Immigration & a unique opportunity for the church

I am in the process of finishing a book that will (hopefully) be released next year. I am writing and editing the book along with my good friend Dr. Keith Whitfield. The book is entitled, “Islam and North America.” It’s a book that is written by a host of authors, a significant number of which are non-Anglo and former Muslims. The chapter that I authored is called “Islam & the Future: What is the future of Islam in the West?” It will be a while yet before the book hits the shelves, but I’ve been thinking about the unique opportunity the church has right now, and how we need to think deeply about how we engage those who are not like us so I thought I would post this small portion of my chapter to provoke some conversation, and whet your appetite for the book that is yet to come.


In an increasingly pluralistic society, Christians have three possible options. We can ignore the increasing pluralism. We can work to reverse the pluralism. Or we can build growing numbers of relationships with those who disagree with us. I fear that many Christians are using the second approach. They are working politically to impede the growth of immigrants in North America, and they are justifying this action with vague or twisted scriptural support. To slow the growth of pluralism, they seek to protect what they think it means to be an American.

I would contend, however, that the growing number of diverse religious beliefs and worldviews is an indication of how God is moving, bringing the world to us. I concur with Ed Stetzer and his thoughts about migration and gospel opportunity.

Immigration puts a face on those we are called to reach, which makes evangelism more complicated.

And as it turns out, many non-Christians—particularly devout people of other religions—are pretty nice once you get to know them! They are not “people over there living in darkness,” but they are our neighbors living in our community.

They are people—and not projects.

In short, migration changes the way we view the humanity of people. That’s good, when we are moving beyond caricatures.

It also makes evangelism more complicated.

Sometimes we fail to see that people—immigrants included—still need Jesus.

Immigration becomes an evangelistic opportunity when it gives us a love for immigrants as human beings (without caricature) and teaches us to have compassion for them (including their spiritual condition), as we would for anyone in need of the gospel.

Yet, and here is the complicated part, it may also talk some out of evangelizing those who, perhaps, we think are not in as much need as we thought. In other words, immigration can and does impact evangelistic willingness.

The emerging cultural changes taking place around immigration cause social and cultural challenges. The messiness of relationships is worth it. The church is called to recognize its evangelistic responsibility and opportunity in the midst of these changes. I don’t fear growing numbers of people who are different than me, and you shouldn’t either. Instead, let’s view it as a unique, historical moment which we can steward for God’s glory and the common good.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Culture of Multiplication – Part Three

Not long ago I wrote an article about the danger of the super-pastor, and how pastors often (subconsciously) perpetuate the problem. In the article I briefly touched on leadership & discipleship multiplication as a key to effectively eradicating the super-pastor syndrome. I didn’t have time in that piece to go into more detail about creating a culture of multiplication, but I thought it was worth a conversation so over the course of three articles I want to lay out for you the biblical case for multiplication, the barriers to multiplication and four models of multiplication. This is the third of the three articles. To read the first article, click here. To read the second article, click here

We have previously discussed the biblical call to multiplication. We followed that up with a bit of an expose regarding the cultural barriers to multiplication. I want to finish, now, with a brief discussion of some specific models that we can embrace that can help us develop a culture of multiplication within our churches.

Model 1: Never do what you can delegate. (Moses’ model)

In Exodus 18 we find the story of Moses being overworked and without a plan. He was trying to do everything, and couldn’t keep up. I know a lot of church leaders who resonate with that problem. Thankfully Moses had a wise father-in-law. Jethro told him that he would be able to be far more effective if he would create an intentional plan of delegation. Moses did and it literally changed his life.

Church leaders are the masters of the superhuman, or at least we try to be. We like to do all things for all people, radically misusing Paul’s evangelism expectation from 1 Corinthians 9 to be all things to all people. Instead, we need to hand off as much as we can, as quickly as we can.

Notice that, in Ephesians 4, spiritual growth doesn’t precede ministry investment, it follows it. We don’t wait for people to be mature before we give them ministry responsibility, we give them ministry responsibility and they mature.

If we want to faithfully execute a culture of multiplication in our ministry, we need to quit holding so tightly to ministry functions and instead constantly find opportunities to hand ministry off to others.

Model 2: Narrow your discipleship target to expand your disciple-making influence. (Jesus’ model)

Too often, church leaders think almost exclusively in terms of corporate discipleship. In other words, we are constantly asking the question, “How can we disciple the whole church?” While it might seem counterintuitive, I’m somewhat convinced that focusing on a small group of people to disciple will ultimately lead to more success at discipling the entire congregation.

Instead of thinking of discipling the whole church – disciple three people for a year, with a commitment from them that they’ll do the same the following year. First of all, this replicates Jesus’ behavior. Think about his patterns. While he preached to the masses, the vast majority of his ministry was with 12 disciples, 3 specifically in the inner circle, and one particular best friend. Secondly, though, this form of discipleship is potentially far more expansive than even the largest megachurches.

Humor me for a second and do the math with me. If we committed to disciple 3 people per year, and if they would turn around and commit to do the same, and so on, you can be involved in leading an exponential discipleship movement that will disciple far more people than you could if you led the largest megachurch in America. In 3 years 27 people could be discipled. In 7 years you would surpass 2,000. In 15 years enough people could be discipled that all of Tennessee could have been discipled (over 14 million people). In 21 years the population of the entire globe would be discipled for Christ.

I also think it’s important to note here that Jesus didn’t necessarily select superstars to invest in. He invested in ordinary people who turned the world upside down.

Acts 4:13, When they observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and recognized that they had been with Jesus.

Model 3: Model and mentor. (Paul’s model)

Looking to the example of Paul, we find him selecting one disciple – Timothy – and pouring into him like a father would pour into his son. In fact, he referred to him in exactly that way. Paul instructed Timothy in life, ministry and godliness. He developed him and then turned him loose.

As a Senior Pastor, my goal was to rarely, if ever, do anything by myself. If I visited someone, I tried to take someone with me. If I attended a conference, I wouldn’t go unless I could bring someone along with me. When I share this with people I am almost always asked, “What do I teach when I’m with this person.” I think that’s pretty simple, to be honest. I think that proximity is the key here, rather than formal lecture. Sure you can go through a book of the Bible together, or a Bible study, or a popular book. Ultimately, though, you are placing people around you who aren’t as far along as you are, and modeling for them the behaviors of a Christian leader.

Timothy is a great example of what kind of legacy this can leave.

Model 4: Train & deploy. (Timothy’s model)

2 Timothy 2:22, And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Finally, I would encourage you to establish formal leadership training and development opportunities for people in your church to be a part of. In my church, we call this EQUIP and we have a series of students who meet with our pastors in the fall and spring for a series of classes on life, scripture, theology and ministry. We have even partnered with a seminary, and these students get academic credit for these classes and this academic credit can go towards undergraduate and even Masters degrees. You don’t have to officially partner with a theological institution, but you should consider some sort of formal training program.

The church looks to you as a leader. Look for formal and informal opportunities to model and reproduce leadership among your congregation.

In conclusion. 

The world, and the church, expects you to be a professional who does it all. This pattern is frustrating, sometimes terrifying, and very stressful. If I can encourage you today, it would be to worry less about doing and worry more about developing and deploying. Your life will be richer for it, and your ministry will go much further than you ever imagined.

This post was originally published at the LifeWay Leaders Blog

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Culture of Multiplication – Part Two

Not long ago I wrote an article about the danger of the super-pastor, and how pastors often (subconsciously) perpetuate the problem. In the article I briefly touched on leadership & discipleship multiplication as a key to effectively eradicating the super-pastor syndrome. I didn’t have time in that piece to go into more detail about creating a culture of multiplication, but I thought it was worth a conversation so over the course of three articles I want to lay out for you the biblical case for multiplication, the barriers to multiplication and four models of multiplication. This is the second of a series of three articles. To read the first article, click here

In my previous article we walked through the biblical call for church leaders to be multipliers, rather than professional ministers. The problem is that there are a number of cultural stumbling blocks that push back against the creation of a multiplication culture. Before we can begin to chart a way forward, it would probably be helpful to identify some of these devastating barriers.

Barrier 1: Individualism

We live in a culture that prizes independence and individuality above almost everything else. Think about our entertainment heroes. We idolize movie stars like John Wayne, Rambo, James Bond and Jason Bourne. We love those heroes who pull themselves up by their bootstraps and are able to single-handedly conquer the world. We love music like Frank Sinatra’s iconic song, “My Way.” The song embraces a worldview that celebrates success as having lived your life in light of your preferences along. Scripture, however, calls us to abandon our individualism and embrace the community as his means of growing us into his image.

Hebrews 10:24-25, And let us be concerned about one another in order to promote love and good works, not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other.

Another passage that we love to quote is found in James 5:16, The urgent request of a righteous person is very powerful in its effect. While many of us can quote that, I wonder how many of us know the first portion of verse 16? It says, Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. Notice the pattern in both Hebrews 10 and James 5. God intends for us to function in authentic, transparent community, and that is his primary means to shape us into the image of Jesus.

Because of we live in a culture that prizes individualism, though, we have reduced the Christian faith to, “me and Jesus.” An example of this is the prioritizing of the quite time as the ultimate act of discipleship. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly helpful to spend time every day with God in bible reading and prayer, but you will struggle to make a case from scripture for that as the primary means of spiritual formation. What you will find much evidence of, though, is the local church community as the primary spiritual formation tool.

However, when we live in a culture that prizes individualism and when that cultural perspective has invaded the church, we will struggle to create a culture of multiplication.

Barrier 2: Consumerism

We live in a consumer-driven culture. People, then, view church through the lens of consumerism. Church is where you go to receive spiritual goods and services, and the pastor is responsible for distributing those to us. Sadly many shop for churches like we shop for blue jeans. Think about it. We look for the best looking store with the most comfortable product and that asks the smallest price. We look for churches the same way. Where can we find the best looking spiritual product that fits me most comfortably, and asks the least of me? We even reduce the process of looking down to consumer terms. We call it “church shopping.”

This worldview leads us to then treat worship like a consumer-driven experience. We sit in rows, watching the professionals on the stage as they dispense the religious goods and services to us. We even throw money in the offering plate, thus “paying” for the product. When the product fails to deliver like we want it to we either, withhold payment, we demand a new product, or we go elsewhere looking for what we want. After all, we live in a culture that teaches that the customer is always right, and in this environment the people in the audience at church are the religious customers.

When this is the culture we find ourselves in, we are going to find multiplication resisted on nearly every front.

Barrier 3: Professionalism

As a result of our independence and our consumerism, we live in a time where the expectation is that services would be rendered by a professional. Professionalism demands appropriate pedigrees, education & experience. This is true for our doctors and lawyers, but it’s also true for mechanics & tree trimmers. We don’t visit or use anyone who isn’t licensed, educated and certified. This is a profoundly important cultural expectation.

In the midst of a culture of professionalism, it can be difficult to create a culture of multiplication, as a culture of multiplication relies on the rapid, yet thorough, distribution of ministry and responsibilities to lay people and church leadership alike.

Barrier 4: Pastoral Insecurity

Finally, we struggle with pastoral insecurity. I dealt with this to a great degree in my previous article on the super-pastor. Every person on the planet has insecurities and/or emotional baggage. Some compensate for these insecurities with food, others with alcohol, and a variety of other means. Too often pastors, however, compensate with ministry. We love to hear, “no one preaches like you do” or “no one comforts me like you can.” It gives us value, meaning and purpose. It also kills our church, if we are not careful. Pastor, don’t use ministry to self-medicate against your own insecurities.

If we are to be truly counter-cultural in our churches, we have to push back against these cultural barriers, and create a culture of multiplication. So, how do we do that? We’ll tackle that topic in the next, and final article in this series.

This post was originally published at the LifeWay Leaders Blog

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Culture of Multiplication – Part One

Not long ago I wrote an article about the danger of the super-pastor, and how pastors often (subconsciously) perpetuate the problem. In the article I briefly touched on leadership & discipleship multiplication as a key to effectively eradicating the super-pastor syndrome. I didn’t have time in that piece to go into more detail about creating a culture of multiplication, but I thought it was worth a conversation so over the course of three articles I want to lay out for you the biblical case for multiplication, the barriers to multiplication and four models of multiplication. This is the first of the three articles.

The biblical plan is a culture of multiplication. There really doesn’t seem to be any question on this point. God never intended Lone Ranger pastors to tackle ministry on their own. Unfortunately we have developed a pattern, particularly in the US church, that perpetuates this myth. We’ve even nuanced our verbiage to reflect it. When a pastor does ministry we describe their behavior as “pastoral.” We say things like, “So and so is particularly pastoral.” What we mean by that is that they are good at serving the ministry needs of others. This is tragic, in my opinion, because scripture seems to indicate that church leaders are not called to do ministry as much as they are called to prepare and deploy the church to do ministry. Consider Ephesians 4:11-16.

And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.

This text pretty simply lays out four simple truths about church leaders and their responsibility to the church.

God gives the church leaders.

Leaders are not in their role simply because of giftedness, or desire, though both of those things are important. Leaders exist in their roles, first and foremost, because God has ordained that they be there. A church leader’s role is a commission; an assignment from the God of the universe. It cannot and should not be approached with lazy, half-hearted effort. The text says more than that leaders are simply given to the church though, it specifically says that leaders are given, as a personal gift from God. The idea here is that church leaders are intended by God to be a good, and gracious gift to the church. I wouldn’t recommend that you go to your church on Sunday and point out to them that, as a leader, you are God’s gift to them (that probably wouldn’t go well), but you ought to be encouraged by this fact. In God’s good providence, he intended for you to be his good gift to the church, and he intended the church to be a good gift to you.

Leaders equip the body.

God gives leaders to the church, yes, but notice that God doesn’t give us church leaders so that they can do ministry. He gives us leaders to equip the body to do ministry. This is a radically important distinction. As I previously said, we have even modified our vocabulary to indicate that when we assume certain aspects of pastoral leadership that are focused on serving the needs of others we are now known as “being pastoral.” This gives away a belief that what it means to be pastoral is to minister to the needs of others. While this is noble, and while the pastor should certainly be a servant, we do a disservice to the people we serve, the church as a whole, and the kingdom of God, if we personally do the ministry that God has called the whole church to do. Not only that, though, the bible is clear that the ministry won’t be done well, when we assume that posture, and the church will not grow, when we assume that posture.

Does this mean that church leaders shouldn’t be engaging the church in ministry? Absolutely not! It means, however, that they serve the church through ministry because their responsibility as a member of the body is to minister – just like every other member of the body – but their vocational responsibility is to equip the church for service.

The body is built up.

The ability of the church to be built into the image of Jesus is dependent upon the leadership training and handing off ministry. Notice the ways that the church grows when the leadership equips the body to do ministry, rather than simply doing the ministry for the body. They grow in unity, knowledge, doctrinal stability, gracious speech and the character of Jesus.

This pattern is a reversal of our typical behavior in the church. We have developed a pattern of expecting maturity before we give people ministry responsibilities. Paul, in Ephesians 4, turns this on its head. He wants us to understand that unless we turn people loose with ministry responsibility, they will never grow into maturity.

Jesus is glorified.

Finally, all this is done as Jesus enables it to be so, and it is done to bring him great glory. Notice the patter in the text.

  • Jesus brings the church together (unity in diversity)
  • Jesus makes the church grow
  • Jesus increases the church’s capacity to love
  • Jesus helps every believer to reach their potential

This is the dream for every church leader I know. They want the church to grow into, and be, every one of these things. Could it be that God gave us a plan to make it happen, and we’ve simply missed it all along?

This post was originally published at the LifeWay Leaders Blog

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

An exciting change for the Fries family

Earlier tonight the Pastor Search Team from Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN shared with their church that they have invited me to preach in view of a call as their next Senior Pastor [presentation website]. If you are surprised by this transition in our life, you wouldn’t be alone. We have been surprised and amazed at how God has worked in our lives through this process of turning our hearts to Brainerd and Chattanooga. I’d love to share a little bit of that story with you.

Why leave LifeWay?
Why would I choose to leave LifeWay? The very simple answer, and I’ll explain more in detail below, is that we believe God has called us to Chattanooga and directed our hearts to Brainerd Baptist Church. We had no desire to leave LifeWay. Working for Ed Stetzer over the past 3. 5 years has has helped shape me in so many ways. Our time at LifeWay and in Nashville has been so good for our family and our ministry. We love LifeWay and, more than ever, we are excited about the future of LifeWay. We believe she is well led, and has a nearly unparalleled selection of giftedness across the men and women who make up the LifeWay family. I can’t say more strongly how much we love and respect LifeWay, her leadership and the resources she provides, and how bright we believe her future is. Leaving LifeWay will be tough.

However, over the past 3.5 years that I’ve served at LifeWay, we have realized that God has uniquely designed me to serve the local church in the role of pastor. Serving on staff at our home church, Fairview Church, and providing interim leadership over much of the last year at First Baptist Church of Jackson, MS (two churches I deeply love) showed me clearly that pastoring in the local church was exactly where I was designed by God to be.

With that said, we had no plans to leave LifeWay. At the beginning of our ministry Tracy and I made a decision to never send out resumes unless we were first approached by a church/ministry. We trusted the Lord and told him that we would be faithful where he placed us, and we would trust him to move us when he was ready. We weren’t planning to leave. In fact, on 4 occasions over the past year we were approached by wonderful churches and asked to consider possibly serving as their Senior Pastor. While we were honored by each of these requests – and believed each church gave evidence of great potential – we clearly discerned that God did not want us there. We now know it is because he was keeping us for Brainerd.

Finally, we struggled with the idea of leaving because we love our church and we love the city we live in. We have developed deep relationships here. Our girls have strong friendships here. It’s hard to say good bye to those. For all those reasons, and more, we didn’t plan to leave but God seemed to make this decision very simple for us.

Why go to Brainerd?
As I said above, the decision ultimately came down to our ability to discern God’s will, and we believe God has called us to go. One story can serve as a startling example. A few months ago Tracy and I had been talking about the future. We were grappling with what would be next for our family. We didn’t know, at the time, that Ed Stetzer would soon be announcing his transition to Wheaton College, but we sensed that some change was coming our way. As we talked together about what that could look like, our conversation revolved almost exclusively around opportunities within LifeWay. However, one morning as I was getting ready to leave for work, Tracy shared with me a sense of confidence that God was preparing her to be a pastor’s wife again. This was no small moment. Tracy loved my job at LifeWay and the routine that our family enjoyed. As I said, the past 3.5 years has been so very good for our family. As she shared this with me she cautioned me that she didn’t want me to look for a position but, should a position fall in our laps, she was confident we needed to consider it and pray through it. I got in the car and drove to work. I sat down at my desk at work, started looking through emails and about 90 minutes after that earlier conversation, my phone rang. It was Richard Bethea, the Search Team Chairman, asking me to consider praying about Brainerd’s open Senior Pastor position. Although I wasn’t aware, they had known of me for 6 or more weeks, and had been studying my life, our family and our ministry in detail and felt like God had confirmed in their hearts that we need to talk. Needless to say, I was floored. The timing seemed unmistakable. Tracy and I spoke quickly after that phone call, and it didn’t take long after that, through meeting with the committee, for God to confirm in our heart that this was his desire for our family in a number of different ways.

So what’s next?
We are going to work hard for LifeWay for the next 6 weeks or so. About 4 weeks from now we are going to spend the weekend at Brainerd, in view of a call. Assuming that the church affirms me as their next Senior Pastor, we’ll look forward to beginning our ministry the first week of July. This means, of course, packing, selling our house and saying goodbye to folks who have become very good friends – some even like family – buying a new house and beginning to settle in Chattanooga. But we are excited, very excited, frankly. We believe the future is astonishingly bright at Brainerd Baptist Church. We have a lot of hopes and dreams for the future of the church and the future of Chattanooga. We believe God is putting us together with Brainerd, and we cannot wait to see how this all comes together.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

Four Reasons You Need Weekly Sermon Evaluation

Any preacher who has been through bible college or seminary knows that one of the most painful experiences of a theological education is preaching class. Preaching in front of a professor and your peers, opening yourself up to their critique, is humbling and often extraordinarily painful. My experience was no different. However, as painful as it may be, a good professor and a good preaching class can help improve your preaching in significant ways. I know that mine served to do just that. I have an undergrad in theology and an M.Div. so I took preaching in college and seminary. Both experiences helped me but studying preaching under Dr. Ben Awbrey at Midwestern Seminary was one of the most helpful experiences of my academic career.

As you take a preaching course, there aren’t many things most of us dread more than the preaching evaluation forms that your professor and classmates fill out to provide objective critique of your messages. It’s an incredible relief when you get to say goodbye to those things upon the successful completion of your preaching class. In light of that, you might think I’m crazy, but one of the helpful things I did as a pastor was to create a condensed, digital version of the sermon review form and ask a handful of trustworthy people in the congregation to anonymously fill it out each week after my sermon. I was careful to choose people that were representative of the demographic makeup of the church, and who would take seriously the responsibility of responding each week. Additionally, I was careful to make sure that the form was anonymous so that they could have freedom to reply as truthfully as possible.

The benefits here are probably obvious, but let me clarify a few of them.

1. It required me to constantly remain in the posture of a student.
The pastor is almost always in a position of authority at the church. I am a big believer that the pastor needs to regularly place themselves in the position of a student. If not, pride has the potential to grow unchecked in the pastor’s life.

2. The Lord regularly used it to keep me humble.
Related to the previous point, even when I preached what I thought was a great sermon, this little form reminded me how fallible I was/am. It was a good and regular reminder of how deeply I need the work of the Holy Spirit and the work of the Word if I am to ever be a good and faithful preacher.

3. It sharpened my preaching skills.
A few years of seminary or college is not ever enough to fully develop a preacher. This weekly exercise forced me to evaluate my preaching on a regular basis and helped provide for me tools to grow in my skill as a preacher.

4. It clarified for me missing elements in my sermon preaching preparation.
No one is able to see all of their weaknesses. We all need people we trust to lovingly call them out for us. As preachers, if we are not careful we insulate ourselves from helpful critique and then find ourselves only receiving critique that is harmful and not given from a spirit of love and affirmation. This helped remedy those problems.

You may not think this is a good idea, but in the off case that you do, I’d love to give you a free resource to help you kick this sort of reflective exercise in your own congregation. I’ve created a generic template that you can use in your own church as a Sermon Response Form. Be careful not to simply give out this link to those you want to critique you. If you do, I’m going to get their responses. 😉 But feel free to use this template to create your own free Sermon Response Form. I think you’ll find it a worthwhile and helpful exercise.

Click here to see the FREE template.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you think this is a good idea? Have you tried it before and, if you have, what advice can you give to others? Share in the comments below!

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.