Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus

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Excel Still More

This past weekend my church celebrated 50 years of God’s faithfulness. On Saturday night over 700 people gathered to remember all that God has done, and on Sunday morning we focused on what God might do through CPC in the next 50 years.

We all love stories. People have stories and churches have stories, too. Over fifty years ago a handful of families from Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto began meeting, thinking they might start a church. Today, CPC is a church of over 2,500  people meeting on two campuses, and we just planted a church of over 1,000 people on the North Peninsula. It’s quite a story!

But the questions I asked our church are: Where are we at in our story? Are our best years behind us or in front of us?

The odds are against us. Churches like ours, more often than not, are like shooting stars in the night’s sky. THEY flame out and eventually disappear. Very few have a trajectory of continued growth and impact. Some stay stuck in the past. They have their heyday but never move beyond 8-track tapes and overhead projectors. A core group that started in the church in their 20’s now reach their 70’s and wonder why their kids are going to other churches. Other churches experience “mission drift.” They change too much, not just in their methods and strategies, but in their core beliefs and values. Little by little, they accommodate to the culture and soon their “saltiness” is lost. Still, other churches just become complacent. A kind of self-satisfaction sets in. There may still be a veneer of activity, but they’re just maintaining the status quo. There’s no burning passion or vision.

Any one of those things could cause our best years NOT to be in front of us but behind us.

What’s interesting is there was a church much like ours found in the New Testament — the church at Thessalonica. Like the San Francisco Peninsula, this city was wealthy and strategically placed in the capital city of Macedonia. And like CPC, this church had a great beginning. At the start of his first letter to them, Paul praises them for their “work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:3). This was an impressive and influential church.

But then you come to chapter 4 and you can almost feel the tension in Paul. He doesn’t want them to make the past a hero; to become complacent. And so twice in vv. 1-12 he repeats the same three words: “Excel still more.” It is like he’s saying, “You’ve done so well and I’m proud of you, but you’re not finished yet. You can do more. You can do better. I want you to excel still more!”

So this is our call as a church, but it is also something we can all apply to our own lives. I am 61 years old. As I told our church on Sunday, I won’t be around in 50 years, but are my best years behind me or are they ahead of me? Will I make my own past a hero, or in the years I have left in my earthly story, will I excel still more?

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Raising up Preachers Through the Multi-Site Model

For the past five years, the church in which I serve as Lead Pastor on the San Francisco Peninsula has adopted a multi-site model. Being a church of almost 3,000 people with only 2 acres in Foster City, we outgrew our facilities and felt this was the best way to continue to grow and reach the Peninsula for Christ. Our original campus is still in Foster City, but we have started two additional campuses. About five years ago, we started our North Campus in Millbrae (now in San Bruno), and then this past September we started a campus in Redwood City. We continue to function as one church on three campuses, with one budget and one board of elders. Each of our campuses has its own Campus Pastor and its own “campus specific” staff, but several of our staff serve all three campuses.

One of the challenges of doing multi-site has to do with preaching. With three campuses meeting every Sunday, we now have 156 Sundays a year (52 on each campus) to cover on the preaching calendar. Many multi-site churches have chosen to leverage the speaking and leadership gifts of one preacher and so they have him preach “in person” in the original campus and show a video of the sermon on the other campuses. It is argued that this is also a wise use of resources, in that it takes most guys 15-20 hours a week to prepare a message. But that approach has been criticized for several reasons: it just furthers the “celebrity” status of one person; it doesn’t allow young, emerging pastors to grow and develop their own preaching gifts; and it is contrary to an “incarnational” model of ministry.

What our church has adopted is a hybrid approach. Trying to cover 156 Sundays is a lot, so we still use video some of the time, usually when I am preaching on the “hub” campus. But we have also found that the multi-site model is a great way to train young preachers. Each of our Campus Pastors preaches “in person” several times a year on his own campus. On those weeks, I have an opportunity to work with them on their messages and debrief the following week. They benefit from that in several ways. First, if we never chose to go multi-site, we would only have 52 Sundays to cover, and they would get much less opportunity to preach. Second, if we had started a church instead of a campus, they would be burned out by trying to preach 52 times a year! Third, hopefully they benefit from the coaching I give them as well as the interaction between themselves as they prepare their messages on the same text. The bottom line is that more young guys are being trained to preach under this multi-site model than otherwise possible.