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The Challenge of Planting a Church in NYC – Part 2

You can check out Part 1 of this series here.

In many ways, the challenges I will discuss in this series are issues that most church planters/pastors face in any context.

Living in NYC simply exacerbates some of these challenges (for instance the disproportionate cost of living here, as mentioned in Part 1).

For instance, when it comes to the financial pressures of any start-up, these anxieties exist for any entrepreneurial endeavor.

However, the pure financial costs are higher here, simply put.

One could talk about the “greater risk, greater reward” mantra to describe the merits of planting a church in NYC… but it’s exceptionally difficult to quantify the great “reward” of planting a church in NYC vs another city/context when ministry “success” entails so many different elements.

If one were to speak purely of numbers of people when it comes to church “success”, there are significantly larger churches and church plants around the country, a fact that can easily cloud the merits of investing significantly more money to plant a church here rather than say, South America.

But I digress…. (although you’ll see how church size will come up later in the post).

The next challenge I wish to write about is one that is ubiquitous regardless of context… and yet there are some peculiarities to NYC.

Here’s Challenge #2: Planting a Church in NYC is Awfully Lonely. 

Church Planting in NYC can be an isolating experience.

Church Planting in NYC can be an isolating experience.

Non-profit management guru Peter Drucker once said that the four most challenging jobs in the US are the President of the US, the CEO/President of a Hospital, a University President, and a Pastor.

It’s already hard enough being a Pastor and navigating the different “hats” one has to wear (which, along with the other 3 vocations Drucker mentions, is why being a Pastor can be one of the most challenging jobs), but adding the element of being an entrepreneurial Pastor can make the task of Church Planting profoundly more difficult and complicated.

Both Pastor and Entrepreneur are inherently stressful positions, and adding NYC to the equation makes for a particularly combustible context.

I believe this to be true of most pastors/church planters I meet in NYC, but what makes the feeling of loneliness more acute here is the feeling that I’m never quite measuring up.

This goes back to the discussion about measuring ministry “success.”

If one were to go purely based on Sunday attendance (which is generally the standard measurement across time/place in church planting in the States – as much as people would hate to admit), then “success'” is difficult to come by in NYC when compared to one’s previous context (usually a mega-ish church in the suburbs of middle America) or even in the shadows of more established churches in the City (so many great, longstanding churches to name).

The above paragraph reveals even more nefarious messages that I often tell myself as a church planter – I’m measured against other Pastors/Churches.

All in all, the stress of financial worry, family adjustments, and the inescapable cloud of comparisons to peers or my past can lead me to isolate myself from feeling what is reality to so many of us:

Church Planting in NYC is financially taxing, a stress on my family, and not quite as glamorous as the big city itself.  

Yes, I’ve been there.

I suspect most of us have.

Solutions?

Thankfully, the above news is something that many have reflected on before, and as a result, ministry heroes of mine have tried hard to keep Pastors/Church Planters in NYC from isolating and growing cynical.

Here are a few folks I’d like to highlight:

1) Redeemer City to City & NYC Leadership Center – I link these ministries together not because of any official connection but because these organizations have long been advocates of resourcing and connecting church planters for decades now.

I’ve written about the spirit of leaders like Tim Keller and Mac Pier before, and I truly think these guys have been forerunners to much of the camaraderie and friendship enjoyed by Pastors in NYC today.

Also, shout-out to Parakeleo, a ministry of mutual support for church planting spouses that I’ve heard great things about.

2) Emotionally Healthy Spirituality – I can’t emphasize this one enough.  My heritage obviously comes from New Life Fellowship, so it’s no surprise that I want to advocate for every pastor to learn from Pete & Geri Scazzero and Rich Villodas in living an emotionally healthy life that allows my marriage and family to flourish.  Church planters especially can use a healthy dose of EHS.

3) Christ Tabernacle – Ever since I’ve known the CT guys, I’ve been amazed at their hospitality and willingness to serve/connect church leaders in NYC.  Pastor Michael Durso is part of that wave mentioned above, and Adam Durso and the rest of CT are some of the most generous folks I know.

4) Recovery House of WorshipTrinity Grace Church & “Network” Church Planting – I LOVE the RHOW folks. They are a church planting movement doing amazing work in the city and beyond, and are some of the most mission-minded church planters I know.  I learn so much from them about mission and discipleship whenever I’m around them!

TGC is another family of parishes all around NYC.  Their kingdom vision is really genuine and inspiring, and the ways they plant churches by 1) empowering/contextualizing and 2) serving with a Central Office is something that many church plants and churches have learned a great deal from (including Hope).

I LOVE how these folks fight against the isolationist spirit of church planters by creating a network of mutual support.

Brilliant.

And helpful.

5) So many Pastors/Church Planters in NYC who now embody the Kingdom Spirit – Reach out to any of us.  I think you’ll realize we’ll share the following:

– Church Planting is Hard in NYC

– Church Planting is Rewarding in NYC

– The City is Too Big to be Thinking So Small

– I Don’t Have to Do This Alone

– I Desperately Need a Gospel-Centered Approach to My Identity, Our Church, and Our City.

Together – and only together – can we be part of something significant in this Great City.  

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Great Memories from our Rule of Life Weekend

Our Group Picture from our Rule of Life Weekend.

Had an awesome weekend with New Lifers at our Retreat in the Poconos Mountains.  Some memories are listed below.

And if you’d like to know what we mean by Rule of Life, you can click here.

MEMORIES:

– Greg Jao leading us do an eye-opening study through Acts 9-10.  WOW.

– Some beautiful weather… right until we had to leave.

“If you’re having a hard time thinking about what you enjoy, think back to your childhood.”

Rich Villodas going over guidelines for being together – “it’s not the time for you to prophesy!”

– Rich going over a personal Rule of Life and giving us some much needed time of personal reflection.

– “Have you tried these brownies?”

– “These apricots are sour!”

– “Would you rather be taken or left behind?”

Who knows a song? Let’s sing some songs! ~ God, told Noah, to build him, and arky, arky…~

– “Karis is so cute!”

– “I should really stop calling him Paul.  He’s not Paul yet, but the story when Saul becomes Paul is really cool.”

– “I’d like to introduce you to my lovely wife… she’ll be collecting your money.”

– “This retreat is an invitation, not an impostion.”

– “Who’s the all-time best ball player from NYC?”

“Oliver Mack.”

“Who’s Oliver Mack?”

– “Have you had Korean short-ribs?  It’s objectively the best BBQ in the world.”

– “The hike takes only 30 minutes.”

“You got all that from observations?”

– “Can I trade bikes with you?”

– “I am not standing on that rock next to the edge.”

– “Why are we going up this hike so fast?”

– “There’s another shooting star!”

– “Are we there yet?”

– “I shouldn’t have gone on that hike.”

– “There’s a chinese word that means ‘I’ve had too much of this rich food’, and it just doesn’t translate.”

– “I’m puzzled why we’re still in this session and not having lunch when the schedule says we were supposed to have lunch 30 minutes ago.”

– “Block him, Terry.  Block her, Johnny.  This will be an epic game that we’ll remember forever.”

– “Lean on me, when you’re not strong, I’ll be your friend…”

– “Who wants one more s’more?!”

“This hike takes 30 minutes to finish, tops.”

– “Help! Help!  My marshmallow’s about to fall off!”

Anyhow, feel free to add to this list.  It was an amazing time!

You can see all the pictures from the weekend here.

Catalyst Reflections – Day Two – Start of Main Event

The day started out very promising – Rich and I had a 7 am breakfast meeting with Andy Crouch.  Rich had already heard my gushing over the session the day before, so he was already quite annoyed with me (I tend to be unrelenting in talking about things that excite me).

Anyhow, we met Andy at the lobby of the hotel, and we proceeded to head over to the Starbucks inside Krogers.  In the car ride alone, we discovered:

– Andy is friends with Greg Jao and they did stand-up comedy one night for grad students.

– Andy comes to NYC regularly, as well as Atlanta.

– We were lucky to spend time with Andy.

For the next hour or so, we discussed so many things, ranging from his talk the day earlier, his book and the insights therein, culture-making as it relates to his family, our families, and our community at new life, the phillies and how they dominate the mets, and so many other tidbits that I’ve been pondering since we left Catalyst.

All this to say, this meeting was easily the highlight of the trip for me.  And even though Andy is a Phillies fan, we must get him to share some of his insights at New Life sometime.  Word.

Here were some of my general thoughts as the day went on:

1.  Catalyst is leadership adrenaline – I petered out by the late afternoon, but yes, I can see why so many 20-somethings are into Catalyst.  It’s an explosion of people, performances, platforms, and passion.  There are throngs of people, and when you get so many of them together around a common purpose, the energy is really pulsating.  Meanwhile, there’s a panoply of activities, booths, and did I mention people?  Plus, major props to the emcees.  They were HILARIOUS.  Do you like all the p’s in this paragraph?  I thought it was quite clever.

2.  Speakers are from diverse perspectives, which I appreciate – You had Andy Staley, Jessica Jackley, Malcolm Gladwell, Shane Hipps, Rob Bell, Tony Dungy, Matt Chandler, and Francis Chan.  All of these folks are from various theological spectra and settings.  For instance, Rob Bell uses more zone blitzes than Tony Dungy’s cover 2 scheme.

Okay, that was only funny to 15% of you, but whatever.

But yes, the positive side to all of these different voices is that we can find where they agree and differ, and receive what we discern God wants us to receive and apply.

With all that said, Francis Chan brought us back to communion to end the night, and what an appropriate way to say, this is what we agree on, this is what we believe, and this is the hope of the world.  It was an extraordinary time.

3.  I was surprised at the lack of minorities in the audience – For some reason, I expected to see a lot more minorities in the audience.  I mean, of course I knew that the conference would be predominantly white, but I didn’t realize it would be overwhelmingly so.  So yeah, I was puzzled by this (although I appreciate the efforts to diversify the stage).

4.  Did I mention this is a really well run event? –  The quality of this event is really outstanding.  Catalyst crew, thank you for putting on a sensational conference.  Thanks for all the hard work.

5.  I’m in a good place – I love NYC, and I love New Life Fellowship.  There’s no place I’d rather be.

Here are some other highlights from Day Two and the beginning of the larger conference.

– I walked into the arena and my jaw dropped.  So Many People.  This reminded me of Urbana, which is probably larger in scale, and similar in raw energy.

– Ate at Chik-Fil-A for lunch, and then a Korean food mart for dinner.  There was a small Korean plaza in Duluth next to the arena, and my soul came alive when I saw it.  The food felt like home too.  Doug and Rich were introduced to Mochi ice cream as well.  Yes, in Atlanta.

– First time hearing Andy Stanley.  He’s a fantastic communicator, with a special gift toward leadership as well.  He started us off on the right foot by calling us to re-prioritize why we’re doing what we do.

– Malcolm Gladwell is a wonderful storyteller.  He tells stories the same way he writes about them – with suspense, interesting detail, and then a punch at the end.  Really cool that he was here, and I needed to hear the encouragement to remain humble.

– Rob Bell is really gifted.  He speaks with great ease, passion, and creativity.  I appreciated his passion about this topic in particular (Sabbath-keeping, caring for family, and being okay with thinning crowds).  I thought he was going to mention Pete Scazzero’s book, but his topic was good to hear nonetheless.

I also loved how he went to bat for the women in leadership issue.  That was very cool, although some might disagree.

It saddens me that people give him so much grief about being unorthodox.  I think it’s fair to say that for anyone who has heard him speak, he really loves the Bible.

– We had a great conversation with Warren Bird about multi-site churches.  It’s always nice to connect with friends of New Life.  Plus, he invited us to take some munchies from the Leadership Network suite.

–  I missed Tony Dungy and Matt Chandler.  I couldn’t keep up.  I found a spot in the bowels of the arena, and did a daily office for an hour or so.  I needed the opportunity to breathe.

– Francis Chan’s session was moving, intimate, and unplugged.  He spoke things that we all really feel, and spoke truth in a simple and poignant way.  Plus, he only spoke for 15 minutes or so, and let God do his thing.  I guess less really is more.  My favorite session.

– It’s fun hanging out with Doug Slaybaugh.  I was so grateful to have Doug there.  He was so loving in the ways he asked and answered questions, and he probably thought we were stalking him considering how many times we would randomly see him throughout 12,000 people.

Rich is a great travel buddy.  He’s up for adventures, thoughtful, and is super laid back.  With that said, I’d trade him for Tina any day.  I’m sure he’d say the same about Rosie and Karis.  Btw, he kept showing me pictures of Karis, and then I’d miss home somehow too.

And then I’d respond by talking about the Andy Crouch session.

More thoughts about the Leadership Summit – Part 2

More General Thoughts from the Summit…

1.  Every Reader is not a Leader, but every Leader is a Reader.

There were so many remarkable sound bites, especially from Gergen’s session.  This one hit home, because I’ve found it to be so true!

Well, at least it’s been true of the mentors I’ve been around, namely Pete Scazzero, Ken Shigematsu, and Leighton Ford.  I also hear that Tim Keller is a voracious reader – there are books and bookshelves all around their apartment to prove it.  Rich Villodas and Mike Keller are like mini-mes of these guys.  Grace Yu also comes to mind – she’s a walking encyclopedia.

I don’t think this quality has to do with nerdiness (actually, I take that back.  There’s a hint of nerdiness here).  Instead, I think it speaks more to an appetite for learning, exploring, etc.  Gergen had another incredible quote about how someone who can see far into the past, can see far into the future.  That just oozes of wisdom, doesn’t it?

I would probably add a comment from the wisdom of Good Will Hunting – just because I’ve read Oliver Twist doesn’t mean I can understand what it’s like to be you.

Experience helps inform and sensitize knowledge.

2.  Some pains can be Re-Named “Valleys of Insight”

This was from the interview with the Heath brothers.  I must admit, I was fading by the afternoon of Day 2, but this was a takeaway that I think was reiterated several times in different ways.

Bill Hybels talked about the lessons learned through this painful transition of the economic crisis.  The scars are probably still being felt (100 people let go at willow in one week, I believe he said).  Dave Gibbons mentioned the pain of going through his pastor mid-life crisis and all that it taught him while the numbers went down and to the left.  Keller spoke of criticism being a revealing catalyst for when it comes to how well I believe the gospel.  In all of these examples, pain led to progress… it’s true for organizations, people, relationships, etc.

I was so mesmerized by this point.

Then I realize it’s all over the Bible (James 2 comes to mind).  And then I realized it sounds a lot like the cross.

That’s a great book, the Bible.

And that’s a great principle, the cross.

3.  I was Glad to see Minorities as Speakers

Harvey Carey was super-inspiring, as were Rugasira and Gibbons.  Jackley was really cool.  She’s like a poster-child for the up and coming generation of young leaders – articulate, fun, hip, crazy, & good with technology.

Normally I would have wanted more minority representation… but I learned so much from each presenter!

*Plus, Stafford is a black man trapped in a white man’s body.  If you heard his testimony you know what I mean!

I’d still like to see some more representation of the Next Evangelicalism, so perhaps they can get Barack and Michelle Obama next year.

4.  I’m a big fan of Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and apparently, so is the Leadership Summit

A theme that appeared everywhere was being a contemplative and replenishing one’s soul.  Keller’s talks always have a contemplative theme too, because they’re so darn insightful.

I’m not talking about the binder-contemplative type a la Carey’s comments, I’m talking about thinking, praying, or going fishing, as Gergen would say.

I’m so glad to be at New Life and to have learned from the Scazzeros… they really have ntroduced principles and practices that I believe will help shape the soul of leadership in our frenzied generation.  There are many others who are leading the way in introducing emotional health and contemplative spirituality, but none in the context of a church that is multi-cultural and serving the urban poor in the heart of a city.

I’ll probably post more reflections as they come later…