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Monthly Archives: February 2008

Tonight I’m going to do something crazy – I’m going to discuss with the steering team of my church the possibility of planting another church in Pittsburgh.  Presbyterian new-church-developments (NCDs) have taken off in Pittsburgh over the past couple years and thankfully the Presbytery, and many other denominations are looking toward church-planting as a way to reach new people and break out of old, ineffective models of ministry.  And though I never would have guessed this three years ago when I started seminary, it looks like God’s calling me to be a part of this movement.

Background story:  Last October, I went to a PC(USA) NCD Training Event at Riverside Presbyterian Church, near Washington, DC.  Around that same time, one of my best friends at the seminary also began to express interest in church-planting.  Michael and I began praying with each other once a week for discernment regarding whether either one of us may be called into new church development.  A month later, that turned into praying about whether we were called to plant a church together.  After that, we began prayerwalking neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. 
 
Since January, the doors have opened wide for us to pursue this call.  Our professors have been encouraging us, the Presbytery’s NCD Director encouraged us and even suggested a couple neighborhoods.  Now our respective churches are showing interest.  Michael works for a Korean Presbyterian church in the north hills of Pittsburgh.  As they’re growing older, they’ve realized that they need to begin a new ministry for second-generation Koreans who speak primarily English.  This would need to be in the city near the universities, given that most are college-aged and that there is a large Asian population at Carnegie Mellon University.  Because they don’t necessarily hold to a specifically Korean identity, the new ministry would also need to be intentionally multicultural.  A few weeks ago, one more piece of the puzzle feel into place when Michael and I were given the chance for both of us to attend the PC(USA) Multicultural Conference in April.  Michael and I have both been in conversation with Vera White, Pittsburgh’s NCD Director, and we’ve met with Doug Portz, the Interim Executive Presbyter of Pittsburgh Presbytery, and he’s expressed interest.  It looks like we’re getting encouragement to go ahead and take the next steps.  Logistically, this will mean starting regular gatherings of a core group of leaders for the church-plant sometime soon.  Work will also be a question – I’m content to be a part-time tentmaker while this gets off the ground, perhaps doing pulpit supply on Sunday mornings while working a regular job in the neighborhood of the church-plant. 

The more immediate step we need to take next is happening tonight, as I’m going to invite the steering team to partner with us in planting this new church.  Because our church is so missionally-minded, the idea of being a church which gives birth to other churches is a part of Open Door’s vision.  The timing of this – right as Open Door is starting to get established – is much earlier than anticipated.  For lack of a better phrase, it’s an unexpected pregnancy.  Thankfully, when BJ and I talked about that metaphor, he responded that it’s unexpected, but not unwanted.  I have no idea how they’ll respond, or what God is going with the future of this.  The Lord may continue to open doors for us to move forward, or he may close them, or he may redirect us.  Either way, this is a journey we’re moving forward on, and I’m excited to see where it leads.  Pray for us.  This post is also the first truly public announcement I’ve made about this.  Various friends at the seminary have heard, people on my CPM (committee on preparation for ministry) know, but the fact that I’m posting this right now is driving home the reality of it for me.  This is something we’re seriously pursuing.  Yikes!  Wow!  Praise God and Lord Have Mercy.

Last night at Jubilee, Eileen and I were standing near the bookstore talking to a friend when I saw Derek Webb and Sandra McCracken casually stroll right by us, heading toward the room where they later played.   Like an awkward, twitterpated fan, I walked over to the doorway where they were standing and waited for them to finish conversing with another fan.  Eileen came over, and eventually we both caught Derek’s eye.  He turned to us.  I stepped forward, shook his hand, and stammered something like, “I just want to thank you – God has used your music to change my life.”  He didn’t quite know what to do – I don’t think he was expecting to meet a starstruck seminarian at this event.  After the awkward beginning, though, the rest of the conversation was great – we talked about his music, their new baby, our joys and struggles with living in community.  As we left I thanked him for blessing us with this music that evening.  Throughout the whole concert and for the rest of the night, I was elated – I had just met one of my heroes. 

Thankfully this didn’t work out like the time that I almost met Brian McLaren.  He was on campus at the seminary last year for a speaking engagement which, thanks to my work schedule, I had been unable to attend.  But that day at lunch, as I was going through the line in the dining hall, I turned and behold, to my right was Brian McLaren.  My mind started racing.  Do I introduce myself?  What do I say?  Do I tell him that his book A New Kind of Christian is what kept me from completely giving up hope on the church?  Erring on the side of caution, I said nothing.  Instead I smiled.  He smiled back.  I recognized him, and he knew I recognized him, and that was sufficient for that day.  But I still wish I would have said something.

Here’s the problem – what do you say to one of the few public figures whom God has used to transform your life?  Should I have told Derek that I Repent challenged me to move into the inner-city, convicts me of my sins of distrust and consumerism, and has given me encouragement in marriage?  Should I have told him about the time I cried while driving to Northmont and listening to This Too Shall Be Made Right, or that there are days when A Love Stronger Than Our Fear can lift me out of depression and inspire me in ministry?  Or should I have told him that one of the most powerful moments of grace I’ve ever experienced was while sitting outside on the CU campus, listening to Wedding Dress

I probably didn’t need to tell him those things, but they are true, as are the messages in Derek’s music and in Brian’s books and in the lives and work of others whom God uses to speak to us.  But ultimately, the truth in these songs and books comes not from the writers themselves, but from Jesus.  The heroes in my life are those in whom I’ve seen the image of Jesus and who have challenged me to be more conformed to the way of Jesus.  That’s why they don’t need to hear all this adulation; instead they need to hear that we are grateful for their faithfulness and pray it will continue.  And for that I praise God and pray that he will continue the good work he has begun and will continue to do through the witness of such bold followers of Christ.

There are few musicians whom God has used to seriously transform my life.  Derek Webb is one of them.  I was already counting down the hours until I may get to hear him perform with his amazingly talented wife Sandra at Jubilee tomorrow, but now I’m even more excited.  This morning I discovered an email in my inbox announcing that Derek and Sandra have produced a new EP called Ampersand.  The samples on the website sound great, and I have to say it’s inspiring and encouraging to hear such honest songs reflecting on both the joys and the challenges of love and marriage.  Hopefully they’ll play some of the new songs tomorrow.  Check out their websites (Derek and Sandra) and support good music!

On Monday night, we had  a special event at the seminary where two of our ethics professors (Ron Cole-Turner and Deirdre Hainsworth) responded to cleverly contrived ethical dilemmas submitted by the students.  The topics ranged from “What do I do if I catch the treasurer looking at porn on the church computer?” to “How do I handle attraction to a member of my congregation?”.  Thanks to the organizing talents of our friend Doodle, students posed these questions through a variety of creative media: video, song, improvised drama.  At Doodle’s request, I wrote and played a special song for the event posing a question about baptism.    I’ve had several people ask for copies of the words, so here they are.  Imagine it being sung to the tune of “I Could Sing of Your Love Forever”.

The Ballad of an Unethical Baptism

To the melody of:  I Could Sing of Your Love Forever

  Verse1

Over the phone she called to me,

asking will you baptize my grandbaby,

I said, “I don’t know, I have to check the Book of Order, W-2.3.

Are her parents members of our congregation?”

“No, the mom’s a Baptist and dad’s a Confucian,

But I want to get my grandbaby saved while they are on vacation.”

 Chorus

Would you baptize this baby?, Would you baptize this baby?

 

Verse2

“It doesn’t work that way,” I started to explain,

She cut me off and started to exclaim,

“This baby needs to be baptized ASAP, even today.

Just come right over to my house and we’ll

have a private ceremony and I’ll fill,

up the birdbath I have in the backyard, it’ll be so peaceful.”

      

Chorus

Would you baptize this baby?, Would you baptize this baby?

 Verse3

So I started to refuse the baptism,

Then I remembered that it’s stewardship season,

And Grandma’s tithe fully supports our church’s soup kitchen.

If I say “no” a hundred people will go hungry,

If “yes”, I’ll be tried by the PJC,

I don’t what to do, tell me would you,

would you, would you baptize this baby?

        

Chorus 

Bridge  

Oh, I feel like screaming at this lady right now,

Have you never read the Book of Order?!

You’re an elder of this church you should know better!!!

 Chorus