Partner over Planting

How long does it take to build trust? How long does it take to understand the culture of a block? A neighborhood? A city? These are some of the more pressing questions that must be asked when starting a new church. From personal experience, I can tell you the answer. It’s longer than you’d think or prefer!

In an effort to build trust on my block, I plowed all the snow all winter. I wanted to demonstrate with my actions what I had communicated with my words – our new church was here to serve! I thought it went great. Every time it snowed, I rushed to my snow blower to make sure I got to everyone’s sidewalk before they even knew what hit ‘em. Folks came home after a long day of work to a clean sidewalk. They must have felt cared for. And I for sure felt like a snow covered hero. Until spring.  

When our winter hibernation ended and the neighbors finally came out of their caves, I was able to talk to Alphonso, who I hadn’t seen in months. I said something to the effect of, “it’s great to see you. Feels like it’s been forever!” To which he replied, “yeah, normally all the neighbors come out and chat during the big snow storms while we all shovel together. But this year, someone plowed the snow every time.” Gulp. I messed this one up!

Do you know who wouldn’t have made that same mistake? Someone who knew the culture. This is one small, goofy example, but it helps to illustrate why we should prioritize partnering with existing churches in under resourced areas. Many churches in tough places already have trust and credibility built in their neighborhoods – and they understand the culture. Because they are the culture. They intuitively and experientially understand what the real issues are that need to be confronted – and what the real strengths are that need to be built off.  

“We are praying that we might have the privilege of learning from them and serving with them. “

How much more effective will it be for us to partner with under resourced, gospel-centered churches in tough areas than starting new churches in tough neighborhoods? It may take more time to build relationships with these churches than it would to identify a church planter, but it will take those churches far less time to make an impact in their neighborhoods than a new church would.  

We are asking God to give us the grace to partner with faithful, Bible believing, gospel centered churches in under resourced areas. We are praying that we might have the privilege of learning from them and serving with them. We are begging God to let us watch Him transform this city from the inside out – as we serve WITH existing churches.   

God at Work

HOW GOD HAS USED MY BAPTISM TO GROW HIS KINGDOM

As a follower of Christ, a husband, an employee, and a business owner, I have been blessed with the opportunity to network within the Milwaukee Community, sometimes dozens of people per week. From the day I made my decision to be baptized, the Gospel as become part of my story. See, in the business world, one of my passions and God-given desires is to learn people’s stories, to take a genuine interest in them. To learn where they came from and where they are going and why they desire change. The blessing is that many times I am able to share my story which includes how God clenched my heart and lead me to taking a step into obedience by being baptized.

My Story:

From the day I was born until 18 my family raised me in a loving home and “the Church”. As I went to college, my parents had a falling out with the Church and I had a falling out in terms of growing with God. In my last years of college God started to work on my heart through one broken relationship that lead me to many new relationships, one after another in the business world. It took a specific moment, a business that was going backwards, for me to take action. As God’s timing would have it; some very successful business men spoke to me about the most important relationship, Jesus.

By the time I was 23, my heart was yearning to know Him better. A few years later, I met the woman who would become my wife, Ali. She was raised to know Christ, but I was fortunate enough to be there when she got baptized in her early 20’s. As we got to know each other, became really good friends, she exposed me to the difference between a “Religion” and a real, living relationship with our Creator. Over a few years of being in community at Imago Dei I was baptized at the age of 31 and was able to express outwardly the internal, burning desire of Christ in my heart.

My Hope:

It is important to note that my journey was a 31-year process. Interestingly, from 23 to 31 if anyone would have asked me if I was a Christian, I would have said yes. I struggled with “being a Christian” and then the view of being a “Christian” and being baptized. I had to study and learn what baptism really meant and not let my pride get in the way of God’s grace. While that was my biggest struggle, it has also shown up through God’s perfect plan as the topic that has led to more curiosity of family and friends around me. It is my hope and prayer that if you relate to my story and have struggled in similar ways, that you would take some time to ask God for people that can answer your questions. Then take a step into obedience with me so we can share His grace.

Mason Eddy

You don’t want to miss this!!!

When I was growing up, having dinner together was a high priority for my family. All six of us. My parents sat at the ends of the table and all the kids sat in the middle. Boys on one side and girls on the other. This was such a great time for us to connect, share stories, and build memories. Not every dinner was heavenly, and as we grew up, some of the kids couldn’t be around as often. But it was still a meaningful part of our family rhythm.  

I consider our weekly corporate worship gatherings in a similar way. You don’t have to come to church every week to be a part of the church anymore than you need to eat dinner with the family to be a part of the family. Further, neighbors can come over for dinner, but that doesn’t make them family. And just like a teenager could eat a meal without their family, so you can “get fed” without coming to church. I fully understand that people have access to far better options for “meals” than what our church can provide.

But there’s just something about momma’s cooking, isn’t there? How many family dinners can you miss before you start feeling disconnected? And what about the rest of the family? What do they miss out on by not having you around?  

The corporate worship gathering of a local church doesn’t exist for people to have a way to check off a box on some sort of religious to-do list. It’s not just to “feed you,” either. It’s about belonging to a family. It allows us to share moments together that become “inside” stories that help us know that we belong. Do you remember the April blizzard in 2018? Or how about the Sunday a squirrel ran around the church basement?

One of my favorite Sunday memories was when we held our last service at the French Immersion School. When that service was over and we were able to haul all of our gear into our new church building – right across the street – I felt like I was watching a modern exodus. Everybody grabbed something to haul. Kids, grandparents, and everyone in between. Do you remember?

It’s about belonging to a family.

We’ve shared so many meaningful moments as a church family.  Baptisms, child dedications, commissioning leaders – as well as many gospel goodbyes.  How much joy do we get to share when a young couple brings their baby to church for the first time? Or when newly weds return from their honeymoon and come to worship with the family? Do you remember?  

When we come together as a church family, we have an opportunity to worship God, connect with each other, and care for people. Every Sunday, God brings new people through our doors. One of my greatest joys as a pastor is when I am not even able to introduce myself to our visitors because our people are already caring for them.  

I understand that you’re not going to be able to be at church every week. But I’m telling you, you’re not going to want to miss this! And not just the service, though that matters. You’re not going to want to miss out on the process, the pattern, the family rhythm. There are memories to made, joy to be encountered, and worship to be experienced.  

Will you join us for dinner this week?   

Time to Wake Up

We are going to pursue a dream, that to my knowledge, has never been pursued. At least, not to the extent, depth, or length that we are considering. This may be foolish. It may be dangerous. It will certainly be challenging and exhausting. But there is a sleeping giant out there, and if she woke up, she would trash the gates of hell that occupy our city. Our dream, our prayer, is to see God revive existing churches in Milwaukee.

We believe that the local church is the hope of the world because the church has been entrusted with the message that brings eternal hope to all people – the gospel of Jesus Christ. When the gospel creates a new person, and new people form new communities that are committed to speaking and displaying the gospel in their communities, those communities will be adorned with hope and healing.  

Many of the depressed and under resourced neighborhoods in our city are being sustained by the flickering flames of hope provided by small and faithful churches. These churches tend to be made up of people who live in the neighborhood and are led by a pastor who must work at least one outside job in order to serve the church as a pastor. There are many reasons for this situation including the size of the congregation. But more pressing is the reality that a church of people who live in a zip code where the average income is less than $24,000 a year, as faithful and generous as they may be, simply cannot afford to give enough to support a pastor’s salary.  

Still, these pastors and churches provide a tremendous value to their communities. They are the shelter scared people turn to when another body hits the ground. They are the rock desperate people turn to when they can’t afford their next meal. They are the light that overwhelmed people turn to when they need to know there’s still hope.

“the church has been entrusted with the message that brings eternal hope to all people – the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

They are the ones we need to learn from. They are the ones we need to partner with. As we pursue this dream, I want to make sure that our hearts are in the right place. Our intention is not to offer support to “those poor people.” We intend to partner with and learn from them. Can you imagine how beautiful this could be? Can you imagine how much we could learn about faith and trust, community and service?  

And if many of these under resourced churches have sustained their neighborhoods while their pastors have worked multiple jobs outside of their community, can you imagine what God might do through them if they were even just appropriately resourced?  

Church, it’s time to wake up the sleeping giant, kick over the gates of hell, and watch God build His Kingdom and bring hope and healing to this world – and glory to His Name!

As You Go

What should get the higher priority – corporate or individual mission? This has been a question the leaders at ID have been asking during the course of the summer.  I thank God that these are the types of questions we’re wrestling with!

One reason for this tension is that not every individual feels called or compelled to engage with the partnerships that ID has formed. Now, I haven’t heard anyone say that they don’t think we should care for the public schools or those on the verge of homelessness. But the reality is, not everyone is passionate about elementary education. Not everyone understands or feels equipped to engage with the varied factors that contribute to homelessness. Further, while our “church” is located on 52nd and North on Milwaukee’s west side, our CHURCH is scattered throughout the Milwaukee metro area.  

So people are rightfully asking – what should be my priority? Building redemptive relationships where I am – or investing in the corporate mission of the church? What a wonderful question to ask! But before I can attempt to answer this question, it will be helpful for us to consider this issue from a broader perspective.  

Cultural Undercurrent 

Few would argue that where most people spend most of their time is at work and home. It follows, then, that where most people should be most intentional about reaching out is where they live and where they work. We ought to consider ourselves missionaries on our blocks and at our jobs. Mission is not something we “do,” it’s who we are. And we need to make disciples “as we go,” in the everyday stuff of life.  

At the same time, we need to thoughtfully consider how we have come to decide where we live and work. Are you aware of the framework that influenced you to make those choices? What are the most important factors to you when deciding where to live? Affordability? Resale value? Safety? Access to freeways? A place you can grow into?

How about where you work? What influenced you most to take your current job or pursue the career path you’re on? Salary? Work/life balance? Opportunity to advance? Utilizing your education, training, or skills? An opportunity to make a difference in this world?

All of those are good factors to consider. But are those the only factors we should consider?  Are they even the primary ones? Does the Bible provide any other values for us to consider? I believe it does.

“Which kingdom’s values are going to most shape our lives?”

In American culture, it is assumed that we will pursue our dreams. When making these decisions, then, we value comfort. Security. Wealth. Power. Respect. None of that is bad. It can all be good. But would you say that those are the values that best define Jesus’ lifestyle? And whose life is the church supposed to emulate?

Here is where I get uncomfortable with this conversation. If we are more influenced by American values than biblical values when deciding where to live and work, and if we invest most of our time and energy into those spaces, then what kingdom are we going to be most likely to experience? Which kingdom’s values are going to most shape our lives?

Could this contribute to some of the recurring issues many Christians face? Such as excessive debt? Exhaustion? Loneliness?

I am not suggesting that everyone should live in the most depressed, dangerous neighborhood they can find. I am also not advocating that people should choose jobs where they will be taken advantage of and disrespected. However, I am suggesting that we bring the gospel to bear on the decisions we make that will most influence our lives – where we live and where we work. I do not believe that we can faithfully or fully follow Jesus if we assume that we should always take the best deal for ourselves. Sometimes we ought to take what will be a better deal for someone else.  

Which brings me back to the importance of corporate mission. I do not want to see any of our neighbors or co-workers neglected. But since that is where we spend most of our time without effort, it seems to me that we need to prioritize engaging in the lives of people that we would otherwise overlook. Not because we don’t care, simply because they are not on our radar.

Further, Jesus has said that the world will know that we are His followers and that He is God based on how we love each other. How is the world going to see how we love each other if we don’t go out into the world – together? It will be better for this city if we serve the city, together.  Since we are limited, we won’t be able to care for every opportunity that presents itself. So we will have to prioritize. Which will mean that some of us will need to sacrifice personal preference and comfort to engage in the corporate mission of the church.  

“How is the world going to see how we love each other if we don’t go out into the world – together?”

Which brings us all to the gospel.  Jesus did not pursue comfort or safety, respect or power. In fact, in order for Him to fulfill God’s mission, He had to sacrifice everything He preferred. He didn’t simply settle for a lower quality of life – He laid down His life – so that through faith in Him – we could have life. Since His Spirit lives in our hearts through faith, He can empower us to engage His world with His love. And when we do this, our hearts will be most satisfied and His Name will be most glorified.  

This will help to untangle our hearts from the deceptive American Dream. We will see how shallow “power” is when we love serving others as Christ served us. We will see how fleeting success is in this world when our hearts are grounded by the success of the resurrection. We will see how foolish luxury is when we experience the exhilaration of stepping out in faith to place more trust in Christ than in comfort.  

When our trust is in Christ, then, we are safe even to wrestle through all of this.  His love has secured our hearts FOR good works but not BY our good works. Our lives have been eternally secured by the good work Jesus has already accomplished. So now we can follow Him to wherever He would lead because we trust Him more than anyone else.