Christy and I will forever be indebted to the friends who helped plant Grace Church of Alexandria with us. As I say often, “Church planting is a team effort.” We couldn’t have done it on our own. Not a chance.

Because of this, I am delighted by the new, inspirational film The Sea In Between which tells the story of collaboration behind Josh Garrels’ fantastic album Love & War & the Sea In Between which can be heard at the Matías home every day. This hour-long, up-close look at Josh and his work with Mason Jar Music is hands-down the film of the year for me. Beautiful. Captivating. Inspirational. A must-see.


Josh Garrels: The Sea In Between – Trailer from Mason Jar Music on Vimeo.

The film portrays the joys of collaborating with others, giving them credit for their work, allow others to contribute creatively to your project to make it better, and, best of all, how the story of redemption ties into it all. Christy and I have been so struck by the mix of gospel truth + collaboration in this film that we’ve watched it with several ministry partners to say thank you and express how we feel about them.

Do yourself a favor. First, download Love & War & the Sea In Between (Christianity Today’s 2011 album of the year). Second, borrow and watch our copy (DVD box set) of The Sea In Between film or downoad your own copy. Sit back, take in how Josh’s beautiful music came about, and say “thank you” to people in your life who have helped make your dreams a reality.

We were privileged to hear Josh Garrels and Mason Jar Music in person this summer in D.C. at The Sea In Between Tour and film showing. Hands down–that was our favorite concert of all time.

Note – This blog post originally appeared at the Matías’ personal blog, The Matias Post.

Sneeds Ferry Fellowship Church is the fifth likeminded church plant we’d like to bring to your attention in this series on church planting. See previous posts in this Spotlight on Church Plant’s series hereherehere, and here.

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From Bible Study to Full-Fledged Church
What happens when a group of young Christian Marines and their families at a military base decide to study the Bible together? In this case, God led this group to transform their Bible study into a church plant with all the marks of a New Testament church. Ten couples working at or near the Marine base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina have formed Sneeds Ferry Fellowship Church this year.

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A Sister Church to Grace Church
Our sending church, Heritage Bible Church, has agreed to adopt Sneeds Ferry as a Heritage church plant to provide a church planter, guidance, and assistance to become a healthy, vibrant church in their community. Tom Freel, a Heritage church planting intern, has been called by Sneeds Ferry to serve as their first pastor. The elders of Grace Church of Alexandria have been asked to serve in an advisory capacity to Tom and Sneeds Ferry as they get started. We are excited to see God gathering and growing disciples by leading this Bible study to form a church in a strategic military community much like ours.

How I Heard about Sneeds Ferry
I first learned about Sneeds Ferry Fellowship when the Marines relocated members of our church Rob and Leah to Camp Lejeune. Rob & Leah got plugged in at this Bible study and soon had me talking with one of the study’s leaders. Now, though this providential relationship, our church gets to be sister churches with this up-and-coming church plant. Our elders will be seeking ways to develop GCA’s active friendship and assistance of Sneeds Ferry Fellowship Church.

Pray for This Vital Gospel Outpost
Please keep Sneeds Ferry Fellowship Church in your prayers as they work to get established in the community and grow a health local church. To learn more check out the church’s Facebook page.

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Readable, Practical Help For Those Who Lead
Are you a leader of a team, an organization, a business, or a ministry within your church? If so, I highly recommend that you read an engaging book on leadership by counselor Dan Allender, Leading With a Limp.

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Not What You Expect: Embrace Your Weaknesses
Leading with a Limp calls on leaders to adopt a counter-cultural perspective on leadership…embrace your weaknesses, admit them, and turn them into advantages. Dan Allender, a counselor and seminary president, has been through the fire when it comes leadership decisions and leadership crises. He has a powerful ability with words and an uncanny knack for getting into the reader’s head. He takes leaders on a journey to admit what’s true about them so they can embark on a process of growth and change.

A Leader: The Chief Sinner of An Organization
Allender starts off by calling on leaders to confess their greatest weaknesses to themselves and to those they lead. Shocking, isn’t it? To demonstrate what he’s calling for, he puts on the table his personality and leadership struggles. He proceeds to diagnose why leaders can so easily get off track and summons leaders to conduct self-examination.

Who God Uses: Broken, Messed Up People
Then, from Scripture, he demonstrates that God delights in using those who admit their weaknesses, and those who are weak (e.g. Moses, Jacob, Paul). He doesn’t tend to use those who think they have it all together (Think “not many of you were wise” from 1 Corinthians 1).

Are You Exhausted, Disillusioned, Lonely, or Overwhelmed?
The heart of the book is the chapters that address leaders who feel exhausted, disillusioned, lonely, betrayed, or overwhelmed. You may not have taken a severe tumble in your leadership lately, but rest assured, if you’re a leader, you know it’s lonely at the top and much–too much–rests on your shoulders alone. Allender gives insightful biblical advice for handling crises, conflict, indecision, aloneness, and burnout. These chapters are gold.

Model Leading With A Limp For Others
Finally, Leading with a Limp closes with a call to seeing your job as a leader as a call to be the chief sinner, the one on the team who repents the most, who seeks Christ to change her the most, and who is willing to be pruned in character the most. This will enable you to lead your organization more wisely and will show those under your care what it means to pursue Christ-likeness.

A Critically Important Read For Leaders Of Anything

Leading with a Limp is a critically important read for every Christian who leads, whether over a small group, a ministry team, a non-profit, a business, or a church plant. I intend to review my takeaways with the elders and deacons of the church I pastor in Alexandria, Virginia, and admit to them my weaknesses so they can help shore me up. I am confident that the principles laid out by Dan Allender in his book will help sharpen me in the workplace God has called me to.

Giving Praise to God
On October 27-28, 2012 Grace Church of Alexandria celebrated our first five years as a local church! Check out the audio testimonies and photo gallery below.

We held this celebration weekend to honor our church planting team members, give thanks to the churches and individuals who partnered with GCA, unify our church family for the next five years, and give thanks to Christ the Head of our church.

Photos Gallery of the Testimony & Thanksgiving Service 

Testimonies from Grace Church’s First Five Years
Click on any of the links below to listen in on (or download) testimonies from that weekend about God’s work at our local church–

As a church family, we give thanks to God for causing our church plant to flourish in the five years since we first began meeting. 2012 has been a monumental year for us, as this year we became self-supporting and transitioned from church plant to a fully-planted local congregation.

As a church planter, I’m blessed to have a number of friends who have paved the way for me to follow in church planting and grace-filled shepherding. Several times each year our elders meet up for prayer and idea-sharing with one of these friends, Ian McConnell, Pastor for Preaching and Vision at Grace Bible Church of Philly, PA.

Ian set out to plant a church in Northeast Philly, and instead found himself re-planting and revitalizing an existing local church, by God’s sovereign plan. And now, 6 1/2 years later, that church is embarking on a project to plant churches to methodically reach nearby Northeast Philly neighborhoods.

The following two videos featuring Ian capture a heart for gospel ministry in cities for Christ, which is also the heartbeat of our church, Grace Church of Alexandria. The first video highlights the difficulty and importance of revitalizing existing churches. As Ian says, God “brings dead things to life.”

Ian McConnell – Revitalizing instead of planting from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo.

In this next video, Ian shares their vision to reach nearby neighborhoods with the news of Christ’s lordship and cross by starting new community churches.

Church Planting in Philadelphia, PA from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo.

Why a celebration?

This weekend we’re celebrating Grace Church of Alexandria’s first 5 years, and our financial independence which we just achieved this fall. Come celebrate God’s faithfulness to our church family and give honor to those who’ve helped along the way.

BBQ Dinner RSVP is now closed, but join us for everything else! All our members and attenders are invited, and all friends of the ministry, including former church planting team members, prayer partners, and financial suporters.

Saturday, October 27

  • 5:30 pm BBQ Dinner (by Red Hot & Blue for all who RSVP’d)
  • 7:00 pm Thanksgiving and Testimony Service

Location: Franconia Baptist Church - Directions

Sunday, October 28

  • 9:25 am Adult Bible Class, guest speaker Pastor Will Arndt
  • 10:30 am Celebration Service with guest speaker Pastor Eric Sipe
  • 12:00 pm Free pizza lunch for everyone

Location: Our Sunday meeting place, Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School  - Directions

What will the celebration include?

Saturday will include a Dinner and Thanksgiving Service where we’ll hear from residents of the community and church members how God worked in their lives through the church plant. We’ll also give recognition to those who contributed in all sorts of ways to plant GCA.

Sunday will include a 9:25 am talk by Will Arndt of Heritage Bible Church on what’s next for Grace Church as an urban church plant. Then during the 10:30 am service, Pastor Eric Sipe who oversaw the planting of GCA, will be our guest preacher, and we’ll have a panel discussion reflecting on God’s faithfulness to GCA. A 12 pm free pizza lunch for all will be provided.

Thank You

Thanks to everyone (supporters, prayer partners, church planting team members, and all our members & attenders) who has been a partner with us for gospel growth here at Grace Church of Alexandria!

The Roller Coaster Ride of Church Planting
My friend, church planter and pastor Tim Richmond, recently wrote from the heart to fellow church planters who feel bounced around by the exciting yet rough ride that is church planting. In his article, “Help for Bipolar Church Planters,” Tim so accurately captured the highs and lows, joys and sorrows, pressures and progress that church planters feel on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

Along with Tim, many days I’ve lifted up my face to heaven with joy over the conversion of a lost person, or seeing a new believer take the next step of faith, but then the next minute my head is hung low, burdened for an unrepentant member, grieved by sin in my own life, or bewildered what to do about a financial shortfall or the news that we have to find an alternate meeting place for our church this Sunday. Church planting gives you a front row seat to God’s grace, yet often times feels like being tortured on the rack.

Taking Time to Understand Church Planting’s Stresses
If you’re an aspiring or current church planter, or helping out with a church plant in some capacity, I encourage you to read this article to prepare yourself for planting, ground yourself in wise thinking for ministry pressures, or better know how to understand and serve your pastors who are pastoring or planting.

Tim Richmond’s Diagnoses and Remedies

Tim’s article starts with these accurate observations about church planting:

  1. A pastor must be emotionally connected to the flock individually and corporately.
  2. All churches go through ups and downs.  Church plants commonly have more ups and downs than other ministries.
  3. Church planters’ emotions ride a roller coaster.

Next, he describes common spiritual and physical symptoms of church planting overload, which I’ve often seen in my life these past 5 years of planting.

  • Impatience and irritability with family;
  • Overindulging yourself (in sinful or not so sinful things);
  • A deep sense of discouragement and an urge to quit when Sunday’s numbers don’t add up to your preconceived notions success;
  • Self-pity;
  • Exhaustion;
  • Stale worship;
  • Jealousy over other men’s gifts or “success.”

He then advises four steps to “escape the bipolar church planting mindset”:

  1. Fix your mind on the sovereignty of God in Christ as the Head of the Church.
  2. Fix your identity on the love of God in Christ.
  3. Change from a worldly view of success.
  4. Find other stuff to do (worship, friends & family, other hobbies.
Fellow planter, take 10 minutes to review his article and prayerfully ask the Lord to show you how you can ground yourself in Christ and his goodness so that you have energy and vitality to run the ministry race for the long-term.

Most guests who drop in to check out Grace Church of Alexandria on Sundays heard about us through our web site. When our church was a fledgling church plant, and even now as a fully established church, hands down, our web site is the #1 way people first have connected with the church, and have decided to check out our church family.

We are indebted to the excellent team at The Worthwhile Company for designing and hosting a stellar web site and blog for us. I want to give a shout out to them, because they’re one of the key reasons our church plant was able to establish a clear identity in our community of West End Alexandria, without having the visibility of our own church building. Perhaps they can help your ministry or non-profit too.

The designers, programmers, and strategists at Worthwhile have never truly been satisfied with the site they created for us, but have regularly suggested improvements and enhancements as the web has changed and as their skills as a team have increased. If your church plant, church, or ministry is looking for a creative, reliable, effective partner to establish or strengthen your web presence, I heartily recommend you check out Worthwhile.

We have been blessed that not only did Worthwhile put their brains and skill to work for our church plant, their lead designer (the one who designed our web site) Dave Ruse and his wife ended up relocating to Alexandria, Virginia, to become members of our church and lend a hand in even more personal, meaningful ways. Truly, the team at Worthwhile are fast friends and key partners in our mission of making the glory and majesty of Christ known inside the Washington D.C. beltway. These are just a few of the many ministry partners that helped our gospel preaching church get off the ground, and we give thanks to the Lord Jesus for them.

p.s. Worthwhile recently set up a foundation called Web For Good that creates and maintains ministry web sites free of charge to needy, deserving ministries. Check it out! www.webforgood.org

A Milestone for Grace Church

August 29th, 2012

We did it! Grace Church of Alexandria has become a fully established local church, four and a half years after starting as a home Bible study. This means Grace Church is no longer a church plant! We give thanks to the Lord Jesus for forming and growing our congregation as a gospel centered church in the City of Alexandria.

The Final Step In Church Planting

On August 5, 2012, the members of Grace Church took the final step in the church planting process. Attendance and offerings have grown enough for GCA to cover all ministry expenses, including the salary of lead pastor Jonathan Matías. And so the church voted to become financially independent, no longer needing to rely on the support of the two churches and dozen individuals who have financially backed the church plant. We’re able to stand on our own two feet in every way as a local congregation!

Grace Church when we were just a home Bible study (spring 2008)

Challenges of a Start-Up

Church plants that aren’t able to become fully self-supporting within 5 years often end up closing their doors. But church start-ups that make it to financial independence within 5 years are able typically to thrive for the long-term. Much credit for our church’s health goes to our sponsoring church, Heritage Bible Church, for their incredible backing and investment of people, advice, funding, prayers, and encouragement. We couldn’t have a more faithful and encouraging support in church planting than what we’ve received from Heritage!

100% Member Participation

Grace Church has also strengthened and grown because God has graciously provided dozens of believers who gladly have gotten plugged in to our church family and invested themselves in the work of worshiping, discipling, praying, witnessing, and serving others. I’m pleased to say that we have 100% member participation in serving at our local church. That means every member has volunteered in some way to be involved in setup on Sundays, or working in GraceKids, or as a musician, or providing meals to needy members, or any other number of serving roles. It is a joy to pastor this flock which is so committed to the glory of God through the local church.

Grace Church when we met in Capitol Hill Baptist Church (summer 2008)

All Credit Goes to Christ

Above all, we give all praise to Christ our Head, for He the one who promised, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18)! It is our desire to know Christ so well that our joy in him spills over and makes him known to others inside the Washington D.C. beltway. It’s been wonderful to see Christ save several individuals from the community by drawing them to Grace Church where they’ve heard the gospel and been joyously saved. It’s been thrilling to watch believers with struggles and questions come to Grace Church and find answers from the Bible and grow up in the faith. All of this has come about, not because we’re such a great group of people (you see, we’re broken, sinful rebels who are being transformed by Jesus) but because we have a great Savior!

So, as we have transitioned from being a church plant to a fully established local church, we echo the words of 1 Corinthians 1:31 —

Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord!”

a recent Sunday at Grace Church (summer 2012)

A Time of Spiritual Renewal
Two weeks ago, Grace Church’s pastors and their families spent the week at the Heritage Pastors Gathering in Greer, South Carolina. We gathered with nearly 75 other pastors and wives who have planted churches out of Heritage Bible Church, pastored at Heritage, or attended Heritage in past years. What an encouraging, Spirit-guided time of confession, worship, idea-sharing, and sharpening we experienced together! I can testify that the gathering was a tangible time of spiritual renewal for us, and brought us back to what is central for life and ministry.

Fellowship From Coast To Coast
In the mornings we met together for devotions, discussions about our heart, and prayer time. Lunches were a fabulous time to mingle and catch up with fellow gospel ministers from all over…from L.A., Salt Lake City, and Brooklyn, to Columbus, OH, Columbia, SC and McAllen, TX.

The Gospel Sung and Preached
The evenings were a real treat…extended times of singing the gospel and preaching on the gospel by Chris Anderson, author of Gospel Meditations for Men and Gospel Meditations for Women. If you’re in any kind of ministry (small group leader, personal discipler, church planter, missionary), his talks about Christ’s interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4 are well worth your time.

I just want to express thanksgiving for our church plant’s partnership with Heritage, our sending church. Our elders and deacons have learned the centrality of the cross, the glory of Christ, and the sovereignty of God from our time at Heritage. It is our prayer that we will be living out and feeding the flock in the D.C. area with these same central values we’ve been entrusted with by Heritage.




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