Monthly Archives: August 2013

Multiply – Skeleton # 6

God is the only one of us who does not sleep and still functions well.  Since I am limited by space and time one of the following things will happen as we plant a church:
1.  I will be spread thinner till there is nothing left to give.
2.  There will be a decreasing depth to the church as it grows.
3.  The church will reach a certain size (probably under 100 people) which it can never move beyond.
4.  I will instill a development mindset whereby we continually train leaders and help Christians grow in maturity.

Multiplication is important because it comes from health and is the biblical norm.  Healthy plants, companies, organizations and families tend to grow, influence others, and in a variety of ways reproduce.  Healthy Christians and churches grow, influence others, and reproduces exponential.  In the bible you see this principle of multiplication where Jesus has his three closest followers, the inner circle of twelve, a broader ring of seventy and it expands beyond there.  The apostle Paul always seems to travel with an entourage of men and women with whom he serves and thereby trains.  His proteges train others, appoint leaders in churches, and from a fledgling group of believers in an area new churches begin.  I think of a whitening dandelion on a windy day and the world turning yellow as seed becomes flower which then sprouts countless seeds.

Whenever I think about multiplication my mind goes back to a conversation from two years ago.  Sitting at a coffee shop with a regional church planting coordinator we spoke of the needs in New England.  He remarked that in global missions a people group is considered “reached” when there is one indigenously led, gospel preaching church per thousand people. If this parameter were applied to Worcester we would need approximately one hundred and sixty new churches to reach the city. The human side of this number is the day to day experience of Christians who are often the only believer in the lives of their nonChristian friends and coworkers.  Christians here are few and far between and there is a staggering need for the multiplication of churches through the development of existing Christians and the birth of new ones.  We want to be a church that multiplies internally and externally.  This isn’t about numbers or influence but about health, the biblical norms, and the staggering needs.

Here are a few thoughts on practically getting there:

1.  Bring people along.  The best way to train others is to involve them in what you’re doing.  Whether it is sermon preparation, a hospital visitation, or coffee with someone considering the gospel, there are so many ways to help others grow.  Combining study, guided experience, and opportunities to test gifts with in an environment marked by grace and forgiveness, people will grow.  This takes time and there will be seasons in which we’ll feel spread thin, but multiplication is the path to tread.

2.  Build partnerships.  If the only type of individuals and churches that you invest in are ones just like you there will be very few opportunities for multiplication.  So we need to connect with people and churches with whom we share a set of core commonalities, but are otherwise different.  I think of friends from different socio-economic or ethnic backgrounds.  I think of churches with different theological traditions and stances.  In both of these mutual love and trust makes the difference and opens up a wide range of ministry opportunities that would not be there.  I find that serving together is a great way to begin building these bonds.

3.  Go away.  By taking regular days off and going on vacation I will help people remember that I am not indispensable.  Ministry and life go on without me and while God uses me he doesn’t need me.  If you bring people along they become capable and need you less as they mature.  i think of a church where both pastors were traveling to a denominational gathering when a elderly church member passed away.  Neither could get back right away, so those they had trained ably took the reins.  It was a freeing experience for the pastors who could truly rely on others and for those serving as they saw their progress in the Christian faith.  By going away I will get a sense to what degree I have equipped those around me to serve as mature followers of Jesus.

4.  Imagine.  If there was renewal, what would happen?  Historically during times of spiritual renewal there were years in which the small towns of New England would see four people drawn to Christ each week.  If God did something like this again, who would help these new converts grow in the faith?  We need to help people imagine what it would be like for God to powerfully work and then with expectancy to plain for such a renewing movement of the Holy Spirit.  Helping people imagine what God could do increases the drive to multiply because there is a clear purpose.  We want God to raise up servant leaders and churches.  The best way to involve people in both of these ventures is to give them a reason.  A faith inspired imagination does so.

1,070 miles later

So everyone, I am terribly behind on the blogging for this week.  In the past six days though I’ve driven a little over a thousand miles so it is understandable that I’m a little disoriented and behind schedule.   These two pictures tell of the wide range of experience.

ImagephotoThe first is the amazing dinner we enjoyed at a wedding on Lake George in Upstate NY.  It was an evening wedding with cocktail dresses and dark suits for the guys.  We ate, danced, connected with family, and enjoyed an extended date (+24hrs) while our children stayed with their God-parents in West Hartford, CT.  One of the low points was looking at my phone’s GPS in which it looks like traffic is clear (green highways = go), but google maps is not telling the truth.  In traveling through CT, NY, NJ, PA, DE, and eventually back to RI I got tired of looking at this screen.  After the wedding in NY we returned to CT so I could preach there on Sunday meet with people on Monday and then set off on a fundraising trip on Tuesday.  It was a great trip but I am very glad to be back.  While I was on the road Hillary and the kids have been at her dad’s enjoying the lake, birthdays, and the county fair!

The Skeleton #5 The City & Finding a home!

Worcester Common 1907 (established 1669)

“So Jarrett, why do you want to come to Worcester?”  Or, “How did you decide to start a church a Worcester?”  Underneath these questions is the surprise that someone would pick Worcester.  In the eyes of many, Worcester is not seen as a desirable place to live.  People end up there for work, because their family is there, or because they don’t have other options.  There are some instances in which people take pride in the city, but this has been more of a minority voice.

As we lay the foundations for a new church in Worcester we want to be a church that appreciates, respects, and loves Worcester, consciously committing herself to the good of the city.  Here’s a little bit of why and what it will mean practically:

Why care about Worcester?

First, there are so many people there.  It is common to judge cities based on their economies, social life, institutions of education, cultural activities, livability, or any number of factors.  In God’s sight, the most important thing about Worcester is the large number of people (181k) living in close proximity.  In the Bible’s account of creation and the origins of life, humanity is the pinnacle of God’s achievements.  We are the grand finale.  So, God cares deeply about the city of Worcester because it is full of people made in his image.  And what is interesting about cities is that they tend to bring out both the best and worst of humanity.  Cities are known for poverty and crime as well as being centers of work and culture.  God is fully aware of both the good and bad in Worcester but his concern for the city is not based on the proportion of the good or bad.  So we care about Worcester because God does.

Second, in the biblical story line the final scenes of restoration, salvation, and peace all happen in a city.  The new Jerusalem descends from heaven and transforms earth so that people from all times, places, and cultures unite in worship of their common savior Jesus Christ.  The original elements of the garden of Eden are present but enlarged in a garden city of beauty, wealth, and joy in which God is fully present.  This overarching story should shape our perspectives on cities, filling us with great hope of what God can do in urban centers and ultimately will do at the end of the age.  We want to be a church that longs  to see a reflection of the heavenly city in Worcester.

Third, statistics and wise analysts tells us that cities matter.  Check out these two quotes

In 1900 only 14% of the world’s population lived in urban areas. The number was 30% in 1950. In 2011 the world became 51% urban. By 2050, the world will be 68.7% urban.   Why Cities Matter

This much is clear—the cities are where the people are. In the course of less than 300 years, our world will have shifted from one in which only 3 percent of people live in cities, to one in which 80 percent are resident in urban areas. If the Christian church does not learn new modes of urban ministry, we will find ourselves on the outside looking in. The Gospel of Jesus Christ must call a new generation of committed Christians into these teeming cities. As these new numbers make clear, there really is no choice.
-Albert Mohler

With the increasing urbanization of our world it is important for Christians to engage all sorts of cities whether it is global cities like New York, London, and Tokyo, or rust belt cities like Scranton and Cleveland.  So Worcester matters.  For more, read here.

What will this mean practically:

First, we’ll neither despise Worcester nor set our hopes on it becoming the next hip urban playground for adults.  The grace of God helps us love people and places just as they are, so that’s where we’ll start with Worcester.  Our hopes won’t be dashed if the next efforts in renewing downtown plummet.  Worcester’s worth isn’t in the things most people see and the city won’t “arrive” even if there is urban revitalization.  Worcester has its own unique identity and whether development comes or goes there will be wonderful and hard things about the city.

Second, we’ll pray for the city.  We will pray for the people and the institutions.  In church, bible studies, homes, and wherever we find ourselves we will ask God to bless the city.  We want to see spiritual renewal and believe it is of ultimate importance.  We also want Worcester to be a better place for the many who live there.  So we’ll pray for a growing economy, wise governance, excellent education accessible to all students, decrease of poverty, a health environment, healing in families and much more.  This all matters to God because all of these factors affect the lives of people.  We want Worcester to flourish because we love our neighbors.

-Third, we’ll work for the good.  This will come out in a variety of ways, but will be clearly seen in our service to the people of this city.  My guess is that we’ll have one or two formal avenues that really fit the strengths of the people God brings together and then there will be all sorts of informal ways we care for our neighbors, coworkers, and friends.  Furthermore, we want to equip Christians to do their work with excellence and for the greater good.  This can be complicated but we’re going for it.

-Fourth, we’re going to live there.   (We actually just found an apartment in Worcester!!)  This is not for everyone but our family is committed to living in Worcester.  It is hard to be disinterested in the city when your life is caught up in it.  While we will reach and serve all sorts of people there will be a particular focus on those who live in Worcester.

Interruption – Strategic Housing

shuttersSo what are you looking for?  This is a simple, logical question for a real estate agent to ask.  But behind our answer lies our hopes and dreams for the sort of church we’d like to establish in Worcester.  As a Christian there is a sense in which different aspects of your life bleed together since faith informs and shapes it all.  This is especially true as a pastor and maybe even more so in the work of starting a new church.

To begin there will be no offices or church building.  We hope to use our home for bible studies, meetings, cook outs, and all other sorts of gatherings.  We hope that our hospitality will be attractive to those outside the church and a place where many will first connect to Jesus.  So, in looking for a place to live there is a lot lingering in the background.  So here are some of the things we’re thinking about:

1.  Is this a good fit for our family?  Is there enough room?  Two bedrooms or three?  Is there a bath tub or just a shower?  Will Hillary feel safe when I’m gone for a few days?  How about sidewalks, a place for Wesley to dig, or room to run around inside during the long winters characteristic of Worcester?  Aesthetics matter and we love the neat old homes with character that are scattered throughout the city.  Are there bonus features like room for a home office, storage for bicycles and skis, or a fire place?  All of these have varying degrees of significance.

2.  Access:  Is it easy to get there within Worcester and for people coming from outside the city?  How would people from different socio-economic or ethnic backgrounds feel coming to this home?  As we talked about one of the apartments we were looking at with our agent, she told us how the landlord implied that she only wanted to rent to white people.  This would not be a good place for us.  What about the college students in Worcester?  Would this land in their range of commute or cross paths they normally tread?  Is there parking for those who come?

3.  Hosting: How would it work if we tried to fit thirty people in the living room?  Could we make it happen if everyone was willing to squish a little bit?  What if God brings us a bunch of people with children?  Is there play room potential for any of the bedrooms or is there a basement that isn’t too scary?

When we moved to CT we may have pushed too hard to end up in a home despite trying to think strategically like I’ve outlined above.   Regardless of our motives, one of the great blessings in that home were our neighbors.  One guy who lived next door eventually told me that he had been praying a Christian with whom he could identify would move in next door.  When I heard that I was blown away.  We’re praying for the same thing this time.

Another thing we have been learning through the past two years of transition and decision making is that Hillary has a better sense of God’s leading.  When it comes to the big things like jobs, housing, and school for Wesley her “gut” has been on.  We’re still cautiously evaluating this pattern but also trying to learn about the ways God leads us.

Image Credit: <a href=””>onkel_wart (thomas lieser)</a> via <a href=””>Compfight</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

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