Open Door

Two years ago, Eileen and I moved into a home with three other people (two of whom were married and have since had a child).  Writing about that move, I said we were starting a season of community.  Last week, that season came to a close as Eileen and I moved to a duplex in the Squirrel Hill.  Last night with our men’s group from The Open Door, I shared that it’s a bittersweet feeling to have moved.  Eileen and I are happy to have our own place – more space, a kitchen all to ourselves, a study where I can keep all my books and read and write in peace and quiet.  And there’s the rub: the emphasis in my mind has been on “our” and “my”.  In some ways moving out is an admission that I am not good at living in community.  We knew it would be a spiritual discipline to live with others, but what it revealed in me is much that still needs to be sanctified: my selfishness, my attachment to “my” possessions, my desire to sneak away and hide from the world at times. 

And this is why I will miss the ways in which I saw Christ shining through our old housemates, the ways in which I saw the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit alive in them: Alison’s passion for justice and her desire for open and honest communication.  Kendall’s selfless and saintly work for his church, ELDI, and the communities of East Liberty and Garfield.  Jen’s natural pastoral concern for others.  Lucia’s reflection of the image of God and the beauty of creation, life, and new birth.  The house garden growing organic vegetables in our backyard.  I thank God for them and pray that God will continue to bless them and use them for the good of the Kingdom.

The end of one season is also the beginning of another, though.  As the men’s group sat in our living room last night, being brutally honest with each other in a way that can only happen through the work of the Spirit, I had a foretaste of what’s ahead of us.  In the coming months, that space will be where the core group of members for the new congregation will meet.  We’ll pray with each other, eat with each other, share various parts of our lives with each other. Just as in the cycles of life and death everywhere else in creation, one season has ended but a new one with new life is beginning, and I look forward to watching what blooms.

The email copied below is one I wrote which went out to the Open Door’s email list yesterday.  Most of the information in it has been posted on this blog before, but this email is the first public announcement of it we’ve made to the whole community.  We’ll be explaining more in worship this Sunday (6pm @ Union Project).  Also, the password on the NCD Vision page has now been removed, so you can feel free to check out and comment on the theologizing behind this idea. 

What if . . . there is one neighborhood in Pittsburgh with 4,000 people between the ages of 25 and 34, and only a handful of churches, none of which are actively seeking out that age group?

What if . . . that neighborhood has the widest variety of ethnic groups in Pittsburgh, yet little is being done by the local churches to bring together the rich gifts of these cultures?

What if . . . that neighborhood is home to professors, health-care workers, and others who serve in vocations which can make an impact for the Kingdom of God, if only they would be called to see their vocations in that light?

These are the questions I’m asking as I approach the last month of my internship at The Open Door and the end of seminary. I’m looking back at the many joys, challenges, and surprises God has brought to me, and one of those surprises has been a particular sense of call to church-planting.

One year ago, BJ suggested that I consider a call in church-planting. That led me to meet with Vera White, the New Church Development director of Pittsburgh Presbytery, who arranged for me to attend a church- planting training/discernment weekend in Washington, D.C., last November. As other pastors affirmed and encouraged me to pursue this specific ministry, I sensed God confirming my call to new church development. Last September, my friend from seminary Michael Gehrling and I began praying together for mutual discernment regarding our future calls, specifically wondering whether either of us may be called to church-planting. After I returned from the event in Washington, we began to pray about whether we were called to plant a church together. In December and January, that turned into prayer-walking various neighborhoods of Pittsburgh on cold Friday mornings, still unsure where God was leading us.

What we discovered as we prayed and explored Pittsburgh was the neighborhood described above – a place rich in possibility for a new church to grow and lead others to become followers of Jesus. That neighborhood is Squirrel Hill. And so, through prayer, fasting, discussions with the Presbytery, Open Door Steering Team meetings, and conversations with other churches and pastors, we’ve discerned an opportunity to begin a new ministry in Squirrel Hill. As Michael and I go forward into this adventure, we’re going out like missionaries, recognizing that people everywhere – whether on the other side of the world or a few blocks away – need to experience the good news of the Kingdom of God in both word and deed.

Now we’re asking you (as individuals and collectively as The Open Door), to prayerfully consider how God may be calling you to be a part of this journey. As you do, this is a chance for Open Door to continue living out what it means to be a missional church. While we do not desire to be “birthed” by The Open Door in the same way that Bellefield gave birth to The Open Door just a few years ago, we are seeking to be “sent”, recognizing that all churches are both sent and sending, constantly participating in the mission of Jesus who told the disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you” (John 20:21).

If you’d like to know more about this opportunity, please come to the worship gathering on Sunday the 27th, where I’ll say a few more words about it and share some specific ways in which you can participate in this ministry with us. In the meantime, feel free to read more on my blog (just click “church-planting” in the category cloud). You can also comment here or email me with any questions you have. Thanks!

Grace and Peace,

Why plant new churches? Check out this video by Tim Keller, and this link, from the Pittsburgh Presbytery,

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.

Eileen and I led music at The Open Door last night.  I was especially excited to help choose songs last night because I wanted to introduce a new song from the Songs for a Revolution of Hope cd.  The song was Let Your Kingdom Come, by Brian McLaren and Tracy Howe.  I love this song for several reasons: (1) It is a song calling for God to establish justice and peace – not just a song about inward devotion or about pleasant feelings, but about genuine Kingdom life; (2) It is a holistic picture of justice and peace: the lyrics of the verses address poverty, economic sin, violence, war, and care for the earth as God’s creation; (3) it climaxes with a plea for the Kingdom to come and let “every knee bow to the One who was, will be, and is now, and let justice roll, as rivers run, and let death give way to resurrection.”  What an amazing blend of Philippians 2 and Amos 5 – both high Christology and holistic salvation! 

After the service I told BJ that I don’t really care if people liked how well we sang the song – I just want people to understand and sing passionately songs like it about justice and faith.  I hope it will catch on, both at Open Door and at other places, and I pray that God will continue to bless musicians with the ability to write more songs like this.


Tonight I preached at The Open Door. All went well – the sermon was fine, the rest of the service worked out alright, no major technical problems. But I made one major mistake: I forgot to read the scripture passage!!

Here’s the explanation: Reformed theology says that a prayer of illumination should always come before the scripture reading in a worship service. We do this because we acknowledge that without the Holy Spirit’s help, we cannot understand scripture. I, however, in past preaching experiences had fallen into the bad habit last year of always reading the scripture passage, then praying, then moving into the sermon. So tonight I decided to make a conscious attempt to place a prayer for illumination in the correct place. So I prayed before the scripture reading, and then because I’m in the habit of moving straight from the prayer to the sermon, I completely skipped over the scripture reading! I was completely oblivious to this until Eileen tried to explain it to me when we got home tonight. She even tried to interrupt the sermon to tell me to “read the passage”. I thought she just meant the verse I was referring to at that particular portion of the sermon, so I re-read verse 25 and moved on. Only now, an hour and a half too late, am I realizing that I actually omitted the core portion of the worship service. John Calvin would role over in his grave. I talked about the Word in my sermon, but failed to read the Word of the Bible. Praise God for grace – now let’s hope no hardcore Presbyterian pastoral nominating committees find this out.

For those of you who were there tonight, the full passage was Ephesians 4:17-32 –

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed.
20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Those who have been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who
listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (TNIV)

The past two weeks have been packed for Eileen and me, hence the lack of new posts during that time. Everything that has happened, however, is significant, so here’s a quick overview of what God’s been doing in our lives:

1) Moving. As of July 22, we no longer live in the Seminary’s apartments. That day, with the help of a few friends from the Open Door and from the Seminary, as well as with a U-Haul truck four times bigger than necessary, we moved into a house in Garfield, a neighborhood just a few blocks away. The owners of the house are Kendall and Jen Pelling, and we are renting a bedroom from them while sharing a kitchen, living room, and dining room. The house is over a hundred years old but feels almost brand-new thanks to Kendall’s remodeling expertise. There are two reasons why we’re doing this: a) It’s a chance to live in Christian community, sharing possessions and space with each other the way the early church did. There are many other Christian communities doing this in America’s cities and inner-cities today (Simple Way), and while the house probably won’t take on the monastic flavor that others have, it will be an amazing experience. I don’t know how God will change us during this time, but as our lives together take shape, I pray that Christ will be glorified and that we will all become more like Him through this time. b) This is the first time Eileen and I have lived in a mostly African-American neighborhood. A distinctive mark of similar Christian communities which I mentioned above is a passion for racial reconciliation, manifest in moving into neighborhoods that other white folks might not. This will also be a new experience, but priceless, I am sure. Praise God that now after talking/blogging here and there about problems of racism in Pittsburgh, I get to walk the walk.

2) Yesterday was our first anniversary! Praise God for a year of love, growth, and joy. Of course there were rough spots, but Eileen and I would both surely say we’ve grown through them. To celebrate, Eileen and I took off to Faith Mountain, a retreat center for pastors in the middle of rural West Virginia. Our weekend there was amazing as we enjoyed the beautiful mountains of WV, hiked, explored the small towns nearby, and spent time reconnecting with God and each other. Once we have pictures available, I may post a bit more about that trip, especially the bizarre looking turtle we stumbled upon while hiking.

3) Right after we returned from WV yesterday, we went to the Open Door where we participated in a special prayer time for Amara and Emilee, two young women whom we were blessed by every Wednesday in our weekly Bible study at the Open Door. They are each leaving Pittsburgh, both to New York state, though for different callings. Saying goodbye to them at the Creasys’ house last night made me think about how the composition of the Open Door will change this year. Even as Eileen and I become a bit less involved there so that I can pursue field education at Northmont United Presbyterian Church, I know part of my heart will always be with the folks at Open Door. I have encountered no community like it who as a church embodies what it means to be followers of Jesus. I’m grateful for all the encouragement they’ve given me this year and look forward to seeing what God will do in the future there.

So with moving, church busy-ness, and the celebration of our first anniversary, it’s obvious that a lot is happening in life. I hope to post more about the insights and lessons that I learn in the coming months. Praise God for his faithfulness and life in Christ!

“Rich or poor, God I want You more than anything that glitters in this world. Be my all, all consuming fire.” – Charlie Hall, All We Need

Rich or poor. Emphasis on poor. On the phone tonight I had a chance to catch up with my best friend from college who told me about his recent feelings of conviction about his own selfishness and materialism. Providentially, since getting married and moving to Pittsburgh, Eileen and I have tried to live our life here together in a non-materialistic way. Tried because we have not always succeeded – a la the deluxe coffee table we have courtesy of Eileen’s parents. But there have been some successes. For example, as I’m typing this, I’m wearing a shirt I bought at a thrift store and pants given to me by a friend. Beans and rice were lunch today. And after paying the copay at a doctor’s office today I was left with a grand total of ninety-five cents in my checking account.

At the beginning of the semester Professor Scott Sunquist frequently reminded our Church History 1 class about the continual importance of apostolic poverty for the early leaders of the church. Athanasius, St. Patrick, Columbanus, and many more boldly set the examples for what poverty meant in conjunction with the Gospel. At the same time as I was hearing this in class, Eileen and I were getting involved at The Open Door – the most unpretentious and genuine church I’ve ever attended. The sermons may not make a big deal about it, but it is obvious from the fact that we meet in a cold and drafty old church building currently under renovation that the community of The Open Door embodies more genuinely the virtues of apostolic poverty than any other non-monastic church I know. Add to that the connection with the intentional communities associated with the people of the Open Door who move into the poorer parts of the city for the sake of setting a Christ-like example for their neighbors. Perhaps that community is more sensitive to the riches of poverty because of their own personal experience as well: as a tangible reminder to pray for the concerns of people in the community at church a couple weeks ago, people were invited to write their personal prayer concerns on a rock which would then be taken home by another person who would commit to pray for that concern and person. Right now I’m looking at a rock that reads “failure, poverty, and debt”. I can relate to the debt – I graduated college with credit card debt and no job, and that debt was eventually only relieved by the generous wedding gifts we were given.

Perhaps this is why “debt” in the Calvinist tradition is so often used as a metaphor for sin: it is a pit we simply can’t get out of on our own. And just as in realizing our spiritual poverty we are forced to come to God for His gracious cancellation of our debts, our physical poverty in this life serves as a tangible reminder of our ever-present need to depend upon the Lord.

So where does this lead? To the lyrics of Derek Webb’s song, Rich Young Ruler. (

“Poverty is so hard to see when it’s only on your tv and twenty miles across town,
where we’re all living so good that we moved out of Jesus’ neighborhood,
where he’s hungry and not feeling so good from going through our trash.
He says, ‘More than just your cash and coin I want your time, I want your voice. I want the things you just can’t give me.’

So what must we do? Here in the west we want to follow You.
We speak the language and we keep all the rules (even a few we made up).
‘Come on and follow me, but sell your house, sell your SUV, sell your stocks, sell your security
and give it to the poor.’
‘What is this, hey what’s the deal? I don’t sleep around and I don’t steal.’
‘But I want the things you just can’t give me.
Because what you do to the least of these my brother’s, you have done it to me
because I want the things you just can’t give me.'”

May God grant us the grace and ability to live up to what these words suggest.