I daydream about taking a break from my life and living for a summer in Bar Harbor, Maine.
This summer I went on vacation to Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island. It was one of the best decisions for a vacation that I’ve ever made, and I can’t wait to go back. I traveled by myself and camped out in the park’s campground. Several people gave me confused or shocked looks after they asked, “who are you going with?” But it was amazing to go my myself. I went to Acadia seeking the beauty and peace that only national parks can bring.
My first day there, I rode my bike along the carriage roads built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. many years ago. There was beauty around every corner, Rockefeller made sure of that. The road wound back and froth between trees and opening up onto the best vantage points for each vista, lake or mountain.
Though it was raining, I set out the next morning on a hike through part of the island with a national park ranger. From watching the National Parks documentary*, I had heard about rangers who were deeply devoted to the parks, with almost endless, secret knowledge of each place. It was true. At each point, the ranger pointed out not only an interesting fact about a rock or plant, but also the history of the place. She told us of the families that once owned the area and answered any question we threw at her with great passion. As a few of us stuck around to ask her more questions, it was clear that this was not just a job. She loved this place with all her heart.
A special place in the park is a secluded beach, only a few hundred feet wide. Sand Beach’s sand is different from most, as it is made up of mostly crushed sea shells. The water is much to cold to swim in, though plenty of children did their best (I’m told the temperature is usually around 51 degrees). One night, I joined a couple dozen others on the beach to gaze at the stars. If you’ve ever been able to see the Milky Way galaxy with the naked e
ye, you know how wondrous and mesmerizing the stars can be. A park ranger pointed out several constellations, and we saw a couple shooting stars. Usually in New York City, I can see 3-4 stars if I really try hard. In fact, the ranger described the experience as something that the parks are striving to preserve along with the landscape and wildlife. In our modern cities with all of their artificial lights, there are few places where we are able to truly gaze at the stars like humans have for thousands of years. No wonder the ancients were completely captivated by the stars. They make you feel quite small.
One of my favorite memories came the last afternoon in Acadia. The island is encircled in walls of granite that jut out into the ocean. At one bend of the island, I climbed out up to where the rocks drop off a few hundred feet to the ocean below. Sitting on the edge, you can hear the ocean waves, the occasional seagull, and the bell of a green buoy. Just off the coast are a small number of large rocks clustered together that can be mistaken for a group of fish or other sea creature (hence the buoy). It was late afternoon when I was there. I sat down near the edge, closed my eyes and listened to the buoy chime out it’s steady warning. It was one of the most peaceful places I have ever been. After a few minutes, a large family with 6 kids arrived and disturbed my place of peace. But thankfully I had received what I needed from the spot.
My experience at Acadia was markedly different from my first National Park, Smokey Mountain National Park in Tennessee and North Carolina. The Smokey mountains are absolutely fully of peaceful, beautiful places, but the surrounding area is most different. Entering and exiting the park is a shocking experience. Driving along the North Carolina highway dotted with houses, street signs, light traffic and power lines, you’re met with the entrance to the park. Once you enter, you are surrounded by nothing but trees. No signs, houses, power lines or cell service. As you exit the park into Gatlinburg, Tennessee, the change is even more dramatic. The wildness road of nothing but trees in the park is juxtaposed with blatant tourist attractions from Ripley’s Believe It Or Not to mini golf to whatever chain restaurant you desire just outside the park. It breaks my heart how often we choose the fickle things of life while transcendent peace is literally next door (there’s a sermon in there somewhere).
Anyone who has traveled to a National Park in the United States has certainly had a similar experience of finding peace in the parks. But Acadia is a unique national park, as it was mostly donated by wealthy landowners in the early to mid-twentieth century. So, there isn’t a point like in other parks where you enter “the park” and are cut off from civilization. Most of the interior of Mount Desert Island is national park, but the coast it is surrounded by a small harbor towns where people have lived for hundreds of years. My favorite, Bar harbor, is on the east side of the harbor. It has a number of small restaurants and shops focused on outdoor activities. There are no chain restaurants or obnoxious tourist attractions. It’s a small town that is vitally connected to the park but hasn’t been corrupted by tourism. When Rockefeller Jr. built the carriage roads I biked, the locals feared that Acadia would become like Coney Island (Gatlinburg, Tennessee). Thankfully it did not. Back in New York City, I often find myself daydreaming about spending a few months by myself at mount desert island, living in Bar Harbor. There are so few places to find peace in New York City. It’s the peace, the transcendent beauty of Acadia that calls my heart back. I can’t wait to go back.
**Usually my posts are about church stuff. But John Muir often talked of the national parks as the most beautiful of cathedrals, so I think it fits. There’s also something to be said about the role of God in creating these transcendent places.
What is dead in your life?
That was the question that the speaker asked us to answer during our time of prayer. The point was to realize that God could bring the dead things in our lives back to life. He told us that whatever came to our minds first was the right answer.
So Nathan, what is dead in my life? Art.
Art? I really didn’t expect that. As I thought about it though, it made sense. I realize more and more all the time how much of a creative person I am – I’ve done theater, singing, improv, music, photography, writing, I even have a chalkboard wall in my apartment! Being creative has always been a part of my life, but since I’ve been in New York, it has been a side-note. I started improv because I wanted to act. I write this blog, because I need an outlet for my ideas. I’m an amateur in what I do (as opposed to a professional who can live off of his/her art). And I’ve got a little voice asking whether I should quit everything and pursue acting professionally. So, why does art feel “dead” in my life? I think it is because I’m not free to just be creative.
Here’s what I mean. There are three ways to look at our personal creativity:
1) I must be successful with my art, because success equates value. This is false. It is a self-centered view of creativity, because we obsess over the opinions of others. Unless we are recognized for our creativity, it is not worth doing. It is an impossible standard to live up to since we cannot please everyone.
2) I must do my art, because it defines me as a person. This is also false. It’s a self-centered view of creativity, because we create in order to either express our own self-worth or get something from others (money, recognition, power, etc). When we are not able to exercise our creativity in freedom, we find less value in ourselves. This is ultimately an impossible standard to live up to since life circumstances get in the way of our creativity.
3) I am free to create. As Christ-followers, we have ultimate value regardless of our creative capacities, because God found us worth the price of sending Jesus to die for us. We are therefore free to exercise our creativity whatever circumstances we face. As Christ-followers, we find motivation to be creative in the fact that we have been created in the image of God, the ultimate creator. And while there are standards of good and bad art, we are free to create without be shackled by the opinions of others.
I go back and forth between options 1 & 2. Sometimes I daydream about working as a pastor part time and being an actor the rest of the time. I’ve told people for years that I would like to model or audition for tv commercials. I haven’t done it. I’m scared to death. Death – there’s that word.
Here’s what I know: God wants us to live in option 3. He wants us to be free to be creative. I don’t know how to work it all out in my head, but I do know that the gospel is the only answer for the creative. Make sense? I’d love to hear your comments.
Also, last week I wrote more explicitly on what the gospel means for creatives. Check it out here.
I have been told on several occasions that I will suck at vision-casting. A church planting assessment told me that vision-casting was a weakness, so I would not make a good senior pastor or lead planter. I have taken the tests and scored low. I’m not the charismatic, futurist, idea-person. I thought for years that I must suck at vision-casting.
I recently realized that it’s all BS. In the process of launching a new missional community to champion creativity in our neighborhood, I put together a compelling vision for the group. I met with potential leaders and walked through the vision. Everyone saw the vision, got excited, and joined the cause. I cast vision, and I did a great job!
Here are my thoughts on all this. First of all, you can get better at stuff. When I took evaluations, it was almost totally based on questionnaires and personality instead of actually doing it. Over the past few years I have read books about vision casting, seen others do it well, and tried it out in dozens of small ways. So maybe I am not the charismatic, futurist, idea-person, but I can learn new skills! Second, assessments and gift-tests are helpful and important, but they aren’t everything. Especially if you believe in God! He can empower people with gifts that they normally do not have. God is able to do more through people than they would be able without him.
The next time you take an assessment of your gifts, your skills, you spiritual gifts take them with a grain of salt and remember:
1) They aren’t definitive. You change and grow throughout you life.
2) God can do more than you can imagine in & through you! He can give you new gifts. He can empower weak ones.
In my last post, I talked about needing to have a compelling vision and plan before a passion can become reality. Below is the vision that I shared to launch the Everyday Creativity Group:
I envision a group of people at Everyday Church who champion creativity for the glory of God whether it be in our neighborhood, our schools, our church, or our city. They believe that creativity lies within everyone, and they want to draw it out. All of us are created in the image of God, the ultimate creator. Therefore all of us have creative potential just waiting to be discovered to bring glory to God. Humanity has always been in the business of creating – culture, art, music, family, poetry, organization, dance, you name it.
Why “Creativity” Group?
It’s not just about art or artists; it’s about creativity. When we say “art” I think it makes us think of “my art” or “your art” or “the arts.” Those things are all included, but it’s not about just those things. It’s about creativity, however that might look (I also like how creativity is a long word with lots of syllables that makes you slow down and think about it).
Why start this (what will it look like)?
1) To reach artists who move uptown & don’t know anyone
– I named a few people who had already experienced this at Everyday, including me!
2) To reach Christian artists who have no Christian community with other artists
– Again, I named a few people who had already experienced this at Everyday.
3) To reach people who are artists but have no outlet or medium for their art (adults or kids)
– Art workshops for in local schools
– Photo walks in the neighborhood
– Art galleries
4) To help artists give back to their community (beautification)
– Paint a mural in the neighborhood
– Benefit concerts/shows for local schools, organizations, ministries
5) To champion creativity within Everyday Church
– Teaching service elements (videos, props, music, décor, etc)
– Having Everyday people get involved with our events
(At this point, people usually started sharing more and more and more ideas)
If we don’t start this group now, I believe that eventually a group similar will emerge formally or informally. Our church is full of creative people looking for a community. The main reason we’re doing it now is because I believe that God is calling me to do it.
What will be done to get it started?
It will start with the leadership team. Our meetings will be focused on discipleship and practicing the mission of championing creativity together (living it out). We will steadily draw others to join us in our mission and eventually grow to launch as an Everyday Group.
I shared this vision along with a tentative timeline with a number of people and asked them to be a part of a leadership team to launch the new group. Six people said yes. The seven of us met to dream, pray & plan for four months. We learned to listen to God’s voice, pray for our friends to get involved, and lead this new group. This past Sunday we launched the Everyday Creativity Group with over twenty people in the mix. I’m excited to see where God will take us. But none of it would have been possible if I had not refined and cast a compelling vision. Passion isn’t enough. Mission isn’t enough. You have to cast a compelling vision.
Finding the right lead planter is extremely important. But it’s not everything.
Community Christian Church planted by two brothers, Dave and Jon Ferguson. Both of them could probably have planted their own churches individually and been successful. Instead they planted CCC together, and it has become a church that is changing thousands of lives in the Chicagoland area and has great influence in the church planting world. Dave & Jon are different kind of people, and I think it was a huge part of why they were so successful.
Having a balanced team is key. There’s a wealth of information out there, but here are few things I think about:
1) Spiritual Gifting. We often make sure to have a lead/teaching pastor, arts pastor, children’s pastor & community life pastor. However, these are roles, not spiritual gifts. Instead I would point toward the gift of leadership and the gifts specified in Ephesians 4 (APEPT).
2) Introvert/Extrovert. I have been the lone introvert on a team before. It was painful personally and productively. Most church planting teams are heavy on extroverts. Make sure you have introverts who will slow extroverts down and extroverts who will push introverts ahead.
3) Builder/Maintainer. There are couple of dynamics with this. Some love to almost always build while others love to almost always maintain. However, some maintainers love short seasons of building and some builders love short seasons of maintaining. The builder/maintainer mentality often fits with introvert/extrovert, but not all the time. Finding the dynamics of those on your team will help them work at their best.
4) Shared Vision. From my experience, church planting teams are often assembled to accomplish the lead pastor’s vision. If you’re the lead planter you should be the champion of the vision, don’t just hire employees, hire team members who can have a real say in the vision. Here’s where I think the value of a shared vision breaks down – we need to get things done! And the easiest way to do so is to make a hire for a position without making sure they share the vision.
You may even find a leader who shares the vision, but doesn’t fit into any position you have available. That’s what happened to me at Everyday Church. The rest of the team recognized that I was a gifted leader who shared the vision, but I didn’t exactly fit the needed position of worship pastor. Now, I had never led worship before, but I had built and led teams before. And I happen to play decent rhythm guitar. So, even though it wasn’t my biggest passion, I built a small worship team. We never had a drum set, electric guitar, bass, or laser lights. We had a guitar, some singers and maybe a piano or small drum. It was simple. Eventually, a leader who both shared the vision AND is musically trained came along. Currently, we’re creating a great worship band together.
Here’s what could have happened: I was passed over, because I didn’t exactly fit the needed position. A gifted worship leader was hired who didn’t necessarily share the vision. When the worship service started, it immediately had an awesome worship band. But after a year, the worship leader became extremely disgruntled with the vision of the church and decided to leave. Now the church is back to needing a worship leader, except now there’s a whole team to lead and an expectation for the church to have an awesome band.
Take your time. Instead of quickly having an amazing children’s program, you may need to pay someone a stipend to lead a simple program for a while. Instead of having an awesome worship band right away, go with a guy/gal and a guitar or piano. Wait until you have the right leader who shares the vision and can eventually build a great ministry. Beyond just sharing the vision, they need to be able to speak into the vision, but that’s a topic for another post!
There’s a lot that could be said about having a balanced team. If your team is out of balance, name it and deal with it! What has been your experience on a church planting team? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
My experience with New York City and church planting includes amazing highs and depressing lows. It started in 2005 when I took the class: Introduction to Church Planting. I was a student at Ozark Christian College hoping to become a preacher of some kind, most likely at an established church in the midwest, close to home. I had actually never heard of “church planting,” but it sounded like good thing that maybe my church could give money to. It was much more than I realized; it was something that I couldn’t get out of my mind. I remember my professor, Dave Smith, speaking so emphatically about the influence and importance of urban centers (specifically New York City), and the lack of churches planted in them. As I took more of his classes, I kept thinking about NYC and how crazy it would be to go there one day. During my senior year, Dave let me know about a summer internship at Forefront Church, a 2 year-old Orchard Group church plant in Manhattan.
So in 2007 I came to the city, not knowing a soul, but knowing that God was calling me here. The internship was a wonderful experience and by the end of it, I had fallen in love with the city. I knew that God wanted me to stay, so I found an apartment and went on a job search. I was actually able to help my Dave with some of his classes when he started bringing them to the city. In fact, one of the guest speakers led a ministry here in the city where I was able to work at for a few months as an administrative assistant. It was a very random job, but it was a job! I continued to be involved at Forefront Church, leading a small group and leading the setup team for Sunday mornings. It was a pretty exciting time. All I knew was that God led me to New York City and that I wanted to be involved with church planting.
After a few months of being a Forefront, I was asked to come on staff for a leadership residency. It was the perfect opportunity to learn the nuts & bolts of what goes into a young, successful church plant. For a year I was doing all kinds of stuff – leading interns in service to the community, setting up for worship on Sunday mornings, maintaining the church website. It looked like this was the church that God had planned for me to be at in New York.
However, as I started the second year of the residency, I became restless. I was tired of doing anything and everything. I wanted to move to focus on a few specific things – teaching, discipleship. However, the ministry needs were nearly all geared toward administrative tasks that I was doing, which I can be good at, but are not my complete passions in ministry. As the residency ended, it was clear that if I stayed at Forefront, I would be doing the administrative tasks which I didn’t want to do. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind for where I thought God had been leading me.
During that same year, I was getting burned out of focusing all my ministry energy on the background of the Sunday worship services. I began thinking about different ways of doing church that were focused more on relationships than just Sunday worship. I devoured books about house churches, being missional, missional communities, and other church leadership buzz words. The more I read, the more I realized that no church I knew was even coming close to doing any of the things I read.
Suddenly the plan I thought God had for me didn’t make any sense. He had led me to New York City, He led me to Forefront Church, He provided a job, then He provided this residency. Now when the residency was over and…? On top of all that, I continued to wrestle with a different way to do church, which made me debate if I should even stay a part of Forefront. Honestly, I questioned whether I should even be a pastor. I didn’t want to leave New York, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do next. I ended up getting a part time job in retail during the evenings. It really felt like a step backwards in my career. I had no idea where God was leading me or how my recent experiences fit into his plan.
Then I met Chris. Chris was planting a new Orchard Group church in upper Manhattan, called Everyday Church, and they were looking at doing things a little differently. They had just started meeting as a home group on Sundays where they ate a meal together, had communion, and looked at a story from the Bible. They didn’t have a worship service yet. It was definitely different from my church experience so far. As I got to know Chris and the rest of the staff, it was clear that we had a similar vision of what church could look like. I reluctantly decided to join the staff part time. The church was very relationally focused. They didn’t have a “launch date” for their weekly worship services like most church plants I knew. Instead, they met as home groups and served their neighbors. They didn’t do any marketing, but relied on relationships to grow. They would start a monthly worship service when it felt appropriate. I loved it.
I led one of our home groups and soon became the worship leader when we started our worship services. I had never led a band before, but I was willing and able. The church was only like 40 people, so it was a little less intimidating than leading a large congregation. We didn’t even have a sound system! For the first year, we met as home groups three weeks a month and then for worship once a month. We steadily grew until we started a third home group. In 2012, we added a sound system to worship and starting having it every other week. I also started serving full time at Everyday. Everyday had a balance between relationships and worship that I hadn’t experienced before. That summer we celebrated the baptism of 7 of my friends at Everyday. As I’ve looked back on my whole experience in New York and in church planting, Everyday Church is where God wanted me – it just wasn’t around when I first got here!
This year we’re transitioning our home groups into Everyday Groups, which are more like missional communities. I’m even going to be leading the launch of our next one. Stay tuned to hear about my experience with it!
So that’s my experience with church planting so far. It has been harder than I ever thought possible. I expected it to be difficult, you know, like facing an exciting challenge. I didn’t expect my dreams to be shattered and re-arranged. Though it’s often quite difficult, I can’t see myself serving the kingdom anywhere else doing anything else.
Welcome! I’ve thought about starting a professional blog for some time now. But like any writing project, what always held me back was the simple act of sitting down to write. That changed this past year when Chris Travis introduced me to a meetup in New York City called Shut Up & Write. The name kind of says it all. You show up with a few other writers at a coffee shop, make introductions, and shut up for an hour and write. Simple, yet very powerful. What has made it so great is the push to just write – no editing, no researching – and get words on the page. So, for the past few months, I’ve been building a new discipline of writing into my life. This blog is the result.
The vision for this blog is for it to be a place to put my thoughts about church leadership and Christian living into words. Posts will mostly revolve around church planting, missional community, discipleship, Christian life, etc.
I’m a young pastor living and serving in New York City. I am currently serving with Everyday Christian Church, a church planted through the Orchard Group in the neighborhood of Inwood, Manhattan. Before Everyday, I worked with another Orchard Group plant, Forefront Church in midtown Manhattan. I love NYC, talking tech, and sharing photos of the city on instagram. I also do long-form improv acting with several friends from the Upright Citizen’s Brigade.
I look forward to this new journey. Thanks for joining me!