I’ll give you an example of what this means. Think of a well-trimmed 60 year old. There is not a square inch of fat on this person. All of us would say that we would like to be that fit when we’re 60. Those reading this over 60, just think of the age 80. What we don’t see about that 60 year old is all the blood, sweat, and tears it took to go to the gym at 6:00am. I didn’t see them eat beans over bacon, or bananas over beef. I don’t see all the small steps of smart living that produced a healthy, in-shape 60 year old. Thus the quote: the things that no one sees results in the things that everyone wants.

I want to serve God. I want to be someone whom people will want to follow because they do discover a godliness worth following. Yes, I want what some of these ‘successful’ planters have achieved, but that does not come about without the things no one sees. That means daily, bite sized, faithful, and consistent shifts towards godliness in my own life that will create the results (fruit!) I want people to see. Jesus was all about inviting a people to follow him who bear fruit. James wrote some pretty harsh words about that to

So if I am going to grow exponentially as a disciple of Jesus, and if that growth will translate into followers who want to experience the same growth, it means I must daily invest in the things no one sees. That’s a challenge for all of us as we daily invest in the things no one sees. In that daily investment, we also begin to want the things of God as well. Pure desire through daily discipleship. That’s the Spirit’s work in us.

4,500 church planters at
Exponential 2013 singing from their hearts as the conferences comes to a close.


It has been neat seeing some of the ways God has been at work over the last few weeks.  Here are just two stories of many that I could share:
Story #1: Coincidence?  I think not.
My family and I were invited to go Easter egg hunting the week before Easter with some family friends.  We stopped by a home (that was for sale) on the way to pick up another family.  Not knowing who was invited to the Easter egg hunt, I introduced myself to a couple standing inside the house.  I asked them if they were coming to join us in this adventure, and they promptly smiled and politely replied that they actually just purchased the house.  They were going to take some measurements while we were hunting eggs.  During our conversation, I was instructed that the Easter egg caravan was leaving. 
I didn’t think about the conversation on Saturday until the next day in church.  The pastor invited the congregation to stand and greet those sitting around them.  I stood up, turned around, and to my astonishment, I saw the couple that purchased the house standing in front of me!  Words started coming out of my mouth, “I think I know you!”  We learned that they were members of Tim Keller’s church in New York City and were now living in Raleigh.  He was a good friend with the associate pastor there who recently took a call to church planting (sound familiar?).  All in all, we are enjoying getting to know this couple. Making connections with other couples in various places throughout the last few weeks has been a blessing to my family and me.  It's a glimpse of God's grace as we grow in this new community.
Story #2: 3DM
A member of the council at First Reformed Church of Cary knows a United Methodist church planter in Apex.  She connected me to him, and he suggested I check out 3DM.  He said something about a conference happening in Apex (just north of Holly Springs) in the near future.  Not knowing anything about 3DM or Mike Breen who started this ministry, I did some research.  I discovered that the Christian Reformed Home Missions is already using this material in a few areas.  Ten Learning Communities are starting up throughout North America this spring and summer.  One of them is in Apex. 
Apex!  I mentioned this conference to the Home Missions regional Director of the southeastern United States, Drew Angus.  He purchased a $57 round trip ticket from New Jersey to Raleigh on Thursday, and the Learning Community began on the following Monday. Spending quality time with Drew for a couple of days last week was an unexpected blessing. The conference provided a great opportunity to network with brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church who are aggressively planting churches in this area.  The conference was an invaluable learning experience for me as I seek God’s direction for our church plant.   
I could share other stories that point to how God continues to be at work in our church planting process, which have been affirming.  The challenge for me is to keep my ears attuned to what God is doing. 
Here’s Drew Angus and I enjoying the 3DM Learning Community.
Drew and Mark


This past week I have had the privilege of participating in a conference by 3DM.  Rather than explain what 3DM is, you will want to check out http://weare3dm.com/about.  Actually, calling it a conference is a misnomer.  I have been participating in what is referred to as a Learning Community.  Over 30 church planters and pastors have gathered over the last 3 days at Apex United Methodist Church to learn about discipleship through a) teaching time, b) social spaces, c) small groups called huddles, and d) worship.  I can write pages (in fact, I have written pages of notes) on what I have learned, but that is for another time.  

This blog is about education and how it intersects with practice.  I believe it was John Piper who summarized Calvin this way, “The knowledge of God is knowledge of God applied.”  In other words, one cannot truly come to know God without putting that knowledge into practice.  Love God, and you will love neighbor.  Grace leads to a life of gratitude.  

A video was played at this Learning Community earlier this week that challenges the way seminaries teach students about discipleship.  Being that discipleship was part of my job description at Immanuel Christian Reformed Church, one would think that I had the knowledge of discipleship figured out.  Actually, I thought I did.  I knew a lot and read a lot on the subject.  But knowledge of discipleship is always knowledge of discipleship
applied.  Learning how to apply the knowledge of discipleship has made this Learning Community an experience I will never regret participating in.  I have been exposed this week about what it means to really build a discipling culture within current and new congregations in order that the mission that Jesus started with his 12 disciples continues today.  Some of the principles and the ways in which we are applying them this week in Apex is something I wish I learned in seminary.  Don’t get me wrong, I loved and grew a lot at seminary. Yet, after spending a few days with people who have devoted a lot of time and energy in creating discipling cultures, I feel at times ‘sheepish’ that seminary did not prepare me better in this capacity of growing a discipling culture within our congregations.  I also feel ‘sheepish’ about my lack of desire to develop discipling relationships over the years.  My prayer is that that this attitude will change, and I am glad that I am in a position where I am forced to make disciples.

The attached video provides a lot of information and provides challenging questions.  I hope that it raises some questions in your own life as you discover for yourself what it means to know Jesus and to teach everything he has commanded us.

Re-Imagining Theological Education | 3DM from 3DM on Vimeo.

South Raleigh/Apex/Fuquay-Varina

Holly Springs borders Apex, South Raleigh and Fuquay-Varina and we are observing rapid growth!  For example, let’s take Apex.  Apex, to the north of Holly Springs, experienced a 306.8% population jump from 1990 to 2000!  That is quite the growth. Fuquay-Varina, a town to the immediate south of Holly Springs had just over 4000 people in 1990.  Today it has over 18,000 people.  The southern part of Raleigh has grown by 106% since 1990.  The same type of growth is happening in Wake Forest, a booming suburb on the north end of Raleigh.  

All this growth is forcing us to determine where we should buy a home.  The big question is , “Where exactly do we plant a church?!”  How can we tap into the growth in Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, and the southern parts of Apex and Raleigh?  Where are the demographic, geographic, and sociologic fault lines that separate communities from one another?  What current churches already exist in these areas and what church plants are being planned by other denominations?  These are all questions that we need to answer over the next few months as we continue to decipher where exactly we will require to concentrate our time, energy, and resources.

So I ask God: “Where would Jesus plant?”  I ask that question seriously.  Would He ask the same questions I am asking?  Would He be overly concerned about numbers and demographics and projected growth?  I’m not so sure he would.  He did happen to arrive at a time where there was common currency, common language, a network of roads, and relative peace in Israel despite Roman occupation.  These practical realities helped church growth for sure.  These demographical realities may have helped the growth of the Gospel, but they were not his guiding light.  Jesus obeyed the will of his Father.  He took 12 men and taught them.  Through those relationships a multiplication movement spread throughout the Greco-Roman world.  So as we continue to wrestle with the data, we wrestle with humility and submission knowing that at the end of the day, growth begins through face-to-face relationships.  We are praying that those relationships will develop and we ask that those reading these words will join us in that prayer.  

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All data is brought to you by Google, who brings it to you by the 2010 U.S. Census.