Sabbath in New York City: Delight

UntitledDelight.

When the original grid for the streets of Manhattan island was first laid out, there were no parks. The grid went all the way from the top to bottom. Central Park was the answer. A huge area of land right in the middle of the city that would be for all the people to escape the concrete jungle. That it wasn’t originally part of the plan illustrates the city’s obsession with productivity instead of healthy human living.

“God, after finishing his work of creation, proclaimed that, ‘it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). God delighted over his creation. The Hebrew phrase communicates a sense of joy, completion, wonder, and play. This is particularly radical in a culture like ours, both secular and Christian, that is ‘delight deficient.'”*

Before I encountered Emotionally Healthy Spirituality the word “delight” was not often in my vocabulary. But when I think about what God intended for sabbath, it’s the perfect word. Six days of work, culminating in a day of delight.

Too often though, our worship of the idol of productivity chokes out any opportunity for delight. It is food for the soul, and without it we are not all that God created us to be. We are not machines that must constantly work until we break down and die. We are not slaves. We are sons and daughters of God, worthy of delight. And a twenty-four hour sabbath filled with delight is a gift from our loving Father.

I have noticed that many Christians in particular can have a hard time seeking delight because of a false sense of guilt in self indulgence. The way of Jesus calls us to sacrificially love others, but it does not call us to not love and care for ourselves. In the Bible Jesus is often at weddings, feasts, and banquets, and I think he had a lot of fun at them! In fact, he was the one who turned the water to wine at the wedding feast in Cana (John 2:1-12). If you need a command, then here it is: God commands you to have fun! 🙂

So what brings you delight? A good place to start with delight is to simply make a list of things that you love. I love mochas. I love skiing. I love the beach. I love writing in my journal. I love hiking. Make a list of the things that you love, and incorporate these things into your life, especially into your sabbath. It’s really that simple.

Delight will be different for everyone. You may be more extroverted and need to be with others. You may be more introverted and need to be by yourself. Find out what delights your soul and do it. God wants this for you – that’s one reason why he gives you 24-hour sabbath. Delight it often the most exciting part of a sabbath that makes it more than just a day off.

A good place to start with delight is in creation. Simply get outside and enjoy this amazing world! Walk through the park, sit by the water, gaze at the stars. After God finished his work of creating the universe, he proclaimed that: “it was very good!” (Genesis 1:31-2:3). In other words, he took delight in his creation.

Living in New York City can be a challenge (it’s the concrete jungle!), but having a set time of sabbath has helps me make sure I enjoy sabbath delight. My sabbath often becomes a day to either explore this amazing human creation of a city, or a day to get out of and delight in God’s creation. Either way, I have a day set aside to focus on the delight that my soul needs.

What brings you delight? Make your list of things you love. Embrace sabbath as a time to delight in the good things of this life that God has graciously given to us. As you incorporate sabbath into your life, do not leave out delight. Otherwise, sabbath could easily become another legalistic spiritual practice instead of something that brings life to your soul.

 

*Scazzero, Peter (2011-05-09). Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: Unleash a Revolution in Your Life In Christ (p. 169). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.

Sabbath in New York City: Delight

Sabbath In New York City: Contemplate

UntitledContemplate.

You may think, “I already have a ‘quiet time’ (prayer and Bible reading) every morning, so what’s different about sabbath?” Just like human relationships, our relationship with the Lord requires both quality time & quantity time. A daily quiet time (quality time) is a fantastic habit to practice, but ten minutes before work or ten minutes before bed may not be enough for what God has for you. A set apart 24-hour period provides more room be with the Lord and know him more (quantity time).

New York City does nothing to nurture this. There are billboards everywhere – on the windows of businesses, in the subway, on the side of buses, on the top of taxis, inside the taxi on a television screen, on phone booths (yes they still exist) – calling you to contemplate anything but God. There’s simply so much to do! You could eat out every night of your life in New York City for the rest of your life and never eat at the same place twice.* There are countless concerts, benefits, museums, and theaters for you to attend every night. The city provides entertainment and distraction in unending supply, which can easily choke out the voice of God. Church buildings such as 100 year old Good Shepherd (pictured above) are some of the few parts of the city free from hustle and bustle, signs and distraction. Sabbath provides rest and a call to contemplate who is truly important.

Contemplate is the most intuitive element of sabbath, since it’s the “religious” thing to do. In both Jewish and Christian tradition, sabbath includes corporate worship, reading Scripture, prayer, and silence. In sabbath we remember when Adam and Eve walked with God in the garden of Eden at creation (Genesis 3:8), and look forward to the wedding feast of the lamb where we will see him face to face without fear (Revelation 22:4). Contemplation is what truly separates sabbath from simply taking a day off.

Practicing a 24-hour period of sabbath focuses your attention on God. I often begin my sabbath with a prayer declaring that this is a sabbath unto the Lord. Orthodox Jews who practice sabbath use the ritual of lighting candles and reciting a sabbath blessing to welcome the special 24-hour period. When we intentionally begin a sabbath day, our perspective will be focused on the Lord. We become more aware, more in tune with what God might be saying to us throughout the day.

Contemplate doesn’t refer to fulfilling an obligation that makes God love or bless us more. Remember grace. God has already done everything necessary through Jesus. And there’s nothing we could ever do to make God love us more or less than he already does. Sabbath simply gives us extended time with the one who loves us most. God’s greatest delight in all of creation is you, for we are created in his very image (Genesis 1:27). Jesus gave his life for us on the cross so that our relationship with him could be restored. Jesus is called Immanuel – God with us. Sabbath gives us an extended time to be with him.

Practicing the principles of sabbath will look different for everyone. For most of us Sunday will be the best day where we can spend extended time with the Lord. However, as a pastor, Sundays are not very restful for me. So, my sabbath is most often on Friday. I often write in my journal, reflecting on my life in the presence of the Lord. I have time to go on a walk in the park and spend time with the Lord in prayer. I also have time to have impromptu discussions with others.

How has God wired you to best connect with him? Each of us connect with the Lord in different ways. Some connect best by being outside in creation, others by rallying others to a just cause in the name of Christ. Perhaps you need to be alone, journal your prayers, or read intellectually stimulating books. Perhaps you need to worship with others, discuss the Bible, or serve others. Spiritual Pathways is a great resource to discover how you connect with the Lord. North Point Community Church has even put together an online test to see which pathway(s) you most fall into. Sabbath provides us an opportunity to do these things – to spend quantity time with our heavenly father.

Here’s why this is so important. God loves you more than you can ever understand. You were created in his very image. In fact, he knew you before you were born, when you were in your mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He knows the plans he has for your life (Jeremiah 29:11). He died for you. He has given you his very Spirit to live within you. He wants to spend time with you! Not just quality time, but quantity time too. Accept his invitation of sabbath and contemplate.

 

*http://www.omgfacts.com/lists/6434/You-could-eat-out-every-night-of-your-life-in-New-York-City-for-the-rest-of-your-life-and-never-eat-at-the-same-place-twice-ab731-3

Sabbath In New York City: Contemplate

Sabbath in New York City: REST

UntitledRest.

New York City is often called “the city that never sleeps,” and we are addicted to productivity. We say things like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” Often rest is only seen as just a way to make us more productive later. And it’s true. It’s been proven that if you take more vacation, rest more often, you will be more productive than those who take less vacation and work more hours. Resting actually helps us become more productive. And that’s a good thing. But worshiping productivity, becoming addicted, poisons our rest. If we rest just to be more productive, we’ve lost something. We have lost an aspect of who we are as children of God.

When God first instituted the Sabbath for the Israelite people, they had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years. Their entire culture and identity was wrapped up in being a slave. Slaves do not get days off. Slaves do not get a vacation. Slaves are not worthy of such things. While God had delivered the people out of slavery, they still had generations of slave culture that had to be broken in a dramatic way. Hence the sabbath – a 24 hour period where you could do no work.

When the Israelites were slaves in Egypt, they worked seven days a week, and were never able to rest. They were treated not like human beings, but machines. The Sabbath is a gift given to humans who have been created in the image of God. Slavery de-humanizes us. But rest identifies us as human beings with inherent value.

“Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you.13 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your oxen and donkeys and other livestock, and any foreigners living among you. All your male and female servants must rest as you do. Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with his strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day (Deuteronomy 5:12-15).

It took the people a while to get it. God even reminds them that they were once slaves in Egypt, but no longer! In modern times, we often treat ourselves like slaves. We worship productiveness every moment of the day. We value multitasking, being in a hurry, and staying connected – because we think it makes us important. But in reality, we become slaves to these things. Our masters become our emails, messages and work responsibilities. Our identity becomes enmeshed with our master, productivity. But the truth is that we can rest from these things not because they are not important, because we are important. We are free children of God, created in the image of our father.

Jesus teaches us that people were not created for the Sabbath – as if God first created a Sabbath and then needed someone to observe it. No, the Sabbath was created for people (Mark 2:27). It is a gift that God has so graciously given us. Must we practice Sabbath? No. Must we rest? No. Must we accept this gift? No. We no longer live under the law, but under grace. Our father does not force rest upon us, but he knows that it is best for us. God may not force rest upon us, but usually our physical bodies will. When we go for long periods without rest, we get sick and are forced to rest. Our bodies often know what is best for us, whether we pay attention or not.

The theology of rest reaches to the heart of the gospel. Because Christ has fulfilled all of the requirements of the law, believers can enter God’s rest. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his (Hebrews 4:9-10). When we rest, we glorify Jesus as the one who has given us eternal rest.

As I have practiced Sabbath rest, I am able to work hard throughout my week knowing that I have a 24-hour period where I will be able to rest. It am also reminded me that I need to take small breaks and rest each day. I need to take my lunch break. I need to take 15 minute breaks and rest my mind as I work. I value sleep more. Sleep is not worthless down time. I am obligated to get a good night’s sleep. I am obligated to take a nap if I need one.

Remember, that you were once a slave to productivity, in order to gain righteousness from God, yourself or others. But the Lord your God freed you by the power of the cross. You are not a machine. You are not a slave. You are a child of the king. Rest.

Sabbath in New York City: REST

Sabbath in New York City: STOP

UntitledStop. You think that this would be easy, intuitive even. But it’s not, especially when our culture worships the idol of productivity.

New York does not stop. It’s the “city that never sleeps.” It literally takes an act of God – heat waves, hurricane Irene, hurricane Sandy, winter storm Juno, etc. Whether working to survive or in pursuit of one’s dreams, New Yorkers have a hard time stopping their work. And if that wasn’t enough, there is an unending list of tasks calling for our attention.

Emails, text messages and, increasingly the cursed app notification. In a journey to find relief from our modern, always-connected life, Paul Miller or theverge.com left the internet for a year (you can read about his experience here). During his journey, he interviewed Douglas Rushkoff about “Present Shock,” the affect of always-connected technology on our lives. Our obsession with the now creates loops that, on some unconscious level, our brains compel us to complete. For example, the red circle on the top right corner of an app. The un-replied email. The unanswered text message. When you see a notification, your brain creates the beginning of a loop that can only be completed by responding to said notification. Rushkoff encourages us to occasionally “pause” from the digital so that we conform technology to our schedule instead of vice versa.

But if the digital weren’t enough to constantly keep up with, the “analog” laundry is never finished, the dishes are never done, the house is never complete. There’s always something to be done – more the be created, existing to be perfected, and further out to be planned. In the midst of all this, culture quietly screams: be more productive. To stop is only to prepare to be more productive. Maximize all of your time and energy while at the same time staying on top of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, email, text messages, etc.

Sabbath means stop.

Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:1-3

The creator was more productive in seven days than is humanly conceivable (regardless of whether one believes in literal or figurative days). Science, math and very the laws of reality were all brought forth from him. Simply the amount of matter created is beyond what we can barely imagine. To begin to get an idea of what we are talking about, spend a moment contemplating the ultra-tiny and the ultra-big at scaleoftheuniverse.com. After all this, God stopped. THIS God could have created a trillion other universes, a trillion other dimensions and a trillion other realities. Maybe he did! Yet he stopped. God is un-limited, yet he stopped.

Here is the truth that sabbath teaches us: we are not God. We are limited. When we take time to stop from our labor, we are reminded that we are not God. We embrace our limits. Stopping confronts the question of trust: Will we trust that the infinite, all-powerful God will take care of us and our concerns when we keep the Sabbath? To never stop is to produce in ourselves a god-complex. In so doing, we shackle ourselves to an impossible standard. We cannot stop, for we are god. Recently at a church leader’s conference, Pete Scazarro was introduced as a “busy guy,” but he quickly corrected that he is not busy. He is limited. This is a true perspective of our lives. We are limited.

Jesus fully embraced his limits. Part of the miracle of the incarnation was that Jesus (the Creator, the un-limited) became limited. Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray (Luke 5:16). After his grandest miracle of feeding over 5000 people with almost nothing, Jesus went up on a mountainside by himself to pray (Matthew 14:23). There were always more people to be healed or taught. But Jesus embraced his limits and often stopped doing ministry. He knew that his central ministry would be his work on the cross. As his disciples, we also must trust in the cross of Christ, not our own efforts.

The first challenge of Sabbath is to stop for a 24-hour period. My advice is not to “try out” a few hours or even half a day. Pick a full 24 hour period to stop from your work. Smaller periods of stopping throughout each day are good, but stopping for a full 24 hours is a completely different experience.

As I said, we live in a culture that worships productivity. In fact, I would even say we are addicted to productivity. And like any addiction, you must chose to stop. It will be difficult. It will take time. It will take hard work. There will be withdrawals. But it will be worth it. Perhaps your first step should be to stop using technology for a full 24 hours.

As I have practiced stopping on my Sabbath, it has been extremely freeing. I will often be reminded of something I failed to plan or complete in my work or personal life. But since I have decided to stop on my Sabbath, I give myself permission to not worry about it. I know that I will get to it another day. Obviously more pressing things can come up that need to be dealt with, but 95% of the time it can wait. I often have to remind myself that it is not that important, and in the grand scheme of things it never is. I do not have to get back to that email, text message, or notification. I am free to let the loop can go un-completed for a day.

I am actually obligated to stop. I am not God. I am limited. I am trusting in the one who is un-limited. And by stopping, I am free to rest, delight and contemplate.

Sabbath in New York City: STOP

Finding Peace in Acadia

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.

photo

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.

*The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns. It’s on Netflix. Go watch it.
**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.
Finding Peace in Acadia

The Death of Art

© Chrisharvey | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

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.

The Death of Art

Church Planting Drop

I often hear about new church plants in the city, and I remember a plant I visited in the East Village that unfortunately only lasted about a year and a half. The planter had recently moved from the midwest and had only been in the city for a few months before launching a weekly worship service. They had a great theater space, and I went to their launch service. As I listened to the sermon, it was clear that something was “off” about it. The bulk of it was a story of the planter and his wife when they first visited New York City. They had a powerful conversation with a homeless woman on the train whose faith amazed them, and it gave them a desire to plant the church. As he told the story, it was like he had never seen a homeless person before. If you live in NYC, you know that it’s almost a daily experience. It quickly became apparent that this planter had moved to New York, but his cultural context had not.

Usually I am not a big fan of the dumbo-drop of a church planter into a new context with a short timeline for starting a church. I’m not saying that some planters shouldn’t do it or won’t be successful. I’m just saying I’m not a huge fan.

When you think about it, here is a general expectation often put upon church planters:

1) Raise about $1 million (for an urban setting in a 3-5 year plan toward financial independence. This usually includes talking to everyone you’ve ever met, family, friends, churches and asking them for money – no pressure if the church plant fails)

2) Move to a new city (moving is always stressful; and it’s more difficult when moving to a urban setting; it’s even more difficult if you have children)

3) Live in a new culture (many planters I’m familiar with are from the midwest & move to a city to plant. The scope of learning a new culture can be underestimated, since we’re still in the United States. But if a missionary is going overseas, we assume that they will have to spend some time leaning the culture)

4) Start a new organization from the ground up (find office space/work from home, hire staff, purchase equipment, build functional systems, build teams, develop leaders, make a discipleship plan etc.)

5) Launch weekly worship services, weekly small groups, and service opportunities (all three of these by themselves are more difficult in an urban setting and a suburban one. Finding a meeting space is always a struggle. Storage and transportation is a constant issue. Don’t even get me started on the cost of all these things. People also have smaller homes/apartments).

So, here’s my plea: slow down. Spend time just getting to know the culture. Don’t multitask. Learn the culture first and then plant the church. If you try to do both at the same time, both could suffer. It might mean waiting a year or two before you start the process of planting. You may have to get a job outside of church, or be on staff at an established church in the city. It will take humility and patience. My experience was being an intern for 3 years before being on staff at a church in NYC. However, when I was hired, my NYC experience was a huge asset (to ready more about my story, click here). Here are a couple examples I know of others who have done this:

Chris Travis moved to NYC and taught middle school math at a public school for two years before starting Everyday Church.

Pete Armstrong moved to NYC and spent time as an Associate Pastor at City Grace Church before planting Dwell Church.

Recently I’ve been hearing about more and more churches that are equipping planters by allowing them to be “church planters in residence.” I hope this trend continues and grows.

Were you a planter that moved to a new city to plant a church? What was your experience?

Church Planting Drop

My Story in Church Planting

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.

My Story in Church Planting

Welcome!

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!

Welcome!