Friday, May 30, 2014

This Is for Seth

I'm taking a wild swing and applying for a one-week intensive with Seth Godin. I'm pretty sure I'm unlike the other people who are applying, both in my age (51) and my career path (pastor). But I figure I've got about 20 years left as a pastor to make the greatest possible impact, and the way Seth thinks--and makes me think--could be a great help.
One of the things he's asking for is a list of my "important and daring projects", not the kind of thing a pastor normally writes about. But I have taken a few risks in my life and am looking to take a few more. So here are some of the highlights.

Oxford Valley Community Church, Langhorne, PA. It was spring 2002. I was, to put it politely "between jobs." (My previous church had fired me.) A man suggested that I should start a new church, something different from anything in the area. He didn't know that I'd spent years trying unsuccessfully to start a new church in various locations. But this one was different. This time there were four interested adults instead of just two. We launched in the fall in a movie theater. I worked full-time on the side, selling cars and education products, then doing purchasing for a chemical company. The church never grew beyond fifty people on a weekly basis. And just before our third anniversary we had to shut down because all of us were just exhausted. But I met some great people, impacted quite a few lives, and I learned some valuable lessons for the next opportunity...

Spout Springs Church, Spout Springs, NC. With OVCC on its last legs, I called an old friend just to vent. He said he knew of ten acres that were available for a church plant near Ft. Bragg. Five years earlier, he'd told me about the same opportunity and I'd said I didn't think I'd work well with military people. A lot had changed in five years.
In October 2005 my family and I moved back to North Carolina to a rapidly-growing bedroom community filled with military personnel and their families. We set about learning our new culture, making friends, and training a core group in how to plant a church. We launched in an elementary school on Easter 2006 with 90 people. By fall we'd almost doubled. By the following Easter we were hitting 200 and the school began hinting strongly that we'd need to move out. But how does a new church and no rich people get the money to build even if they own a few acres of land? Well, asking is free, and we found a bank willing to loan us almost enough money. But there wasn't time or money for a traditional structure. So, we built something a little different.

The Sprung Structure. Seriously, it looks like a tent. A gray and blue tent. But it went up in about six months. We moved in and in eighteen months attendance went from 200 to 600. Our list of deployed soldiers grew to around fifty. And people who lived in a dangerous world were finding a safe place where they could be themselves and grow in their faith. But we were full.

The Gym Project. We managed to get up enough money to hire an architect to do the initial drawings on a new worship center. But something wasn't right. Twenty years ago, Spout Springs was just a rural crossroads. Now there are close to 30,000 people, but there's still not much here. A few stores and restaurants. Lots of houses and families. No playgrounds, ball fields, hiking trails.
So, we built a gymnasium. Moved in this spring. We're going to be the community center. The gym is open for karate classes and basketball leagues and volleyball tournaments. For the community, not the church. No strings attached. We put down chairs and worship on Sunday, take them back up after services. We're also starting to build a community playground and hiking trails. Ball fields are in the future. As are a number of other projects meant to make a difference in a community of families impacted by a dozen years of war. But that's another question on the application.

These aren't the only risks I've taken, some with good results, some less so. For instance, I decided a few years ago that when my daughters graduated from high school, I'd take them on a mission trip instead of just buying them a present or taking them on vacation. They get to pick the place, I find the connections and make it happen.
My oldest daughter chose Greece, and I found a group planning to take a trip to Athens to work with Muslim refugees. We were excited. Then the group cancelled the trip. Unexcited. Then I realized that I knew how to contact the mission in Athens, I knew how to schedule plane flights, and I knew how to book hotels. So my daughter and I made our own mission trip. I got to teach ESL to refugees, she got to care for their children, and we both learned how much we can do if we really want to. It worked so well that when my second daughter chose Italy, I didn't even look for a group. (The youngest is already making plans for Brazil.)

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