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…