So one of the many ironic downsides to pastoral ministry is that you often don’t get to visit other church ministries and experience what they do on their Sundays or midweek events. This is why its not uncommon for larger churches to establish a manditory sabbatical leave (3-6 months of paid time off for persoanl development) that is partially used to help pastors see and experience first hand what others are doing.

While we are searching for my next ministry call we’ve been using our severance period to visit family AND to visit exciting, creative ministries we’ve heard about and learned from but not actually experienced. Throughout my seminary days I hit up most of the main conservative reformed trend setters like Tenth Presbyerian with Philip Ryken, Redeemer NYC with Tim Keller, Capital Hill with Mark Dever, Covenant Life Center with Joshua Harris and CJ, etc. As might be imagined I learned a great deal from their ministries and enjoyed my time visiting them.

Over the past two years I have also visited a broader group of ministries that I consider to be really effective at reaching young professionals such as Liberti churches in Philadelphia, All Souls Fellowship in Decatur, North Point in Alpharetta, Watermark in Tampa, National Community Church in DC, etc.. A pastor can never have enough exposure to other pastors who are ministring to similar audiences or cultures. Collaboration among leaders of diverse denominations and traditions helps pastors stay fresh and aware of all that’s happening in the body.

Back to our time with North Point: Probably the most impressive part of the experience was their video’s for the series on finances called “Balanced.” I don’t know who does their videos but I continue to be so impressed with the quality of them. Of course the modern set design they used was as well impressive. Their worship band (one of three that day I believe?) was very together. The announcements and message were like much of the whole – polished yet authentic. The sense the experience gave me was that these guys have a very well structured ministry from front to back and they know how to execute ever element of it. Even the parking was very controlled and easy to manuever considering 20,000 people were visiting in all their sites (ok getting out was a bit rough).

What did I take away from it? They’ve mastered Hybels “Volunteer Revolution.” We never once felt confused or unwelcomed because we were greeted and personally toured by a welcoming team of volunteers. They’ve also mastered simplicity: they only did three songs (one secular, two worship) a ten minute annoucement of events inviting people toward next steps, and a 30 minute message; and that was it. Very streamlined. They’ve also mastered creating concrete, inviting next steps for people to get into the life of North Point.

Two of the biggest surprises to me was that as big as the place was I never once felt overwhelmed which is probably in part due to them having two arena’s in the same building that were live streaming his message (each one had their own full band). And, unless I missed it, there wasn’t any trendy coffee cafe inside like a lot of other large churches these days. No place to huddle except for their North Point resources book store. The place was designed for large smooth people movements and it definitely gets the job done.

Stanley’s message was, as he’s known for, very well communicated and funny. He used 1 Timothy to discuss the value of contentment versus discontentment: the way to take out the latter is by growing in your awareness of what you and the world actually needs rather than what you merely want. The audience around us was very welcoming, giving up their seats for us and taking personal interest in our baby girl and our own stories. All and all a very infectous atmospere and ethos of welcome.

Thanks to all the volunteers that made our visit a pleasure!