Church Plant Postmortem

Photo courtesy of Flickr, user serzhile

Photo courtesy of Flickr, user serzhile

Last year we made the official announcement that we were planting a church on the NorthEast side of Grand Rapids. This past January they gave us the keys to a beautiful old building, a well loved home for our new church. We soaked in the pictures of the beautiful sanctuary together, and you all offered your most sincere prayers.

We had so many dreams starting out, I was going to write weekly updates and blog about the church plant, both here and on our church website. We were going to be a place of authenticity that made space for brokenness and lament, a community that could weathered life’s seasons and hard questions together.

A community that engaged creativity

That loved our neighborhoods by being a part of them, shouldering burdens, being present.

I committed to bring my true self to this church, not the paper doll pastor’s wife I felt I should be.

We labored over a name and many of you got involved by taking a survey.

We bought a house specifically so we could be nearby the church and engage our neighborhood with Christ-centered hearts, loving honestly and opening our home. We wanted to be authentic members of our community with no agenda other than to show love.

I saw so many dinners and real-true conversations happening in these rooms when we walked through this home for the first time.

Sometime this summer I stopped writing about the church plant, because well, when things aren’t going well you’re generally not the first to bring it up, you deflect or hope no one will ask.

Last week Wednesday Kel and I sat in a meeting where we agreed that it was time to close the book on our little church plant. Continue reading

7 Hard Things (About Church Planting)

This was supposed to be up on a Saturday but you know… life.HELP I recently asked the fine folks in our facebook group. (Are you there yet? If you are did you know that new content doesn’t show up in your feed unless you “like things” that page post from time to time? Helpful advice from your neighborhood blogger)

Anywaaaaay 

I asked these fine folks what they would like to know about our Church Planting Journey, because honestly I’m starting to get a little overwhelmed and brain-frazzled so I need to know: What can I fill you in on?

There were several good responses, but this is the one I want to respond to today and it comes from reader Ginger.

“What the specific challenges are that you two are finding? Obviously you have to depend on God to bring the increase, but how do you cope with the challenges?”

Yes. Church Planting is hard and Ginger I just wanted to thank you for helping me open up the floor and talk about it. Kel and I have thrown this question around a bit and come up with what I hope is helpful and true for all those on this journey across the country and world.

1) Getting people interested without seeming creepy- I’ll be honest with you (this is how I roll) we only have three people on our launch team as of today and that can get a little discouraging. Since we started this journey it’s been bitterly cold and engaging people has been less than easy as no one is feeling very social. This will all change soon as we plan events and spend more time outdoors in the community, but for me I worry so very much about coming across as the face to face telemarketers of the church world, which is so not what we are going for.

2) Not taking it home- Although this is officially Kel’s job (my name is not on the payroll anywhere) we both feel deeply called and to engage the NE Grand Rapids community through this church. This means that if we’re not careful, the church plant can dominate our dinner conversation which is okay in part but we are a family who existed before this church and will exist apart from it. Sometimes we need to talk about church stuff at home and sometimes we need to focus on our lives apart from it, it’s a delicate balance and we’re not there yet.

3) Maintaining a big picture- As with any big task, it’s easy to get bogged down in the details. I have to keep telling myself that we do in fact believe that God has called us to this and that through our open hands people will experience changed, healed hearts. That this is about people and Jesus and really nothing else in the end, not paint or logos… people and Jesus.

4) Let it Go, Let it Go– I am not in charge of this church plant, and it’s wonderful. God has plans in mind I haven’t even dared hope for. He has people for us to meet and stories yet to write. I need to open my hands and bathe in the hugeness of our God and the smallness of my role. Do we need to work? Yes. Do we think that we are the ones who will make it work? Nope.

5) Keeping upbeat – It’s also easy to get discouraged with slow progress, I am not a patient person, so this is really hard for me. The other day I found myself going negative nancy on things, talking about how our budget was too small asking if we were behind. Kel approached me later that night and told me this: “However discouraged you feel, I feel 10 times that discouraged and nervous about all of this.” So part of our church planting process has been about keeping our attitudes upbeat, but honest about our feelings and for me it means tipping the scales in favor of encouraging Kel and away from expressing fears.

6) Worrying we will make the wrong calls culturally– We are planting a church in an urban area and I’ve never lived anywhere except suburbia. This leaves me feeling so very culturally inept. When we were in Oklahoma I felt this way at times when I picked the wrong food for events (apparently college students hate pasta salad?!) I don’t know what people in this area want or need from church, so Holy Spirit help us here and community? Forgive us when we fumble it.

7) Feeling inadequate in general- I don’t have it all figured out and I don’t feel like mine is a spiritual journey I want on display as an example. We forget to read the bible, we forget to pray with our kids, sometimes I feel like a hypocrite and a lot of times I feel that surely other ministry families must be better than us… whatever that means. I know that better is non existent and this it’s all relative but this is a massive struggle for me personally and regularly express and project upon Kel.

So there it is, the ugly, honest hard parts that our subconsciouses are currently aware of.

So, tell me: Is there anything you want to know about our church planting journey?

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Praying over the scraps

Things were feeling a little backed up, so today we will do Church Plant Update Saturday on Sunday… Hope you don’t mind. 

Scraps

I get easily overwhelmed by big projects, it’s my personality type. When I get overwhelmed I focus on minutia, because it’s controllable and I can see measurable progress there.

Like when we moved into our new house, I ignored the basics and became obsessed with sewing curtains. Kel found it annoying charming at the time, I’m sure.

Right now I’m obsessed with painting murals at the church so, odds are I’m overwhelmed. But in my defense they’re gonna be awesome! 

I can’t think of any project we’ve ever tackled that’s bigger than replanting this church.

Right now the church is in the planning and people-gathering stage. We are sussing out building design and reaching out to the community. Kel spent the week delivering buckets of salt (the ice melting-sort) to our neighbors as a way of saying: “hello, we’re here, what can we do for this neighborhood?”

Everyone has slick walkways… so we went with salt because it’s practical, non-edible and a good conversation starter. Plus we can offer to refill the buckets and build relationships.

So that’s been Kel’s job this week, handing out buckets of Salt.

And to be honest? As everything else in church-planting it’s slow-going.

We’ve met with our design team twice now and I love and adore the direction we’re heading.

We’ve met with a few launch team members and those have been beautiful gatherings, I’m excited meet all those God has in mind to launch the church with us.

We’ve hashed out some vision statements and scriptures that will guide the church… but we’re not close to being “done.” I feel like we need to do that with a group of people, not just us…

Then there’s logo design, worship leader hiring, children ministry plotting, praying through how to foster diversity and the fact that I’m feeling increasingly white, waspy and hopelessly ill-equipped for urban ministry.

What we have right now is this: Hope and Scraps.

We have ideas and plans and vision and thoughts and budgets and meetings and chats and estimates and none of it is composed.

Everything is in-process.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you’re on the long haul for church planting or any other big project. We are a people who desire things now, or faster, and there is nothing fast or easy about starting a church from scratch.

But we’re almost always in-between and in-process.

This requires tsunamis of faith and patience, two tenants of faith I’m historically not great at.

I had a revelation a few days ago as I walked through the church, starting down the pink and mauve sponge-painted hallway. I will probably not paint this hallway and I have not yet met the person who will.

This thought washed over me like a wave, God has plans and people that I am not privy to.

He knows. I do not.

All I can do is wait and pray over scraps.
I am unable to speed time
I am unable to get the house we want to buy on the market
But I am able to pray over these scraps and hopes of the church that will be.

And this is No. Small. Thing. This prayer, this faith, this daily practice of giving the mess over to God.

Because when we pray over that which is beyond our control we acknowledge our smallness and find comfort there.

As such I have taken to the habit of laying down all the scraps I’m grasping at and praying over them, of walking through the church and believing that in the ghosts of what will be will materialize under the provision of a God who has all in mind before Kel or I were born.

Who operates outside of time and money alike.

Who is in love with His bride, His church, His people.

So when I work myself into a frenzy over the church (which is approximately every 47 minutes and twice in the middle of the night) I lay down all the pieces and pray for another dose of faith and patience.

Will we work hard? Of course, faith ≠ laziness.

But there is deep peace in the basic truth that we don’t have to figure this all out, God has people in mind, miracles yet to be birthed that will bring about tears I can’t wait to shed.

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How a motorcycle picture made me cry because the church nailed it.

Today I want to talk about those moments where church felt like The Church, like everything it was supposed to be and nothing it wasn’t.

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It was every mother’s worst nightmare.

Okay not their WORST nightmare but still, it was a nightmare.

My children and I arrived for church on time, got our bagels and coffee and headed to their children’s church rooms only to discover that children’s church was on a holiday that Sunday.

And I hadn’t a crayon or matchbox car or board book on my person.
And I was meeting friends for “big church.”
And I wanted to sit down and cry because without children’s church it’s very hard for me to meet up with God in big church.

Yet we carried on and made our way to the usual row of plastic chairs while I gave my kids a pep talk: “Okay guys, we can do this! It’s good to be still and AFTER the singing you can take turns with my iPhone and coloring on this bulletin with a golf pencil. I understand that you’re sad about your church being closed, me too, but we’re in this together, okay?”

Okay. Here goes nothing. I can do this… No I can’t let’s just go home… no… teachable moment! teachable moment! 

We sang, the teaching started and my kids took turns playing Angry Birds and scribbling with the golf pencil.

My dear friend Alyssa shared pens with Noelle and allowed her to kiss her as many times as she wanted, which with Noelle is always at least a couple dozen. She’s a kisser, should this worry me? 

They got noisy any time it was “their turn” to surrender the iPhone.

They fidgeted and switched positions

Then suddenly I looked over at the chair my son was sitting on and realized he was holding a drawing of a jeep.

What the what?

I looked around and soon I’d figured it out, the gentleman sitting in the row behind us, a father of older boys, was drawing pictures. For my kids. He looked up from his next creation and shrugged with a smile.

As I gave him my “You sir are a saint” look his wife passed Caedmon a colorful pen he could use to color in the jeep.

A few moments passed when I realized that Caedmon now had a drawing of a motorcycle AND a jeep. I turned around with another grateful look while the lady behind me mouthed “been there” and smiled.

I was able to focus on the sermon for a while and before long I looked over and saw Noelle holding a drawing of a horse. And these were good drawings people, like art quality sketches.

At this point I cried happy tears from some place deep, some place that identified with what Christ wanted his church to be for each other and the world.

As my friend helped Noelle with her Pony and Caedmon zoomed his motorcycle paper it hit me.

This is church, This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s never really been about the music or the bulletins or the teaching style… that’s all good but THIS IS CHURCH! 

This is two or three gathered in his name and actively making that name known to each other.

It’s not a crowd of people rolling their eyes at the woman with the noisy preschoolers. It’s drawing motorcycles and receiving kisses and above all else fostering the idea that we really are in this together.

And don’t we all need those moments where the church nails it to keep going? To keep showing up?

I don’t always have to be on the receiving end of things, I don’t believe in being a church consumer, I just need to regularly break down in tears over the obvious love of Jesus coming to life around me.

I do. I need to cry about it.

Or else I will forget what we’re really doing and get lost in church budgets and ministry plans and mission statements.

Then I’ll get cynical. And when I’m cynical I’m not compassionate and when I’m not compassionate I can’t hear what the Spirit needs me to be doing.

Then I start thinking about only myself and rationalizing a whole bunch of selfish things and throwing out a whole slew of judgements at those around me.

I need the healing of tears, weekly if not daily.

My prayer for us this this week is that we are all brought to tears because the love of Jesus showed up, because the Church nails it.

Not the buildings, Not the committees, The people. The Church.

I pray that every person who reads this plays a part in warming up our cold, gray world with a love that says “here I want to lift you up and I’m willing to give up something up to get us there, because you matter, your life, your struggles are not annoying me… in fact I want to share them.”

I’m willing to draw a motorcycle so that you can get a bit more sermon in your ears.
I’m willing to give up some fun money so you have money for gas and food.
I’m willing to give up time so your marriage has a fighting chance.
I’m willing to get there late so you don’t have to spend another second stuck in a snowbank.

Because you matter and if I’m thriving and you’re struggling then I’m doing it all wrong.

So as we plant a church, I’m setting a goal to cry more, to stay tender, to bear witness to more moments when we the Church… nail it.

Had the (big c) church brought you to joyful tears lately?
If you’re still cynical is there a ray of hope? 

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How naming our church taught me that “my dream church” will stay exactly that, a dream.

So, I have a big announcement, huge really.

We’ve landed on a name for the church.

Ready? I’m doing a drumroll on my desk but you can’t hear it… space and time and all that… 

Rivercrest Church.

How did we come up with this? Well it doesn’t exactly fit in the parameters of our original name criteria but we did a lot of market research and had over 250 people take a survey between these three names:

  • Prodigal church (my favorite and true love)
  • Rivercrest church (a play on the area we’re located in, near Riverside park and within the Creston Neighborhood)
  • Found church (and original idea but never one we loved… just another option)

And Rivercrest won, while my love name lost.

Here’s what people said:

“It sounds more “real”. The others seem very specific for only a certain type of worshiper.”

“Found Church seems too simple, and Prodigal Church seems to ‘Jesusy’ to me.”

“The other two names sound excessively “churchy” to me. Someone unfamiliar with church and the Prodigal Son story would most likely not know what the Prodigal name meant. As someone who does not attend church, I would more likely visit a church named Rivercrest. The other names sound trendy to me.”

“I like Rivercrest Church because it is neutral. “found” and “prodigal” have a “born-again” sound to them.”

There were a few wise church people who told us this would be the case from the beginning: people want a neutral name, non churchy name… Prodigal Church might not be the best fit. 

But I was in love with the name Prodigal, it described how I felt about God and church, how I thought others would feel as well. It’s simple and redemptive and above all I love it…and my friends (who are like me) love it!

I railed against the idea of a neutral name and wore myself out rallying for my cause, I chatted to random people in line at store about “my church name” and why it was clearly best. I used words like “intentionality,” “purpose,” and “names mean things!”

I performed impassioned monologues for Kel about how choosing a neutral name would be caving to popular opinion early and how I was afraid that this would mean we’d become the church of “what is popular”… which is exactly what the world doesn’t need… what the bible doesn’t call us to. I’m sure I used the phrase “sell-out” a time or two. You know, for good measure.

It all sounded very good and there was truth in it, but in the end I had to concede that the “neutral but nice” name received 20% more votes than my preferred name in a survey that I myself created and publicized.  One I thought would only serve to confirm my name…

But it didn’t.

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And in the end I learned a hard lesson that needed to be learned early: This is not going to be my dream church.

It’s going to the church that God wants us to plant for the people who need more of Him.

Does this mean Rivercrest Church will be solely “seeker friendly” and won’t deepen my faith or relationship with God?

Not hardly. It just means that it’s NOT my church, it’s The church, which was never about me in the first place.

I learned years ago that I was not called to be a consumer church-goer and I learned about 3 weeks ago that I am not called to be a consumer church-planter either.

If you’ve been in the church long enough you’ve had this thought: “If I ever started my own church we would….”

And this list grows over time. You know exactly how you would do coffee, children’s ministry, worship, leadership, take an offering, give communion, decorate the sanctuary.

And you think… if I were to ever start my church it would like this… and it would be perfect.

And it would be perfect… for you.

But church has never been about making yourself happy, that’s the first step to become a member-focused church, when you base your ideas on “what makes us happy.”

That’s how the currently, literally dying churches got that way. They centered their choices around making themselves happy and they lost touch with their core call: show Jesus to the world, start with your neighborhood.  

And 3 weeks into the church I was already starting to move in that direction, how can this church serve me? Be what I want?

And then God Survey Monkey and a few heated marital texting sessions to put me back on track, and early.

Will Rivercrest church contain nuances of my heart and story? Absolutely.

Will Rivercrest church be my dream church? No, but I hope it will be the church we need to plant so the love of Jesus is poured all over the NE side of Grand Rapids.

Lord, help my dream to conform to yours.

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How to be an introvert, starting a church, talking to strangers about God without coming across as a creepy evangelist.

So, it Saturday, and even though I missed last week, today I am going to try and be faithful in my promise to keep you all updated on our church planting journey. 

creepyevangelist

local photography via flickr creative commons andrewkuhnphotography

Two weeks ago I showed you around our lovely church, since then we’ve had a brilliant team of designers come through, one whom grew up in church and “gets it” in the best of ways.  She understands what works, what welcomes and what has been done to death. For this I am unspeakably thankful.

Also this week the boiler exploded, which caused us to wonder why more seminaries don’t offer classes on old building maintenance. Kel’s handy but boilers are beyond him #churchboilerdrama .

All this is true but it doesn’t really get to the heart of what’s REALLY going on with the church.  

Currently the main business of the church is connecting with the community.

What does this mean? It means that if Kel is at the church that he’s not doing his job. (#churchboilerdrama aside)

Because currently Kel’s main job is to go out and meet people by checking out their businesses, going out to lunch, working at coffee shops and taking walks through neighborhoods.  He’s supposed to meet with and chat up 50 new people a week. 50!

This terrified me for two reasons
1) Kel is an introvert, this could kill him.
2) I don’t see how one can do this without seeming like a creeper

But he’s impressed me every evening with his stories, all authentic and not the least bit slimy.

This begs the question: How does an introvert strike up conversation with a random stranger and steer the conversation toward the new church plant without seeming creepy or pushy?  

I think this is where I should just let Kel tell you, after all… he’s the one doing it.  

Hi everyone, it’s Kel.

So I’m going to start by telling you the story of a conversation I had this week: I was at McDonalds, not because I particularly love it (I’m not lovin’ it) but because they are one of the few places that has wifi in the area.

So I’m in line to get my large drink (which I fill with iced tea like a good southern boy) and in line behind me is an EMT.  So, I walk up to the counter and I say “1 large drink and whatever he wants” gesturing in the EMT’s direction.

He gives me a weird look but thanks me and puts in an order for an Egg McMuffin. He thanks me again and then asks:

Awesome EMT: “Do you have a busy day ahead of you?”
Me: “I kind of do but my schedule is pretty weird right now. You see, I just took a new job and I’m a pastor starting a church”

This leads us down a conversation about the ups and downs of my schedule. Then I tell him why I bought him breakfast.

“One of the things that I really want to be as a church is a place that serves the community. One of the ways we can start doing that is by serving those who are already serving the community. So buying you breakfast is a way for me to say thank you for what you do everyday.”

I could tell the guy was caught off guard. Apparently this isn’t something that happens to him everyday. Then he does something cool: he invites me to come down the station sometime so that I can meet the other EMT’s just before we part ways.

This conversation is at the heart of what I’m doing everyday, of what it takes to plant a new church.  

You see, when I started doing this nobody in the community knew who I was.  So when it came to making contacts it was important that people in the community got a feel for who I am. The best way to do that is obviously by authentically building relationships.

Every contact I make is another person that knows both who I am and that there is a new church coming to the neighborhood, that’s my only agenda.

So how do I do this without seeming like a creeper or a door to door evangelist? Its easy, I listen way more than I talk.  I ask people about them: What do they do?  Do they live around here? Do they like that sandwich?

I try to find common ground.

You see, it’s not actually about meeting a quota of numbers. Numbers to a church don’t really matter, its what those numbers represent: Each number is a story, a person, an opportunity for God to show up in real life.

That’s why its easy for me to keep perspective, As a pastor I’m the often at the forefront of those stories. I see the breakdowns, the illness, the funerals. Often I get to be the one that prays with people when they find out I’m a pastor.

For me, it is very encouraging because I get to see this community in a completely different light. This community is who I am trying to reach but ultimately it is God that changes hearts, not me.

So what is my job? To care, to love, and build relationship with the people that surround the church. To introduce them to the God that can bring about change in their lives.

It’s not about me, it’s not about numbers, it’s not about MY church… in the end it’s about God and his people and doing everything I can do to foster freedom through their intersection.

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That week they gave us a church

I imagine that someday in the distant future, hopefully on a cruise ship in the mediterranean, Kel and I will sit reminiscing on the events of this week.

“Hey baby, remember that day when they handed us the keys to an entire church?”
“Yeah, that was madness. It’s a good thing God showed up because wow were we clueless.” (Dear United Methodist Conference of West Michigan, I assure you we’re not TOTALLY clueless but I think our future selves will see us as such)

So that happened this week, Kel’s official start day was this past Wednesday, it’s finally here!  He’s officially full time on this church planting gig.  And yesterday after being given the keys to the building, we pulled up to this huge old church and walked right in, because we live there now. Not really but surely it’s going to feel like it before long.  

Just to recap, Kel has now become the lead pastor of a church replant in downtown Grand Rapids. There has been church in this building for over 100 years but the conference decided to close it down because they had lost touch with the community and were down to 12 in attendance.

And there still won’t be church there for a while, there’s a lot to be done between now and launch in October. Like we need a name and a website and a logo and oh yeah… some people who are in this with us.

You may wonder, what is he/we responsible for? The answer to this is currently everything. He’s the point person on the redesign, staffing, mission statement, vision for different ministries of the church, just all of it really. We have a budget to hire out big projects and we’ll be bringing in mission teams to help us with some of the work but, right now it’s overwhelming and exciting and crazy…. and crazy.

There is an oversight team in place now and they will meet with Kel monthly and advice on bigger decisions, so fear not.  All the power will not go to his head.

I’m really praying that soon we won’t be in this alone, that a launch team will become interested in what we plan to do here.  But for now, it feels like it’s just us.  Yesterday during a mold inspection (fun!) the mold guy asked us who all went to this church.

“Um, right now just us.  But not for long, that’s going to change!”

This brings me to my next question, would you like a tour? Because I’m dying to give you one.

Welcome to the Sanctuary, we have several different ideas in mind for it, we want to modernize it some (new sound system is non negotiable) and we’re toying with the idea of somehow cutting a center aisle for weddings.  We are definitely getting rid of the dated can lights and the red carpet. I think we will keep the pews but I’m still not sure.  Don’t worry we’re not going to make it feel too trendy.  Think Old meets new.

We have a designer coming in on Wednesday to give us her take.  Thank God and Jesus and the Saints in Heaven, we need this.

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IMG_1272Gorgeous Stained glass windows aren’t going anywhere.

We have a designer coming in on Wednesday to give us her take.  Thank God and Jesus and the Saints in Heaven, we need this.

Amen.

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View of the Sanctuary from the front right corner of the church, isn’t it pretty!  Some words on the balcony: It feels a little rickety up there but I’m assured that it’s sound.  This may be because I’m 100% certain that one of my kids will fall off the front before we open.

The chairs are the original wooden, wrought iron ones from 1906.  I think we might sell most of these because I worry with todays bigger butts they’ll die fast.  Also we’re told they’re worth a lot. Maybe we will keep some for the office waiting area or something?

Note the sound board we currently have, there it is on the square table, get a magnifying glass if needed.

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Sanctuary Selfies!  Is that a thing?  I hope not…

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Kel’s new office, complete with hanging WWJD air freshener.  I think he wants to paint in here but I am wondering if there isn’t a way to get something going with a mid century look.  We shall see.  I know he wants a standing desk and some chairs but that’s as far as we’ve gotten.  Oh and he got a Doctor Who clock for Christmas so fear not, it won’t be TOO classy.

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Stained glass window, You’re in! Sponge paint, you’re on notice my friend. Give it up, go back to 1992.

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This is what I’d call the Narthex.  The room in-between the doors and the sanctuary.  This will be a welcome area and needs an update. Badly. Have I mentioned how much I love the red carpet?  No?  It’s because I do not love it at all.

I think some walls are coming down to open up this room to the sanctuary.

Now let’s go up a level, shall we?

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Gorgeous old piano I have plans for you, and they don’t all involve letting my four year old bang on you.

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Hi Mold!  You definitely don’t get to stay.  You shall be the first to go.

What happened was that there was a roof leak that was fixed but the interior damage wasn’t properly taken care of.  This is on the top floor of the attached second, newer building, build in the 1960s.

This portion of the building needs the most work and will be farther down the list on priorities as there is so much space in the rest of the building that can be used and needs less work.

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A huge, opened up classroom upstairs, there are at least 6 classrooms up here so we will have plenty of space to spread out as people and money allow.  This one is in the best shape.  I really want to get rid of the tile and we are thinking about carpet squares because they can be removed when children inevitably do their worst to them.

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This sign just made me smile, I love it.

It gets me crazy excited about the little feet that will run down these hallways, excited to hang out with people who are excited about the love of Jesus.

Excited.

Now let’s go downstairs two floors, shall we?

 

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Here we have the fellowship hall, which is huge and currently the only part of the building being used at all.  It’s always set up like this because a Native American Seniors ministry is feeding people here twice a week.

This room will be getting an overhaul for sure, I’d love to do faux brick stuff or something with the floors to make it seem less industrial and a LOT warmer.  I’m thinking it would be nice to get it to a place where people would want to host family parties and small receptions here.

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My favorite asset?  This commercial grade kitchen. Complete with dishwasher, 12 burner gas stove, two fryer baskets, a commercial fridge and freezer.  #yayfood #peoplelovefood

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And here is what it looks like when someone throws a temper tantrum in the stairwell, had to be included in the tour because? Reality.

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Here we have our neighbors, the um… “adult store.”  I think they might have a theater of sorts.  We literally share a wall with this building and they have more prominent frontage than we do.

So here we are, it’s all started now guys. The one thing I keep reminding myself as my idealist self thinks through this building is that as much as function and design and coziness matter…. they don’t matter that much.

What will bring this church to life isn’t the carpet or the walls or the welcome desk, it will be the people who come in, stand alongside us all looking for more of a God who seems elusive sometimes.

A God we miss in the business and the fray.  A place where we can bring our raggedy selves to take a deep breathe and go: “That’s right, this is what it’s about, God’s got this whole thing, why was I so crazy all week long?”

At least that’s what I’ll probably say, until hopefully I grow until a better rhythm. I am a pastors wife now, after all.  Wife to a pastor of a church with no name and no members, for now.

But that’s all going to change, can you feel it?

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What’s in a (church) Name?

My husband and I are replanting a church in a 100 year old building in downtown Grand Rapids and every week I am writing about that journey in a series called “church from scratch”  This is post 3, for the rest, go here.”  

We are less than three weeks away from our actual start date and while Kel is crunching numbers, going to meetings and creating timelines… I am anxiously fretting passionately pondering two things: How are we going to remodel it?  
What are we going to name it?  (Because I’m passionate about words and hospitality, obviously)

As Kel still hasn’t gotten they keys yet for me to go all picture happy and crowd source remodel ideas with you all, let’s talk about naming a church… shall we?

Right now we have a church without a name.  This is not because we have a lack of ideas, but because I’m a word snob and we haven’t found the right one yet.  I’m sure of it, we don’t have it yet.

naming a church is hard

We’ve discussed Found Church, Urban Well, Creston Community Church and Riverside Church (but there already is one)

The weight of this decision feels really heavy on my shoulders because those of us who love words infer volumes from the naming of things.  Names mean things.

I spent months naming my children, we picked things with depth and linguistic beauty. (yes we knew people would call Caedmon “caveman” and we REALIZE Noelle’s initials are in fact NAP but we loved the names enough to overlook it.)  

Here are the criteria I currently have for the new church’s name.

1) Can’t be too trendy- We aren’t going to be a flashy modern church, we will be operating from a 100 year old sanctuary and our worship style will be based on narrative, story and a “old meets new” feel, so the name has to match.  Also we don’t want to loathe our name in 5 years time. (GodQuest.cc!) 
2) Has to communicate something foundational- A church’s name says a lot about what they value or what their focus is. We want to be a place for authenticity and depth, a place where those who are hurting or may have walked away from church can find a home for themselves and their families … among other things.
3) Has to be Rich with meaning- I’d really like our name to have layers of meaning, that correlate with evocative scripture.  When someone asks me why we named it …whatever we end up naming is… I want to tear up a little.
4) Has to be pronounceable and not confuse us with the local temple– I’m looking at the lead pastor here.  If Kel had his way our name would be Hebrew with none of the vowels and all of the confusion, it would be beautiful if you have an MDiv or regularly spend time sprawled over Old Testament Commentaries but other than that you might think you need a yarmulke to attend.

Tall order, I KNOW!  I wish I could lower my standards a little.  Maybe I need to.

It’s getting a little ridiculous how much we think and talk about this around here.  Our living room and dinner table sound like this:

Me: “I want our church to be comfortable with lament.
Kel: “Definitely… Lament  Church!  Bring your own Kleenex and your antidepressants!”
Facepalm.

We speak in a formula of our church should be + 30 seconds = ridiculous name suggestion

It’s on my mind all the time. You think Christmas is stressful, try wrapping presents while trying to name a church. Oiy.

But over the past week I’ve relaxed on it a little bit and you want to know why? Because I looked back and realized that I’ve happily attended churches whose name’s I didn’t like.

I’ve come to realize that yes, there is a lot in a name but there is so much more to be found in how the church serves the community.

If we as a church are out there making an impact in our community, if Kel is preparing messages that God uses to bring healing to broken places, if our children’s ministry is a place where kids feel loved “as is” and meet Jesus through the hands of our people…

Then we could have a borderline awful name and it would still be okay.  And we won’t have an awful name, I have too many systems in place to keep that in check.

So here’s the new game plan for selecting a name:

1) Set a deadline- 1 month, go.  By January 15 we are going to have a name.
2) Read the New Testament with this in mind and a notebook at hand.  Kel will read the Old Testament with this in mind because we are a house divided by that title page between Malachi and Matthew.
3) Make a list of possible ideas – Because I’m not going to remember them without a list.
4) Keep this list away from the kids- They will try to color all over it or shove it into the no man’s land under the couch.
5) Gather opinions- This is both smart and totally my personality type. We don’t want total control and all the church planting books recommend letting the community help you decide. Also,  I can’t buy wall hooks or shoes without at least 3 opinions so I’m going to ask for help with the final name choice.  Look for it.

So that’s how we’re going to name our church.

Do you love your current church’s name?
Any church names out there that you’ve loved, what are they and why were you drawn to them?

The best way to fail at church

Next week I have a big, newsy, tour of the church post planned.  But for now, it’s another feely post about church planting and pastor’s wifing.  Cool?

For those who are new, every Saturday for the foreseeable future, I’m writing about our church planting journey.  Here’s a little more info

6380995935_0c38436424_bI didn’t want to be a Pastor’s wife. I made this declaration before I ever graduated high school. And it was seriously confirmed in college by watching countless episodes of Seventh Heaven.

I remember one specific episode (viewed in my suite mate’s room just before lunch) where a bunch of church women were touring the parsonage and commenting loudly on the curtains and bedrooms with disdain and loads of snark about the decor.

In their opinion, since the home belonged to the church it was theirs to evaluate, tour and scrutinize.

 

So often ministry families feel like this. Owned. Scrutinized. Evaluated and found lacking.

College me grabbed another handful of Doritos and told my suite mates… “See, this is why I will never be a pastor’s wife, that’s crap.”

But…. here we are. #pastorswifed

They say that man makes plans and God laughs.  This phrase has always bothered me because it makes God out to be a bully who enjoys messing with us.

It also bothers me because it seems to hold true a lot of the time. I didn’t want to be a pastor’s wife, but here I am.

I talked to a lot of other pastor’s wives and they said the same thing.  “I never wanted to be a pastor’s wife, but here I am.”

I think it’s because so many of us worry that somehow God’s work will be the undoing of our marriages and families.

We’re worried you’ll judge us
We’re worried you hold us up to unreachable standards and dismiss us when we fail you
We’re worried you’ll judge our children, maybe make them hate church.
We’re pretty sure that you’ll say mean things about our spouse
We’re worried we’re not good enough for our role
We’re worried we’ll fail you by example.

And all these fears, have validity in the history of our lives
They’re valid because they happen. Continue reading

When working for the church feels like working for the enemy.

(Two months ago I announced our family’s church planting journey. Check out this post for specifics, I will be putting up a tab on all of this soon.  Many readers from twitter and facebook have said they would like to follow along on all of this. So, I will writing about church planting once a week, usually Saturdays, for the immediate future so you can see what it’s like to start a church (or restart one) from scratch. Some of these posts will be “this is how it’s going” and some of them will be more “this is how it feels.”)

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In six weeks Kel will have his first day of work as the Lead pastor of the a church restart on Plainfield in downtown Grand Rapids. No, we don’t have a name for it yet, yes I will be writing about that, yes it’s driving me crazy.

Before we get started on all this, I need to fill you in on foundational secret of mine.

Sometimes, when I tell people we’re starting a church or that I’m a pastor’s wife I feel shame.  Yes, shame.

Because sometimes, it feels like I’m working for the enemy.

Which is terribly awful when you follow the church back to the beginning. It started as revolutionary good news, and it still is, it’s just buried under centuries of painful human error.

One of the more recent ones has been turning Jesus-following into a cardboard way of life, flat and plastered with easy answers and cheap clichés.

I have more than a few friends who have walked away from church since high school because they’ve been burned, hurt, clichéd and cast out.  And I ache for them, I hate what they went through.

It’s hard to tell them that we’re starting a church after they pour out their hearts about how one certain church has nearly ruined them for God. Sometimes I’m tempted to lie about Kel’s new job, because I get it and I don’t want to associate with the places that caused their pain.

The places that made something so deeply real and organic feel like a cheap, plastic chotchkie.

Because I know that clichés don’t help you when it all falls apart and eventually, it always, always does. If the church isn’t somewhere we can go with our broken anger, if it’s not a place that can welcome us with our worst mistakes… then I understand why they left. Continue reading