I did not plan on being a church planter. And, I don’t mean that in a God-was-calling-me-there-but-I-refused-to-listen-to-God’s-voice kind of way. It was literally not even a blip on my radar. So, when the opportunity came up to be a planting pastor with Urban Village Church, an initiative with the UMC, I really had to think on it.

I began talking with Trey Hall and Christian Coon, the lead pastors of UVC about a year ago. At the same time, they were having conversations with Benjamin Reynolds, a PhD student at Chicago Theological Seminary who had pastored a large African American Baptist congregation in Colorado Springs. I was caught by how they really listened, were responsive, and sought to follow the Spirit’s lead in their own discernment about us as their partners in ministry. I realized that, in a risky endeavor like church planting, it was important for me to know I had passionate, dynamic, and intelligent partners who would not only recognize and value the gifts and experiences that I brought to the table, but also take me seriously as a partner. I didn’t plan on church planting, but once I accepted the call, I became excited. It was the best intersection of my gifts and passions: creative communications, graphic design, organization, seeing the gospel change lives, and having fun.

So, why plant churches in time of mainline decline? The simple answer is that there are people who want to engage questions of spirituality and faith, but they are not finding what they need. Rather than paint with a broad brushstroke, I will speak to the particular context where Benjamin and I are doing our work. In my conversations with folks (most, but not all, of whom were young adults) in the Woodlawn and Hyde Park neighborhoods, I have come across 4 types – People who have:

1)  given up trying to find something in the neighborhood and go somewhere else.

2)  given up trying to find a church and don’t go to church.

3)  settled on a place, but aren’t all that satisfied

4)  been burned or rejected by the church at some point.

Many people are looking for a sense of connection and community; where someone notices when they’ve been away or knows to ask about what’s happening in their lives. They are also looking for a place where their questions are not ignored but taken seriously and engaged; where doubt is not equated with unbelief. Additionally, families are looking for a place where their children can be equipped to think about faith and faithful living that is rooted in the gospel with intelligence and meaning. There is also a unique need that UVC on the south side can address: being a faith community that welcomes and affirms people of color (and their families) across the spectrum of sexual orientation. Finally, our vision for Urban Village as a whole (and particularly on the south side) is to be a multi-racial faith community that does not minimize difference but engage it for the sake of being a fuller expression of God’s kindom.

McCormick was important in equipping me with certain tools in this work:

  • Developing a posture of life-long learning
  • Opportunities for engaging in conversations with people who come from a diversity of backgrounds and life experiences
  • A network of creative colleagues who both support and challenge me
  • Knowledge of ministry in an urban context (particularly Chicago)
  • Public speaking and preaching
  • Supportive faculty and staff
  • Tools for shaping creative liturgy and worship

There are other key tools that McCormick did not (and in some cases, could not) equip me with, so I had to learn or obtain elsewhere:

  • Perseverance
  • Humor
  • Graphic design and marketing
  • Organization/Administration
  • External networks and connections
  • Creative ways to do evangelism/outreach
  • The nuts and bolts of church planting
  • The practice of trying to do church differently
  • Community organizing

Being a church planter is hard work! You have to put yourself out there again and again, initiating conversations with people, risking rejection and judgement on a daily basis. But, I do not regret my decision. There is something very powerful and humbling about the work of planting churches. You get a front row seat in bearing witness to the kind of work that God can do through a broken vessel (moi) to help make the neighborhood just a little bit better and the gospel just a little more present in the world.

This is a brief overview of some aspects of my work as a church planter. If you have questions or are interested in church planting and would like to join Benjamin and myself in this work, feel free to contact me at emcginley@mccormick.edu

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