Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Search for a Home

Here's some of our/my story of this developing church.

I spent the last year and a half by myself in this journey, hearing God's call to do this, getting that confirmed by submitting it to many in the local community, and then going through a church planter training process with a very cool big church here that trains people outside of it's denomination (but it's only here in NYC, so unless you're here it can't help you). During that year I wrote a 17 page church plan (like a spiritual business plan), that helped me think through a lot of things. Around this spring, I found myself with nothing left to do but actually start the church. I was kind of nervous about now needing to gather others together to walk this out...what if no one felt like taking the walk?

There are many ways to start. I considered many, and decided to try and do it somewhat originally as I want to be emerging, so I don't want to start in the same old way - I had been developing a bible study on the minor prophets, and I thought I might just let people know I was doing that , but I wasn't quite at peace with that.

So I asked my very small team that the Lord had just kind of popped in my lap, to give me suggestions, and especially at one meeting where everyone was travelling and there was only two of us, my team member Jonathon said he didn't feel that positive about the Minor prophets study because it wasn't specific enough to what we were trying to do. He said why don't we do something where we can cover all these emerging church issues, like postmodernism, and stewardship of the environment, and art and faith, etc. Boom! I knew he was right - this way we could attract the specific people who might be into emergent.

A week later, the same guy said, "why don't we do like a panel discussion"? And he mentioned, why don't you call Tony Jones and ask if he can come be on the panel, and also see if he could get Brian McLaren? Boom! yes, this way we could not only build momentum for our church, but also for emergent issues in general! Awesome! This was happening in a leadership format where I was not coming up with all the ideas, but we were in community! Awesome!! Emergent!!

So we started putting it together. I have always been a natural networker, I like people, and when I'm in a room, I talk to many of the people in it. As a result over the years I have developed a pretty big community of friendships in the NYC Christian community. So, I started calling all the young up and coming ministry leaders in the city I knew, and assembled a panel of eight people, 2-3 per week, to cover all the topics in the eight week series. We called it, "TALK about church". The greatest thing about it besides the dialog's themselves, was how it brought together all these future leaders and gave them a chance to get to know each other.

So, one day I called Tony Jones up to see about coming to one of our meetings, and to see if he could ask Brian for us. When I called, they were in the car together returning from the recent emergent summit meeting in Tony's family cabin in Minnesota (if you follow the actual group Emergent, you probably heard about this, they made a lot of decisions about their future, and appointed Tony the new National Coordinator, effective after he finishes his Doctoral studies in the fall). Well that was awesome, he was able to talk to Brian about it, and hook me up with him. Tony couldn't come himself, but Brian did. You probably know how busy Brian is, and it turned out to be during his vacation, and the week his daughter was getting married (which he mercifully didn't tell me), but he came out to our last summer meeting on August 15th. You can read about that a few posts back. That gave us tremendous momentum going into the fall.

So, now to some things like our overall plan, meeting space and denominational affiliation, etc.

Our plan now is to start meeting every week throughout the fall in a home fellowship group kind of format - to have a place for people who are interested to come while we begin to do the work of preparing for a full public worship service. We hope to have our first big service in Feb. 2006. I believe during this fall the Lord will do many things to take my basic vision and flesh it out through the vision and giftings of all that he gathers in.

Finding meeting space in NYC is quite a challenge. Once again connections are everything. I am working now to find space for our fall meetings, and then we will work together in the fall to find the bigger space we will need for February 2006. I just had a meeting today with a pastor friend of mine who wants to help us, and we are meeting again on Monday, so no news yet.

As for money - we have none! I am going from being a poor artist to a poor church planter, so I'm not coming into this with any base of past prosperity. Living in NYC is always a financial struggle, and add to that all the pressures of church planting, and you have quite a powerful combination of forces that drive you to your knees in prayer. So far that has really been my actual method. Prayer.

I think denominations are a wonderful thing when you are a church planter looking for someone to help and support you. So I have spent almost a year looking for one. I have invested serious amounts of time in two. In the first I attended a local church for two months and developed a relationship with the pastor and the people, and in the end it just wasn't right. The problem was that that congregation just wasn't large enuogh to support another church plant - the pastor was enthusiastic at first, but then when he realized that out of his 30-40 people, it was possible that maybe five or ten would go with me, he realized that that was just too big of a loss for them. If they had been a much larger church that wouldn't have been a problem. The other problem was that that denomination only gave a very small amount of money to church plants.

Then I spent months meeting with the regional leaders of another denomination (because they didn't have a local church). I actually got quite far through their minsterial licensing process - going through training, being "assessed" before a four member panel for three hours. Everything was on track, and I was feeling good, though not completely solid in the decision of whether to join or not. I had one more training to attend for four days out of town, and in the approach to that I wanted to really be sure we were right for each other, because after that I would have been licensed - and I didn't want to have that license if I wasn't actually going to join them. And then things just began to not feel right - I didn't want to join a denomination just for the money they would provide, but because it was the right fit, and the Lord wanted us together.

I still have one more denomination that I've been looking at, and today I was asked to consider joining another - so we will see how that process develops.

If we don't join a denomination, we will by default be independent. It will mean we will also not have any financial support other than what we can raise ourselves. I think there are strengths and weaknesses either way. However, the one good thing, is that if we do go independent, no one will be able to accuse us of not trying otherwise. There's no "independent spirit" here.

This brings up the question that many emerging church plants will have - how do we get support to do it? One of the big problems I have had is that I am so excited about what is coming in the future with all the Lord is doing through this wonderful emergent dialog, that it's hard for me to get excited about some already existing denomination. I don't have anything against them, but joining a denom is like dating and then getting married. If you don't "feel the love", that lack begins to show, and it undermines the relationship. Honestly, money is the most important part of the "support" needed, and it has made me feel very uncomfortable to be developing a relationship where I'm asking them for money, but my heart is really with another woman. There are words for things like that.

So, the natural conclusion is to create something new. There has been a lot of talk about that, and I know there are many who want this to stay an organic thing, with no money involved - and I understand their heart motivation. Many have been hurt by big religious institutions, and they want this new thing to be their warm cozy friend who won't grow into a giant megalopalis and end up trudging all over everything and hurting again. I can promise you I have been hurt very deeply, very many times over my 27 years in Christian organizations - but the reality is that conversations become movements, and that human beings will organize in order to channel energy and resources. So, given my failed attempts to find a current denom, and my uncomfortableness with the process, and given that I don't want to be all by myself - I am increasingly attracted towards the idea of creating some kind of support network to help plant new kinds of churches.

I talked to Brian McLaren about this while he was here, and he hears rumblings of it. He doesn't think we are quite there yet - that we have made the transition from conversation to movement, because primarily he doesn't think there are enough people at the table yet, whose voices he would like to hear. And by that he means that this is still a white male evangelical thing, and he wants to see more women and more leaders of Christian churches from the developing world, and more historical streams of Christianity, like the Anabaptists and Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox at the table. I agree with this, but I think it also reflects his place in the scheme of things - even though he's planted two churches, and been a pastor for almost 30 years, that is in his past, and his future with this movement is to be a thinker...a theologian/writer. People that are more focused on church planting as their actual work in the future, are not going to wait for everyone to get to the table before they start acting. I would like to see both happen somewhat simultaneously.

He also would like to see the emergence of a number of different movements - not just one official, "Emergent" thing. Which I think is very wise. He may not actually lead one of these groups formally, but his writing and speaking influence will continue to lead.

So that's a bit to catch you up with our journey so far. Now I can post future developments. I think however, that prayer is the most important thing. my relationship with Tony Jones has been very helpful, and that only came as a miracle that God did without my effort (other than unknowingly walking around and being led to a physical location). Here's a link to the story of that.


Cindy said...

Now that what I'm talkin' about!

Thanks, Jeff. I know it took a lot of effort to summarize a year and a half, but now I (we) have a much better idea of what is happening up there, and where you are in the process.

I'll pray for your peace about the denomination-or not-issue. You're right about the problem with relationships based on a financial transaction. It's no new problem for the church, of course. Somebody wrote on a blog somewhere that all major church reform movements have occurred on the fringes. I don't know about that statement, but I do think of Martin Luther,a monk; the Anabaptists who rejected the notion of salaried clergy; John Wesley- who got kicked out of the Anglican church... All those folks went forward at a time when the established Church had lots of cash, but their reforms made headway in spite of- (because of?) their lack of Church dollars.

I'm not giving an opinion, here; it wouldn't be my place, even if I had an opinion. I just want to acknowlege that it's a huge question with lots of ramifications and the only way to approach it is exactly what you're doing- praying.

I look forward to your updates.

Jamie Arpin-Ricci said...

Great post. Noticed you were once in YWAM. Once a YWAMer... Anyway, keep it up!