How does a church start? It begins with a crazy dream initiated by God. It continues with crazy faith granted by God. It grows with crazy connections orchestrated by God. It forms with crazy gifts given by God. It explodes with crazy joy in the presence of God.
How does a church start? By the miraculous, merciful hand of God. Every local church that God breathes into existence will have a different story. I’ve often thought about what advice I would give to current church planters. Reflecting on my experience on watching God show off His sovereignty, I would tell current church planters to simply pay very close attention to what God is doing. You can have dreams, plans, and strategies. And should. But a church, old or new, can only do what God has gifted her to do and can only serve where He opens doors.
How does a church start? With the presence of God. Sunday, September 14th 2014, was the birth day of Imago Dei Church. While there were many things I was hoping for on this Sunday, the only thing that really mattered was encountering the presence of God. If God doesn’t make Himself known at a church’s worship gathering, then what’s the point? He is too great, His presence is too mesmerizing for us to waste our time pursuing anything else. And for His glory and our good, God showed up. Here’s just a few of the ways people expressed their encounter with God.
“This was great! I could feel the presence of Christ, and can’t even watch this without getting goosebumps!!”
“I really did feel God move. It’s an honor and a blessing to serve!”
“God pulled it all together. He will bring glory to His Name. The power of the Holy Spirit is real!”
This should be the one goal we have for a church gathering – to experience the presence of God. And that is the experience God granted us at our first public gathering. Part of the reason people were freed up to experience God is because so many were so well prepared. Prior to this gathering, we had four “rehearsal” services. We wanted to get in the habit of setting up, tearing down, and preparing in other ways as well. This preparation allowed the team to serve with relaxation and joy. But even more importantly, during this period of time, the launch team engaged in spiritual disciplines together. This allowed us to train our hearts for grace, rather than performance.
How does a new church start? With many, many people dedicating themselves to something far bigger than themselves. It doesn’t start with the worship team walking on the stage at 10 AM. It starts with a few faithful people hauling boxes, pouring coffee, and decorating tables at 6:30 AM. Few people get to experience the pleasure of sacrificing their discretionary time like this. The delight and fulfillment people receive when they serve – together – in areas of passion for Christ exalting, God saturated goals, is out of this world. Seriously. On this morning, God granted us a satisfaction in Him that nothing in this world can compete with.
How does a new church start begins with old, treasured friendships. Several people made the trip to Milwaukee just to cheer on those who have served on the launch team. This is a meaningful gesture in more ways than one. While everyone appreciates encouragement, these friendships point to something deeper. They point to the work that God has been doing far before Imago Dei Church was even a twinkle in our eye.
How does God start a new church? By beginning to bring peace. At one point during the message, I apologized to the urban community and my African American brothers and sisters. America has some serious social issues, and those issues exist at a concentrated level in Milwaukee. The unfortunate reality is that many churches have done more damage than good in urban communities. Well intended churches, especially those whose leadership is comprised of people from privilege, like ours is, have hurt the very communities they were hoping to help. We want to learn from these mistakes and start differently. So I apologized for these mistakes and more.
At the end of the service, an African American lady came to talk with me. She gave me a big hug and said, “I’m sorry too.” Even just writing about this makes my eyes well up with tears. That was a huge moment. It won’t solve the problems, but moments like this will actually help. Real conversations. Real repentance. Really experiencing the power of God.
How does a church start? When the risen Savior sends His Holy Spirit to enact the salvation He secured on the cross, bringing together a group of people to live as a family of families, committed to glorifying God through worshiping Him and serving their city together. And Milwaukee will never be the same because of it. To God be the glory!