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Archive for the ‘Church Planting’ Category

Chided again by Danny’s subtle wit, I thought I’d finally post something.  For spite.

This summer I joined a church planting team sent from CFCF to plant a church in Waltham.  The River Church, now a little over a month old, is therefore my new church home.  Being part of a church planting team has been an exciting experience, for sure.  There is always a certain excitement that comes from beginning something new; building something from the ground-up.

Naturally, all of us on the core team understand that Christ is the one who builds His church (c.f., Mt.16:18), and we’re not starting something new so much as continuing in a faith already thousands of years old.  Still, there are the brick and mortar decisions: What does our corporate worship service look like?  What are small groups going to look like?  Where do we meet?  How do we reach out to the community? Etc.

The overwhelming emotion I’ve experienced throughout all of these decisions is one of humility.  It is easy to talk about what a corporate worship service should look like, (doubly-so in the accountability-free, anonymous cocoon of the internet), but very difficult to actually plan for a time of corporate worship.  There is always in our lives the tension of what ought to be and what is.  Our tidy monographs on the church (some of which I’ve written), often seem far less useful when we’re dealing with real people and real circumstances.

All this to say that my church planting experience thus far has reminded me of the charity with which we should discuss, philosophize and even criticize the church in America.  We tread this space often on BBG, hopefully with due humility.  I think said charity ought to wax even larger when discussing matters with which we are not intimately involved.  To use the worship example again, criticism of corporate worship practices are much more weighty if they come from people who are actually involved with a corporate worship team in some way.

This doesn’t mean that a non-participant has nothing meaningful to say.  A single pastor can provide sound marital counsel to a couple.  However, nothing beats real experience for seasoning this counsel with charity and grace.  This pattern has repeated itself throughout my life:  As I thought ahead to marriage, there were certain things I thought I’d never do; similar thoughts ran through my mind as I looked forward to the birth of my first child.  As much as my pre-marital, pre-parental self might have confessed that marriage or parenting are difficult things to do, it has taken my experience of them to really appreciate just how difficult.

The experience-induced slice of humble pie oughtn’t dull our ideals, however.  Indeed, when the rubber met the road, I was not the husband or parent I thought I’d be.  (My wife and I often laugh at our pre-parental discussions on child-rearing; all of which were held in the quiet of our living room as we anticipated a restful night of sleep.)  We can still strive towards our highest ideals.  Sometimes, though, life gets messy and we realize that we forgot to kiss our wife good-bye, sat our son in front of the TV so we could get 15 minutes of quiet, and haven’t posted to our blog in ages.  Here’s to trying our best again tomorrow.

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There has been quite an uproar over a recent post written by Bill Streger called, “Uncool People Need Jesus Too.”  Streger is involved with the Acts 29 Network and is responsible for assessing applicants for church planting.  In this post, he notes that every church plant vision sounds the same and targets the same group of people.  I’ll let him tell it:

Not only is the language the same, but so is the target group. It’s amazing how many young pastors feel that they are distinctly called to reach the upwardly-mobile, young, culture-shaping professionals and artists. Can we just be honest? Young, upper-middle-class urban professionals have become the new “Saddleback Sam”.

Seriously, this is literally the only group I see proposals for. I have yet to assess a church planter who wants to move to a declining, smaller city and reach out to blue collar factory workers, mechanics, or construction crews. Not one with an evangelsitic strategy to go after the 50-something administrative assistant who’s been working at the same low-paying insurance firm for three decades now.

He has since written another post in attempt to clarify his statements, as he has apparently offended some of those involved with Acts 29.  I personally don’t think he needs to apologize for anything, as I thought he articulated a legitimate problem, but I don’t run in his circles, and thus I have no reason for offense. 

I thought of two things as I read his post.  First, I recalled Mack Ave Community Church in Detroit, a church I have previously mentioned.  Here is a church plant led by young and relatively “cool” men, who have opted to head straight into a more destitute community rather than a more upwardly mobile community. 

Second, I found myself ruminating on Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity.  While it’s been a long time since I’ve looked at Stark’s book, I remember part of the reason he accounts for the rise of Christianity in the hostile culture of the Roman Empire is the willingness of Christians to stick it out during difficult times.  For instance, when a plague would hit a city, many would flee in hopes to protect themselves.  Some Christians, however, would often stay and help their neighbors who were in need.  In essence, when the going got tough, the Christians stayed put.  Because of this, there were opportunities for the faith to be shared, in word and in deed, and the church grew.

I can’t help but wonder if Streger is hitting on this issue.  There has always been a temptation for churches to focus on those who are most like them.  Since most pastors tend to be reasonably well-educated, middle class folks, they naturally gravitate toward that demographic.  I want to be very clear: I’m not throwing stones at Acts 29.  I know very little about them, and most of what I know comes from listening to the occasional Matt Chandler or Mark Driscoll sermon.  In fact, I find myself looking at my own church and church planting organization and see some of the same temptations at work.  Streger is talking just as much about me and my circle as he is about his own.

The question is, who is going to walk through life with the man who just lost his job at Ford?  Who is going to follow the example of the early Christians and help their sick neighbor while everyone else has fled to a bigger, better city?  Can we envision the rapid growth of the church through helping the most desperate in addition to targeting the next wave of “movers and shakers” in our country?  For the health of the church and for the sake of those in need, someone has to go.

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Gordon-Conwell grads in Detroit

Things are a little slow here at BBG.  Sorry about that; I guess that’s what happens during the holidays (maybe I could blame the snow, but I’m in Florida).  I did want to direct you to an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal regarding Mack Avenue Community Church in Detroit (HT: Kevin DeYoung, a Gordon-Conwell man).  It’s a relatively new church plant seeking to spread the gospel of Jesus in the midst of a horrible economic time for that city.  The church is headed up by a team of Gordon-Conwellians: Eric Russ, Eric Nielson, and Leon Stevenson.  I recognize Nielson and Stevenson, but I had a preaching class with Eric Russ.  I remember him being such a genuine guy with a passion for the Lord; he was one of the most respected men on campus.  If you take a minute and read the article, I think you’ll see why.

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