Going the Second Mile for Fifteen Years

Thursday, November 14, 2019  ::   3 important comments

On a cold November day in 2004, we said goodbye to Lincoln, Nebraska and headed to sunny Tucson, Arizona. In preparation we prayed, gathered a team, strategized, and wrestled with God about what it would look like to drive across the country to start a church. From scratch. With no job. In a city we had never lived.

For whatever reason (the Holy Spirit shielding my normally worried heart), I had no fear. Through prayer, I believed God had revealed to me that Chad would obtain a management position at Starbucks (he did), that our kids wouldn't suffer from lack of fancy kids ministry (they didn't), and that our friends moving to help in this process were our allies and teammates (they still are).

The early days of church planting were exciting and difficult. Our team of 10 was on a steep learning curve. Everyone scrambled to find jobs, to make friends, and to invite any and every person we met to be part of a new church in Tucson we called Second Mile. Our growth seemed super slow in the beginning, especially because I had naively and stupidly asked God to give us 1000 people in the first year. My DNA was infused with the truth that "more time spent with fewer people equals greater lasting impact for the kingdom," but the American mega church culture tricked me into wanting the numbers. But God, as is always true, had a better plan.

Second Mile is now 15 years old. Thankfully, by God's mercy and grace to me, I've learned some stuff through the years. A "15 lessons I've learned in 15 years" list would be so nice right now, but my brain doesn't work like that, so here a few thoughts rumbling around in my guts.

One major point of learning is that books are my friends. A bit of critique that Chad and I received when we were young leaders is that we weren't readers. It stung and I was indignant so I've spent all the years from that point working to prove that person wrong. My motives maybe weren't great, but here we are. In the 15 years of Second Mile, I've read many books, good, bad, and mediocre. I pray I will always be able to read and implement good lessons into my life and leadership. Currently, in the middle of my life, I think I'm reading better than ever, and that's pretty fun. Recently on separate occasions, two women I admire told me I was smart, and it blew my mind. Self-doubt comes easy for me, so their words were a bolstering gift and encouragement to keep reading, learning, and growing.

To be more specific about reading and learning in the last 15 years, the Bible is absolutely necessary for me and for our church. You may have heard this, but when we were just trying to start a church, Chad went to a conference and felt God telling him to preach Scripture, word by word. All these years later, he's still at it. His discipline spurs on my own personal discipline. I can't imagine doing anything I do without the guidance of the Holy Spirit through the Bible. It is life for me.

Your words were found and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts. 
Jeremiah 15:16 

The next area of growth for me came through the many times I wanted to give up. The name, Second Mile, lends itself to us being put to the test fairly regularly. Jesus told us to not just go one mile with people, but to go two. In the first couple of years, my family was faced with a challenge that showed me the depth of my weakness and how God would work through us to love people and honor him. One late night, I said to Chad, "Maybe we should have named our church "One Mile Community Church" or "Easy Street Church" because I'm afraid the 'second mile' will be the death of us." And it has been. Over and over, dying to my own rights, laying down my life, focusing on Christ's strength in my weakness.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself up for me. 
Galatians 2:20 

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Luke 9:23 

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, 
so that Christ's power may rest on me. 
2 Corinthians 12:9

Last year, God very clearly convicted me of my verbal sin of saying, "I don't want to do this anymore." What we speak out loud becomes our reality. I knew I couldn't/wouldn't quit because I'm stubborn, but my words soured my heart and disposition to obeying God's direction in my life with reverent joy. Stubbornness would never sustain long-term obedience. I had to quit quitting with my words so that my heart would stop being tempted to really quit.

Let us not become wearing in doing good for in the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Galatians 6:9 

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not give up. 
2 Corinthians 4:1 

Recently, God clearly showed me one experience that helps me not give up. I know this will be difficult for some people to read. Please don't let it heap shame on you. Instead, let my life and words encourage you to press in and keep going. Sunday morning gatherings with my church jolt me with the ability to wake up each Monday and continue on in the battle of life. I hate missing it. When I show up on Sunday, I feel like we look in each other's eyes with an understanding that life really sucks sometimes and then gently remind each other that Jesus is our everything. When we worship through singing, it feels like I'm pushing back the darkness and reminding our enemy that he's defeated and Christ is King. When I open the Bible to receive teaching, it feels like my parched self from the long week fills up with the Living Water. When I see people I love, whether I personally know them or not, it reminds me that I'm not alone, that we are in this together, that I need my brothers and sisters and they need me. Through the years, I've learned that not everyone feels this way about Sunday worship. If you are in that space, I pray God redeems gathering with his Church for you very, very soon. Sit and weep, stand and sing, watch and pray, whatever is necessary for your heart to be bolstered for the daily, weekly, yearly battle until we finally see him face to face. The gathered Church is our reminder that this is not our home, that Jesus is coming again, that he will make all things glorious and new, and that God's glory will rest on us for eternity. Come quickly, Jesus.

Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. 
Hebrews 10:25 

One of my favorite fruits of longevity in Second Mile is deep, deep relationships. People have hard lives and when you are in community with one another it leaks out and you can't stop it. It amazes me how many people love me anyway. Chad and I have walked with people in joy, suffering, and grief, both theirs and our own. You cannot go through life's valleys and mountains with people and not love them more. For me, it is impossible. When I close my eyes and scroll through 15 years of faces, my heart swells. A few years ago at our women's retreat, as I shared from Ephesians 1:16 the phrase "continually thankful and continually prayerful" came out of my mouth over and over. This will always be a major theme of how I feel about the people of Second Mile.

However, the years have also had moments of great relational difficultly. When we started Second Mile, we had heard many stories of "post-moderns" leaving churches because of hurt and pain caused by the church. People continue to come to us not sure they can engage because of wounding of past church experiences. It grieves me. However, what I did not anticipate is we would become the source of pain for some, that people would leave us with wounds we caused, that we would not always be given the opportunity for reconciliation. This has grieved me so much more. What I've learned is that, in most cases, there truly are two sides to the story. I can easily say Chad and I and other Second Mile leaders are doing the best we know how to do, but we are sinners and make mistakes. I never thought we would be a perfect church, but I didn't anticipate just how imperfect we would be. When we receive hurting people in our body who have left a church, I now appreciate and experientially know the people they left are also hurting. There have been times I wondered if my relational heart would survive another person leaving us. It has been deeply painful and it takes continual work to prevent my heart from building walls to protect itself. Living up to people's expectations is a false burden I constantly have to lay down. I do hope to continue to love people with Jesus' help to the best of my ability, even though sometimes they will leave. Which leads me to the best lesson of all:

All of these 15 years, ever single one is for Jesus alone. Every meeting, every book, every late night, every early morning, every shared meal, every event, every training, every conflict, every friendship. Everything. It's all for him. Sometimes I'm slow and my motives turn to myself, to Chad, or my kids, or the people I serve. When my vision is skewed and I look to anything other than Jesus, I lose perspective, joy, and the desire to continue. He alone is worthy of my service and worship. Whatever comes out of my life and flows to others must be from Jesus alone. He is the very center of my affections. This will be a daily, life-long choice: Jesus is better.

And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is he beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. Colossians 1:17-18

This list could go on and on. Chad and I believe we are just scratching the surface of all God will continue to teach us through leading Second Mile. We pray God grants us years and years of serving him in this particular family. If you are part of Second Mile, I'm thankful for you. If you have been part of our church in the past, I'm thankful for you. I've you've ever prayed for my family, my church, or me, I'm thankful for you.

Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members so not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
Romans 12:4-5 

If you could each experience in your hearts and minds how serious I take this verse, it would certainly overwhelm you and possibly freak you out. But I believe it. We belong to one another. There's no escaping. We deal with it now or in eternity, so I plan to keep working it out in this life in order to more fully enjoy the life to come.

With so much gratitude and love,


Congratulations on making it all the way through this long post! As a form of reward for your diligence I want to give two of you my current book obsession. I love Christmas (more on that later) and to help me truly focus on why I love it, I read books. Last year I read Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ, and this year I'm reading it again. A good friend of mine described it as fantastical and he is not wrong. So, so good. I wish all of you would read it. 

If you'd like a chance to win a copy, all you have to do is comment on the blog post, on Facebook, or on Instagram. One catch, you have to leave a real comment. None of this "What a nice post, Angel. So sweet and precious." Um, no. Give me some meat. Did anything in the post challenge or encourage you? What have you learned in your time in Second Mile or in your own church? A legit comment. My guess is your chances of winning will be high because the requirements are too high for many people. Doooo it!