Monday, February 22, 2010

And here we go....

I've officially received and accepted a call to be the Associate Pastor at 2nd Congregational Church in Douglas, MA!

Now it's time to figure out how to get from here to there and I thought I'd start by filling in some of the details.

The purpose of my call is to fully prepare me to pastor a church in New England. This is really important because it shows that both the leadership of the church and I have a bigger vision for my ministry in New England than my time at 2nd Congregational. New England has become a virtually unreached mission field where the vast majority of churches have ceased to preach the Gospel. So our goal is to minister in New England by eventually planting a church or revitalizing a church. The goal of this calling is to prepare me for that.

In order to do that the church has called me for a minimum of 2 years and tasked me with doing pretty much everything that Bill, the senior pastor, does. So by the end of the 2 years I will have had some experience in every area of pastoral ministry and, depending on my progress and the growth of the church, I will have the option of leaving to plant a church or seek a calling as a senior pastor or of staying at 2nd Congo (this is what everybody calls it, by the way).

Here's what my job will look like over the next two years: Right away I'll jump into pastoral counseling and visitation. These are two of the areas where there is simply more need than Bill can meet on his own. I'll also start a small group Bible study and may do some teaching in Sunday school, depending on where the needs are. I'll be preaching about once a month and may occasionally be able to preach a short series and I'll be helping lead (aka emcee) the worship service and working with the worship team on developing the music. I'll also chair the deacon board and the elder board for about a year each. In addition I'll be doing funeral services in the area and other miscellaneous pastoral stuff that pastors do. And yes, you heard right, we might be living above a funeral home.

So what's the next step?

The next step is for us to raise support. The church is only able to pay about 45% of what we need to live in MA. This means we need to raise the rest. So we need to raise $32,000 per year for two years ($64,000 total). Fortunately, this is a lot less than I thought we would have to raise and is for a limited amount of time. We're also about to have a baby (only 5 weeks left!). So our hope is for fundraising and childbirth to line-up so that we're able to move not too long after Kerstin and Elling are both healthy enough to move.

So please keep doing what you've been doing: pray! God has been faithful so far and we believe he will continue to provide for us! I've never really raised support before, so if you have any advice I'll love to hear it. I know it's also going to be awkward asking people for money and this isn't exactly something I love doing (this is why I wasn't a good car salesman). So pray that it will be well received.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

TJ has been officially called!!!

Fantastic news!!!!

TJ has been officially called as the Associate Pastor of 2nd Congregational Church in Douglas, Massachusetts. The church voted a unanimous yes last night. Now we just need to raise about half of our salary. More details to come later, but the church has committed more than we anticipated, which is fantastic!

Here's another answered prayer before we really started to pray for it - we may already have somewhere to live that is a) spacious b) affordable and c) will give us endless stories. The landlord is a good friend of Bill the senior pastor and said he'd hold it for us if this all works out. It's a 4-bedroom apartment for $900 per month 2 blocks from the church! The "endless stories" will come from the fact that is located above a funeral home. Yep, you read that right, let the jokes begin! Basically the ground floor is the funeral home, we would have the top 2(maybe?) floors. At least we'll have quiet neighbors.

Come visit us, we'll have a cozy, quilted casket set up for you. :)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why New England?

So you may be wondering why we're going to New England in the first place. Read on to find out!

At first glance, Massachusetts seems like a very Christian state, with almost 70% of the population identifying themselves as Christian. This is a case where appearances are deceiving.

New England was once the home of puritanism and Reformed Christianity in America where (despite their flaws) the Gospel was loudly proclaimed. Over the centuries, however, their influence has been all but lost and the vast majority of churches that remain have completely embraced theological liberalism. Now New England is one of the most secular regions of the country in spite of being by far the most Roman Catholic region of the country.

In Massachusetts 50% of the population is Catholic (this is 2nd only to Rhode Island, which is about 15 minutes from where we'll be living) but the vast majority are nominal, with less than 1/3rd attending Mass regularly. This means that the majority of Catholics in New England have left behind the faith they learned as a child in favor of no faith at all. And those who stay are part of some of the most theologically liberal Dioceses in the country. The bottom line is that the vast majority of churches in New England, both Protestant and Catholic, have ceased to preach and teach anything resembling the Gospel.

While the churches of New England may be in sad shape, the reality is that close to 70% of New Englanders never set foot in a church anyway. Over 35% are self-proclaimed atheists or agnostics. When you add it all up you get a pretty shocking conclusion: only 2% of New Englanders even claim to believe the Gospel. *(This, by the way, qualifies New England as an unreached people group according to many mission organizations and is only slightly higher than the percentage of Christians in North Korea.)

In addition, the NorthEast is home to many of the largest and most influential cities in the country and is a center of elite education for the whole world. It's also the wealthiest region of the country but still has pockets of staggering poverty.

In spite of all of this almost nobody seems interested in going to Minister in New England. The vast majority of graduates from various Reformed and Evangelical Seminaries in the US are hoping to minister in the SouthEast or the West and even many who are from the NorthEast are leaving for greener pastures (and mild winters). Long story short, the NorthEast desperately needs people to come and preach the Gospel and we believe God is calling us to be some of those people.

Our Goal: We're trying to move to and minister in the NorthEast with the ultimate hope of planting or revitalizing a church in one of the cities in the region.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

New England Update

Many of you have probably already heard that our trip to MA went really well, but I wanted to give everybody a rundown of our trip and let you know what the status of everything is at the moment.

As we waited to board the plane Friday afternoon I was worried that our trip might get off to a late start when it started to snow in Charlotte. As most of you know we southerners are not well equipped to deal with snow (in other words, we freak out when it snows). But after a relatively short delay to get de-iced we were off to Boston.

We arrived in Boston to lovely 15 degree, windy weather. Bill, the senior pastor of 2nd Congregational, picked us up at the airport and drove us about an hour back to Douglas, where we met his wife Michelle and their four kids: Emily, Bob, Caroline and Abigail. We stayed with them for the weekend and had a lot of fun getting to know them.

Saturday morning we ventured out in the 3 degree cold to meet with the elders and deacons across the street at the church. We went through a few basic interview questions again but mostly tried to get to know each other and to get a sense of whether we'd be a good fit. They seemed to be a really great group of guys with a really strong sense of community and we liked them a lot. They really liked Kerstin and didn't seem to mind me either. Overall everybody seemed to think that we would be a great fit there and that we'd really enjoy being a part of the church. After the meeting Bill sent us to have lunch with one of the elders who wasn't on my earlier phone interviews and is the most theologically knowledgeable member of the leadership. We had a great time getting to know him and his family (who are actually from South Africa) and we had homemade applesauce for the first time -it was awesome. Who knew it didn't always come in a jar?! Bill said it was really important that this elder liked us and it looks like he did. We also took a little driving tour through Worcester, MA (pronounced Wuss-ter) which is a city of about 300,000 people with literally not a single church that preaches the gospel. After heading back to Bill's place and resting for a while we went out to dinner with Bill and Michelle and discovered that we really have a lot in common.

Sunday morning we headed across the street for Sunday School where we met a few church members and saw a real hunger to learn and grow spiritually. In the service I preached on Exodus 3-4 where God calls Moses to go free Israel from slavery in Egypt and talked about what it means to have a calling from God. It seemed to go pretty well and Bill said he got lots of good feedback (you can hear it here if you like). After church there was a potluck for lunch and we got to meet a bunch of people including the former Assistant Pastor who's now the head pastor of a church a few towns over. We really liked the people of the church and had lots of fun getting to know them. In the afternoon Bill drove us around the area, which is really beautiful, and we saw people ice fishing and playing hockey on a frozen lake. Kerstin was feeling very nostalgic of her childhood winters in Michigan, and plans on getting some cross country skis when we move. We also visited Purgatory and got Fribbles. Sunday night we hung out with some church members around our age and, again, really liked everybody and felt like we'd be a great fit for the church.

Monday we headed back to Boston to catch our flight back. We left a little late so we walked up to the gate just in time to board, which made us a little nervous but on the bright side we know that you can get to Boston in less than an hour if you're really trying.

So that was our trip. Overall we really liked Bill and the elders and deacons and the congregation in general. We think we'd be a good fit there and that I'd learn a lot from Bill and get lots of great experience. Bill said he thought it went really well and that everybody he talked to felt really good about us. He thought we would be a perfect fit for the church and didn't see any problems or any reason why the church wouldn't vote to call me. They vote at the congregational meeting on the 17th and will either vote to call me (aka offer me the job) or not. If they do they'll have to approve the job description and salary package that Bill will propose.

My job description will basically be to do everything that Bill does over at least two years. It would really prepare me to move on and plant a church or revitalize a church in the area, which is what Bill and the elders hope to see me do.

Salary is where things will get difficult and where I'd ask everybody to pray. Housing and insurance are both really expensive in MA. What this basically means is that there's going to be a pretty big difference between what the church can actually pay me and what we'll need to live there. Our plan is to raise the difference, which will probably be somewhere between 40 and 50 thousand per year. Obviously, this is a lot of money to raise in the current economy.

So here are our prayer requests for the moment:
  1. Please pray that the vote goes as everybody expects it to and that the church calls me as their Associate Pastor.
  2. Please pray that Kerstin's pregnancy continues to go well and that Ruth Elling arrives and is healthy in 7 weeks.
  3. Pray that God will provide the money we will need to raise quickly so that we can get started ministering in MA.

Thank you all so much for praying!