This weekend our church celebrates four years as a church in Kansas City. Over five years ago my wife, young son, and I packed our bags and moved from Colorado to plant a church in urban Kansas City with essentially no contacts, little money, and faith in the God who said, "I will build my church."
The months leading up to planting New City Church were filled with pain, suffering, and loss as we watched our four-day-old baby girl Samantha die from complications in birth. The journey of church planting did not begin with a spirit of rejoicing and more with a spirit of sorrow.
And yet, God was faithful.
I wish there was a great story of the hundreds of thousands of dollars given to us to start this new ministry adventure. Unfortunately, there was a promise of $5000 and a pat on the back: "Good luck." The rest of the money was up to me to find from individuals, churches, and other ministry networks. Good thing I had a fundraising background to put to good use... Oh wait... that must have been someone else. I did not know what I was doing.
I found myself in Nebraska, Michigan, Iowa, California, Colorado, Missouri, and Kansas driving the highways and byways, dirt roads, sleeping in farmhouses, preaching to dozens and thousands, praying God would provide the money for this ministry I believed with all my heart was needed in Kansas City. And the craziest thing happened... a few bucks here, a supporting church there, and before long we could go another year. Despite my lack of skill and knowledge in fundraising...
God was faithful.
I wish there was a great story of coming to Kansas City, sharing our vision for gospel ministry in the city, and seeing hundreds of people jump in from day one. Not so much. I spent hundreds of hours in coffee shops, business meetings, city events, neighborhood parties, dinners with neighbors, informational meetings, talking with churches, meeting city officials, talking with local schools, and essentially wandering the streets of Kansas City looking for anyone interested in what we were doing.
But slowly, over time, an interested person here, and a family there, a couple weirdo’s and nut jobs to make things interesting, and we were gathering people for a new gospel work in the city. A small group of people began meeting in my home and other places in the city to discuss and pray what a new church in the city might look like. A church committed to the proclamation of the gospel and being a blessing to our neighbors and city.
And, once again, God was faithful.
After raising money, meeting people, getting to know our city, and gathering a ragtag group of people in our living room we ran out of space. The living room became tight and we felt it was time to meet for Sunday worship in a public space, while still meeting during the week in smaller communities. The only problem was money and location.
The cost of renting a space in our local schools was tremendous and retail space cost an arm and a leg. So, why not buy a building? Okay, that is not exactly what happened. As we looked to find a public space to meet a local church approached me in our city. He told me there was a building for sale in our area that would sell for dirt-cheap. I laughed, explained we only had 20 people, and owning a church building and a mortgage might be unwise. He told me to pray about it, I laughed again, and finally submitted to his request.
I sent out an email to our supporters and explained the situation. We needed a space to rent for worship. We needed it somewhat cheap. There was a building for sale if anyone wanted to buy it for us. And, the craziest thing happened. I got an email back from one of our supporters explaining they would be interested in buying this property.
So, in the summer of 2010, one short year after coming to Kansas City, New City Church owned a building (technically we don't own it, but use it rent free, even better). This ragtag group of 20 or so now had a place to call home. We launched our first public worship service on September 26, 2010.
This is not the end of the story. The goal of church planting is not to start a small group, have a worship service, and have a few bucks in the bank (as good as these things are). The goal of church planting is to "make disciples of Jesus" and to establish people in the life-altering world-changing gospel of grace found only in Jesus Christ. To prayerfully, humbly, and boldly shape a people who know their God and live holy lives as salt and light in a broken world.
I wish I could tell you our church is now 5000 people all through conversion, we are on the radio, have a TV show, and baptize hundreds every Sunday. Oh, we have seen God save many people in our church, we have baptized many people, but our church is quite ordinary. We have our problems, quarrels, people come, and people go. I have been called racist, friends have betrayed us, and of course my sermons are too long, music not singable, and we don't do enough for our community. All the normal stuff of church life…
But, I love this church. I love this church because it’s God's church and he loves it more than I ever will. He loved it so much he sent his Son to die for it. I love the dysfunction of it, the ordinariness of it, the people in it, and what God might do with a handful of committed disciples desiring to glorify him in all things.
I am an ordinary guy, ordinary pastor, serving an ordinary church... but never forgetting I worship and serve an extraordinary God who is faithful even when I am not.
Pastors, ministry leaders, stay-at-home moms, engineers, and college students celebrate the ordinary today. Don't be seduced into thinking life only matters when amazing things are happening all around you. Most days we get up, get the kid's ready, go to work, eat, read, pray, serve, and do it all again. God is with us, even in these perceived inconsequential moments.
God uses the weak, broken, and the ordinary to make much of himself in the world. You can count on it.
And, let me remind you again, God is always faithful… and will build his church.