Putting Everything on the Table

Feb 24, 2017

In December of 2001, the day after Homestead Heights Baptist Church voted to make Pastor J.D. Greear our senior pastor, I had breakfast with him and André Mann. J.D. and André were both part-time staff members, and they were also students at Southeastern Seminary. This meant they spent a lot of time in the car together driving back and forth between Wake Forest, where the seminary is, and North Durham, where our church was—plenty of time to come up with crazy plans. We sat in a café on Southeastern’s campus, and they laid out for me a plan that was as bold as it was nuts. We were going to “relaunch” Homestead Heights Baptist Church. The idea of renaming the church “The Summit Church” didn’t come up in that meeting. But that lunch conversation started us down a new and uncharted path—J.D. was leading us, as a church, to put everything on the table and relaunch our church as if it were a brand new one.

That first Easter, we set a goal of having 1,000 people attend, even though we were barely averaging 300 at the time. We exceeded that goal by more than 100 people.

It was an exciting experience. But what I remember most and with the greatest joy was one specific aspect of the relaunch strategy. Everyone had a job, a role in making it happen. Most churches know the familiar pattern of seeing 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work. In this case, it really seemed like we saw 100 percent of the people doing 100 percent of the work. It was a beautiful thing.

We worked, and we prayed. We had learned during difficult days that we needed to always fully depend on God. Now that we saw exciting things starting to happen, we didn’t want to forget that lesson. We started praying a prayer inspired by Ephesians 3:20: We prayed for God to do more than we asked—even more than we could imagine! We still pray that prayer today. And God keeps answering.

We knew that if God was going to answer our prayers and the Summit was going to grow numerically, there were things that were going to change. You can’t experience spiritual or numerical growth without change. Change isn’t something churches are famous for loving, but it had to be something we embraced.

We had to learn that we couldn’t hold too tightly to certain things, because those things weren’t what defined us. The building that we had been in for 40 years didn’t define us, so when the time came that the building couldn’t hold us, we sold it and moved into a high school. When we started reaching people from Raleigh and Chapel Hill and then when we had to relocate to the other side of Durham, we realized that our geography didn’t define us either. We stopped being just a North Durham church, and we became a multi-site church. People didn’t have to drive as far to come to The Summit Church because we became the church where you lived, no matter where that was in the Triangle.

As we continued to grow, we had to admit that one of our earliest desires—that our church would look like our very diverse communities—wasn’t happening like we wanted. Pastor J.D. began challenging our leaders to reach out and invite minorities, not simply to attend the Summit but to help lead the Summit. While we still have lots of room for growth in this area, we’ve come a long way in just the last few years.

The more we grew—reaching people from all over the Triangle and meeting in campuses all over the Triangle—the more we knew that being “one church in many locations” meant that unity had to be experienced in a new way. Of all the prayers I’ve seen God answer over the last 15 years, this is one of the sweetest. The unity I feel when meeting someone from the Summit for the first time, even if they attend another campus, is truly real. It is the unity that comes from having what Paul describes in the book of Philippians as the joy of “being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind” (Philippians 2:2 NIV).

It is a unity based in the shared experience and love of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the unity found in having the same purpose—to love Jesus, to love each other, and to love our world. Looking back on the last 15 years, I thank God for his blessing of unity in The Summit Church.

And I pray he will continue to do more than we can ask or even imagine.

by Rick Langston