Monday, April 28, 2008

Where did the CORE vision come from?

While at Exponential 2008 I had dinner with some church planting friends and was asked the following questions by one of them who was curious:

Where did the vision for CORE come from?
What did it look like?
How do you know it was from God and not just your own idea?

Here was my response:

  1. Burden: The vision started as a burden. Long before I knew God would send me back to Troy, the city where I was born and raised, He placed a constant burden upon me. My wife and I bought a home in Schenectady when we were married. We lived there for twelve great years. It was while living in Schenectady that I felt God calling me into full-time ministry. It was in Schenectady that God opened the door to me for inner-city ministry as I joined the staff of City Mission of Schenectady, where I served and learned for eleven years, as God shaped my heart and mind. I was about two years into my time at City Mission when God began to impress upon me the need to plant a church that would incorporate many of the elements of Rescue ministry. God further prepared me through formal schooling at Mid America Baptist Theologiocal Seminary's Northeast Campus. While God was preparing me for all of this I would often drive through the city of Troy and think and pray for the city I grew up in. I had often heard the news reports about shootings, drug raids and gang violence. I found myself praying often for the city of Troy.
  2. Vision: As I prayed through the burden God met me with vision; a mental picture of what could be, coupled with the passion to see it happen. I wish I could say He gave me the whole vision in the beginning, but it has come in phases. As my wife and I obeyed and went to the place God had shown us, He began to give me more and more of the vision.
  3. Provision: As God began to shape the vision for planting an inner-city church, and as we obeyed and went to Troy, He literally started giving us things; a church building, a house to live in, a once vacant lot (through another church that felt we would put it to good use for the kingdom of God) and finances as we have had need. We are not on any danger of swimming in money, yet we have not lacked anything we have needed to carry out all that God has given us. An oldet, wiser pastor who has been a mentor to me for many years once told me, "Wherever the Lord guides, He will always provide." We have found that to be true.

Re-casting the CORE Vision

At Exponential 2008 Andy Stanley challenged us to make the vision stick. One of the many things he shared with us is the reality that people have a short retention span; that is, they will forget the vision if it is not shared and repeated often. At Northpointe he makes it a priority to communicate Northpointe's vision at least once a month with his staff and his congregation.

At the same time, while attending Exponential 2008 I was asked by at least a dozen people to share the CORE vision. So, to the CORE Church family and to those at Exponential 2008 who have inquired, here is the CORE Vision.

The CORE Church of Troy

Mission and Purpose: To know God and to make Him known in the hearts of people living in the heart of the city.

Vision: How will we make Christ known? As a community of faith united in the bond of the Holy Spirit.

A Connecting community - connecting with God and with other people for the purpose of connecting other people with God

An Offering community - Offering our lives to God as living sacrifices so that we may know His plan and purpose for our lives

A Reaching community - Reaching up to God. Reaching out to our neighbors. Reaching into the community, with His love, mercy, compassion, grace, peace, hope, strength, etc. thereby making Christ known in both word and in deed.

An Empowering community - in the unity and power of the Holy Spirit, as we make Christ known in the hearts and lives of His creation, we will be empowered from on high to make a difference in our communities and our world

Our shared see His kingdom come and his will be our community, our city, our state, our country, our it is in Christ lives and dwells in the hearts of His people and changes their lives, from the inside out.

Our core truth and guiding principle: What is the one thing we will live for and even die for?

Jesus Christ is the core of everything we are and do. He is the reason for our existence, the essential meaning and truth that we can build our lives upon. When Jesus Christ lives in the hearts of His people they will have His strength in their inner being. They will begin to know the full measure of His love and will reach out to their neighbors with His love (Eph. 3:14-19).

New CORE Church sermon series

I've been listening, quite a bit, to Lenny Kravitz' latest CD, "Love Revolution" and savoring the flavor of it. I've been a big fan of LK and his loud blues, funk sound for many years.

The title cut from the CD, Love Revolution has stirred up my thinking. In this song Lenny sings about a love that will not let you go.

This love will never leave you
This love will never let you go
It is time for a love revolution
It is time for a new constitution
You are a child of the most high

As I have been listening to this song I was thinking about what my life would be like if I could learn to love the way God loves and it hit me; that is the essence of the great commandment; to love God and to love others. So, over the next several weeks we will disect the great commandment and, together, learn what this commandment means and how we can apply it to our own lives in our local church setting. What will happen in our community as we seek to live out this great commandment? It is an experiment I am willing to undertake and to lead our CORE Church family through.

Missing Florida but Glad to be home.

A week ago today I had just arrived in Orlando to 82 degree, sunny weather. I was in Orlando for Exponential 2008. It was an incredible experience for a church planting newby like myself.

To be exposed to the teachings of men like Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Tim Keller, Ed Stetzer, Alan Hirsch, Dave Ferguson, Steve Andrews, Neil Cole, John Burke and a host of other leading thinkers in the world of missiology and church planting was like an all you can eat spiritual buffet. I walked away from that four day experience with the reassurance that I am where God wants me to be. I don't feel like an odd ball because I believe God has given me a big dream that I am relentlessly pursuing. I met a bunch of others who have had a similar experience with God and are pusuing the vision God has given them.

It was also nice to drive around Orlando a bit and get reacquainted with the landscape. You may not know this, but I have been here before; not just last year at exponential 2007, but I lived in Orlando for a short period of time in the late 1980's while working at Walt Disney World. In my B.C. days I was an aspiring chef and had gone to school for culinary arts and restaurant management. Disney was (and still is) the destination of many culinarians, not because of great pay (unless you work 70 hours per week or more) but because of the vast and varied experience that WDW has to offer. In a year and a half span I was able to learn many facets of food-service, from fast food, to large volume cafeteria/institutional, to fine dining and everything in between.

God has been impressing upon me that what I did in my B.C. (before Christ) days matters. God has had His hand on every part of my life, from the time I was conceived in my mother's womb to the very moment that I am writing this blog post (Psalm 139). Every part of my life has been shaped by God, even the bad things (bad from my perspective) are meant for His glory and used for His good purpose (Romans 8:28).

So, here I am, 24 years of walking with the Lord, and I find myself using the skills I learned in the first half of my adult life to begin a church planting movement in my own assigned field of harvest, here in New York's capital region. In just a few short weeks The Pod Coffee House will be open for business. This will be the next phase of our church planting Journey as the CORE Church seeks to make Christ known in the heart of the city of Troy, New York and beyond.

The vision God has placed within my own human brain has captured my heart, mind, soul and strength. God is moving in Troy, NY. Dare I believe that God would use me to stir up a church planting movement in this city and throughout the capital region!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Meeting John Burke and Craig Whitney at Exponential 2008

I met up with Craig Whitney at Exponential 2008 while he was manning ELI's (Emerging Leaders Initiative) information booth. I initially connected with Craig via facebook and we exchanged a few e-mails discussing some particulars of church planting and ELI's vision, mission, etc. Ihad a chance to chat with Craig for a good 10-15 minutes as he shared additional info with me about ELI.

I had also read John Burke's book, "No Perfect People Allowed" which I purchased at last year's Exponential 2007. So when Craig invited me to a lunch time rap session with John Burke and himself on Wednesday I jumped at the chance. I hightailed it over to AP-1 (one of those modular buildings on FBC's campus) and ate my lunch while listening to Burke and Whitney share their approach to church planter recruiting, assessment, fund raising, etc. I enjoyed their openness and willingness to share their piece of church planting wisdom with emerging guys like me. This is one more tool in my church planting tool box which God is using to shape me. Thank you Craig and John for the info and the fellowship.


Thanks to Dave Ferguson I now have a new buzz word to think and pray about. In one of the pre-conference sessions at exponential 2008 I was sitting there listening to Dave Ferguson share some of his multi-site/church planting wisdom when he quoted the author of the Book "Good To Great." Dave shared two characteristics of a level 5 leader; they are "other centered" and they are "UNSTOPPABLE," meaning that they pursue God's vision and mission relentlessly. This one word has stuck with me through the entire conference. If there is one thing I would like to become in my pursuit of fulfilling God's mission it is to be "UNSTOPPABLE."

So, Dave Ferguson, and any other blogging friends who happen to catch this post, hold me accountable. Ask me every now and them how I'm doing at becoming "UNSTOPPABLE" for God's kingdom.

Exponential afterthoughts

I miss my Budget "economy" rental car. I think I should have traded with the family of five that was ahead of me in line at the Budget counter. They got stuck with a Ford Focus for mom, dad and three young children...and a mound of luggage to boot

Me being "Ford Truck Tough." But I'm still a city punk from upstate NY.

Meeting Rick Warren

"One tubby, tubby...Two tubby, tubby,"(if you were there and you heard the man speak then you know what this in reference to)

My son saw these two photos and was convinced I was at a Drake Bell concert instead of in a church at a conference. If you have kids and watch Nickelodeon's Drake and Josh show than you'll know what I mean. The lead singer of the 2/42 worship band looks a lot like Drake Bell.

(Drake Bell)

My Exponential 2008 experience: the people

I met a lot of great church planters at exponential 2008. It was reassuring for me to connect with some of these guys and to hear their stories in the church planting realm. I have found that I am not alone. There are other strange creatures called "church planters" who have gone through similar experiences as I have in their efforts to make some sort of sense out of the vision God has given them. Here are just a few.

Nick Poole serves in the Allison Park Church, Pittsburgh, Pa as pastor of church planting. I connected with Nick initially on facebook and hooked up with him at Exponential 2008. Nick actually let me hang out with him a bit as he and I were both attending solo.

Bumped into Jay Hardwick as well. I initially met Jay, again, through facebook and have been following his blog ever since. I wish I could say I spent time getting to know Jay,but with 2300 plus in attendance it was hard to keep tabs on anyone. I saw Jay coming out of one of the sessions, we met, shook hands, chatted for about five minutes, and then he had to go and meet some other folks. That's okay, Jay, I'm going to Whiteboard Sessions in D.C. next month, so maybe we'll connect again there.

Meeting Dave Ferguson was a blessing and a privilege. Dave, along with his brother Jon Ferguson, is co-founder of Community Christian Church of Naperville, Ill, as well as Newthing Church Planting Nerwork, and is considered by Leadership Network to be one of the most influential and innovative church planting churches in America. I sat in on their pre-conference Multi-site session and got to hang out with Dave and some of his staff a bit. I was impressed with Dave's humble, approachable character. I have been tracking the success of CCC and Newthing for the past year, along with their Community 4:12 outreach ministry to the poor and under resourced East Aurora community which is led by Kirsten Strand, who I was hoping to meet at Exponential but did not get a chance to. I had connected with Kirsten via e-mail a few times as we are engaged in similar, inner-city ministries. I have found encouragement in what she and CCC are doing through Community 4:12. I will continue to follow Dave's blog, as well as Kirsten's. I may even bug them with a question or comment every now and then.

I was also thankful to meet and chat with Brian Zehr, Newthing's church planter coaching coordinator. Brian let me hang out with him for a bit and share the CORE vision and bounce some ideas off of him. Brian met me with encouragement to press on and continue in the work we are doing in New York's capital region.

Then there was Mike Dodson. I met Mike at our Mid America Baptist Seminary Northeast Campus alumni banquet and founder's days last fall and then happened to bump into him in the multi-site, preconference session on Monday. Mike planted a church in Pennsylvania and co-authored the book, "Comeback Churches" along with Ed Stetzer. Mike was gracious in allowing me to hang out and chat with him over the four day stretch. It was great to hear about what's going on in his harvest field and to share our CORE vision and story.

I have to mention bumping into Rick Miller, the president of my own church planting and missions family, Missions Door. Rick spotted me as I was coming out of the men's room, on the very last day of the conference as everyone was getting ready to leave. Rick invited me to join him and a team of Missions Door church planters for lunch at Sizzler. It was great to meet Bob Lehman, Paul Biggers, Steve Farnworth and a few others who are connected to Missions Door.

These are just a few of the church planters and pastors I met over the course of four days at Exponential 2008. I am planning on attending the Whiteboard Sessions in D.C. in May and hope to see some of these guys there. Lord willing, I may even catch up with some of them at next year's Exponential 2009.

My Exponential 2008 experience

First Baptist Church of Orlando, again, graciously hosted Exponential.

Just got back from Exponential 2008. My return trip to Albany was a little more nerve racking than the flight to Orlando. I got to the airport in plenty of time, only to find our that there were No More Seats On My Reserved/Prescheduled Flight. I could have hemmed and hawed about it bit I just grinned and beared it and politely accepted a seat on the next flight, which was an additional two hour wait. No big deal. I still got home safe, except it was 12:30am instead of the original plan of 10:30pm.

Anyway, it was a great conference. I could post a detailed outline of all of the sessions, but by now plenty of my blogging friends have already done a much more thourough job that I would probably provide. Including my friend Jay Hardwick. Check out his blog for a great snapshot of the plenary sessions with:

Rick Warren

Andy Stanley

Ed Stetzer

Alan Hirsch

Tim Keller

Dave Ferguson

Steve Andrews

My focus here will be the people I met and re-met since last year's conference

Meeting Dan Merrill

On a connecting flight from D.C. to Orlando I had the privilege of being seated next to a man named Dan Merrill.

after stowing my carry-on bag in the overhead compartment I got settled into my seat. I kept my Bible tucked under my arm, as I took my seat, with the intention of spending some time getting intimate with my Creator during the flight to Orlando. I was soon joined by a man who introduced himself as Dan Merrill from Portland, Maine. As he took his seat he noticed the Bible tucked under my arm and commented, "Best book ever written." That was the beginning of a nice conversation that lasted nearly an hour as we shared thoughts about Scripture and our common journey with Christ. I was on my way to Orlando for Exponential 2008, Dan was enroute to Lakeland, Fla for a revival.

Come to find out, Dan plays guitar and sings lead vocals in a progressive Christian rock band called Simon Apple . As we touched down in Orlando and made our way from the plane to the airport Dan and I shook hands, exchanged e-mail addresses and went our separate ways to our intended destinations. I had an opportunity during my four days in Florida to check out Simon Apple's website and Myspace page. I love their sound which is reminiscent of early Genesis, Bruce Hornsby & Steely Dan, to name a few.

It was indeed a blessing to meet Dan Merrill and to hear his story. As I was perusing their website I discovered that their drummer, Buzz Saylor, was recently diagnosed with cancer and is undergoing treatment. So, to my blogging friends I would ask you to pray for this man, Buzz Saylor, and if you have an extra minute or two, check out their music on their website and myspace page

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Alive and well at Exponential 2008

I arrived in Orlando late Monday morning after a 6:10am flight from Albany to D.C. and then on to Orlando. The time in flight is still kind of hazy due to the fact that I never, never, never get out of bed much before 8am. I was up at 4:00 am and out of the house by 4:30. Arrived at the Albany International just before 5am and by the time I got through security it was 5:35 am. Not much to report there except for a very busy airport for that hour of the morning, and a rather aggressive security person named Myrna who yanked the zipper right off of my carry on bag as she was checking it for contraband and other stuff. Thanks to Myrna I now have no way to zip my bag shut and now it is no longer a secret as to whether I where boxers or briefs. If you want to know, go to Albany International and ask for Myrna at the security check point.
Both flights were on schedule and without incident. I arrived at Orlando International around 11:00am. Made my way to the Budget Rental counter where I was greeted by Eduardo who politely took care of me. he did inform me that they were out of compact cars, which i had reserved months ago, also that they were out of the next class up (sub-compact cars) and that I could either have a luxury car if I wanted to pay twice as much as the compact car would have been, or I could have a Ford F-150 pick-up truck for the same rate as the compact car. I instantly responded by saying, "I'll take it." I made my way to the spot where the truck was parked and was surprised to see not just any pick-up truck, but a brand new, shiny, charcoal gray, 4-wheel drive, king cab F-150 pick-up. As I climbed my way behind the steering wheel of this monster of a truck I started humming that Toby Keith "Built Ford Tough" commercial I had heard many times before.
Thanks to my trusty mapquest driving directions and the fact that I had been here last year, I was able to find everything fairly easily. Grabbed a quick sandwich and Arizona Green Tea at 7-eleven and made it to First Baptist Church of Orlando just ten minutes late for the first pre-conference session. Met up with Brent Foulke, who is exec. director for this year's Exponential conference. Brent, who also serves as head of church planter recruiting for Stadia, is one of my home-boys from Albany, NY. Chatted with Brent briefly and then hightailed it to Henry Chapel for the "7 Moves to Multi-site" session with Dave Ferguson and his staff from CCC Naperville, Illinois. Dave and his staff of leaders and artists shared their wisdom and experience in the realm of multi-site church planting. Community Christian Church has gone from one location to nine campuses, as well as giving birth to Newthing Networks (their church planting entity) and their own, in house, school for the arts. They have been cited by Leadership Network as one of the most influential and innovative church planting networks in the US. I have been watching and gleaning from Dave Ferguson and his team since I first heard about them while attending last year’s Exponential conference.
I have been keeping tabs on Dave Ferguson via his blog and on his church, CCC Naperville, and their Newthing Networks (used to be Newthing Network until they became multiple networks joining together). Dave has quickly become one of my church planting heroes. Dave shared many helpful bits of insight from his church planting journey. However, two things he said were worth the price of admission...two things he said to encourage church planters like me to be better leaders,
  1. Be others centered. That is, focus on loving and serving others the way Christ did.
  2. Be UNSTOPPABLE. That is, if you know at the very core of your being that God has called you to plant His church then pursue it relentlessly and passionately. It must be a hill your willing to die on.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Great Commandment/Commission Go Hand in Hand

I'd have to say I'm often guilty of taking my own salvation for granted. I think many American Christians, myself included, are so wrapped up with their own personal lives and personal relationship with God that we neglect to fulfill the great commandment and the great commission. I used to think of the two as separate, yet they are simultaneous. If I truly love God and my neighbor then I will not keep the greatest news in the world from my neighbor. I will search out ways to make Christ known both in word and in deed. The best way for me to show God's love is to spread God's love. My prayer is that I will not be guilty of writing empty words in this post but will back it up by practicing what I preach.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Exponential 2008 less than a week away

2008 National New Church Conference

Just five days from now, on April 21st, I will be flying to Orlando, FLA for the Exponential 2008 National New Church Conference. I am looking forward to a great time of fellowship with thousands of church planters from around the world and learning from leaders like Rick Warren, Andy Stanley, Ed Stetzer, Tim Keller, Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson. I attended last year's event for the first time and was blessed with a free ticket to this year's event. I was able to keep in touch with many of the church planters that I had met there last year and will meet up with some of them this time around for dinner, networking and fellowship. I will be sitting in on the "Missional Church" main track led by Ed Stetzer, Alan Hirsch and Neil Cole and the "Reproducing Church Experience" pre-conference session with Dave and John Ferguson. I will post daily blog updates from Orlando.

Who are we affiliated with and what is our approach?

A church planting friend recently asked, out of curiosity, “Who are you affiliated with and what is your strategy and/or approach to planting the CORE Church of Troy?”

My response to this question, I thought, would be a great topic for posting on our church website

We are officially working with the Conservative Baptists and their urban church planting arm known as Missions Door, formerly Mission to the Americas. Our approach is more of an indigenous church plant–that is, self-supporting, self-governing and self-reproducing. We are receiving some support from our regional association, CB Mission Northeast, as well as from our sponsoring church, First Baptist Church of Westerlo, NY. So we are not truly self-supporting.

We took over an old Baptist church that had closed and re-started it as an inner-city/mission church with a focus on being a neighborhood church that is intentionally reaching out to the people who live here. Being an indigenous, mission church has resulted in slower numerical growth than a typical church plant because our strategy, the design of which came out of necessity.

Our strategy in Troy’s North Central/South Lansingburgh community, then, is to be low structured and highly relational. That means freeing up our ministry leadership so that they can be in the community connecting with people and building relationships, as opposed to spending a lot of time at the church building running and overseeing programs. We do have some programs which have developed as a result of getting out into the community, assessing the needs of our community and then seeking, prayerfully, how we can be the catalyst in our community to meet these needs.

We have made progress over the past two years as we have spent time breaking up fallow ground and preparing the soil for planting seeds. We are seeing some of the seeds we have planted take root as God works in the hearts of those we have reached with the good news of a risen Savior.

What are our bench marks of success?

In a recent interview I was asked, “What would you say have been the bench marks of success for the CORE Church of Troy?”

My Response:
I would have to say one area of success is that we have developed a good working knowledge of Troy’s North Central/South Lansingburgh neighborhood, which has allowed us to form a strategy for planting seed on fertile ground. This neighborhood has been shrouded in darkness for many years. It is the toughest, most economically depressed section of Troy. It is also very much a transitional community. People who live here do so, for the most part, because they can’t afford to live anywhere else. When they do get ahead in life they move to a better part of town. There are many single mothers here which means there are many young children who live in this neighborhood as well. Additionally, there are a lot senior citizens, mostly widows, who can’t afford to sell their homes and move. Therefore, we have seen the need to embrace what James refers to as “True religion.” That is, to “Take care of the widows and the fatherless in their troubles, and keep yourselves unspotted by the world.”

On any given Sunday we typically see more kids than adults in our weekly gatherings. We are happy to have them with us and we have seen the importance of reaching them before the street element reaches them. Therefore, we have sought ways to develop a missional/incarnational strategy that will inlude these great kids as we seek to make Christ known in the heart of the city.

One of the bench marks of success will be reaching these kids for Christ. Five years from now they will be teenagers, then off to college and so on. If we can impact their lives now it will affect the rest of their lives.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The CORE Church of Troy and community development

Our associate pastor, Ron, and I sat in on the North Central Troy community development meeting, which took place last night. Ron has a college degree in community development and commented to me afterward via e-mail, "it does not touch on the core issue of how to make a city wonderful, change the people, by bringing the life changer, Jesus Christ, into their lives."

I wholeheartedly agree with Ron's evaluation. Nehemiah saw and accepted the challenge of rebuilding a city in ruins. He rebuilt people who together rebuilt the city of Jerusalem. That's where our role comes into play. As city officials and community residents do their part, we are there to introduce them to "the life changer, Jesus Christ." That is where our facilities and our presence in Troy's North Central community will bring glory and honor to the One who sent us there. For two years we have been preparing soil and planting seeds. I was reading, recently, about the process of breaking up fallow ground and preparing it for producing a crop. It takes time and lots of TLC before once fallow ground will begin to produce a crop. The old soil needs to be turned over. Fertilizer and nutrients need to be added. Then seed goes into the ground and so on.

For many years the soil in North Central has been fallow ground. No one has been there to break it up and work it. We still have a lot of work to do before harvest time. God is giving us the tools and the workers to reap a bountiful harvest. In His time we will begin to see the fruit of our labors as the neighborhood kids we have been connecting with start asking questions (they already are) and find the answers, and then lead their families to Christ.

We are engaged in a different facet of community development; the kind that will breathe the grace, peace and hope of Jesus Christ into the lives of people living in this inner-city neighborhood. While city officials work on the physical landscape, we are given the task of developing the human landscape...and there you have a Biblical picture of community development.

We were invited to this meeting by our friend and neighbor, Thila Bell, who is one of our neighborhood association leaders. We have gotten to know Thila, who has become to us that "person of peace" we read about in Pauls encounters, as recorded in Acts. Also in attendance at this meeting, in addition to our mayor, were other city officials, community development experts, neighborhood leaders, business and homeowners, and several clergy. For two hours we sat and listened as various key officials, one by one, shared their vision and strategy for what they see as crucial in revitalizing the North Central neighborhood. Then they invited those who were in attendance to ask questions. Their goal in these neighborhood meetings is to develop a list of priorities as well as a team comprised of city leaders and interested citizens who will work together to see these priorities become tangible projects that will result in a better neighborhood.

Many great ideas were shared by both city officials and citizens. However, I was disappointed that no one spoke up for the families and children who live in this neighborhood of interest. Since it is 90-95% residential then it should be a high priority, in my opinion, to offer some sort of plan to improve the quality of life for these low income families with limited opportunities, many of who are left behind senior citizens. I have to say that I was not surprised with the scope of ideas and topics that were presented and discussed. The mayor is interested in increasing the city's tax base and in what the majority of the people want, which is a clean, safe neighborhood where they can live and raise their families. It will be interesting to see where all of this leads. The CORE Church of Troy is blessed to be a part of this community development process.