Monthly Archives: September 2013

Tell me your name


One of the questions that others continue to ask and that I’m still unable to answer is, “What’s the name of your church?”

The reason I’m not able to answer this question goes back to a presentation I heard in seminary.  This guy named Fred Harrell was talking about a church he had begun in San Francisco, about 15 years ago.  Here’s my recollection of what fred said:  He spoke of coming to San Francisco with few contacts in the city and the process of getting to know the people and the place.  He spoke of the origin of the church’s name (City Church) which came out of a group of people who were drawn together and committed to establishing this church.  Fred came up with a list of potential names and got the input of this group of Christians and then asked them to get feedback on the list from their non-Christian friends, and associates.  Fred’s top pick for names (Redeemer) was a turn off for many because it had allusions of sin and the need to be rescued.  There was a really positive response to City Church though as people said, they’d love to see a church that cared about the city.

I learned a couple different things from this.  First, it was an example of sharing the ownership of the church from the outset.  A church’s name is important and will usually last for a while, so it is good for those who are truly committed to have a say.  There are ways in which I will significantly influence the shape of the church we’ll begin and involving others in the majority of decisions is an important way to remind myself and others that this church in Worcester is not mine.  It belongs ultimately to Jesus, then to the people we are called to serve, and lastly to me.

Second, there is wisdom in listening to the people you are going to serve.  Both redemption and caring for the city are themes of significance in the scriptures.  If your first point of introduction can express biblical truth and resonate with those you serve, this is an awesome place to begin.

Third, it’s good to allow your core principles to filter through all that you do.  My guess is that “community,” “shared leadership,” or something similar was one of Fred’s priorities for ministry.  It is one of mine.  I need to continually think how my founding principles can work out in all sorts of decisions.

Fourth, I don’t think I wold have thought of this idea myself.  Hearing this story eight years helps me and I need to continue listening for wisdom that God will bring across my path.

Last, the approach we’re taking isn’t THE way to name a new church.  In many areas of life, but particularly in the church it is easy to think that we’ve got the one way of doing it right.  I have a friend planting a church in Worcester who, along with his wife, prayerfully considered the name of their church and I think God led them in an awesome direction.

Maybe I’m only doing this team approach because I don’t have any good ideas!  I like Worcester Presbyterian Church but Hillary thinks it sounds a little stodgy.  So we’ll see where this goes!

Photo Credit


I continue to come across references and recommendations for this book so this morning I finally started reading.

To Change the World is broken into three lengthy essays and here is an outline of the first four chapters, which are thought provoking and very interesting.

One of Hunter’ eleven propositions regarding culture and change is that culture is generated (and also changed) from networks.  While there is often a central figure in these networks this person’s accomplishments would not have happened without the larger framework of support.  A classic example is William Wilberforce who is lauded for his role in bringing an end to the slave trade in Great Britain and her colonies.  Beyond the various other factors (economic, political, social, and religious) which coincided with Wilberforce’s effort, Hunter points to the Clapham Circle and “over two dozen leaders from the highest echelons of business, church, literary life and government and politics who were connected and worked together in this common cause.”
As I was reading through this brief section and thinking about the networks which can shape a place for better or worse I began to think about Worcester.  There are cultural factors related to being American, being located in New England, and having 300+ years of history behind us that significantly influence the city.  Beyond all these pieces that are bigger and broader than anyone place or time I wonder what networks of relationship in Worcester that shape this city.

It’s easy to think about the political system and all the layers of alliance and cooperation within different parties and their subgroups, but I know there is more.  What about the consortium of colleges, both on an administrative level (Presidents, VP, Deans) as well as departmental interactions across campuses.  Do English professors from the various campuses meet with authors, poets, and other writers in the area as part of a literary circle?  Across hospitals and the medical school, in science, engineering and the biotech industry, what are the points of overlap and connection?  Do unions or representatives of manufacturing and factories have influence here?  It is overwhelming to think of all the different moving parts to this city along with the people and cultures that shape each.  I also think of the different social structures operating among the ethnic groups of Worcester and how these will overlap and contrast with other circles of influence.

As I reflect on significance of networks for shaping a place and effecting change there are four practical implications that come to mind:

1.  I need to learn more about Worcester.  I need to talk to “natives” and learn the cultural landscape.  I want to do some sort of community needs assessment, continue demographics research, seek out relationships with all sorts of people, and spend a lot of time listening.  As we begin a church in Worcester we need to understand this place as best we can.

2. In talking with others involved in beginning new churches or outreach efforts many have encouraged me to pray for a “man” (or woman) “of peace.”  They are referring to someone with a wide network of relationships and influence who is for you and opens doors on your behalf.  Even more I can see the significance of God answering this prayer.

3.  I must continue to cultivate my network of relationship with like minded Christian leaders.  Our hope in planting a church in Worcester is to participate in a much larger work of God that has lasting effect.  This will happen through committed partnerships, pooled resources, shared vision, and sustained ministry.  We need a broad network to make this happen.

4.  I need to watch over my soul.  Jesus warns his followers about desiring power or prominence and there is this subtle pull to grasp after things that Jesus purposely rejected.

Lightening up and Common burdens

I can put too much pressure on myself to make things happen that only God can accomplish.  Whether it is raising almost $450k over the next three years, laying out an effective strategy for the growth and development of a church in Worcester, leading Christians together in this work, or seeing non-Christians convert and join our efforts – all of these and many other aspects of my “job description” are beyond me.  When I stop and think through my limitations and the tasks ahead I can despair, take too much on my shoulders, or trust God.  (Usually it is a combination of all three).

In the past few weeks we’ve seen God answering our prayers and those of many who have come alongside us.  The quickest way to summarize a half dozen stories is that we’ve prayed God would be at work ahead of us arriving in Worcester, preparing people so that we could connect and minister to them.   We’ve prayed for inroads with a diverse cross section of the city, for a mix of mature Christians, non-Christians, and newer believers.  We’ve prayed for a home that could bridge different worlds and offer God’s welcome to many.   We’ve prayed that God would provide for all of our needs.  We’ve seen answers to these prayers and indications of God’s unique calling for us in Worcester.  We are being encouraged to trust God and as this happens both the sense of pressure and despair have less power.  And so we see God answering another prayer, that we would believe him more and more.  Church planting is a lot more fun when I trust God.  I know that I should operate with a sense of expectancy and it is good to grow in this area.

5427701194_8203891852Another way in which God has helped me walk towards the challenges ahead of us was through a program on NPR called Innovation Hub.  The head of a small business startup was being interviewed about his work in vaccine stabilization.  He is a Harvard grad who won a start up competition for his company which is seeking to stabilize vaccines so they do not need refrigeration.  The refrigeration of vaccines is a huge obstacle to their dissemination to needy populations all over the world.  There were three parts of the interview that stood out and had lots of commonalities with church planting.

First, he talked about challenges of looking for funding.  His wife worked nights while he was out raising capital.  Other groups had better presentations, established track records of success, and other advantages.  Fundraising is necessary in all sorts of fields, exposes our vulnerabilities, and is often accompanied by challenging situations as we try to pay the bills until fully funded.  financial situations.

Second, he spoke of the importance of working with a team.  The best thing about working with a team is that usually at least one person is encouraged.  Invariably in entrepreneurial work you get worn down, discouraged, and depressed.  But that one person who is encouraged can remind everyone else of the big picture and why we’re doing this crazy sort of thing.

Third, the interviewer asked the CEO of the startup who was going to pay for their product.  Those who will benefit most from vaccines that are heat resistant are the world’s poor.  How will this company make any money?  The CEO offered some reasoning as to how they could be profitable but eventually said, “well, it needs to be done.”  Even if our efforts cannot turn a profit this work needs to happen and will help so many people.

While my entrepreneurial work is very different than his, there are a lot of parallels and simply sharing a common burden helps me go forward.  If someone is willing to go through the hardships and risks of starting something new for the benefit of others, shouldn’t I as a Christian be willing to do so as well?

*Photo Credit

At work

These two images convey the realities and hopes of our church planting work.  The red sign hanging from my “desk” says, “STOP, Dad WORKING.”  This is to help the kids know when I am working and unavailable.  There are all sorts of exciting aspects to being in Worcester, but one of the challenges is being 45minutes from my offices at the church in Providence.  My plan is to spend one long day at the office each week but to work from Worcester otherwise.  So until I figure out my regular work places (coffee shops, libraries, parks, preschool waiting room etc) I’m in thecorner of the living room.  This is the incredibly mundane and messy side of beginning a new church where boundaries blur and we do our best to make it all work.


This second image comes from India Point which is five minutes from our church in Providence.  I would bring my folding chair, books, and other  materials so I could work by the water on beautiful days.  There is a community boating school nearby and this day they had three sailboats loaded up with school age children involved in some sort of lesson.  The funny thing was the complete lack of wind in the bay so the kids are just sitting in the boats.  Their expressions seemed to ask, “So is this sailing?”  This is another image that helps me understand my work because it points me to the factors beyond my control.  I can do my best to get people in the boat, and put up the sails but unless the wind blows we’re just sitting there.  In the bible the terminology for spirit is related to wind and breath.  So unless God’s wind blow, unless his breath brings life we’ll be sitting in the boat wondering, “Is this church planting?”  But when the Holy Spirit moves, and this is our expectation, it is amazing to be in the boat.  This is the wild and supernatural side of beginning a new church.  We need to keep the mundane and miraculous in mind as God has both in store for us, each with their unique blessings and challenges.

A new home

This is the living room looking into the dining room.  We love the open layout and neat features.  It will be awesome for having people over and is a great fit for our family.  About a month ago I wrote about our hopes and prayers for strategic housing.  This apartment fits in so many ways.

Some of the things we’re thinking about right now are….

Enjoyment:  Having something nice does not necessarily mean you’ll enjoy it.  We want to appreciate the good things God has given and are trying to do so in the moment – not just putting it off till we fully unpacked or have things just right.

Help:  Without the church (our Christian friends in different places) there is no way we could have made it.  Help with child care, loading the truck, unloading the truck, unpacking, and assembling furniture have made an incredible difference.  When you add it up in the course of three days over fifteen people contributed over fifty hours of labor.  It is awesome to be a recipient of this much love and support.  We’re trying to remember that it comes from and points back to God.

Impermanence:  Moving into an apartment, we know that this is only ours for a time.  While every home has its wonderful aspects they each have their shortfalls (torn screens, a sagging bathroom ceiling, closets that smell funny).  I think of Hebrews 11 where it says,

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

The difficulties of moving and the imperfections of every home remind us that God promises an eternal home, ceaseless rest which will not be marred by defects or the prospect of leaving.  I also think of the impermanence of our current state as we unpack boxes and wonder why we saved certain things.  As time passes and the emotional connection to an item or its perceived necessity diminishes, we get rid of it.  How much of what we pack up today will we throw away tomorrow?

A look at the blueprints

VennI’m often asked how you go about starting a new church.  There are a variety of strategies, all with inherent strengths and weaknesses.  Here’s a little bit about our approach.

The tagline is, “deliberate, supernatural, and together.”  This helps me remember that we’re taking a steady pace that incorporates wise and strategic planning.  Second, we want to lean on the supernatural so that our work is bathed in prayer and set up to fail if God does not act.  Third, this new church comes from the efforts of many and arises from cooperation.

In terms of plans, the venn diagram says it all.  We’ll start with a ministry team from our church in Providence (Trinity) which is committed to helping us establish a new church.  Some of these people will help from a distance while others will be “boots on the ground” and help form a core group, along with people in Worcester.  This core group will meet together studying the bible, praying together, and sharing our stories.  We’ll work to develop a sense of identity (who God wants us to be) and a sense of destiny (who God wants us to reach) which, within biblical parameters, will give shape to the church.  As a core group we’ll reach out to friends and neighbors, serve the city, train for servant leadership, and develop the infrastructure of the future church.  From this core group a launch team will arise who is committed to the direction we are taking, marked by a willingness to serve, and demonstrates an outward mindset.  This launch team will take responsibility to begin worship services and other “public ministries.”  From this a new church will form.

As you can see from the overlapping circles there is a sense of progression and refinement over time, but in the same vein there is transition and change that is also built in.  Different people will participate for a season and others through it all.  There’s more to say but this gives the basics.

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