Michael B Linton

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Looking forward to tomorrow night...

Tomorrow night is our first Bible study in the Passmore's home. We should have one newcomer, I'm excited about teaching on Galations, and Etta has done an INCREDIBLE job developing the kids' Bible study to go along with what the adults are studying. The series in Galatians is entitiled The Audacity of the Free and Easy Life. We'll be looking at how Paul let the Galatians and us know that the gospel of grace gives us a life FREE from the condemnation of the law and instead, offers a plan as EASY as faith, not requiring the works of the law. Tomorrow night is The Audacity of Exclusivity. We'll be looking at how Paul clearly tells us that there is only one gospel and no other. Jesus is the ONLY way to God.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Hope Update - 072509

We’ve seen some changes over the last few weeks at Hope Fellowship and have started with a new era in our church plant and outreach. First, a little recap of where we’ve been:

We began our first outreach in September 2007 by eating at Manuel’s Mexican Restaurant every week at the same time on the same day. We did that for 9 months. During that time we left cards about our church at the counter. Two months after we stopped eating there regularly, a family picked up our card. Eight months after that, in April of 2009, they joined us and began working with us toward our launch. In September of 2008, we moved our church into an apartment in the community of Summerwood where we are called to plant. In January of 2009, a young, single woman joined and has been a very active force in our plant. Do the math: 2 years, two families. We realized long ago that this would be a slow process. Throughout the year in the apartment, we did various outreach events in the complex: cookouts, meals, car washes, etc. We interacted with over 250 people in that time and had a weekly Bible study time. We could get people to the events, but we couldn’t get them to Bible study. We also offered special studies, like Financial Peace, with poor results.

At the beginning of this summer, we moved into the community center in Summerwood. The idea was to offer various meeting times and people who wouldn’t come to the apartment would come to the community center. About the time we started in the center, I met with my associational church planting consultant. She reminded me that the number one rule of church planting (what I had learned in numerous seminars and meetings) was to build relationships. We had been trying to attract people to church things, not truly build relationships with them. We had lost our focus.

What I am NOT saying is that the past two years have been a waste. Everything we have done has brought someone in. I truly believe that each move we have made has been exactly what God has told us to do. He said do it, He didn’t say He’d bring us 100 people because we did it. The exception to that is the community center. I feel like that was me, not God, so we got out of there in a hurry. That brings us to what we are doing now.

A few weeks ago we started meeting at the home of the family that learned of us at Manuel’s. We pray and then we walk. Sunday and Tuesday. Their neighborhood has two blocks in it with 85 homes on those blocks. We pray as we walk, we talk as we walk, and we speak to everyone we possibly can. This is no power walk. We stroll. The goal is to meet as many people as possible. We want them to see Etta and me, get used to seeing us, and have opportunities to talk about the weather or kids or pets or landscaping or whatever. Why? To build relationships. We’ve walked the neighborhood about 8 times now. There are people whose names we now know and others we just know on sight. This is our foot in their spiritual door.

This Sunday, the 26th, we are having a block party in the neighborhood. We passed out flyers Tuesday night and got some good reaction from some people we talked to. One lady even asked if there was something she could bring! We don’t know how many to expect but we are praying for a traumatic blessing. This is a very low-key event. God may present opportunities to witness, and we certainly won’t be shy about what we are doing, but this is not a Hope Fellowship coming out party. We want to sit and talk and build relationships. As my consultant told me, churches are no longer geographical, they are relational. People don’t come to church because it’s in their area; they come because they connected with someone. This Sunday, we are looking for connections.

Pray that we make connections.
Pray that, because of the relationships we make, people come to know Christ and we see growth in the kingdom.
Pray for the church’s finances. Though we have had to put some of our personal money into it, there is never anything the church needed that we’ve had to go without. However, a little monetary boost now and then never hurts. You can give at our website.
Pray for our focus. I will begin teaching again in a couple of weeks (at a new school, by the way) so my time will be more limited. There is always a lot to do.
Pray for our launch. I had set a date of September 13th to launch, but that won’t happen. We are now looking at February.
Pray for our new Bible study time. We will begin August 9th having Bible study in the Passmore’s (the Summerwood family) home at 6PM. Pray that our new relationships will lead people to come.
Pray for whatever the Lord lays on your heart. He’ll let you know what we need.

Thanks so much for your faithfulness to us. If you know of people who would like to receive this update, send their email to me and I will add them. We can always use more prayer.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hope Update 052509

First, happy Memorial Day. We praise God for the sacrifice of the men and women that have died for our freedom.

Now for the update.

We have some great news! We are finally moving our Bible study into the Residents’ Club in Summerwood! This has been one of our goals for a couple of months now and it’s finally happening. This is really going to give us much better exposure to the wider community of Summerwood. Pray that this new tool in our arsenal will be effective in getting our name out there. We are still in the stage of needing name recognition as much as anything.

Thanks again to that family that donated the money to pay for our entire lease of the apartment. We will be moving out of it in July, but we would not be where we are now if it had not been for their generosity.

With these new opportunities come new monthly expenses. We would love to have anyone who is able sponsor a particular need in this new opportunity. I’ve listed the new needs and their monthly costs. If you would like to support one of these areas, you can mail us a check or give online at our website. The needs are as follows:

Community center rent: $25 per week
Summerwood newsletter $50 per month
Storage unit $100 per month

We also are beginning another round of Financial Peace University this summer at the home of Brett and Amy Passmore. Please pray that this allows us an opportunity to begin some new relationships and continue to see Hope Fellowship grow.

Thank you for all that you do for us and please continue to lift us up in your prayers.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Hope Update 051709

This is after the fact, but we had a great turnout for a cookout at the pool. It was cooler and cloudier than we had planned for, but it still worked out great. We had about 50-55 people turn out, and about half of those were new contacts. We are about to barrel into the summer with a lot of different outreach activities. I’ve listed a few that you can begin praying for:

More cookouts
Handing out breakfast at the apartment gates
4th of July parade
Advertising in the Summerwood newsletter

One major prayer request is the moving of our Bible study to the Summerwood Community Center. The management company that runs it is EXTREMELY slow and unorganized. We have done everything necessary and thought we would hold our first meeting there on May 5th. We still have not moved in. Pray that the company will get their act together and we will be able to move in soon. Meeting there will open us up to the community in a way we haven’t had before.

If you would like to make a donation of $10 or so to help pay for the cookout, that would be awesome. You can go HERE and give online.

Thanks so much for all you do.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Hope Praises!

We had a great Cookout/egg hunt on Sunday. We had about 55 people attend, over half of which were children. Of that 55, only about 5-7 had been to one of our events before. That’s good, because it means we are introducing ourselves to new people every time. We had quite a few that were interested in the Bible study. Pray that they follow through.

On Saturday, we spoke to a member of one of the families we asked you to pray for a while back. We didn’t give any names to you, but God knows who we’re thinking of. She seemed very interested, said she had been praying about where to go, so continue to pray for them and 2 other families that God has laid on our hearts.

A special thank you goes out to two churches:

The first, Kingwood First Baptist, allowed us to borrow tables, chairs, and a sound system for the day. Thanks so much to them.

The second goes out to Second Baptist Bridge City, TX and Pastor Bobby Hoffpauir. They are the process of completely remodeling their sanctuary that was destroyed by Hurricane Ike. They are also struggling with the loss of church members who have moved because of the lack of jobs in Bridge City as a result of Ike. Yet, that church that has all its own struggles donated $200 to today’s event! That is an incredible amount of faith for that church and it was a tremendous blessing to us. Had they not been so generous and made such a sacrifice, we could not have had this event at all. Thank you so much Pastor Hoffpauir and the people of Second Baptist.

Thank you to everyone who prayed. We are still seeing a build in momentum. Our plans are to be in the Summerwood Community Center in May and we are still trusting God for a launch date of September 13th. Please remember us every time you approach the Throne of Grace.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Extended Narrative of Recent Events.

Do the things of God ever work as fast as we would like? Probably not, and the last few months have been a testament to that fact. Etta and I are in God’s “Fruit of the Spirit Educational System” and are apparently pursuing our master’s in patience. Let me tell you, the curriculum is tough.

But there still has been a lot of activity. Our first bit of news is the change of our name. Our mission statement is “To make disciples by sharing the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ for the healing of hearts from our community to the world.” Our vision statement is “To be a place of hope for the hopeless and healing for the hurting through hearts changed by Jesus Christ.” So, in order to better express our mission and vision, we changed our name to Hope Fellowship. There are only a few more steps to make the change official. We also changed our website to http://www.hopehealinghearts.net/.

We’ve had two outreach events in the apartment complex. In February we had a pancake brunch, but only had 6 people attend. In March, we had a taco lunch and had 30 attend. We were incredibly excited about that increase. On April 5th, we are having an Easter egg hunt/cook out for the complex. We hope to have music, food, giveaways, the egg hunt, and we will invite people to a get-to-know-us time at our apartment. This will be our biggest and most expensive event yet, so we could really use your prayers and financial support.

We found out that one of our outreaches is meeting needs we could have never known about. When we go through a drive-thru restaurant, we pay for the order for the car behind us and give them our church card with plan of salvation on it. Following is an email from a friend of ours showing what God does when we are obedient:

You are not going to believe this!! I had lunch Friday with the school district’s internal auditor and a couple of other bookkeepers. We were just talking and one of them asked what church I attend and so I told her [not our church start] and then she went on to tell us a story about right after the hurricane [Ike], how broke she was and had to borrow money from someone to put gas in her car and with the left over money she was buying her kids a meal from McDonald's in Summerwood, and she said she was just having a really bad day, and when she pulled up to pay, the lady said “The car in front of you paid your bill,” and she could not believe it!!! And she went on to say that it was this really nice couple with 2 little boys and they are opening a church in Summerwood. I got chills all over my body!!! I said I know them and I have to tell them this because they are trying so hard to open this church and keep having obstacles in their way. She said she would like to try your church out and I told her she should. She said when she decides to try it will I come with her because she is not good at things like this. I said sure let me know when you want to and I would love to go with you. She is unchurched and apparently her husband is an alcoholic. Very sweet lady. Her name is ----------.

Needless to say, we were more than a little moved by God using us to minister. We have grown since our last update. We have a young lady from the complex who is extremely involved and very excited. We also had a couple and their 8 year-old daughter visit last week. You may remember that we began to eat at a restaurant in Summerwood in September of 2007. While there, we left business cards on the counter. Summer of 2008, this couple picked up one of our cards and has been following our blog and progress. They joined us last week. The most awesome thing about it is that they live in the neighborhood of Summerwood, not in the apartment complex. They immediately began to help us gain access to the community center and other facilities for outreach and in order to move our Bible study. This will finally get us into the center of the community we have been called to reach! We are ecstatic about the opportunities God is unfolding in front of us.

Please continue to pray for us. We have come a long way, we are gaining momentum, but there is still a long way to go. Our families and even our large churches are feeling the current financial crunch, so you can imagine what it is doing to a small church start like us with an extremely tight budget. But God has not failed us—He has provided exactly what we needed every time we needed it. And I have hope (confident expectation) that He will do it. Our God never fails.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Praise, praise, praise!

Boy, have we got a praise!

Let me remind you of our past:

Over two years ago, we began our outreach by eating at Manuel’s in Summerwood on Tuesday nights. We developed great relationships with the staff, two of which have continued to this day, but nothing that lead to anyone visiting our church start. By God’s leading—and not being sure what would come of it—we put out our business cards with a whole nest of others on the counter at the cash register.

Last summer, a family picked one up.

Tonight, they came to Bible study.

We don’t know whether they will continue on with us or not. That’s between them and God, but we hope they do. (Hey Brett and Amy.) But here’s the most amazing part. They are going to be our “sponsors” in Summerwood. That’s right—they live in Summerwood, not in the apartments. And they are looking into the rental of the community center. Since they live there, they can do it for us and we can use it. That way, if we are unable to move to Summerwood this summer, we still have access to all the facilities. They have agreed to do this, regardless of whether or not they join our church! That is awesome!

So now, we finally have our toehold in the Summerwood community and can begin outreach events there—like water at parades, cokes at the pools, surveys, etc, etc. So please pray for us:

Pray that we know the next step to take.
Pray that our finances improve enough to get us, specifically, through the next 3 months.
Pray for our cookout on Palm Sunday, as this may be the last BIG event we do for a few months in the complex (money, you know).
Pray for 3 families that WE are praying will join us at Hope.
Pray that, if it is truly God’s will, that the resources are there for us to move to Summerwood right on time.

Thank you so much for all you do.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pray for the cook-out

First, I neglected to let y’all know of a loss in our lives. Etta’s Grandpa AD died last Thursday in Wichita, KS. We went up on Saturday (8 ½ hour drive squeezed into 12 hours), wake on Sunday, Funeral on Monday, returned on Tuesday (8 ½ hour drive squeezed into 12 hours). He had pancreatic cancer and had been suffering quite a bit the last couple of weeks so, as a child of God, He is MUCH better off. Pray specifically for Etta’s grandmother Lois. As we all would if in the same situation, she is taking it very badly.

Here are the promised details on our cook-out.

Palm Sunday, April 5th from 1-3, we will have an Easter egg hunt for the kids of the apartment complex. We have secured the donation of the money for about 1000 plastic eggs to fill with candy. We will also cook hamburgers and hotdogs on the grills at the complex. We are borrowing a sound system so we can play Christian music and make announcements and shamelessly promote ourselves. We want to have a 6x3 banner with our church name and website on it. We will have surveys to fill out and will have giveaways/drawings for those filling them out.

During the giveaways, we are going to invite everyone there to a short devotional/get-to-know-what-we’re-doing time at 3:30. It will be an opportunity to get them in the door and see what we’re about.

This is an extremely ambitious project for us, both in terms of work and finances. The total cost is going to be about $700. It is a lot of money, but the complex is getting behind it and advertising for us, so we want to make sure we do the best possible job. We are asking individuals and churches to help us fund it. I have listed below individual costs for different parts of the event. If you or your church could fund an entire part of the event, that would be incredible. If you can only give a donation toward the whole event, that would be extremely helpful.

We really feel like we are gaining traction in the community. We feel like, when the time comes to begin reaching out to larger Summerwood neighborhood, we will have a lot of momentum to carry us forward. But keeping that momentum depends on things like this cook-out. It seems simple but it is an awesome way for us to reach out with servant evangelism. Pray that we have the opportunity to present the gospel. Pray that we have a couple of hundred people come. Pray that we have the resources provided for us to be able to do this as well as possible.

Here is a list of the individual parts that you or your church could fund:
Candy and eggs: $200 (covered)
Banner: $150
Giveaways: $100
Food: $350

Whatever you can do would be a tremendous help. And your prayers are most important of all.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Big Announcement and Big Prayer

Okay, time for a big announcement: we are changing our name. We let you know we were praying about this a few weeks back and now we’ve come to a decision. Summerlake will now be Hope Fellowship. This name encapsulates our vision for the Summerwood community and beyond—bringing the only true hope for a lost, confused, and scared community. This name change is immediate. You will begin to see it on our website and in other places. However, if you are a financial supporter, please continue to make out checks to Summerlake until further notice.

I have not yet told you about our breakfast in February. We had a low turn-out, but that presented the opportunity for us begin deeper relationships. Pray for Rachel, a prospect for joining us and for Lynn and her daughter, a Seventh - day Adventist that we a long conversation with. Also pray for 3 other families that the Lord has lain on our hearts. These are people we feel like God may be leading to join us.

We are also hosting another outreach at the apartment complex. Sunday at 1PM, we are having a taco lunch. We also got permission to put flyers on the doors so we no longer have to mail announcements. Now we can be sure the people are looking at the card. Pray that we have a big turn-out for the lunch and that we can build relationships and witness for Christ.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Open letter to our leadership team

I'm really leaning hard toward a Sept 13 launch. All the reasons that we talked about plus a couple more.

I'm not real comfortable with the idea, but I don't think it's God's will for Etta to work. God has made it clear over the past few years that she is to be home with the boys. Our circumstances have changed--we need more money to get out of debt, I would like to stop receiving a salary from the church, and I need more time (read: no Domino's) to spend on the church plant. However, God has not changed. He has not given ME the go-ahead for Etta to work (maybe she's gotten it???). So I'm thinking she shouldn't.

So how does that make me want to launch Sept 13?

If we have reached a number that will allow us to launch in September, then we will likely have the income that will allow me to quit Domino's, thus giving me the time I need. If Etta doesn't work, then pushing the start date to February means I have a lot of work and no time. The summer affords us the opportunity to do a lot in a little time. We won't have that luxury during next school year. We are at a place where we have to do the work.

Another realization I had is this: the reason we haven't been blessed with the time or resources to really get going in the apartment is because we weren't supposed to really get going in the apartment. I feel like that is why I have had to continue to work at Domino's. If I had had more time, we might have actually been a little more successful and we would have an apartment church, not a suburban church. Remember our renewed focus? We are where we are supposed to be, but not to do the things we thought. We were trying to rush things.

Moving and summer vacation give us the location and time to do what needs to be done to launch. Please don't read this as an easy thing. I just piled a whole lot of stress and work on us. And if you disagree, tell me. That's why we're a leadership team. But I really feel this is the direction we are headed in.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Summerlake update - 021209

My, my where to start.

This past weekend, Etta and I attended the Church Planters’ Orientation with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. Talk about a roller coaster. Friday night we wanted to quit. We once again had to go back to our call and, emotionally, start all over. We saw everything we are not at the orientation on Friday. Saturday was a little better. We realized the mistakes we have made and what we have to do. We also realized that we didn’t know what we were doing. We now have some direction and a coach assigned by the SBTC. We left, if not exactly encouraged, then hopeful. I can say that today I’m excited and pumped.

We’ve had to greatly rethink what we are doing. Our lease is up in June at the apartment and the decision has to be made about what to do with it. One of the first things we realized, and this dawned on us even before the orientation, is that we are in an apartment trying to start a subdivision church. We lost sight of our focus. Our calling is to Summerwood. By renting the apartment, our focus narrowed. We have now broadened our focus again. It includes the apartment, but is not limited to it.

Don’t get me wrong – we were called to the apartment. We believe we were absolutely in God’s will in getting it. If we see no other fruit from it, we have Kendra, an excited, dynamic member of our leadership team. This was no waste. We still have 4 months to continue outreach in the apartment community. The reality is, however, that the people living in houses are not likely to cross the gate to attend church in an apartment. However, apartment dwellers will go into the subdivisions to attend church. We had to adjust our focus.

That leads to the most major change and a BIG prayer need. We feel strongly that God is telling us to move to Summerwood. This will require a succession of minor miracles followed by a couple of major ones—no problem if it is truly God’s will. A major headache if it isn’t. I feel like He is telling us to move by June.

The second big change is a change of name for our church. Summerlake is too regional and we want something to reflect our vision and to be meaningful for a non-Christian who is looking for answers. We are working on a number of possibilities.

I am excited. I get a lump in my throat every time I think about what God has called us to do and how he has renewed our passion for it. I was unaware of how much my passion had waned. Confession time: I think a small, unknown part of me did just enough so that when the church plant failed, I could say I tried. I wouldn’t be blamed for the failure. I could it was a lack of a large financially sponsoring church. Or it was a hard area. Or it was this or that. In reality, it was me being discouraged that it didn’t go the way I wanted it so I would pout and show God. I’d blame Him.

No more. We are called. It will be hard. We will push through. Our verse for last night’s gathering was Deuteronomy 9:23. Moses told the people that God had already given the Promised Land to them; they merely had to take it. They rebelled. They lost the promise for 40 years. I don’t want to wander. God has told us to take Summerwood, so we’re going to take Summerwood. The obstacles are merely opportunities to point to the sovereignty and strength of our Father. But we will not miss out on the blessing of this promised church because we are stubborn or proud. We are on mission. Join us or get out of the way.

We have a top 6 prayer list this week. This what the leadership team is praying for and we ask you to join us on these specifics.

1. People of Summerwood: for soft hearts, receptivity, recognition of need, excitement about a new church
2. A prayer need that I can’t share publicly, but need you to lift up. God knows.
3. Saturday Pancake Brunch (Feb 14th): 125 people to come to breakfast, 25 0pportunities to share the gospel
4. Our timeline for the plant: this includes the first Sunday (Launch Service) we have a worship service (Sept 13 or Feb 14), all those steps that need to be taken to get to the first service
5. New name: reflects vision, meaningful to lost
6. Our move to Summerwood: all the many steps needed to get us there, including teaching jobs for me and Etta in the community of Summerwood

Please lift us up at every remembrance. Thank you for your love, prayers, and support.

This is getting good.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Prayer for Outreach

We are planning a pancake brunch for Saturday, February 14th for the apartment complex. We will be sending out postcards next week to alert the residents. We need two things from you.

The first is prayer that we will have numerous people come through so we can meet them, get to know them, build relationships with them, invite them to Bible study, etc. Three of us have met the last two Tuesday nights and have made it a prayer time for guidance and progress. It has also been a great time for us to strengthen our relationship with Kendra, an instrumental part of Summerlake’s leadership team and future. Pray that we hear God’s voice in our time of prayer.

The second thing we need is finances. This brunch will only cost about $50, but Summerlake’s economy is as lacking as everyone else’s. If you could give $5-10 toward this outreach, that would be a tremendous help to us. Give online at our website or mail it to us.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reality Check

We have it easy. I heard today from Dmitry Zborsky, a Russian church-planter that was given a one-way train ticket to the town in which he was to minister. No convention support. No sponsoring church. No job. No place to live. Just a mission. (read his story) We have it easy. We have nothing on any missionary sent to a foreign country (Hey Tim and Mary). We have nothing on _____________ (pick a person) from the Bible. We have it easy. Sometimes my emails and posts sound as if we are being dragged backwards through barbed-wire, but the reality is that we have it easy.

Don’t forget, in all my whining, to pray for those people that really have it hard. Thanks Dmitry.

Prayers, praises, and a goof

Prayer requests:
Please pray today for our Tuesday night Bible study that starts at 6:30. We’ve had some interest shown in it and I pray it takes off. The time should be more palatable for an apartment community than Sunday morning, at least to start out.

Continue also to pray for Financial Peace. The goof is that I planned to start FPU on Super Bowl Sunday night. We all know that was a bad idea. Besides, I can work at Domino’s and make pretty good money. So we have moved the start date to Feb. 8th at 5PM. We have put out a little advertising for the bad start date, but not much.

A very generous friend has funded 5 weeks of newspaper advertising for our FPU. This will put the ad in four papers reaching some 200,000 people. We are so thankful for the gift.
We have also been officially sponsored by a church. Pastor Larry Reinecke and First Baptist Church North Houston have agreed to be our sponsoring SBTC church. This is critical for the eventual funding by the state convention. It is also critical that we have a church that is fully behind us and willing to allow us to beg for ask for volunteers and logistical help. Along with Amite Baptist, First North Houston and Pastor Reinecke will keep us bathed in prayer and constantly on the minds and hearts of the members there.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Summerlake Update 1/4/09

We are doing a little restructuring. This morning was our 9th Sunday with no one but my family in attendance. Obviously, Sunday morning isn’t the ideal time for a Bible study at the apartment complex. Church plants don’t normally start on Sunday morning and I shouldn’t have tried to reinvent the wheel. So we are going to back up and punt.

As you already know, we are starting a Tuesday night study and Financial Peace on Sunday nights. Since we will have those two opportunities, we are stopping our Sunday morning study for a while. This will hopefully provide more accessible times for people to join us, and will also allow us to focus our time and resources.

The reality of our current situation is this: if our response to these two new meeting times is non-existent, we are going to have to seriously consider abandoning planting Summerlake. Our financial situation is untenable for more than a few more months. We are about to undergo a major reorganization of our personal finances in order to take some burden off the church, but that will only gain us a month or two. Etta and I are completely discouraged. I know we aren’t the first church plant to not make it—and we certainly won’t be the last—but I didn’t plan to be one of them at all. At this point, it looks as though we may become one of the negative statistics.

Pray that, if it is God’s will for us to continue, He will provide people, finances, and encouragement. Pray that, if it is not His will for us to continue, He will provide a graceful exit.

A side note:
If you gave financially to Summerlake prior to August 1st, you will receive a giving statement from Kingwood FBC. If you gave financially after August 1st, you will receive a giving statement from me in the next week or two.

Thank you for your prayers.