Sabbath in New York City

Untitled New York is non-stop. It’s not an easy place to live. I keep hearing from people that since they’ve moved to the city, they’ve faced new physical ailments. And not just allergies. My view could be skewed a bit, because a majority of the transplants I know are Christians who are living on mission for Jesus, therefore the enemy could be attacking them at a higher proportion. But even without the attacks of the evil one, New York is a difficult place to live. It really is non-stop. Something is always going on. You have to walk everywhere in the elements. That fact alone makes New York a difference physical experience from most places in America where the only real walking we do is from a building to a car or walking in a shopping mall. Everything is more complicated. I live in a 5th floor walkup, so when I leave my apartment, I’d better be sure I have everything I need for the day, or it will cost me 88 steps. Most people don’t have central heating and air. We have these things called radiators in the winter and window units for only the essential rooms that need to be cool during the summer. Most people use public transportation (which can at any moment become stressful), and the rest drive in one of the most congested places in America – not a stress-free experience.

But beyond all that, there is a relentless pervasive push towards productivity in New York City. This is the city where dreams are made of, so get to it and pursue your dreams! Don’t waste your time. So many young professionals move to the city to work themselves to death for a maximum of seven years before moving somewhere else. So many artists move here to work 40 hours a week so they can work another 30-40 in pursuit of their real passion. Then there are the swaths (it’s such a large portion of NYC that it’s often hard to comprehend) of working poor working multiple jobs 60+ hours a week to provide for their families. All I’m saying is: it never stops. The city does sleep. But when you’re awake, there’s that pervasive pressure to achieve, to produce, to provide. It never stops. More than most places, work/achievement/productivity, is an idol in New York City.

Everyday Church is doing our part to fight this with annual all-church retreats focused on rest. We believe that rest, and specifically Sabbath, is so counter-cultural to our city, that we must spend extended time focusing on it. Throughout the 2-day retreat, we focused on the four elements of Sabbath: stop, rest, delight, and contemplate (the four elements are not original with me – they come from Pete Scazzero at New Life Church in Queens, NYC).

As I have incorporated  sabbath-keeping into my life in the past year or so, I’ve discovered is that Sabbath is a choice. More than anything else, it’s a choice. Unless we decide to stop, rest, contemplate and delight, we won’t. Our entire culture is against us. But even in the Old Testament, God had to make it a commandment (the longest and most specific commandment of the famous ten) for the people to follow it. While it is no longer a commandment for the salvation of the Christian, we do a lousy job of accepting the gift of sabbath from the Lord.

The worst thing about sabbath-keeping is that most pastors, don’t practice it. There’s an ugly belief out there that the pastor never really gets a day off. That was definitely the experience in my home as the son of a pastor. This is the most backwards thinking. We think that because the pastor serves the people, that his/her work is never done. Well, in reality work, period, is never done. No matter what you do for your profession, there is always more to do, more to improve, more to innovate. In church planting the pressure to be a successful pastor of a growing church never ends.

Now, I’m not saying that as disciples of Jesus that we are required to practice Sabbath. The Lord of the sabbath himself (Jesus) said: “the sabbath was created for man, not man for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Satan twists this truth to tell us that the sabbath is a legalistic practice from the Old Testament that should be completely thrown out. Instead, we should embrace the life-giving principles of sabbath, all the while remembering that it is only by God’s grace that we are saved (not by our sabbath-keeping). I think it’s ironic that we are able to reconcile the old testament practice of tithing (not even in the 10 Commandments) to the new covenant, but believe the lie that sabbath is worthless.

Practicing sabbath breaks these lies, and can enrich our relationship with Jesus. Sabbath declares that we are not God – even if we stop working, the world and everything we care about will keep going without us (Stop). Sabbath declares that we are not machines – we are human beings (Rest). Sabbath declares that we gain our worth not from what we do – we are children of God, free to delight in all that he has created (Delight). Sabbath declares what truly matters – an eternal God who is worthy of our undivided attention (Contemplate). This is Sabbath.

I dream about a church that is known by their value of sabbath compared to the insecure need to be productive in New York City. People will ask about what kind of God this is that loves us so much – a God who doesn’t judge us based on our productivity or our sabbath-keeping.

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Sabbath in New York City

Planting With a Balanced Team

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.

Planting With a Balanced Team

The Language of Spiritual Balance

Live like Jesus.

I never realized it before, but every church has their own way of saying the same thing about spiritual balance – living like Jesus. When I started making a list, I was shocked!

Up, In, Out (3DM)
With Jesus, In Community, On Mission (Southland Christian)
Trust God, Love People, Serve the World (Forefront NYC)
Faith, Love, Hope (Mosaic CA)
Celebrate, Connect, Contribute (Community Christian)
Discover, Connect, Serve (Trader’s Point Christian)
Love God, Love People (many churches)UpInOutTriangle
Act Justly, Love Mercy, Walk humbly (Micah 6:8)

Every church is saying the same thing. They just use different language. I like to think of each aspect as a relationship. The key is finding the right balance in all three.

We must constantly ask of our church, our ministry, and our lives: “Which relationship needs attention?” We will always have seasons where we need  to focus on one relationship over the others. When churches are not intentional about evaluating their ministry by all three relationships, they almost always default to doing well with two:
– A church that cares for insiders and has strong teaching, but where outsiders are not as welcomed.
– A church that is evangelistic and loving, but with shallow theology.
– A church that has strong teaching and focuses on evangelism, but has a hard time building true community.

Currently Everyday Church is in the process of starting to use “Up, In, & Out” to help us find balance. I also really like the sound of living “With Jesus, In Community, On Mission.”

How does your church say it, and what are some ways you keep balance?

The Language of Spiritual Balance

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!