Adventures In Urban Church Planting

26 Apr

This post is not a deeply theological dissertation filled with my expert advice on the proper ways to make your church plant thrive. And I’ll tell you why. You know that lady who has one kid and that kid is two months old and that lady can talk for four days straight about all of her brilliant wisdom pertaining to every aspect of child-rearing from Perfectly Pleasant Pottying to Parenting your Pre-Pubescent Poltergeist? Yeah, you know someone like that. And every time she opens her mouth, you want to release your inner Mr. Miyagi on her.

I don’t want to be her.

We’re only a couple of months into the church-planting journey, so I have no wisdom, no advice, and certainly no expertise.  I’m simply writing about how we got to where we are right now and to express my deep appreciation and encouragement to others in the church planting biz.

My first real exposure to the whole urban planting thing was through our very dear friends, Brad and Shelby Somers, who were sent by our home church in Ontario to start a church in Halifax, Nova Scotia. We were living in Ethiopia at the time, so we weren’t able to see their ministry first-hand until a couple of years later. We communicated frequently, and saw lots of pictures, so by the time we got to spend a month with them in 2009, we had a pretty good idea of what to expect.

What we saw was poverty, racism, homelessness,  substance abuse, broken families, prostitution, gang violence, and heartbreak.  But hovering around and amidst those things – diffusing them, dispelling them, and healing them – we saw generosity, compassion, forgiveness, kindness, warmth, and love. Inexplicable, heart-level, embracing-through-the-filth kind of love.

That was the body of Christ at work. And we wanted in on it.

We prayed and made sure God was fully aware of our availability. We gently reminded Him that we’d done our time in overseas missions. We explored the city. We attended and helped with a variety of church functions. I started looking at houses online. We just needed the go-ahead from the Lord. Cue crickets chirping.

Our incredible month there ended. We bawled our fool heads off when it was time to go. (Well, Shelby and I bawled our fool heads off. Pat and Brad fist-bumped and cleared their throats and passed us the Kleenex.) We drove home to Ontario and waited for God to tell us to move to Halifax.

Jump ahead to spring of 2011. God had moved us in a completely different direction. We were all set to return to Ethiopia as long-term missionaries. We were less than 4 months away from our departure date when God suddenly closed that door. Again with the bawling my fool head off – only this time, it was for days. I was a wreck. When our pastor got my email and phoned to see what he could do, I asked him to stop the world. Stupid request, I know, but all I could think was that I really needed everything to just stop and give me a second!

Within a few days, we met with our pastor to talk through the changes we were facing. (I’m sure he was immensely relieved that my hiccupping, sobbing, gasping-for-breath crying had stopped.) “I think the timing of this could turn out to be very interesting,” he said. “There’s this family I think you should meet.”

That family turned out to be James and Karen Bast and their two young children. They were in the early planning stages of a church plant in Guelph, which was to be a satellite site of our home church in Cambridge. We were immediately interested.

We met with James and Karen several times over the next few months and our relationship was very easy right from the start. The itch to work with them in this new venture was very compelling. However, we also felt like the mounting drama in our family (see this post about that if you missed it before: required some focused attention. Perhaps the distraction of a new, intense ministry would be detrimental to our family health.

With that in mind, we tried to stay on the periphery of the planning and strategizing for the church plant. That was hard to do. But the waiting was good for our family, and it was good for the church. Apparently, (brace yourself for this. It’s big news) if I were to jump in and snatch up every job that needed to be done, I would take those roles away from other people who don’t actually suck at them! AND I would be so overwhelmed, busy and burned out that I wouldn’t be halfway capable of fulfilling the roles that God meant for me to do. Imagine that!

I held back for nine or ten months, not getting fully involved, not committing to any big responsibilities. Just observing, praying and waiting. It was pretty cool to watch God gather together a team of seemingly random, disconnected people to form what is now a cohesive unit.

Sunday mornings are a lot of work. My husband is the facilities team coordinator, so he is at the school where we meet by 8 AM (often having gone to pick up the van and trailer full of our equipment on the way). He is met by a handful of eager helpers and they unload the trailer and start setting up the gym and the classrooms. Over the next hour, more helpers trickle in and get to work. The atmosphere is joyful and relaxed. So far, we’ve always had more people than necessary because we all like to be there working together. There is deep joy in serving together. And we love each other! In between putting the stage together, setting out chairs, adjusting lights and sound equipment, making coffee, arranging the children’s rooms, and all the other details, we talk and laugh and enjoy being together. It’s awesome.

Our services for the first month were just for the launch team. We practiced setting up, we ironed out some glitches in the system, and we practiced putting everything away. But now that the services have been open to the public for a couple of months, we are jumping with wild abandon into the euphoric phase of welcoming strangers to church!

And not only that, but we are adamant that being part of the body of Christ means serving and meeting the needs of people around us. Picking up garbage, building shelves for the food bank,  and serving Christmas dinner to underprivileged families is just the beginning. The core of who we are as a church is summed up neatly by our mandate: Love God, Love Others, Serve the World. That’s exciting stuff!

I can’t wait to see how God moves in Guelph. I am stoked that He lets me participate. I adore our little launch team and I am awed at the incredible individuals that God has led to the various leadership positions. Forward Church Willow rocks!!!

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3 responses to “Adventures In Urban Church Planting

  1. KaReNB

    April 26, 2012 at 3:55 PM

    Sniff! Thanks for sharing your journey with everyone. I love to hear how God has brought all us seeming “randoms” together!

  2. Shelby

    April 26, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    YAY for the honeymoon!!!!! I loved reading this! Fabulously accurate start-of-a-church-plant joy!!! I pray it will carry you through many, many years and that the Lord will bless and cocoon the unity of your team. Praise His Name for what is happening in Guelph!!!

  3. Laura

    April 26, 2012 at 9:35 PM

    I hear you about your passion and excitement when in Halifax…we’ve felt that too. Loved reading this post and so excited for all that God is doing at Willow!


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