Monday, February 11, 2008

Confessions of an emerging church planter: what can I say, I’m a late bloomer!

(Thank you Adiba DeSousa for letting me unload)

I'm not a polished ivory tower theologian. I don't have a bachelor's degree, so I had to go for the A.Div (associates degree) offered by our local Baptist seminary.

I don't believe seminary is a must for everyone, but it was necessary for me because my life was a literal nightmare; a train wreck waiting to happen. God had a plan for my life that I wanted nothing to do with, so, He gave me that Holy Discontent Pastor Bill Hybels wrote about in his most recent book by the same title. I heard it first hand from his own mouth at last years Exponential NNCC in Orlando. He was one of the keynote speakers and the main reason I traveled from my humble abode in upstate, NY to the Sunshine State. I couldn't get anyone to go with me so I went by myself, because I knew that Hybels and Ed Stetzer and Dave Ferguson were scheduled to pour out some juicy tidbits of church planting wisdom. I am not sorry for investing the $$$ to go to last year’s conference. I got so much out of it, and the Holy Spirit stretched me so much, that I found myself praying for the opporunity to return for 2008’s version of this annual church planters delight. Sure enough,God heard my prayer and on the last session of the week long conference, my name was drawn for a free ticket to this year’s Exponential Conference. I would have been kicking myself had I not followed through with this, because the very next week after I registered they announced that Rick Warren was added to the schedule of keynote speakers. Talk about a sign on bonus!

When I graduated seminary (it took me seven years to earn 64 credits and complete the A. Div) I had no intention of moving back to the city of Troy, my Jerusalem, to plant a church. I love this city and prayed for it daily while attending seminary and living 20 miles away in Schenectady, NY, but the thought of starting a church here never came until the summer of 2005, after my tour of duty at Mid America Baptist Theological Seminary/Northeast Campus. I was comfortable in my ministry staff position at the City Mission of Schenectady, until I went through an entire week of not be able to sleep because God was flooding me with vision. I knew I was hearing from God, but I had no place at the time to apply the vision He had given me, so, I had to learn to be patient and wait upon Him. That, for me, was a stretch. I am, by nature, an impatient procrastinator.

I shared this vision with the first few people I thought would receive it and it went right over their heads. One pastor told me that (according to his estimation) I didn't have the spiritual gifting to pull it off. I left that meeting disappointed and deflated. After several days of praying and fasting God made it very clear to me that, as He says in His word, He chooses the weak, the powerless, the foolish (in the eyes of those who are looking) things of this world, in order to demonstrate His power. At my next meeting with this senior pastor He asked me if I had thought about our previous conversation and then invited me to their next "discover your ministry class." I looked at him and did everything I could to contain myself, but this fire came up within me, wanting to scold this man because he just didn't get it. I had already shared with him what I believed God was telling me. The Holy Spirit convicted me that this pastor was absolutely, 100% correct when he said I didn’t have what it takes to carry this out, but the One who gave me this Big Dream does have all that it takes and vastly more than I can wrap my mind around.

At that point, the Holy Spirit brought me to the point of self abandonment. For the first time in my life, after walking with Jesus for 20 years, I was beginning to understand what it means and what it looks like to, "deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me." Until I got out of my own way, God could not use me. As soon as I started to let go of me, and my own understanding of how all of this was going to work out, God-things started happening; things that I cannot fully explain, but can only point to the Scriptures and to the absolute promises that Jesus gave to His disciples (including us today) and say, "Don't look at what I've done, look at what He has done and will continue to do."

I am enjoying this emerging conversation because my church planting brother, Adiba DeSousa and I are on oppostie sides of the black/white spectrum, as well as the social class spectrum. Adiba is a black man planting a church in a predominately white, upscale community, while I am a white man planting a church in the midst of a growing ethnic mix, including blacks and hispanics, mostly poor and disenfranchised.

Many stereotypical radars are going up here thinking, "imagine that, a black man planting a church in a white, upper middle class, family friendly community, while a whate man is planting a church in the ghetto, where people don't even know where their next meal is coming from.

The CORE Church of Troy is in the ghetto, reaching out to people God has sent us to. Because we (me and my wife and two godly men who have risked everything to join us) said yes, Lord, we will go, we are now, after two years into this, beginning to see the signs of a HUGE work God will do through us.I started out with nothing more than seven people, an incredible vision from God, and faith a little bit smaller that a mustard seed and God took it and is running with it.I share all of this with you, Adiba and the rest of my church planting family, because God has brought us through so much. He will do the same for you. Whether the people we are called to reach are black, white, brown yellow or green; rich, poor or somewhere in between, He is the God of us all and calls us all to Himself. And, if that's not enough, He gives us, the lowly church planters, front row seats to watch it all take place. It's like having center court seats to watch your favorite NBA team tear up the court (only 1000% better)That's my $2.02 worth,