A long survey of Christ Pres short history- 2016
January 28, 2016 – January Update
Lauren has invited many of the women she has met through preschool, play ground visits, and networking events to look into the essentials of the Christian faith tonight. One of the women sent her a text that read, "I have never done anything like this but I have always wanted to study the bible. Thanks for inviting me!"
Please pray that several of these ladies would discover the gift of love that God wants to give to them in Jesus.
We had our last official info meeting this past Sunday. Though one new couple came, the overall idea was not super helpful in the New England culture. I learned that in this area, coming to a formal meeting about a new church makes everyone very nervous because they think they are going to have to commit to something. So we are going to move ahead with a very non-committal Sunday evening bible study that anyone can come and go to however often they want. Pray for us as we study the book of Acts with our small Start team. We hope new families will, in time, join us and come to be enfolded into our community.
I have been saying for the last 8 months that Jesus was calling me to Connecticut to learn how to love my neighbor. Whenever I think that Jesus told us the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God and the second is like it - to love our neighbor as ourselves...I just stop in wonder. Can loving my neighbor really be equated in some real measure with loving God? Keep praying that we would learn more and more how this second command to love others is like the first command to love God.
¥ Wisdom, as there are many strategic decisions that need to be made as we investigate summer outreach opportunities and meeting space for worship services
¥ Open doors to share the love of God with many more people in the area.
¥ Great power from our study of Acts. That our start team would be bold in sharing Jesus with all they are coming in contact with.
¥ Protection from discouragement and impatience. The daily, almost momentary ups and downs of this calling are like nothing I have ever faced in ministry. This is by far the hardest thing we have ever done. Please pray for perseverance and great love and intimacy with Jesus.
February 18, 2016 – Valentines Favors
Last Friday, Lauren had 13 women over for a Valentines Ladies' party. Lauren had only met three of these women one time... last SEPTEMBER. But they still came and one responded afterwards, "I am coming to every party you ever have!" These nights remind us how deep the longing is for a sense of community up here. All evening, women were sharing about their stories and families, connecting about life, work, child-rearing and their spiritual longings. They also did “Love Song” Karaoke. Lauren ended the night already planning for her next event!
Our first value for the church is to worship God, but we believe one of the greatest ways we do is by loving others. Obviously, we know this is the essence of life because it is how Jesus lived out his earthly days. As I was explaining some of the initiatives we are attempting to a local resident she said to me, unabashedly, "That sounds like the opposite of how most churches get started."
I said, "What do you mean?"
She responded, "Well, most churches get started thinking about themselves and then they look out to see how to serve the community."
It was a not-so-subtle critique from a secular, non-church-goer, or a business-as-usual person in our congregations. It convinced me that we are on the right track in what we are doing. We want to live for others and expect that to be the best way to start a church.
¥ Wisdom - still need it. I have located an amazing facility in the heart of our town but it will require a lot of creativity, work and favor from the owner to be accessible to us. Pray the Lord will give us "the red barn." (Yes, for those of you who know my upbringing, this does show the Lord's sense of humor.)
¥ Open doors - we have had the best 3 weeks of evangelism since we have been here! Keep praying. There are now 5 bible studies happening a week. We have full access to a freshman dorm at the college campus. Allison is helping serve over 250 international students at the local university.
¥ Next large group gathering at our house: February 28th. Hope to have all the families interested in the church come out.
¥ Perseverance - God continues to encourage us through your prayers and notes and calls. We are visiting family for a few days this weekend, which already has been greatly refreshing. Despite the challenges facing us, we are excited for the days ahead.
February 29, 2016 – Does God Care if I Party
Tonight, Milas and Ashley will host their first "What's up?" event on campus. We planned this and picked the topic three months ago. Just this past weekend, Fairfield U made national news for an off campus "ghetto" party that led to protests in the town and across the school grounds. Yet, despite this, all the students Milas polled about this question said God didn't care about their party life as long as they didn’t hurt someone doing it. Please pray that tonight the God of life would confront these students’ false gods and false beliefs and reveal His life-giving and loving character.
March 21, 2016 – Prayer Specifics
Last night, I shared during our bible study that my favorite part about being a small church is that it is very clear how everyone matters. "It is always true in Christ's church that everyone matters, " I said, "but in a church plant it just is so much more obvious. Every new person brings a gift that we don't have and their presence changes the church's entire history."
Later, over dinner, a first time visitor said this with tears in her eyes. "The worst part about the church that I went to when I grew up was that I never mattered there."
I share this story as a reminder of the power of prayer. A few weeks back I asked you to pray 3 very specific things.
1) for a worship leader
2) for 3 new families to want to be on our start team
3) for clarity on the right facility that will help us proclaim the love of Christ to this town
Over the last four weeks, we have seen embryonic answers to each one of these prayers. Two weeks ago, I met a man who was interested in our church who said to me, "Hey, I went to my first protestant church last week. It's called Redeemer Presbyterian church in NYC. Have you heard of it? It was incredible." When I told him we were in the same network as Redeemer and had similar values, he said, "That's awesome because I was telling my fiance that I wanted a smaller context where I could dominate the discussion with all my questions about Christianity!"
A week later, we sat together and discussed Paul's explanation in Romans for how a holy, perfect, just God could still pursue in his love a sinful, corrupt, guilt-ridden people. With light in his eyes, he said to me, "I get it...that's why Jesus had to die!" I laughed and said, "You’re right. That's chapter 3 of Romans."
As we wrapped up he said to me, "You know I am a musician. I'd love to help out at your services. I've never used my music in a church but I have always wanted to...oh, and I'm pretty good!"
There have been similar dramatic moves to your prayers in the other categories, too - so keep praying! Each of these people and opportunities could change EVERYTHING in this town. That is what we believe about Christ and his church. That is why we keep praying.
Prayer Requests, March 2016
¥ A key leader to help manage the facility that we are looking to rent (more info to come)
¥ Speaking tonight at Fairfield University in light of Easter on "Why do bad things happen to good people?"
¥ Good Friday - I am preaching at a joint Good Friday service of all the evangelical churches in the area.
¥ Saturday- March 26, we are hosting an Easter egg hunt and craft time for our neighborhood and friends to communicate the joy of Easter.
¥ April 1- Our start team will be serving over 300 international students at a "Friendship dinner" at University of Bridgeport.
¥ April 8-10 - We will host a weekend getaway for our start team and other friends in the area.
April 8, 2016 – April Showers
Over the last couple weeks, we have been working hard to prepare for when we "go public." We completed our church logo - a symbol that represents both the cross and the dogwood flower. The flower is a prevalent symbol in our town because of a statewide dogwood festival here in the spring. Its meant to convey a sense of the old and the new with all roads leading back to the communal center where many units become one.
We also have been working on our website which should be live in the next few weeks. Meanwhile the Lord has been opening doors regarding the facility we are hoping for. So keep praying.
Last week we had 14 adults and 5 kids at our house with one family unable to attend because of sickness. So it looks like we are soon to outgrow the living room. It will be nice to have a prayer and study time without my dog wandering in and out of the room!
18 of us will spend the weekend away just being together - learning to love and serve together as we prepare to love and serve our community. Pray that the time is rich, meaningful and filled with an awareness of God's presence.
For wisdom regarding our facility search.
Grace upon our church to get away this weekend.
For power as I preach April 17th at a church in town.
For more families to commit to being a part of the start team.
For God's mercy on us as a family in the midst of continued spiritual warfare over the last few weeks.
April 26, 2016 – Coworking for Christ
"So what exactly is the difference between a Catholic and...what are you again?" One of our start team members had invited Gestine to check out our evening bible study. Afterwards, she asked this question. I explained the difference between a Catholic and a Protestant in an overly simplistic way but it reduced the issues to a manageable discussion.
"A Catholic tends to believe this:
Faith + Works = Salvation.
A Protestant would express their belief this way:
Faith = Salvation + Works.
This understanding causes you to live for God not trying to earn his love but as a response to the love he has already given you."
She paused and said to me, "My mind is completely blown right now...I have lived my whole religious life by guilt. I never knew there was any other way to understand Christianity."
Conversations like these are why we love serving Christ in a pioneer territory.
Over the last 2 months we have connected with a small group of business owners who want to rent a space together and share the cost. This concept of co-working is increasingly growing across the country. It makes tons of sense for a church to be involved in it because the buildings usually have an open floor plan with lots of multipurpose spaces. And since we primarily need the meeting space on Sundays, few companies need the space then. Furthermore, it allows the church leadership to be regularly immersed in the public and market life of a town during the week because we will have offices here too. And we get to have a permanent location to be identified with in the center of the town for a price that we never could afford on our own.
Last Tuesday night we came together for the first time to work on our plans and recruit new members and businesses into the space. It has been a truly exciting group to partner with and is opening doors for more and more relationships in the community. I have waited to share about this because I wasn't sure if this was going to come through. THE DEALS ARE STILL NOT COMPLETE. SO I AM ASKING FOR YOUR PRAYERS. We are still negotiating with the landlord, assembling more partners for the venture, identifying investors. But God's hand seems to be all over this one. I will share more in the weeks ahead but please be in prayer.
¥ Grace for the final plans for coworking center over the next few weeks.
¥ Praise for the great weekend away with 18 adults and kids to pray, fellowship and grow in community.
¥ Open doors to follow up with the many people over the last month in particular that we have been able to represent Christ to.
¥ A wonderful time of refreshment as we start family vacation tonight at Disney World with all of Lauren's family. 10 adults and 12 kids!
WE ARE SO THANKFUL TO BE ON THIS JOURNEY WITH YOU.
May 16, 2016 – Prayers for Staff Training and Progress with Coworking Facility
News outlets and magazines and bloggers and spiritual gurus like the Dali Lama himself are arguing for a spiritual life beyond the bounds of religion. Well, last week while waiting for a plane, I actually met the guy who wrote the book and coined the phrase "Spiritual but not religious"! He is an ordained Lutheran minister now turned life coach in his self-named Manhattan counseling center called "Bad A@* Counseling." I told him I was going to name our church that but it was already taken.
After months and months of inviting people back into a robust, vibrant, historic religious life of true spiritual union with God, it was amazing to hear the near unintelligible explanation of a nameless, wordless, vocab-less, omni-everything and thus nothing-spirituality in which everything is God, especially your inner voice. "You just gotta get people to listen to whatever that voice inside them is telling them. That is true spiritual counseling." (Only he had about 7 expletives thrown in there). He made me very grateful for a historic faith, rooted in human experience, documented by centuries upon centuries of Christian community and confessions, all growing from a transcendent Scripture spoken forth by the Holy Triune God. I know Luther would be turning over in his grave to know this man took his ordination vows. But I also loved interacting with him. He says he is going to come to our church when we open!
After 2 meetings with the Landlord since my last email- WE ARE MAKING PROGRESS! Please keep praying. We agreed in principle to the key elements of a contract and hope to nail down final negotiations over the next 10 days. After that will begin the arduous process of redeveloping the space and preparing for a public opening in the fall. The hope is that, even during the construction the church, we will be able to use an upstairs conference room for services over the summer.
Sometimes this church-planting journey has felt like a sprint downhill - where it would be harder to stop then to keep going forward. But other days, like the last 6 weeks, it feels like an uphill climb through a thick and slippery mud. I know the Lord is changing all of us through this, but it also feels like there is a need for redoubled prayer. Please join us as our leadership team (Milas and Ashley Shepherd, Allison Matlack, Lauren and I) pull away for 2 days of prayer and staff training.
¥ Continued wisdom and grace for the co-working center.
¥ Growth in the commitment and excitement of the developing core group.
¥ Bold and fruitful witness to our neighbors over the summer holidays.
¥ Praise to God for an incredible year of college ministry in partnership with Young Life at Fairfield U and International Student ministry at U. Bridgeport. The Shepherds and Allison have truly made such an impact upon this town this year.
WE ARE SO THANKFUL TO BE ON THIS JOURNEY WITH YOU.