One Principle That Will Help You Make A Big Decision

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Making big decisions is very stressful! Being uncertain about your future is especially tough if you are without a job or have an end date in your present job. We received some great advice that has helped us a ton on when to pull the trigger on important life decisions. Honestly, I don’t remember from whom I heard this principle, (a friend? a podcast? a book?) – if you are reading this now and you gave me this advice, please let me know so I can give you props and properly thank you.

Here’s the principle on making big life decisions:

God usually gives 60% clarity.

This “60% Rule” is an application of Proverbs 3:5-6

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not lean on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.”

God gets you over the 50% mark so that you are not constantly waffling back and forth between several options. However, He typically doesn’t give you too much clarity. Now, there are exceptions when the Holy Spirit gives exceptional clarity to someone with an exceptional calling (75% and above). For most of us, though, God gives about 60% clarity.

Why does God do this? Think about it. Greater clarity means greater control. God is in control of our future, and He wants us to trust Him with it all. If I’m honest I really I love control. Because we are made in the image of God, we are responsible for controlling many things as we trust Him for all things. My problem is that I frequently grip too tightly to my future plans with closed fists, demanding God to give me 100% clarity. That’s why Proverbs 3:5-6 hangs in our living room.

In His kindness, God only brings 60% into focus so that I would remain focused on Him. He is the Good Shepherd. He will open doors in His timing. “I may not know my way well, but well do I know my Guide” (Martin Luther). Sandi and I are quick movers and usually get ahead of God. I once shared this struggle to one of my mentors and he told me, “God is seldom early but is always on time” (Clint Wilcke).  Only God holds our future, so we need to loosen our grip and hold our decisions with open hands.

I usually get anxious when I don’t know what details will result from my decision. I begin to play out hypothetical worst case scenarios. In those moments, I have to stop and ask myself, “Has God given me 60% clarity on which road to take?” If He has, then I can confidently trust Him with all the unforeseen details and repent of acting as God by trying to control all scenarios of my life. It’s so liberating to trust God! 

Listen to this stirring quote by the German philosopher, Goethe, as he offers what happens when we step out in faith with 60% clarity:

“Until one is committed there is hesitancy. There is one elementary truth, and if you ignore this truth it will kill countless ideas and splendid plans: the moment one definitely commits oneself,  then God’s Providence moves too.  All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events come from the decision, a whole host of favorable incidents, meetings, and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.” (adapted from Next Christians by Gabe Lyons, p. 126)

I’d love to hear from you! Is the 60% rule helpful to you? What big decisions are you making in life right now? I’d love to hear and pray for you.

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8 Reasons Why We Are Planting a Church in Miami

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The question is often asked: Why start a new church if there are already many churches in the area? Why not just revitalize existing churches? Those are very good questions. I thought it might be helpful to share 8 reasons why I’m planting a church in Miami.

8. Miami is one of the most unreached cities in America. In the area which we are considering starting a new church, 85% of its residents have zero religious affiliations – including the Roman Catholics, Jehovah’s Witness, Muslims or any other religious group. Only 2.5% are evangelical Christians. The field is white for harvest!

7. New churches need to be planted in Miami to simply keep up with the population growth rate. According to the 2010 census, there are a little over 1,000 evangelical churches in Miami making up about 13% of the total population (this is a very generous estimate!). Miami’s population is growing much faster than the national average. From 2010-2015, Miami-Dade county grew by 7.8% (about 250,000 people/year). The bottom line: the evangelical church needs to plant about 26 churches a year just to maintain 13% of the population. In reality, for the evangelical church to grow in Miami, many more churches need to be planted – 40-50 churches a year is probably a more accurate figure.

6. It takes many different kinds of churches to reach an entire city. No single church tradition has a monopoly on the harvest. No one denomination or network can plant 50 churches a year! A positive way to put it is that each church reaches certain types of people. And since Miami is the most international city in America, there are many types of people to be reached!  I like how David Olson puts it: “New churches are historically the best method for reaching each emerging generation… [and] the only truly effective means to reach the growing ethnic populations coming to America. Every people group needs to hear the gospel in a way that makes sense to their culture” (The American Church in Crisis, 156). To the degree that evangelical churches link arms and work together, is the degree to which we will we reach Miami. All evangelical traditions need each other if we are going to change the spiritual tide in Miami.

5. New churches best reach the unchurched – period” (Tim Keller). It is essential to revitalize existing churches for kingdom impact in Miami, yet that alone will not turn the tide. New churches less than 3 years old average 10 new disciples per one hundred members compared to older churches: 10-year-old churches average 3 new disciples per hundred members and churches 50 years or older average 1.5 new disciples. As the late Peter Wagner famously said: “The single most effective evangelistic methodology under heaven is planting new churches.”

4. New churches often bring renewal to older churches. When older and newer churches work together, the new churches bring new disciples with new ideas and models for new situations that result in new leaders for both the older and newer churches. The older churches provide the emotional, financial, and spiritual support that is critical for the long-term health of a newly established church.

3. God has called me and my family to plant a church in Miami. God has given me a strong desire to seek the lost sheep, preach the gospel, make disciples, and organize a church not just anywhere, but in Miami. It really bothers me that there are so many lost sheep without a shepherd. We especially have a unique burden for those who find themselves in cultural transition. We know what it’s like to live as a minority. We understand the unique struggles, like the fatigue of always thinking in a second language or the stress of frequently feeling misunderstood. In many ways, our daughters are more comfortable as the only white girls in a sea of Latinos. In short, our family feels uniquely fitted to live in the international city of Miami.

2. My wife, Sandi, also feels called to follow me to Miami. This is HUGE! I’m continually amazed by God’s grace in Sandi. I’m amazed that she is still following me joyfully after all these years of transition!  We know that our family has a call to Miami when former Southern Floridians warn us about the culture, and yet we still feel a strong pull to move there. Yes, we know that Miami is a superficial, flashy, and decadent city. Yes, we know that Miami has been hard soil for many church plants. Yes, we know that ministry in Miami is a marathon that will take longer than most areas in the States. Yet, we are strangely drawn to all its beauty and brokenness. We see more potential than danger. All though we have our fears about living in Miami, I can honestly say that Sandi is just as excited about moving to Miami as I am.

1. Starting new churches not only follows the Biblical pattern but is essential to fulfilling the Great Commission. It might surprise you to know that the there is zero commands in the New Testament to plant a church. However, as many have pointed out, the outcome of making disciples and baptizing them (Matthew 28:19-20) is to bring them into a new covenant community  – a new expression of the Church in that specific context. That’s what we see Paul doing all through Acts: everywhere the gospel is preached, disciples are made and a local church is established. Jesus said, “I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18) and church planting is the normal way He builds his church. I would go further to say that the church is God’s plan for the world. I like the way Ott & Wilson puts it:”Because the church itself is central to God’s mission, church planting must be central to that mission.”

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Many of you have joined us to Miami – thank you!! If you haven’t joined us yet, there are 3 ways you can do so:

  1. Join our Launch Team by moving with us to Miami. I’m dead serious. If you don’t know Spanish yet, I know of some great language schools that can get you conversant in just one month. If you are already in Miami, hit me up. I’ll be in the Magic City every month now until the summer. Even if this is a remote dream, let’s talk!
  2. Join our Financial Team. One-time or recurring donations are greatly needed. We are presently at 40% of our budget, and our goal is to be at 80% before we move. You can donate here.
  3. Join our Prayer Team by subscribing to our newsletter. Prayer is the number one factor for success in church planting! Any spiritual, lasting fruit is a direct result of your prayers. And we need them!!

Help Us Meet our End of Year Goal!

As you make your end of year giving, consider financially joining us in what God is doing in Miami.

Sandi and I have set a goal of $10K by December 31. Every dollar donated is doubled by City To City Miami! We are especially looking for those who might partner with us at $30-$50/month – that’s less than a tall coffee at Starbucks a day.

If 4 people committed to $50/month, we would meet our end of year goal!

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3Milestones Review

April 13, 2014

After serving in Peru, South America for nearly a decade, we moved back to the United States with a dream to plant a church in America.

September 12, 2014

To help evaluate our desire to plant a church, we went to Mission To North America Church Planter Assessment. And on this date, God confirmed our call and the MNA assessors fully recommended us for church planting. At assessment, we met Danny & Kimberly Iverson, who connected us with Bob Cargo and his church planting training program at Perimeter Church.


April 20, 2015

Bob Cargo formally invited our family to join Perimeter Church’s two-year church planting program, allowing us to re-acclimate to the United States and get some of the best training.

July 5, 2015

Moved to ATL!

October 28-30, 2015

Bob organized a meeting among key Hispanic leaders from all over the country to come to Atlanta to discuss the future of ministry and church planting among Latinos. Two key things happened for me at this meeting:

(1) Allen Thompson said, “If we are going to reach the next generation of Latinos and train its leaders, we must figure it out in Miami.” When he said that, a bolt of lightening with through my body, and I knew at that moment that I had to be part of what God was doing in Miami.

(2) I met several of the leadership from Crossbridge Church Miami (PCA): Felipe Assis, Jesse Carbo, & Henry Rojas.

December 12-16, 2015

The Crossbridge team invited us to explore Miami to see if it might be a good place for us to plant a church. We fell in love with the city and saw the great need for planting gospel-centered churches in one of the most unreached and challenging cities in America.

April 19-22, 2016

We went back to Miami to be assessed for church planting a second time, this time by City To City.

June 29, 2016

Crossbridge Church & City to City invited us to plant a church with them in Miami.

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4 2017 Preview

January 21, 2017

Travel to Miami to begin a monthly Incubator Training with City to City Miami.

February 6, 2017

Speak with missions’ committee at Independent Presbyterian Church, Memphis.

February 10-12, 2017

Attend mission conference at First Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, MS.

February 16-20, 2017

Travel to Miami for our daughters’ school testing.

April/May 2017

Sell our home in Peachtree Corners, NE Atlanta.

June/July 2017

Move to Miami! And begin to meet the people, learn the culture and develop new friendships.


Just reviewing all these events reminds me of how much we have to do before the summer. Yet, we can’t wait to be in the city that  God has been preparing us! With your financial gifts, we will be able to bring the hope of Christ to Miami.

 May 2017 be your best yet as you begin the new year in the Lord!

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Should The First Worship Service Be Bilingual?

latino-flagsMiami is the most international city in the United States, which means 61% are foreign born (#2 is Washington D.C. at 53%). This is what makes planting a church in Miami so unique and challenging. One of the complexities is this- How bilingual should your ministries be from the beginning? So, I decided to ask some church planting experts, Ed Stetzer and Daniel Im from NewChurches.com. They graciously answered a question I recently submitted. This is what I asked:

“In planting multicultural churches, do you recommend launching the first service bilingual?”

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Ed & Daniel graciously answered my question! If you’d like to hear their response, go to Episode 123 on the New Churches Podcast (start at 3:02 min).  In their answer, Ed & Daniel say many helpful things:

  • “The first thing they teach you in missiology is ‘don’t tell people of other cultures what they should do.’” –@edstetzer
  • “There’s a lot of different expressions in terms of how you want to do church in a multi-ethnic context.” –@danielsangi
  • “When we look biblically, there’s not a prescribed form of how to do multi-ethnic ministry.” –@danielsangi

Their bottom-line answer is “depends,” which I translated to mean, “let your core group decide.

If I would ask the question all over again, I would have asked, “Do you know of any churches that launched with a bilingual worship service and then became financially self-sustaining within 3-5 years?” If anyone reading this post has experience planting bilingual or trilingual churches, I’d love to know your thoughts!

Please pray that God would give us wisdom as we investigate to know what would be the most contextually appropriate way to launch a new church in our target area of Miami!

Making a Big Mid-Life Decision

Next week Sandi & I will travel to Miami for a one-week assessment to see if we are a good fit to plant in South Florida. If you remember from our last update, we were suppose to go in early March, but they moved the assessment to April. We are very thankful for Sandi’s parents driving all the way from Louisiana to take care of our girls in ATL.

The need for gospel centered, missional churches in Miami is huge. The challenge is also immense. I’ve been told by many that South FL is a graveyard of failed church plants. That’s why we are interested in partnering with Redeemer City-To-City as well as with Perimeter Church in ATL to form a solid support network. Next week is all about whether or not our family is up for the challenge to plant in the rocky soil of Miami.

This month I (Allen) turn 40. Reaching midlife has made me reflective. I can honestly say that in the next few weeks, Sandi and I will be making one of the biggest decisions of our adult lives. Just this week, I read an article by David Brooks in the NY Times on Middle-Aged turning points. Brooks quotes the theologian Karl Barth about reaching midlife:

“The sowing is behind, now it is time to reap. The run has been taken, now it is time to leap. Preparation has been made; now it is time for the venture of the work itself.”  

We truly feel that our entire life up to this point has been preparing our family for something like Miami. From all the short-term mission trips I took as a child, to living in Guatemala post-college, to raising bi-lingual daughters in a Peruvian urban city for nearly a decade – we are ready to make the leap.

So please pray for us! There are 3 requests that I’m asking God:

  1. For clarity about the Redeemer City-To-City partnership in Miami. Are we a good fit?
  2. For confirmation in our hearts. Is God opening or closing the door for us in Miami?
  3. For conviction. Is God calling us to Miami in a way that if we don’t go, we will be disobedient to his will?

We covet your prayers next week as we go through assessment. And we so appreciate your friendship and interest in our family as we make this life decision!

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Multiculturalism

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It’s no secret that the social topography of America is rapidly changing. According to the Census Bureau, the United States will be a majority-minority nation by 2044. That means that Hispanics, African-Americans, & Asians will out number White Americans. And all to often, the church lags behind the cultural trend. Our denomination (PCA) is a prime example; we are 80% white with only 14% Korean pastors, 1.2% African-American pastors, and very few Hispanic pastors.

In Atlanta we have a great opportunity to get ahead of the curve. Perimeter has created a great laboratory to learn how to do multicultural ministry. For one, I’m part of a church planting cohort that represents every major ethnic group in America. Sam (left above) is a 2nd Gen. American Korean worship leader, Dereko is an African-American fire fighter, and Jorge is a Columbian pastor. I am so honored to develop friendships with these great guys so that I can learn from their stories, perspectives, and struggles. My stereotypes will only be broken down by forming meaningful relationships with people different than me.

Perimeter Church is also leveraging it’s resources to learn more about multicultural ministry. Recently, my boss, Bob Cargo, invited key Hispanic leaders from all across the country & abroad to discuss key issues. Leaders came from Miami, Boston, Chicago, San Diego, Tijuana Mexico, Cuba, Atlanta and Birmingham. It was very enlightening as I heard about the complexity of doing Hispanic ministry among first and second generation families.

Finally, where we live helps us envision what’s to come. Our county (Gwinnett) has just recently become a majority-minority county. Over 50 languages are spoken here – one of the most diverse counties in the country. Where we are, America will become in several decades. We are truly living in the future! My hope is that God will use our cohort and context to helps us better grasp how to do ministry in a multicultural world.

Prayer Points

  • Pray that God would guide our family to the right place to plant a church. We are learning to trust God as we wait for Him to lead us. For those who know us, this does not come naturally for us! In the next few months, we will be exploring some potential places to plant.
  • Pray for Sandi as she recovers from shingles. People of her age & good health normally don’t get shingles, but her doctor said the inevitable stress of all our transition and uncertainty has probably lowered Sandi’s immune system. We are thankful she is on the upswing and has the support from an amazing discipleship group at Perimeter who daily reminds her to rest in God’s truth. 
  • Pray for Rob. I met Rob at one of our daughter’s volleyball games. After he found out that I was a pastor, he opened up and shared that he and his wife had recently separated. He believed that God had sent me to him. After sharing the gospel with him over lunch later that month, he became a born again Christian and wants to join the church. Please pray that Rob would be able to reconcile with his wife. He says she is not a believer, so please pray for her as well.

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Living in Suburbia

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We’ve been in Atlanta for a little over two months. This is our first time to live in the suburbia. I thought that the suburbs were mainly a white-flight area, with repetitive model homes, and strip malls everywhere. Why much of that is true, what I didn’t expect to see is so much ethnic diversity.

My suburbia-stereotype was blown apart when I visited our bank last week. As I stood at the ATM, I noticed that I was the only white person among a Pakistan teller, an Afro-Caribbean family chatting in some creole dialect, a Latina señora making a deposit, and two Middle-Eastern women in hijab head-coverings. Wikipedia says that our county “is the most racially diverse county in the state of Georgia, and one of the most racially diverse counties in the country.” I thought of the suburbs as primarily white, but according to a recent study, almost 60 % of Pan-Asians, half of all Hispanics, and 40 % of African Americans live in suburbia. The cliché is half-true: “the nations have moved to the cities of America” – its probably more correct to say “to the American suburbs.”

I don’t know what all this means for our family’s future in church planting, but I’m praying that God would lead us to take advantage of this unique opportunity in American history. The need is tremendous! We’ll see where God leads.

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Family Update 

  • Our biggest news this month is that we officially have our first teenager in the house. Abbie turned 13 on 9/2. I’m so grateful that God has entrusted us with such a caring, generous, missionary-minded daughter who truly loves Jesus and others. I wish I could be more like her in so many ways.
  • Sandi & I celebrated our 16th anniversary last month. We took the Marta Train to Decatur to enjoy a night out on the city as we reflected over our many adventures. I appreciate more every year what a special woman God has given me who continues to follow me no matter how difficult the change.
  • School is in full swing. The older girls love Perimeter Christian School. I’ve been impressed that they are learning much of what I learned in seminary. Their teachers truly view their job to equip our kids to enter pubic high school as gospel missionaries. Abbie & Adeline have also joined their school’s volleyball team and love it. Mary Allen is in an elementary school right down the street and has become an avid reader. And little Eva is still at home as Mom’s daily sidekick and turns five at the end of this month.

 Prayer Points 

  • Future Church Plant. As I introduce myself at Perimeter as a Church Planting Intern, the next question is always: “So where are you going to plant?” To which I reply, “We don’t know yet.” Some follow with a question, “Where would you like to plant a church?” And I usually say, “Somewhere hot. Somewhere urban. And somewhere multicultural.” I’ve begun networking with key leaders to investigate where God might be leading us. We are anxious to find out our next steps, so please ask God to help us be patient for His timing.
  • Wisdom Developing Relationships. We have opportunities all around us. Many of our neighbors are unbelievers. Also, we are helping launch a new worship service at Perimeter, and we will be hosting a small group in our house. Also, our girls are in discipleship groups. Please pray that we’ll have wisdom in deepening relationships that will result in friendship that last longer than our internship.

Thank you for being our friends as we prepare for church planting.

 Grace and peace,

Allen & Sandi Smith

Inefficient Evangelism at the Gas Pump

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I don’t know about you, but I often feel like a failure when it comes to evangelism.

I’m all too familiar with Paul’s charge to pastors to “do the work as an evangelist” (2 Tim. 4:5). Sometimes I’ve excused myself saying, “I don’t think evangelism is my spiritual gift.” That’s no excuse. I don’t have to be gifted in evangelism to do the work of an evangelist. So one of my goals this year is to become a better evangelist. In order to prime the pump, I’ve been praying everyday for opportunities, reading books and blogs on evangelism, and listening to other evangelists share their wisdom.

One jewel I’ve found is John Leonard’s little book, Get Real: Sharing Your Everyday Faith Everyday. In chapter 10, he shares a struggle that I relate to: a bent towards efficiency can undermine our work in evangelism. He describes his typical day…

“I’m a person who likes to get things done. People get in my way; they slow me down. I often do everything I can to avoid interacting with people so I can get to work being a pastor. I gas up at a pay outside with my credit card. I get cash from an ATM machine. I even go to the self-checkout lane to avoid slow and inefficient clerks. I zip through my to-do lists so I can get to my office, close my door, and begin strategizing how I can reach my community with the gospel” (p. 113).

Living in Peru has given me a new lens to see Americans better. One thing Peruvians have taught me to see is that Americans love efficiency! It’s not that Peruvians dislike efficiency, it’s just not as high on their priority list. Being on time for a meeting is not as important as talking to a friend on the street.

Perhaps our drive for efficiency has narrowed our view on evangelism as a project to be completed. This project-driven evangelism has a memorized presentation that we must get through to feel like we have actually shared the gospel with someone. To this project approach Leonard says, “We consider it a failure if we do not present the entire gospel, or if the person we are witnessing to doesn’t come to faith in Christ. In a real approach to evangelism, we do not have to take the person from A to Z in a single presentation. All we’re looking to do is to help the person take the next step, or just go from A to B” (p. 108).

What a relief! Sometimes all I can do is take people from A to B. An evangelist does not have to be in a hurry to finish his evangelistic task. Like Peruvians we focus on people rather than projects. Jonathan Dodson is exactly right: project evangelism is very efficient, but love-driven evangelism is inefficient (see his podcast, starting around 41 minutes). How do I make the shift from project evangelism to love-driven evangelism? Again, Leonard offers advise on how to be an inefficient evangelist,

Go out of your way to interact with people. Stop paying for gas at the pump; go inside and pay. if you do this, you could have a worldwide ministry! At the gas stations I frequent there are Moroccans, Pakistanis, Sikhs from India, Mexicans, and Guatemalans, just to name a few cultural backgrounds. I don’t have to go halfway around the world to have an international ministry-all I have to do is walk inside to pay for my gas.

I probably won’t be able to get an entire gospel presentation in before I pay for my gas, but I can plant seeds and get to know the clerk. I can ask questions about their family. I can ask how I might pray for them. Isn’t this is part of what it means to be a “fisher of men” by fishing for opportunities?

I guess I’m going to stop paying for gas at the pump. And who knows, maybe the Holy Spirit will lead me to good soil so I can share the good news with my gas-station friend.