Posted: September 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

In my last blog post, Returning, I ended with a word – Sustain. (You might want to go read that first.)

Here I will attempt to put into words what God is showing me.  This, of course, will be infused with thoughts I have been having about Church Planting, but will resonate with pretty much any discipline or life situation.

For the past eight years, I have been carrying the label, Church Planter, which I have worn with pride – the kind of pride you would have when you have done something that has contributed life to many people around you. I feel that we have done something good, real good. It has been the toughest and most grueling thing we have ever done, but worth every step.  But throughout this process I have not been able to resolve a few things in my mind – well, let’s be honest, there is much more than a few things my mind can’t reconcile, but let’s just focus on the one at hand.

When does a church plant cease being a church plant and become a church? There are many answers for this. Some say it’s all about the size, financial giving, leadership, discipleship, frequency of meetings, property owned, ownership of attendees, or if it still needs outside help or not.  I believe that many of those definitions of “Church” are making the sustainability of church fail.

Over the past eight years, with the sticky name tag of Church Planter on my left chest, just above my heart, we have seen several churches open and close. I am not sure what the number is, but it isn’t good. The reasons are many: not enough money or people, burn-out, sin, pride, loneliness, homesickness, leadership problems, loss of passion, etc.  And, these churches take a step into the history books of “what was” not “what remains.”

The problem. They never got to a place of Sustaining.

Let’s Pause here for a moment.


Thanks to the Wiki world you can click there and read about Sustain in Music.

“In music, sustain is a parameter of musical sound over time. As its name implies, it denotes the period of time during which the sound remains before it becomes inaudible, or silent.”

As a child I would pound on our 100 year old piano in the corner of the dining room, with my right foot firmly planted on the sustain pedal. Try it, it feels good. The notes last and it made me seem like a better piano player, kind of mushing the notes together. (I never understood the “soft” pedal, who would want that?)     A piano makes it’s sound by a hammer striking a string with a sudden loud pounding note, that will then fade out over time as the string ceases to vibrate. But if you hold the sustain pedal, it allows the note to be strung out a bit longer. It’s referred to as Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release.

Then I discovered the organ.

My great-grandmother’s pump organ traveled across the early American landscape in a covered wagon and found its way into the Oregan territory and now sits quietly in my parents living room. Quietly, that is, until I discovered the wonderful sustaining sounds I could create with it. An organ doesn’t work like a piano does, in fact, an organ is not a stringed instrument, it’s a wind instrument (kind of). Sounds, in the form of musical notes, are created using wind through pipes or reeds. When a key is pressed there isn’t a sudden loud pounding hammer hitting a string, there is an opening of a pipe, with wind, rushing through creating a sound. When the key is released the pipe is closed causing the sound to abruptly end.  The cool thing about an organ is the note you play will sustain into infinity as long as it is being pressed and the wind continues. There isn’t a need for the sustain pedal the piano requires.

Two very different instruments that, from the outside look very similar.

I loved to play the organ. I would carry notes out with epic gestures of the grand concert hall musical wonders. I could be a musical maestro and serenade my family with amazingly orchestrated numbers.  I actually only know four musical chords, but when played on an organ they become full of life and lasting resonance. Although I am not sure why everyone left the house when I played. It was probably because they wanted to give my musical genius space to create.

So, back to Church Planting and Sustaining.

I wonder if a church plant ever planted if it never sustains.  Our newer church needs to be a church that sustains in Seattle.  And, we must be a church that not only sustains its own presence but helps other churches become sustainable. The church needs to act like the organ, not the piano. We have way too many new churches that start out with a bang on the strings of marketing, launching, metrics and systems and not enough that start with the opening of a pipeline of discipleship that carries on into a sustained future.  If Epic Life Church can figure out how to sustain this year we can share this with others and start more churches that sustain. So instead of churches going through the piano sequence, Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release, (Launch, Subside, Short Sustain, Close), they can open as a church and remain as a church. The resonance of such churches in Seattle and every American city will be heard in every household, business, and street. The influence Sustained Churches can have on the society changes dramatically.

This is the year of sustainability. Sustaining a note on the organ requires a commitment from the organ master to hold that note down. Sustaining as a church require the commitment of the Church (the people) to hold that note down.

In a city like Seattle, commitment has several different facets and a list of ways to go about it. I’ll just list all of them here in no particular order.

  • Discipleship



Oh, did you expect a longer list?

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