Missional Catechesis

Back in November, I got to perform my first baptism. (Yes, I’ve been meaning to write this post for that long.) The candidate (Shi) and I spent time in “catechesis” for about 40 days leading up to the baptism day. We met once a week and worked our way through the Heidelberg Catechism together.

Even though this was my first baptism, it wasn’t my first time doing catechesis. When doing the English Ministry (i.e. college ministry) for KUPC, 4 students sought to be baptized, and a fifth sought to reaffirm his infant baptism. I wasn’t ordained at the time, and so the baptisms were done by the senior pastor, but he gave me the responsibility and privilege of doing pre-baptismal counseling.

So, I had some prior experience in leading catechesis and I mostly knew what to expect. In addition to reading the Catechism, I also require baptism candidates to write their own statement of faith. I intentionally leave the assignment somewhat open-ended so that no one can reproduce what they think I want to hear, and they’re forced to use their own voice and perspective. The results are always fascinating and creative (and orthodox :-)) Some have simply translated the ancient faith into their own words. Others would include paragraphs on how they planned on living out their faith after being baptized. What Shi wrote back in November, though, was the most original and made me completely rethink the purpose of the exercise.

As Shi and I talked about how he would write the statement, he decided that he would write his statement as if a nonChristian were reading it. I thought this was a great idea, and I was even more surprised when I learned that Shi was writing it with a specific nonChristian in mind: his brother. The result was a statement of faith that was beautiful, honest, and very passionate. It ended with an invitation from Shi to his brother to follow Jesus. Shi wrote it with the intention of giving it to his brother after the service.

Typically when we require people to write statements of faith, we expect them to write with good, clear theology that shows their knowledge of church language. Whether it’s candidates for baptism or candidates for ordained ministry, requiring such statements implicitly tells people that what’s important is learning to speak “our” langauge and learning to fit into “our” church. What if we spent more time asking candidates to write statements of faith for those who don’t know church language? What if we expected them to do as Shi did, and write the statement as a letter to a friend who doesn’t know Christ and then give that person the statement?

Then, maybe, baptism wouldn’t only be a rite of passage into the church, it would also be the annointing of an evangelist.

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The Story of a New Church, part 1

As many of you already know, I’m graduating from seminary in a couple of weeks, and am planning on pursuing a call to New Church Development. Specifically, my friend, Chris, and I have been called to plant a new, multicultural church in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. I thought it would be good to take to time to write out our story, at least from my perspective, and I’d like to start from the very beginning. So, here we go…

I remember when I first grew interested in church planting. I was in college, and taking a class called “Intro to Christian Ministry.” One of the assigned texts for the class was Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren. Though I probably wouldn’t agree with Warren on everything if I were to reread it, at the time I found the book to be really exciting. It was the first time that the concept of church planting had been introduced to me as a possibility. Until then, I had assumed that church planting was only done in foreign countries, or if it was done in America, it must have been the work of a crazy person. (Actually, now that I think about it, I may still think that church planting is only done by crazy people…) I was immediately turned on to this ministry. I think what excited me most was the ability new churches and their pastors had to start from scratch, to form and mold a ministry without the baggage of “this is how we always do it” or “we’ve never done it that way before.” I decided that starting a new church would be a dream job. This was my sophomore year, and I held onto that dream through the rest of college and into seminary.

Fast forward to seminary. In my first year of seminary, my good friend Matt told me about his ministry as English Ministry pastor at Korean United Presbyterian Church, and encouraged me to consider for my Field Education taking his place once he leaves at the end of that school year. I looked into the position and liked everything I saw: working with young adults, preaching every week, providing leadership and pastoral care. In many regards, the position was the chance to really be a pastor, and not just an intern. So, I took it. When I started there, I also learned that the church was in the process of searching for an English-speaking Associate Pastor, who would start a new congregation for young college graduates under the umbrella of the current church. I immediately thought that this could be my dream job. I also was realistic. At that point, I still had 2 years of seminary to go. Surely they wouldn’t wait that long to fill the position. But, I prayed and trusted that if the position was for me, it would be there when I graduate.

Fast forward again about a year later to this past September. It was the weekend of the Evangelical Student Fellowship retreat. Chris and I were riding up together. At some point during the ride the conversation turned to future plans. We both talked about how we were thinking about new church development. Chris was (and still is) interning at the Open Door, a church plant in Pittsburgh. I was still thinking about the position at KUPC (which, 1 year later, was still open). The conversation didn’t progress much beyond just sharing dreams and thoughts.

Then the surprise came. I forget how long after the ESF retreat it happened, but I know it was on a Sunday afternoon. I had just dropped off KUPC students at CMU after Sunday worship. I was driving back to the seminary, thinking about the worship service I just led, the sermon I had just preached, and so on, when a thought popped into my head seemingly out of nowhere: “You and Chris Brown could plant a church together.” I almost stopped the car in the middle of the street; I had never been so surprised by my own thought before, if it was my own thought. I experienced a unique combination of surprise, confusion, and excitement. I arrived back at my seminary dorm room, and found myself pacing back and forth. I remember praying, “God, is this from you? Or is this just some wild dream out of my own imagination? What am I supposed to do with this?”

I felt the conviction to pray more about it, so I decided that for the next week, I would pray every day about whether or not Chris and I were to plant a church together. For a week, every morning, I prayed for God to make it clear if this was in fact His will, and I eagerly awaited his reply.

To be continued…