church, church planting, Musings, restored, theology

Restored: What I’m Learning about Church Planting from HGTV

My wife has successfully converted me to watching HGTV.

It started simply and subversively; where she would tell me about the shows she liked or the ideas she got for our house while watching. I would draw back at first, thinking, “Oh great…we can’t afford to do that to our home!” or “Is this kind of like home decorating porn?” Then I would watch an episode of Fixer Upper and would fall in love with Chip and Joanna Gaines (“It’s like they are our friends and we would hang out!”) or an episode of Flea Market Flip, where someone made $300 off of an old, dirty window frame, a can of spray paint, and an old milk bottle.

Particularly, one of the shows Kara loves is Rehab Addict. For those of you unconverted or uninitiated to the HGTV faith, the host of Rehab Addict, Nicole Curtis, is obsessed with finding historic houses and returning them to their original glory and beauty. She always tries to use original features and materials where she can find them. The idea is not simply to flip a house and make a profit. It is a labor of love, spanning months and months, whose end result is to place back on display the original beauty and splendor of houses as they were originally built.

I compare this to how I’ve noticed houses are often “rehabbed” today. In our neighborhood, houses are being bought, redone, and sold for a huge profit margin. The house that we recently bought in Highlandtown was done similarly—modern feel, new kitchen, recessed lighting, etc. But I wonder: what could we be losing in this obsession with what is new and modern?

This has been an idea that I’ve been sitting on for awhile now, and it’s related to my own story. Part of my own motivation in getting involved in church planting (starting a new church) was because I felt like the Church was in need of renovation. How many of you have lived in a house while noticing all of the little issues with it? And you long to fix what’s wrong, but as you dig deeper, you start to notice the wiring is bad, and the wood is rotted, or that ugly, fake wood-paneling has to go—and before you know it, you’ve ripped the house apart?

In my idealism and younger days (though I like to thing I’m still kinda both!), I was convinced I was right and that finally, we were going to get the church right. And I had pretty much one tool: a sledgehammer. As a church planter, you can decide what you want to do and how you want to do it without the nuisance of other people in the church telling you what they think or questioning it. So I felt like we were starting with a gutted house; a clean slate. We didn’t sing at first because I was so burned out on the worship music machine, that if I heard one more song by Chris Tomlin or Hillsong, I was going to scream. We met in an Irish pub to worship, mostly because it was free and the food was amazing, but also to make our Baptist friends nervous. I would find myself talking a lot about what we weren’t, rather than what we were. I was proud that we were stripped down; I was proud that we didn’t sing.

It wasn’t until I started actually studying the history of the church with more depth and a little more humility, and I started to read about the world-wide movement of the Church, that I started to realize, in horror, what I’d done: I had smashed it all to pieces-I’d deconstructed the whole thing. The baby was out with the bathwater, but so was the old claw-foot tub and the tile in the bathroom. And as a result, I had severed the line between me and brothers and sisters all over the world and across time.

In the past few years, I have come to see the value of re-examining the things that the church has done and still does; the things that we share with those who share our faith. Not just the beliefs, but the practices which both arise from and inform those beliefs. So that is what this series is about: I want us to re-examine some of the core elements of our ancient faith. I want us to fight against the desire that we often have to think that we are somehow more enlightened or advanced that those who have come before us.

So, I decided to try to teach on this and explore this in our church family, because I often teach to learn. We will be talking about Word, Prayer, Sin/Confession, and Table in the coming weeks and how we can restore them to practice and use in our community and life together. Check out the latest podcast stream on my page here and let me know what you think.

church, church planting, Musings, theology

Starting from Scratch? Church Planting as Deliberative Theology

The current trend of church planting has certainly seen a revival of sorts in the last few decades. For those who aren’t hip to the way cool church terminology of the day, church planting is the process of starting a new church “from scratch”. It usually involves a lead planter who will likely become the pastor (at least for a time) and he/she will pull together a team of people to be the building blocks of this new church community, usually called a core team. These people may be seasoned Christians or new believers; they may be local or from other places. Regardless, once they begin meeting together regularly, they begin the process of becoming church (or many would say, are church). The goal is to grow numerically and spiritually, with the desire to fulfill the mission they’ve been given. This, of course, plays out in different ways and forms, but the idea is that the “making of disciples” thing happens, because Jesus told us to do that. 🙂

Now, there are so many things to talk about when it comes to this process, and I am by no means an expert. Seriously, I’m not. I was brought in to that “core team” to help plant the Gallery Church of Baltimore in 2008. Eventually, I was able to come on staff for the church, fulfill a variety of roles, and now pastor one of our neighborhood churches. It has been a blast. It has been incredibly difficult. It has been rewarding. It has been frustrating. It has been instructive. I love it.

Which leads me to the particular topic of this post (and perhaps future ones). While this desire to “share the gospel” is certainly central to church planting, or it ought to be; there is a certain novelty in seeking to “begin again” with one’s church expression. My own initial draw to church planting was, to be perfectly honest, selfish and idealistic. In my view, everyone else got church wrong, I think I have it right, and if we just start over without all the baggage, we can “fix the church”.

I’m not alone in this; at least, I don’t think I am. Even in our own city, there is a newer church community endeavor called the Slate Project. On their website, they state the following:

“We are asking, “What if we had a blank slate for being and doing church?” (That is where the “slate” comes from, get it?) What would we choose to wipe away? What would we leave behind? What is no longer working or serving us? Where do we need to confess and repent and turn back toward the path, the Way?”

I am not criticizing this process or statement at all (actually, I find what they are doing intriguing, compelling, and very honest). And I have no insight into motives and am not even trying to guess or judge them. I’m sure they are far more pure than mine were. (to be clear: zero criticism here!) However, what I want to point out is something of which I personally haven’t seen a lot written: the fact that church planting is often just as much fueled by what it doesn’t want to be; namely the same old system. And as such, this creates a different framework and even theological process.

This process, to borrow a term from Stone and Duke in their book How to Think Theologically, is called deliberative theology. Deliberative Theology is the understanding of of faith that emerges from a process of carefully reflecting upon embedded theological convictions, questioning what has been taken for granted, reflecting on multiple understandings of the faith implicit in the life and witness of Christians, and identifying and/or developing the most adequate understanding possible. In short, it is the process of examining, rejecting, and accepting certain aspects of ecclesiology and tradition (in all their various forms).

So, here is my question/thought: could it be that church planting is, at least partially, an exercise in deliberative theology, writ large? Could it be that many who are even “attracted” to newer churches are in a place of doing deliberative theology themselves, their old answers and expressions no longer being satisfactory for their new questions and life situations?

Lastly, is this good or bad? Dangerous or beautiful? I hope to examine that more in a future post.

What do you think?

Stone, Howard and James Duke, How to Think Theologically. 3rd ed. (Augsburg Fortress, 2013).