Spotlight Interview: Scott Lehr

By Prestonwood Network Staff

Prestonwood Network: Can you share with us God’s call on your life to be a church planter, and specifically to plant in the Raleigh, N.C., area?

Scott Lehr: When I trusted Jesus, I was one of the people who would say, I love Jesus, but I don’t love the Church. The Church seemed like a bad idea. I thought things like, “Certainly there are better ways to reach the world than ‘that’ (i.e., what I saw in the Church).” As I grew in my faith, with mentors and a greater understanding of God’s Word, I learned that the Church is God’s “Plan A” for reaching the world, and there is no “Plan B.” I also distinctly remember learning that the Church is the only organization in the world with the promise that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. No business, parachurch ministry or other organization can claim that promise. I still didn’t know I was called to plant a church, but I knew I couldn’t love Jesus and not love His Bride, so I became open to being a part of leadership in a church.

While I was in seminary, I had a friend ask me to plant a church with him in Michigan. I did not sense a calling to go, but it got me thinking about church planting. Then I had a professor tell me he thought I should plant a church. After these events, my wife and I began to pray and open ourselves to the idea of church planting. We were then approached about being part of a church-planting training program that planted churches all over the world. We still didn’t know where God wanted us.

We literally laid a map out on our living room floor and said, “God, wherever You want us to go, we will.” I silently said, “But not North Carolina.” God has a sovereign sense of humor. He has shown me that in other areas, and He did in our calling to plant Southbridge, too. With much prayer and several stories of confirmation, God led us to plant Southbridge in Raleigh, N.C., in 2007.

Prestonwood Network: What are some recent wins for Southbridge Fellowship, and what has you most excited for their future?

Scott Lehr: 2016 was a dark and difficult year. If someone had come to me in 2016 and said, God has a sovereign plan in all of this and it is good, I would have smacked them in the face (or at least wanted to). However, as I look back at 2016, I see how God was using the difficulties and setbacks in our church to move us to the exact moments He has us in right now, and they are better than I could have asked or imagined.

One of the things that happened in 2016 was the property we were planning to build our first permanent facility on was purchased from us by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. At the same time, the movie theater we had been renting for nine years was renovated, and we lost a good percentage of our seats (we were already full and trying to creatively figure out how to maximize that space before they downsized it). In early 2018, we wrote a letter to a church in our area that had an incredible property and campus but a declining congregation. We asked if they would consider selling us their campus. They said it wasn’t for sale, but after several meetings and God’s divine movement, they said, “We won’t sell it to you, but we would like to give it to you. Can we join you, too?” God brought this charismatic church together with our Southern Baptist church to be a picture of what Jesus prayed for in John 17:20–23.

Through our unity, the Gospel has been declared in our community, and people are coming to Christ as a result. We now have a fully renovated, debt-free campus in a prime location in the community God called us to reach. God has positioned us for revival.

When I look at the future, I believe God is moving in a way amongst the people at our church that we are experiencing such spiritual transformation that it is leading us to be an incredibly outwardly focused church. I believe when you are truly transformed by Jesus it leads to evangelism (you have to talk about what you love). So the summary of an answer for you is that a recent win for us was for us to have another church join us, to be given a campus, and be able to fully renovate it being debt-free in a prime location that is resulting in changed lives. People who have not gone to church are coming, people who have been burned by the church are giving us a shot; we have seen people saved, marriages restored, addictions are broken, people walking in a newfound freedom in Christ, people taking steps of baptism and longtime believers experiencing Jesus in a fresh way. Our church right now is entering into a prayer initiative. I am excited to see where this leads.

The most exciting thing about the future right now is thinking about the lives of people who are not yet a part of our church being changed for eternity as a direct result of what God is currently doing in the lives of people who are at Southbridge.

Prestonwood Network: Why is having a long-term approach to church planting so important?

Scott Lehr: Anyone can gather a crowd. When I was an intern at Prestonwood, I remember (Teaching Pastor) David McKinley telling me not to get excited when a hundred people showed up. He then pointed me to truly building a church. Actually, building a church takes a lot longer than gathering a group of people together in the name of Jesus. Crowds come and go, but investing in people’s lives is messy and takes time. I would discourage people from planting a church if they just want a challenge or because they think they know how to “do church” better than everyone else. I would encourage you to ask God to give you a city. Try to reach a city for Jesus and realize God’s plan for doing that is the Church.

Prestonwood Network: How can a pastor make sure that he continues to grow in key areas such as leadership, preaching, personal evangelism and prayer?

Scott Lehr: There are a ton of resources I could recommend, but the real answer—even though it may sound like an oversimplification—is get close to Jesus. Now, there are a lot of ways that happens. We have to be hungry for His Word. We must pray. We must be in real authentic relationship with other believers who will speak truth into our lives. We will draw closer as we go through difficulty. Regarding the specific tasks/skills you mentioned above, you have to do it. Get a mentor or coach who will help you do them better or refine them, but you have to do them over and over and over again. Experience is the best teacher.

Prestonwood Network: What advice would you give to a church planter who is experiencing growth, but struggling to keep up with it?

Scott Lehr: Build systems (assimilation, small groups, hospitality, outreach, worship planning, giving, etc.). You need good systems, and even more importantly, make sure those systems are led by good people (not you). You have to learn to empower other leaders. When you are the founder of something, one of the hardest things to do is let go of things you “think” you can do better than anyone else. You must learn to not just delegate, but empower others to lead. Otherwise, those leaders (or potential leaders) leave or sit in your pews not using their gifts for the church, and the whole body suffers. I think Paul talks about this somewhere in a podcast or 1 Corinthians 12 (I can’t remember maybe the readers can figure it out).

Prestonwood Network: How do you include, but also protect, your family in your ministry at Southbridge Fellowship?

Scott Lehr: Now that we have done this for 13+ years, I would say that the answer to that question is dynamic. We have gone through different seasons. There have been times when my wife and I were doing everything together. There have been times when I have worked at the church, and she has been so focused on little kids (we have four girls), she barely had time to give. There are times when we have both done separate ministries at the same place. I don’t tell her everything, but I share what is happening with me in my heart (not the details of other people’s lives that may be impacting my mood or day). We connect with each other and realize the church is our calling, but it can’t be all-consuming. I have a mentor who taught me, “Do your best and take a nap.” 

For our kids, my goal is to show them that being a pastor’s kid is the coolest childhood they could possibly have. There are benefits and drawbacks, and I try to highlight the benefits and discuss, not wallow in, the drawbacks. 

Prestonwood Network: What are good practices when it comes to developing staff and other church leaders?

Scott Lehr: Only hire people you like. Seriously. When I first started, I thought, “I don’t care if we are friends, just do your job.” Now I realize that is dumb. Enjoy the people you work with and you will enjoy what you do. We work hard together. Periodically we play together. We don’t force our staff to be friends with each other outside of the office, but when things are healthy those relationships naturally happen. Professionally, we invest in our staff’s development. Our mission is to connect people to Jesus for life-change. We recently started having a once-a-month staff chapel together because we can’t be connecting other people to Jesus for life-change and not be connected to Him ourselves. A larger talk, but you have to value your people and invest in them.

Prestonwood Network: How can we pray for you, your family and your church?

Scott Lehr: Pray for revival in our church, our community and our world. We are currently preaching a sermon series titled: Revive Us Again.God is on the move in our midst. Please pray for revival.

Prestonwood Network: Thank you so much, Scott. We are so grateful for your commitment to spreading the Gospel and starting revival in Raleigh and beyond. We are praying for you.

Scott Lehr serves as Lead Pastor at Southbridge Fellowship in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @PastorScottLehr.

More information on Southbridge Fellowship can be found at www.sfchurch.com. Please feel free to share a word of encouragement or prayer with Pastor Scott at sml@sfchurch.com.

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