MetroGrace – church planting in philadelphia

Church Planting, Philadelphia, Urban Ministry

MetroGrace is an urban church development ministry. Our purpose is to gather, train, send and coach teams to develop gospel-centered, community-based churches in neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia.

Gathering: We gather urban workers by sharing our vision and hosting short-term mission teams. We share our vison in a monthly newsletter that details God’s work in Philadelphia. This allows us to share with supportive friends from all over the world. (Contact us if you’d like to receive our newsletter.) We send speakers to churches, schools and conferences. They help others to see the needs of the city and invite friends to serve. We also recruit workers by hosting short-term mission teams. These teams help cultivate the soil for new church plants and strengthen existing churches. This exposure to urban ministry enables informed response to God’s call.

Training: MetroGrace trains urban missionaries through internships. Summer interns serve for 8-12 weeks. They receive hands-on training in urban ministry while receiving credit from their college or seminary. Church planting interns serve for 18-24 months as they prepare to lead a team to establish a new church.

Sending: We send teams to establish new urban churches. We assist the team in its own development. We connect the group with a network of urban churches. We help them formulate a plan. We guide the team in discovering financial support. And, we assist with the launch of the church plant.

Coaching: MetroGrace coaches teams to establish new urban churches. For at least two years, the team leader meets regularly with a coach. Encouragement, advice and assistance are provided during these formative years of the new church.

Our Goal: When we’ve accomplished our purpose, at least ten biblically relevant, reproducing churches will glorify God by transforming lives in neighborhoods throughout the city. These believers will renew their city by acting to influence their culture. And Philadelphia will truly become the City of Brotherly Love.

If interested in joining MetroGrace on a small group, summer internship or a church-planting team contact Kurt Miller / kurt@metrograce.org / @kurtmiller01

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Eternal Life

Church Planting, Discipleship, Scripture, Uncategorized

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Eternal life is a free gift, based on God’s grace.

  • “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
  • This might surprise you, but Heaven cannot be earned or deserved.
  • “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
  • Grace is what God wants to give you, but which you do not deserve.
  • It is amazing, but true; God wants you to go to heaven. Eternal life is a free gift!

People in themselves do not deserve the gift of heaven. Why?

  • We are sinners by nature and by choice.
  • “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
  • We are incapable of doing good according to God’s standards.
  • “…There is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12).
  • “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).
  • People cannot save themselves.
  • “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:5).

There is a penalty for sin.

  • God is love – He doesn’t want to judge you.
  • “The Lord…is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
  • But, God is also just – He must judge sin.
  • “Yet He does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7).
  • “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), i.e. physical death and also spiritual death (separation from God).
  • Our basic needs are: forgiveness, eternal life and peace with God.
  • So, people try religion, good deeds, materialism, self-acclaim, etc, to satisfy their needs, but these do not solve the problem of sin.
  • But remember, God is love. He has the solution!

Jesus Christ is your only way to Heaven.

  • Who He is – the infinite God-man.
  • “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:1,14).
  • What He did – He paid the penalty for our sins, and purchased a place in heaven for us!
  • “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
  • “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
  • “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Personal faith in Jesus Christ is the answer.

  • Faith is not – merely believing a fact.
  • “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder” (James 2:19).
  • Many people agree that Jesus Christ lived and died, and they even believe in His resurrection! But, they have not turned from sin and trusted Him.
  • Faith is – turning from your sin and trusting in Jesus Christ alone for your eternal salvation.
  • “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
  • “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
  • “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).
  • The Bible says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Can you think of any reason why you wouldn’t want to invite Jesus Christ into your life right now? Might I suggest a simple prayer?

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the gift of eternal life. I know I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for my sins and rose again from the dead to give me eternal life. I now put my complete trust in You alone for eternal life. Thank you for saving me. In Jesus name, Amen!

 

This post reflects my heart passion and was inspired by a booklet entitled, “Life’s Most Important Question” published by BMH, P.O. Box 544, Winona Lake, IN 46590, http://www.bmhbooks.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unique Challenges Facing Urban Church Planters

Church Planting, cities, Discipleship, Equipping, Notable Blogs, Other Authors, Philadelphia, Urban Ministry

Unique Challenges Facing Urban Church Planters
by J. Allen Thompson

Paul G. Hiebert, a keen observer of the mission of the church worldwide, pinpoints the unique opportunities for witness in the urban sphere. He notes that in the age of globalism, in contrast with other periods in history, we face both secularism and postmodernism. Secularism, a view that denies the existence of God, marginalizes those who continue to hold religious convictions, because it relegates religion to the private sphere of personal opinions and feelings. Postmodernism, in contrast, affirms spiritual experience but views it as pragmatic and relative.

The basic religious debate in city culture, therefore, centers on the uniqueness of Christ and his claim to be the only way to salvation. In dialoguing with non-Christians to help them discover and appropriate truth, church planters need to examine their approach carefully. For non-Christians the usual form of gospel communication may be totally unfamiliar, like learning a foreign language. Also, postmodern people may require a different approach because of their method of making personal decisions.

Tim Keller has extensively studied ways to address postmodern non-Christians in both one-on-one and worship contexts. He believes the best context for worship is a mix of Christians and non-Christians together. In a mixed group, when the preacher speaks somewhat more to non-Christians, the Christians present learn how to share the faith; on the other hand, when the preacher speaks more to Christians, the non-Christians present come to see how Christianity “works.” Keller adds that more deeply secular postmodern non-Christians tend to decide about the faith on pragmatic grounds; they do not examine it in a detached, intellectual way.

Also, they are more likely to make their commitment through a long process of mini-decisions. They will want to try Christianity on to see how it fits their problems and how it fleshes out in real life. The process may fol- low a pattern such as this:

+ Awareness: “This is it.” Clearing the ground of stereotypes. Distinguishing the gospel from legalism or liberalism, and distinguishing core truths from peripheral issues.

+ Relevance: “I need it.” Showing the slavery of both religion and irreligion. Showing the transforming power of the gospel and how the gospel “works.”

+ Credibility: “I need it because it’s true. ”Reversing the modern view, which says, “It is true if I need it.” Seekers must see the gospel’s reasonableness, or there will be no endurance to their faith decision.

+ Trial: “I see what it would be like.” In group life and in service ministries, they try Christianity on, often talking like Christians or defending the faith.

+ Commitment: “I take it.” Sometimes this is the point of real conversion. This may have already happened in the past; or it may happen later on.

+ Reinforcement: “Now I get it.” Typically, a period of follow-up is the time when the penny drops and the gospel becomes clear. We will now examine some of the more specific challenges using New York City as a case study.

SOCIAL CLIMATE: ETHNIC DIVERSITY REQUIRES “PEOPLE SENSITIVITY”

Primarily through attracting new immigrants, New York City is the only U.S. northern industrial city with a sustained net population gain in the last one hundred years. While the population grows, the city also experiences a large turnover in population, which creates change in the social and demographic makeup. Tony Carnes, president of the Values Research Institute, articulates the following concerns.

+ Migration is a catastrophe for newcomers to the city. It disrupts marriages, children, and families. Newcomers will either accept new customs and habits or reject, synthesize, fall apart, or go another path. During the first two years as they are seeking assimilation, immigrants tend to be open to the gospel.

+ Newcomers struggle with income and education: 35% have incomes below $22,000; 52% are ages eighteen to thirty-four, but only 17% have college degrees; 46% are single, and 33% are single mothers; and 39% attend religious services regularly.

+ New immigrants include 30% Caribbean, 26% Asian, 25% European, 5% African, 4% South American, 2% Central American, and 1% Canadian individuals. These new immigrants represent dozens of languages and cultures.

+ The Hispanic population is 27% of New York City’s residents, which is larger than the African American population. Most are from Puerto Rico (38%) and the Dominican Republic (27%).

To plant churches in this city, we must develop great sensitivity to the ethnic groupings mentioned above, as well as to their social networks. Communities in the city are a patchwork quilt of neighborhoods, representing a large mix of people from various nations. Odd as it may seem, since identities are unknown there is a great deal of intimacy among strangers; however, they relate in distinctive ways, depending on their education, occupation, wealth (or lack thereof), and language preference. For example, Hispanics and Asians possess the commonality of entering into a white world; yet individuals’ social standing will make them comfortable in some groupings and uncomfortable in others.

To design the model of church that will reach these communities effectively, church planters therefore need to do extensive demographic and ethnographic studies. Assumptions should be avoided and conclusions must not be drawn too quickly, especially not until people profiles of particular neighborhoods are completed.

CULTURAL LEARNING: A PREREQUISITE FOR CHURCH PLANTERS

Missionaries entering a new culture abroad often realize the necessity of learning the language, customs, and lifestyles of the people with whom they will live. Because New York City is in North America and the major language is English, church planters from within the United States sometimes fail to realize the importance of “putting on the missionary hat” and learning new ways of thinking, acting, and relating. This is a significant mistake.

Paul Hiebert describes the “bicultural bridge” as the quality of interpersonal relationships between human beings—between missionaries (church planters) and the people they serve. The biculture is a new culture that arises in the interaction of people from two different cultural backgrounds. Church planters coming to New York City from other parts of North America bring with them their own cultural maps: they have ideas of how to dress, what to eat, who should raise their children, how to worship properly, and many other things. No matter how hard they try, they cannot “go native” in New York City. They cannot fully erase their child- hood culture, even if they attempt it, and they are also influenced by the new culture they enter—the culture of New York City.

New Yorkers who interact with the church planter also become part of the biculture, adding their own ideas about child rearing, family values, worship preferences, etc. In relationship with the church planter, however, they are also exposed to new ideas and beliefs. To relate to one another productively, the church planter and the New Yorkers must create new patterns of working, playing, and worshiping—a new culture, or biculture.

Consequently, the first months of the church planter’s life on the new project must be spent in learning the ways of those he seeks to serve and in developing a bicultural community. Questions he may seek to answer will range from personal habits to ministry values:

+ What type of apartment should I live in?
+ What types of clothes should be worn?
+ Where should the children go to school?
+ What values should the new church demonstrate?
+ What should be the philosophy of ministry for the new church?

This process of learning culture—and the incarnation that results—is called “identification” in cross-cultural lingo, but the process does not deny who we are originally. It is a bipersonal state we choose in order to be- come one with the people we seek to serve. The months of learning the local culture will be rewarding and will yield benefits for the future church-planting project. Don’t skip this process or attempt to downgrade it; it is not minority people engagement but urban culture engagement.

FINANCIAL COST OF MINISTRY IN THE CITY

Based on an understanding of Christ’s incarnation (he “made his dwelling among us,” John 1:14), church planters should live in their ministry’s target area. In all global cities, the cost of living is high. For example, a small (800 square feet) two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan rents for more than $3,000 a month. Purchasing facilities for worship is unthinkable; renting adequate places for worship (schools, churches, synagogues, theaters, community centers, etc.) is always challenging and costly. This means a church planter and his family may need upwards of $100,000 to $250,000 a year for living and ministry expenses.

Churches and individuals helping to support a church plant in the city need to understand and accept these budgetary challenges. As they begin the support-raising process, church planters should develop a well-prepared Church Plant Proposal document that includes the following components.

+ an executive summary of the vision
+ a brief demographic profile of the target area
+ a biographical sketch of the church planter
+ a summary of the proposed budget

Donors will respond to a compelling vision of a ministry that meets the needs of people, versus a bland financial presentation.

LIMITATIONS OF WORSHIP VENUES IN THE CITY

The church planter’s action plan may envision a start-up congregation of seventy-five to one hundred, with ample room for growth. Finding a corresponding meeting place in the city at the right hour on Sunday be- comes a difficult chore. Often goals and projections will require modifications because of venue constraints. Flexibility and creativity on the part of the church planter (CP) to enhance a poorly designed meeting place is often required. For example, renting a theater on Sunday morning may be feasible but also tricky, as a dark and windowless site will require additional lighting. Clever use of the large screen, however, could result in a well-lit space.

USE OF INAPPROPRIATE MODELS

Church planters are often impressed by what they have seen other planters do in a new situation. The self-talk goes like this: “That’s impressive; it would not be too difficult to duplicate; I can do that.” The rush to borrow methodologies and neglect the learning stage may result in tragic contextual misjudgments.

To develop the appropriate model, the CP should move to the target area as soon as possible, do a walking tour of the area, begin networking in the community, gain information in the context of relationships, and then summarize and analyze the data providing implications for the right type of model.

PREMATURE TIMING OF PUBLIC LAUNCH

By “going public,” I mean moving from the informal meetings of small-group Bible studies to the full-blown meetings of a Sunday worship service. The timing of the public launch is critical for any church plant, but for church planters in the city, the importance of right timing is heightened by greater financial constraints and sponsor expectations. This pressure can be intense, as missteps at this critical juncture will have serious con- sequences for the church plant.

In addition to gathering enough people to create momentum, the CP must prepare for the many activities and logistics necessary for setting up a site and welcoming people. This takes time and careful planning, with the added pressure of having only one shot to get it right. People visiting for the first time will make up their minds quickly whether or not to return. Thus, the CP needs to make sure he is ready both physically and spiritually for the public launch.

During this time, the CP will benefit greatly from having a coach. Together the CP and the coach must develop a well-crafted plan for the first twelve months of the project, identifying how people will be reached, how often they will meet as a emerging core group, and so on. Before the public launch takes place, the CP must have a solid core of leaders to assimilate, new believers to disciple, and several small groups operating with their own leaders.

Whatever is planned for the life of the church must be in place from the beginning. With the first fifty or seventy-five people, attention is focused on gathering as a congregation, developing an infrastructure, and building a sense of momentum. With emerging momentum and a clear vision for the project, the CP is ready to strike with the public launch!

THE CHALLENGE OF DEVELOPING LEADERS IN HIGH TURNOVER URBAN CONTEXTS

Church planters in the urban context face the added challenge of working in a highly fluid environment. The rapid turnover and high attrition rate of city dwellers poses a major challenge to the CP seeking to develop committed leaders in his nascent congregation. Often the core leaders assume the burden of the many tasks required in a new church, and some burn out. New people are not helping out yet, but the work needs to be delegated to others. The following are some ways to involve others.

+ Take more risks. When you need something done, give it to somebody new instead of relying on old standbys.

+ Learn to recruit. Start compiling a list of workers—bookkeepers, greeters, ushers, social organizers, a setup crew. Among those who take on these types of jobs you will find those who want to go deeper in their responsibilities.

+ Establish apprenticeships. In all areas of leadership training, instill in followers the concept of every leader having an apprentice. In this way, leadership is multiplying and replacements are being trained.

+Develop a leadership training plan for the long term.

What are some of the unexpected challenges that you’ve faced planting a church in a city?
How have you prepared for the unexpected in church planting?

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in The Gospel and Life conferences of 2004 and 2005 and is posted here from Redeemer City to City with permission. The image used was taken by Ecstaticist.

The Power of Example

Church Planting, Philadelphia, Rambling Thoughts

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In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin tells of the time he wanted to convince the citizens of Philadelphia to light the streets at night as a protection against crime and as a convenience for evening activities. Failing to convince them by his words, he decided to show his neighbors how compelling a single light could be. He bought an attractive lantern, polished the glass, and placed it on a long bracket that extended from the front of his house. Each evening as darkness descended, he lit the wick. His neighbors soon noticed the warm glow in front of his house. Passersby found that the light helped them to avoid tripping over protruding stones in the roadway. Soon others placed lanterns in front of their homes, and eventually the city recognized the need for having well-lighted streets.

That is the power of example. Samuel Johnson once wrote, “Example is always more effective than teaching.” Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” Children become like parents; students become like teachers—all because of the power of example. Coupled with the Word of God, there may be no greater power on earth to change the behavior of others.

The Apostle Paul undoubtedly knew about this power when he wrote, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1, 2 ESV).

Followers of Jesus are to be imitators of God, to walk in love and to be filled with the Holy Spirit. When we live like this we become powerful examples of Christianity. But this is no ordinary example; no ‘any kind of example.’ No! When Jesus’ followers become light in the darkness, sins are exposed by the shining light and an amazing thing happens: darkness can no longer hide its nature and acts in secret. All is exposed to light. Light that makes everything visible brings an even more radical element.

This is what Paul means in verses 13-14: “But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:1, 2, 13, 14 ESV). Everything that is revealed is (or becomes) light. Light turns darkness into light. This is the church’s mission.

So, I am thinking now about how this applies to church planters, that rare breed of servants who I serve and really love: “How do you go about effectively planting a church?” You deliberately live as imitators of God in your neighborhood. You become known in your neighborhood as men and women of God, thus becoming light in the darkness. As Benjamin Franklin did in Philadelphia, show your neighbors how compelling a single light can be. Your neighbors will soon notice the warm glow coming from your home. In addition to simple example, you will have the supernatural power of the indwelling Holy Spirit whose power will turn the darkness of your neighborhood into light! Church planting is far more about this than it is about forms and functions. So, in your neighborhood, turn your inner light on unashamedly, and see what Jesus does!

Pastor, We Exist to Magnify Jesus Christ

Church Planting, Rambling Thoughts

Tragedies and calamities and horrific suffering and sinful atrocities should not take Christians off guard. “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). They are foreseen by God, and he foretold them for us to know. God sees them coming and does not intend to stop them. Therefore, it appears that they somehow fit into his purposes. indeed, he says as much about the murder of his saints in Revelation 6:10–11. Those who had already been killed cry out in heaven, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” John describes the answer they receive: “They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.” There is a number of martyrs to be filled. God knows how many murders of his children there must be. And God reigns over every one of them. He does not spare his children physical death, but he does spare them spiritual death and saves them eternally: “Some of you they will put to death. . . . But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:16, 18).

Pastor, it is not your responsibility to entertain folks during the last days. It is not your calling to help people have chipper feelings while the whole creation groans. Your job is to put the kind of ballast in the belly of your boat so that when these waves crash against your life, you will not capsize but make it to the Harbor of Heaven—battered and wounded, but full of faith and joy.

I know that in this life, joy in God is never unmixed with sorrow. Never. Love won’t allow that. The banner of the faithful bears the seal of 2 Corinthians 6:10, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” We are pushing our way through a blood-spattered life that makes us feel connected to the world and disconnected at the same time. We are here but not here. Love binds us to the tragic earth, and love binds us to the Treasure of Heaven. We Christians are strange. Our emotions are inexplicable in ordinary terms. “Let those who mourn, mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice, rejoice as though they were not rejoicing” (1 Corinthians 7:30).

We exist to magnify Jesus Christ. That is, we are on this planet for one ultimate reason: to do whatever we can to make Jesus Christ known and treasured—a knowing and a treasuring that accords with his infinite beauty and immeasurable worth.