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Assessment and Affirmation

This week Heather and I have been in Denver, CO for the North American Mission Board (NAMB) assessment retreat. We weren’t exactly sure what to expect over the two-day event; so we were a little nervous going in.

At the retreat we met NAMB reps, church planters, pastors, and specialists from all over the country, and their goal was to help us get an accurate picture of ourselves – our strengths and weaknesses – with regard to church planting.

We will not have any official results for a week or two, but our feedback was overwhelming positive, encouraging, and affirming. And while there are definitely some areas in which we need to grow, we feel more confident than ever that we are in line with God’s direction for our lives.

Windsor, here we come! 

Heather and I spent the better part of today (Thursday) in the Town of Windsor. The more time I spend there and the more I learn about the town, the more I realize how much need there is and how well it fits our team. We’re so thankful for God’s supernatural guidance in this process. As I read in His word this morning:

“I bow down…and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you have exalted above all things your name and your word. On the day I called, you answered me; my strength of soul you increased.”  -Psalm 138:2-3

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An Update from the Duke Family

Dear friends,

I’ve been wanting to write this update for a while now, but a number of factors have delayed it. As of my last post, our church plant team was considering the city of Greeley, CO for our location. Within 24 hours of that blog post, we felt redirected to the town of Windsor, CO. After two week-long vision trips and lots of conversations with local pastors and North American Mission Board representatives, Windsor very clearly rose to the top of our list.

One of the reasons I’ve hesitated to announce this outside of our church is that I was waiting for confirmation from the Lord. I knew what I wanted to do; but so often the Lord’s plans are different than our own.

Then, a few weeks ago, we got word that a new baseball sports park (the largest in the world!) is going to be built in Windsor. Construction starts October 1. The influx of people that this development will bring into the area will in itself more than justify the planting of a new church. Windsor is on the verge of incredible growth, and we want to be right in the middle of the kingdom growth that this will bring! We had already chosen the northwest corner of the town as our target area, and this just happens to be where the new sports park will be built! All of this is very exciting, and it was the kind of confirmation that I was looking for.

To date, we have four couples on our church plant team, and our home church, Christ Baptist, has agreed to support us for five years. I am blown away by God’s provision!

We leave this Sunday, July 9th, for a 6-day mission trip to Colorado. About half of the mission team is also on our church plant team, and they will spend a couple of days during the trip doing research in Windsor. Our mission trip will involve prayer walking, gospel conversations, man-on-the-street-type Q&A, cookouts in the park, and hosting a “thank you” dinner for the volunteers at a sister church plant.

We are in the process of applying for partnership with NAMB, and we hope to be invited to in-person interviews September 26-27.

If all continues to move as smoothly as it has thus far, team members will begin to look for housing and employment in the last quarter of 2017. Our church plant team will also form a new small group which will meet weekly beginning August 25th.

By early 2018, our new youth minister at Christ Baptist should be in place, and throughout the spring of 2018, team members will make trips to Windsor to secure homes and employment. Our target move date is July 15, 2018.

We will spend the first 18 months in Colorado learning from other church planters in the area, loving our neighbors, and having gospel conversations. Our vision is for a church where every member is a disciple-maker. We hope to develop at least two strong small groups before considering acquiring a facility in which to meet.

Our desire is to then obtain a multi-use facility that will add value to the Windsor community. We have a ton of ideas here. Maybe it will function as a co-op workspace or cafe. Perhaps fitness or art clubs will use it during the week. It could house an after-school program and/or counseling and recovery groups. And, of course, our church will worship there every Sunday evening.

How can you help?
1. PRAY – continue to pray that God would confirm the calling He has placed upon the lives of our church plant team.

2. LISTEN – if you hear of anyone that is moving to northern Colorado in the near future, please connect them with me. We would love for them to consider joining our team.

3. INVITE – from January to July of 2018, I hope to spend time casting the vision for our plant in churches around the country. My goals in this are to build a network of prayer support and seek out others who might join us in Windsor. If your church is open to me coming and speaking, please let me know.

Thank you all for your friendship and encouragement over the years!
I really feel like God has been preparing us for this work for a long time.
Knowing that you are behind us makes all the difference!

In Christ,
The Duke Family

 

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Days 3-4: Narrowing Things Down

Two more days on the Front Range have passed so quickly.

Steve and I had meetings from sun up to sundown yesterday (Thursday). We met with a youth pastor from the town of Windsor for breakfast; then on to lunch with three northern Front Range planters. After lunch we explored an area that seems to meet most of our desired criteria for the plant. We heard about a new opportunity in this area on Wednesday at lunch, and it seems like our attention has been set on it ever since.

I’m far from ready to make a declaration that “This is the place,” but I do feel confident enough to direct your prayers specificially to the area of west Greeley.

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*This is a section of the Engage Map, created by the North American Mission Board. You can explore the map for yourself here.

Basic information:
Population is around 100k (city-data.com).
5th fasting growing city in the nation (according to The Loveland City Update).
Currently only three English-speaking Southern Baptist churches (SBS.net)
The University of Northern Colorado (the other UNC!) is only 15 minutes away.
There is a high degree of ethnic and economic diversity compared to the rest of the Front Range.
The blue dot on the above map is a spot that has been identified by NAMB as needing a church plant.
Residential (and otherwise) growth is exploding in this area.
People who live here commute to Greeley, Fort Collins, and even Denver to work.

Please pray for our team as we begin to focus attention on west Greeley. Pray that if this is the place, it would be abundantly clear; and, of course, if it is not the place, that that  would be clear as well.

I (Andy) spent the entire day today (Friday) in the city thinking, praying, researching, and meeting.

I met with a dear pastor and youth pastor from Colorado Springs for lunch. He is a friend of one of our Christ Baptist Church members. This afternoon a planter in Denver Metro met with me and graciously offered words of encouragement and wisdom.

Steve and I have decided to stay in Greeley tonight (instead the city, as originally planned). We will be prayer walking and driving through the area most of the day. As one of our friends back home texted me this morning, we merely want to hear from God, “This is the way; walk in it” (Isa. 30:21).

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Day 2: Back and Forth

Yesterday (Wednesday) was an incredible day, but a busy one. Steve and I had breakfast at the Denver Biscuit Company with a city church planter. You should see the biscuits they have at this place!

During the meeting we discussed our Christ Baptist summer mission trip and possible plant locations on the east side of the city; but the “gem” in this conversation was the wisdom this planter gave us regarding our families.

It may seem obvious, but the great challenge in church planting is sustainability. Some locations are very hard spiritual ground, not reaping fruit for a long time. Others present extreme financial or cultural challenges. Regardless of the hurdle, there is usually a reason that an underserved region is underserved. It’s hard to reach!

But a big part of the passion that I have (and our team has) in planting this church is for reaching a hard place. Sometimes we get crazy looks when we talk about leaving what’s comfortable to go where it’s hard, but what eternal hope will those in hard places have apart from a witness to Jesus (Rom. 10:14)?

There is, however, a wise balance to this mentality. I think our city-planter friend understood this. He talked about how our plant location needs to be somewhere our families can feel safe and, to a degree, comfortable.

Comfort is a very relative term. God can prepare us to be joy-filled and at-home in any context He wants us; but as we move forward, I want to be aware of the team that God has given me and where we fit best.  Pray for me in this.

After downtown Denver, Steve and I headed to the northern Front Range, near Fort Collins. At a lunch meeting, we found out about an opportunity we were not aware of before. There is a town east of Fort Collins, Greeley, that has a significant population of internationals (one quality that I would like our plant location to possess). It is a bit more affordable than some of the towns right next to I-25, and the need for a church plant in this location has been clearly established.

After lunch, we headed down to the city again to meet with another planter. Then, late last night, we drove back to Fort Collins to sleep. It was a back and forth kind of day!

This morning we’ll spend some time in Windsor, and we have a lunch meeting in Fort Collins after that. But we’ve now adjusted the rest of our day to explore this newly-discovered opportunity in Greeley.

Please pray Steve and me as we look carefully at this city.

My desire in this trip is to receive (or at least to begin to receive) a profound sense of call to a particular location. This is not outside God’s ability or desire. If He is calling us to the Front Range, I know this will happen soon.

Thank you for your prayers.
-Andy

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Day 1: Denver Bound

I’m headed to Denver, CO this morning for Vision Trip #2 and will spend the week talking to planters and pastors about church planting in the area. The main purpose of this trip is to determine the specific town or suburb to which God is calling us to plant a church. I’ll try to keep everyone up to date throughout the week.

The first few verses of Acts 13 are on my mind this morning: “While [the church in Antioch was] worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went…”

I can’t say that I completely understand the experience that the believers in Antioch had here. What does it mean that “the Holy Spirit said”? I’ve certainly had confident thoughts and strong feelings after seeking the Lord before, and maybe these were the Holy Spirit speaking, but, honestly, I’m not sure. However there is plenty in this passage that is quite clear.

1. Barnabas and Saul were sent by a local church.
These men did not decide on their own that a missionary journey was a good idea. They were operating in the God-ordained context of the local church, and this church was sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit as well as joyful in sending them out.

In the case of seeking God’s will, the local church provides the best context for the process of discernment. When believers are under the authority of Christ, His Word, and the leadership, and when they are in discipleship relationships with each other, a host of possible errors are avoided: our feelings are not given free reign, our personal interpretations of Scripture (and experience!) are checked, and wisdom is found in a company of godly counselors.

I am thankful beyond words to also be part of a church that is both open to God’s direction and joyful in sending our church plant team to Denver. The wisdom I receive daily from conversations with brothers and sisters in Christ is an integral part of the planting process. And while I realize that only a few of these dear friends will ultimately end joining our team, the whole church has been overwhelmingly encouraging and supportive. In this way, everyone at Christ Baptist is a part of the Denver church plant.

I presented our church plant prospectus to Christ Baptist during the Sunday School hour yesterday morning, and the response was both exciting and humbling. Who am I to be blessed with the opportunity to plant a new church? Like the Saul of Acts 13, I feel like the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). It is only by God’s grace that I am a part of Christ Baptist or this plant, and no one is more of aware of that fact than me.

2. Barnabas and Saul were set apart while worshiping.
The church of Antioch was doing what it was designed to do – giving God the glory He is due. And it was during this worship that the Holy Spirit chose to set apart two for His mission – which is to bring more worshipers unto Himself. There is an implicit cycle here: God’s people worship, they are then compelled to invite others to join in this worship, so they go and make disciples, more worshipers are added to the church, and the cycle starts all over again.

This is cycle is the heart of church planting.

God desires people from every tribe, nation, and tongue to worship Him. As more and more are gathered into the church, He receives great glory, and His people experience great joy! I know from personal experience the unparalleled joy of seeing a person who was once lost now worshiping God; and I anticipate with great joy seeing a room full of such worshipers as a part of our church plant one day.

3. Seeking God’s will involves sacrifice.
Most of us realize that following Jesus requires sacrifice, but this passage seems to indicate that even seeking God’s will for how we should follow Jesus requires sacrifice. Twice in Acts 13:1-3 the point is made that the church was corporately fasting. A dear friend and professor of mine says that fasting is: “Reminding our flesh who’s boss. It is not in charge. Christ is.” So you can probably see why fasting is often (but not always!) tied to seeking God’s will. Fasting is about restraining our fleshly will and exercising self-control in effort to give God control.

I have asked everyone at Christ Baptist who is able and willing to join me in fasting from the Friday, February 10, at 6 PM through the following day at 6 PM. If this time slot doesn’t work for you, pick another one. The encouragement for me is in knowing that we, like the church in Antioch, are in this thing together. The purpose is, if God has a particular town or suburb in mind in which He wants us to plant this church, He would make that abundantly clear. Or, if He is simply saying, “The need is great everywhere, take your pick,” we would be confident to do this as well.

Thank you so much for joining me on this church planting journey. I’ll try to post an update each day of the vision trip.

In Christ,
Andy

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Denver: Days 3-4

Our team’s second day was spent in the city. We met Dave, the city missionary, downtown at 8:30 AM and spent the whole morning driving around two sections of the city. First, we drove west from the heart of downtown to the edge of Denver Metro. Houses went from packed-in and fairly small to huge and more spaced out. I thought to myself, “Urban, suburban, or somewhere in between? Are you calling us to this city, God? And if you are, where specifically do you want us to plant our lives?”

To be honest, Friday was a difficult day. The whole group was filled with mixed emotions, and it seemed like the more real estate we surveyed, the more muddled things became in our minds. Dave did an amazing job giving us snapshots of the city. (I can’t imagine doing this without his help.) But it’s daunting to consider where you should plant a church when over 100 are needed in Denver Metro, and there are 30 more cities in our nation in the same kind of spiritual shape (or worse).

In addition to this challenge, Denver has become a very expensive place to live over the past few years. The metro area has become one of the fastest growing cities in America, and housing construction has not been able to keep up. For this reason, homes cost around 40 percent more than the national average. Obviously, this is a big factor to consider in church planting. As I said before, there are reasons why the most underserved cities in our country are as they are.

So Friday was tough, as all of these realities began to sink in.

But that afternoon, as I was sitting in the hotel lobby trying to get some perspective from the Word, a lady walked up to me; and, seeing one of my books sitting on the table in front of me, she struck up a conversation. She was Catholic, but also held to some tenants of other religions. We had a great conversation, and I was able to speak truth into her life a little; but I believe that this encounter was mostly what God knew I needed in order to get my head back in the game.

You see, talking about facts and figures is important, but it is also, by nature, impersonal. It’s the conversations like the one I had with this lady that remind me why we’re doing what we’re doing. She needs the gospel. She is working so very hard to “stay in grace” with God. But this is a position/state which Jesus has already purchased for her! And it’s our job to tell her this. I certainly tried, but discipleship takes time, which takes presence, which takes believers planting their lives in a community.

So for the sake of the souls of people like this lady, I ask the same thing that Paul asked the Colossians: “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Col. 4:3). Pray that He will make it clear to us where we are to plant our lives that we might plant His gospel and His church.

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Denver: Day 2

Our team’s second day was spent in the city. We met Dave, the city missionary, downtown at 8:30 AM and spent the whole morning driving around two sections of the city. First, we drove west from the heart of downtown to the edge of Denver Metro. Houses went from packed-in and fairly small to huge and more spaced out. I thought to myself, “Urban, suburban, or somewhere in between? Are you calling us to this city, God? And if you are, where specifically do you want us to plant our lives?”

To be honest, Friday was a difficult day. The whole group was filled with mixed emotions, and it seemed like the more real estate we surveyed, the more muddled things became in our minds. Dave did an amazing job giving us snapshots of the city. (I can’t imagine doing this without his help.) But it’s daunting to consider where you should plant a church when over 100 are needed in Denver Metro, and there are 30 more cities in our nation in the same kind of spiritual shape (or worse).

In addition to this challenge, Denver has become a very expensive place to live over the past few years. The metro area has become one of the fastest growing cities in America, and housing construction has not been able to keep up. For this reason, homes cost around 40 percent more than the national average. Obviously, this is a big factor to consider in church planting. As I said before, there are reasons why the most underserved cities in our country are as they are.

So Friday was tough, as all of these realities began to sink in.

But that afternoon, as I was sitting in the hotel lobby trying to get some perspective from the Word, a lady walked up to me; and, seeing one of my books sitting on the table in front of me, she struck up a conversation. She was Catholic, but also held to some tenants of other religions. We had a great conversation, and I was able to speak truth into her life a little; but I believe that this encounter was mostly what God knew I needed in order to get my head back in the game.

You see, talking about facts and figures is important, but it is also, by nature, impersonal. It’s the conversations like the one I had with this lady that remind me why we’re doing what we’re doing. She needs the gospel. She is working so very hard to “stay in grace” with God. But this is a position/state which Jesus has already purchased for her! And it’s our job to tell her this. I certainly tried, but discipleship takes time, which takes presence, which takes believers planting their lives in a community.

So for the sake of the souls of people like this lady, I ask the same thing that Paul asked the Colossians: “Pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ…” (Col. 4:3). Pray that He will make it clear to us where we are to plant our lives that we might plant His gospel and His church.