By Spence Shelton
I first came to The Summit Church in February 2002, during my second year at UNC-Chapel Hill. There were about five college students at the church then, including my roommate, my girlfriend, and me. Even during those very first days, as Homestead Heights Baptist Church had just become The Summit Church, I remember thinking that this group of people genuinely seemed glad for us to be there. When we came back for a second week (this time with several carloads full of students), Pastor J.D. announced an official “college lunch” that I’m pretty sure was on the fly. He extended his sermon a few extra minutes—not a major problem for him—and somebody went to the nearest Bojangles and bought every piece of chicken they had. That impromptu lunch was the first time I had ever heard a vision of the God who had saved me for the purpose of taking the gospel to the ends of the earth.
My girlfriend, Courtney, became my wife a couple of years later, and we had the honor of growing with the Summit, from one location in North Durham to eight scattered around the Triangle. And that growth only served to expand the vision. I watched close friends move their lives overseas, many of whom are still there today. I became one of the pastors at the Summit, charged with raising up disciple-makers and challenging them to go take the gospel to the ends of the earth. And they went.
We had a saying that became an anthem: “We measure success not by seating capacity but by sending capacity.” And it was true. At our staff meetings, we didn’t cheer if someone talked about attendance numbers (rarely did we even announce them). We cheered over salvation stories and sending stories. For the Summit, being a sending church isn’t a label; it’s a heartbeat.
Every time I challenged someone to go, I told him or her, “My ‘yes’ is on the table right beside yours. Someday it might be me.” And it turns out, God took my “yes” and put it on the map. Back in college, Courtney and I thought we’d end up in East Asia, but God challenged me with a new vision through my time at the Summit. What if we could create more sending churches? What if we could see more gospel awakenings, like what was happening here, awakenings that would multiply laborers to reach peoples who have never heard the great hope of the gospel?
So God put our “yes” onto Charlotte, North Carolina, where we, the people of Mercy Church, are believing God for an awakening that will send more waves of people to the nations. In our first year, we helped plant two churches in North America who share the vision of being sending churches. God is multiplying sending churches like ours so that we may multiply the presence of the gospel across the world—so that, by his grace, gospel awakenings might occur among every tribe, tongue, and nation.
The hardest thing Courtney and I have ever done was trusting God as he sent us out from the Summit family we love so dearly. And only the calling of God will cause you to do something like that. It hasn’t been easy, and we most certainly miss you. Yet God is moving. We are already beginning to see people express interest in going to the nations as we work to embed a “sending” DNA into Mercy Church. We mean it every weekend when we conclude our services with a subtle tribute to you that reminds our church family that the gospel is sending us out today: “Mercy Church, you are sent.”