Lessons on Community and Citywide Networking


Just to introduce myself, so I moved just three months ago, into New York City to replant a church there called Apostles Church at Union Square. It's historically a multi-congregational church that multiplied into its own individual churches, and so I'm helping rebuild one of them. It's gone through a lot. But historically, I come from Columbus, Ohio where I founded Veritas Community Church there. And that congregation, that church has just grown and been a very influential church in the city, and it's really encouraging, set up really well. All the leaders are here. They take like three rows in the auditorium. It's crazy. And so, it's good to really reflect on some of those lessons in Columbus. But I'm also kind of coming into this saying, "I'm doing it all over again." A lot of things I've started and done in Columbus, I'm doing all over again, starting from the very bottom, starting from scratch in Columbus. 

I just started this role in August. And New York City, as you can problem imagine, is a little different than Columbus, Ohio. I tell people in the city, yeah, we live downtown Columbus, which is pretty much exactly the same as Manhattan. It's not at all the same. In Columbus, a lot of my lessons, a lot of the things I'm gonna be thinking about are things from Columbus, and just reflecting on my time there. It's actually a really timely talk, and because I have been doing a ton of reflecting over my ten years in Columbus, and from planting the church to building a network in the city, and developing a lot of relationships, and honestly missing a lot of those relationships. It's a really hard time for me ... Not hard time, but it's nostalgic. This has been a good thing for me to kind of write some things down and think about some things, and process, and really missing a lot of my relationships in Columbus.

That's basically one of the big reasons why I'm talking about this. It's been a sort of a natural desire for me to want to build network and collaboration and relationships all throughout Columbus. I've gotten to see things really click in Columbus, as far as seeing churches come together. A lot of the things I'm talking about, I hope that you hear that I'm not saying, I am the one who did this. As I talk about these, and bring a lot of stuff to the ... Like really cool things that happened, I don't want you leaving here thinking, "Man, Nick really did a great thing there," because it was not me. I was a part of a lot of that. I was weaved in and out of a lot of conversations and a lot of ... I was part of a lot of teams. And so there's a lot of churches brought together. It was a really good collaborative effort, and so yeah, just one of many. 

Also, a few other things that I wanted to point out of what qualifies me to really talk about this and actually bring lessons to the table. Just some things that we did, we did a regional men's conference for many years called Act Like Men. That was before Mark Driscoll and whatever, McDonald stole it and made their own. It was really awesome. We had 600 men that would come to that. We've had up to that, from all over Ohio and West Virginia and Indiana. It was really awesome. Really awesome conference for guys. 

We developed ... One of my contributions is developing a group, or sort of a slogan, I should say, called For Columbus, which the Southern Baptist used when they came into Columbus for the convention, if any of you guys are Southern Baptist. They came to Columbus. We let them use that name, and our website that we had for that to try to catalyze something a little bit more deeper to serve our city, and love the city in various ways. That since has caught on and is being used, even now, as they're developing and building a network. They're just thinking about life in the marketplace and life in arts and entertainment, and sort of the seven pillars that Frances Schaeffer brings out of gospel change and a movement.

There's another group that I worked with and helped bring together called the Catalyst Group. And this is a group of business men and women, and they are culture shapers in the city. They're several prominent business leaders in the city. They're very influential, who really had a heart to see the gospel go further than the church could, than the marketplace could, and see this kind of world come together a lot more, to bring a wholistic vision. And so, through that, we partnered with people. If you know these names, they're helpful to get some context, but we've partnered with Kevin Palau, who wrote a book on gospel movements. And he's son of Louis Palau, who was a Latin American evangelist, like the Billy Graham of Latin America. I think that's his little slogan. That's a big slogan, really. Kevin's in Portland, and he's been a really great mentor, just to help think through what great movement looks like. 

In New York City, there's a thing called Movement Day. Maybe you've heard of that. That's actually spread now, all over the world. Mac Pier, who is the director of that, has also been very influential for me. And so, I went to my first Movement Day actually this weekend in New York City. Which was really encouraging. Really life changing. And it made me want to go back to Columbus, really. But I'm like, "I'm here now." So there's a lot we can work on. 

Other networks I have either led or been a part of or just been orchestrating with. There's the Gospel Coalition. We had a chapter there that we helped develop and grow. There's a church planters group, which really gathers church planters from a lot of different backgrounds, denominations, and groups throughout the city. And man, that grew really, really big. 

And so, early in the day, we had about 100 church planters, pastors, that would gather quarterly. And we sustained that for awhile. And then it morphed into somebody else leading it. And so he's really gathering church planters and there's like 20 or 30 church planters around Columbus. When I moved there, there was like two church planters. Myself and a couple of people in the suburbs. And so, it's just really incredible to see some of that really grow. Some of that momentum. 

And, then I want to also bring a whole other side, that maybe might be more interesting to you, is the city networking. So developing networks within a non-Christian community, which is something that I was really excited about doing. So, I was involved with neighborhood associations, and business associations. And so we were always connected into those groups, into those two particular groups where I helped provide leadership. So, in my neighborhood, there was no kids, hardly any kids. My thing became, let's get more families in the neighborhood, and everybody loved that. We worked through the neighborhood association in that.

In the business association, there was no any ... There were a couple of churches that were a part of it. They were all affirming churches, they were very liberal. So we were then the conservative Baptist church in this area and people really responded well because we really networked in a way where I came into the city and I knew, this is a high, very high percentage of gay people in the community. And it's very spiritually hungry community, but also confused about a lot of areas when it comes to just how to think about the Bible, sexually and a lot of those hot topic areas. Being a part of the business association allowed this network of saying okay, "This is the prominent leader advocate for the gay community. I'm gonna hang out with him." And so I could hang out with him through that. So my wife and I go bowling with them and have the over for drinks. And then when things hit the fan, which they did, and somebody made a stink that we weren't an open and affirming church, this guy vouched for us. He said, "They're cool. They're friendly. They love people and they've served our community really well."

That's like one angle about ... One of the reflections I have really reflected on why it's important to network in your community and build these relationships and share the gospel. And things like city counsel. Our church hosted the very first all city counsel sort of conversation. When all these candidates were running for city counsel, we had them come to our church. We invited all the neighborhood churches and we had like 400 people there. And that was the most that they had at any city counsel thing. They were all blown away. It just put us in a lot of really good favor for something like that. Asking really good questions about justice, injustice in the city, and how they were responding to homelessness and things that we as a church care about. That really put us in a place where we're able to have some relationships. Especially for me, and for our staff, and our other pastors and deacons, being able to have those ongoing relationships with city leaders.

That's kind of what qualifies me to talk about this, I suppose. Two caveats though. One is this, these lessons are reflective. I already said that. But second, this isn't a formula. I'm not prescribing anything. This is ... Well, I'll talk about this as a lesson, but it's not a formula so I don't want you to hear this like, "Okay, here's the ten steps to being a great networker." 

Alright. So let me just jump into it so we can have time for some Q and A. The first lesson is really thinking about your calling. Building a network in your city is not for everyone. I don't want you to leave here feeling burdened that this role is your responsibility. That you aren't meant to play. If you aren't meant to play it, don't feel like you have to. You don't have to carry this. I have discovered more than I have really known this about myself. This is a natural gift that I have. It's not a spiritual gift, which makes me feel really unqualified to be a pastor sometimes. It's like, networking seems so ... I don't know. Something you'd find entrepreneurs do. And business leaders do. Not pastors. But it's something you really discover more than you know it. For me, it was ... For me, I don't want you to feel like you're carrying this. I gotta do this. 

So how do you know? How do you know this is happening? How do you see this in your life? How do you feel this calling, this burden? Asking questions like, do you naturally schedule meetings with city leaders, influential people in your community? Do you naturally reach out to them and gravitate to them in a way that's not using them? And in a way that's not condescending or anything. Banging their head with church things and gospel. But being able to present the gospel and talk about the gospel really boldly but really carefully. Is that like a natural draw for you to schedule these meetings? It's a simple, practical, reflection question.

The second lesson is understanding your city's history. So I came into Columbus and I had discovered in the 80s and 90s, there had been what some pastors actually called a small revival within the city where churches were actually working together. There was really really good relationship. There was actually really good community. And it happened because in the 80s and 90s, a lot of these churches were pretty small, and the church, in general, was very small. Some of the churches became very prominent leaders. And so they kind of had these more successful ministries. They started growing a lot so that they people in that group, there just became a lot of tension and a lot of jealously and envy. So there was a whole history of this in the 80s and 90s, and even in the early 2000s, to where some of these pastors are just like, "We tried this. It's too hard." 

So they all kind of retreated back into their own world and they built their own kingdoms and they built their own stuff. And some of them were really good stuff. So, it was like a little guy coming. And especially like, for me, I'm coming in and our church is growing and we're in downtown, so that's a little different. There's some things that are unique about us. We're very robust about the Bible and gospel in a very liberal neighborhood. So people are very curious, like, "How can you be that in this neighborhood?", and those kinds of things. 

So, really have to know your city's history. So have you really taken the time to learn these things? Asking some of the old pastors, the old saints. When it comes to church relationships, when it comes to relating to the city. Because sometimes there's massive tension between the city counsel or city leaders or the mayor or political figures and the church. Which I found out, our first mayor, he had massive issues with the church. Because he grew up in church, burned out by the church, frustrated, left the church. Single dude, had lots of old girlfriends, that kind of thing. The church pounded him on that stuff and he just never worked with the church. And our mayor was never connecting to the church at all. So, there's a lot of tension in that. So you have to learn those things and know those things. I think really knowing also what has happened is really helpful to know how to proceed moving forward. And to think about how you can connect with pastors better. Knowing if they have a history of tension. You're not in and trying to make these asks and, "Will you give me a platform?", or these kinds of things. So know your church's history.

It's interesting because I'm really learning this now in New York City. Five percent Christian. It's completely overwhelming being dropped of like eight and half million people and trying to figure out how to understand the history. Especially in the shadow of places like Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Hillsong and these really big, international figures. I'm in this process of really understanding history. 

Third lesson. Know why you network. It's really important to know why. Why are you doing? And I'm to get ... Some of my other lessons sort of flow from that one. Where I'll get a little deeper in some of my exploration of why. But really know why. Is it friendship? Is it collaboration? Are you wanting some consulting? Are you coaching? Why do you want to connect with someone? I'm usually referring to someone outside of your church if you're in the church and pastoring. Or someone in the business community. Or somebody kind of outside maybe the normal realm that you run in. Another church, or something like that. Why do you want to do it? So, more's going to come out of that one. 

The fourth lesson, and this is where is kind of starting to come out, check your motives. This one, I feel like, is the one that I have reflected on significantly because I've it in [battling inaudible 00:17:56]. I've seen it in my own life. I've really had to pray and process my own intentions. What are my motivations? Never ever, ever, ever, never, never engage in city networking if your motivation is not to join people. If you're not joining them, then what are you doing? What's the point in this? Are you platform building? This is where I think it's really important. You cannot, you can't build a platform. Like that never builds a movement. It might build your platform and actually might work. That's a scary thing. It might work. 

But when you meet with somebody, this might be a little practical caveat. When you're meeting with somebody, asking not what people can do for you or vice verse, asking what you can do for them. I recently met with a church planter in New York City and we were chatting and working through things and just hearing his story and that kind of thing. And he was like, "Man, how can I serve you?" And I was like, "How can you serve me? Like, dude, you're a church planter. There's nothing you can give me." And I didn't say that. But I'm just saying, if you're a church planter coming in. Or, if your not coming in and saying, "Man, I want to ... ". I don't have ... You don't have anything to offer. 

So, come and say, "How can I join you? How can I be a part of what you're doing?" You gotta find common ground and not be condescending or not be ... And I know that the heart of when saying, "I want to serve you." That's Jesus' heart. That's what you want. That's very important. But I think it really, really shows a lot when you communicate as much as you can in these conversations. "How can I join you? How can we join together in some things?" That's my motivation. It's not, "Let me serve you." Or even, "Let me ... You give to me. Here's what I need you to do for me. I need money." Or meeting with business leader and asking for money. Dude, they get that every day. They get that all the time. If there's a mark on them that says they're wealthy and they're generous. Every day. And I can't tell you how many times when I've gotten to meet with a business, and I didn't ask for their money. But I talked about let's do something together. It's changed the conversation. Completely changes the conversation. So really check your motives.

The fifth lesson is having a vision for your city. Do you have dreams? Have you actually thought about what a movement in the city or in your neighborhood or what that could actually look like? Do you have dreams for it? Tell people. Talk about it. "Here's some of my dreams." Tell people. But again, do it in a way, and this is really important as well. Do it in a way that doesn't step on theirs. Don't come in like, "God's given me this vision. Given me this dream. I'm the Moses coming to dispense the vision upon you." Especially if you're new to the city. You come and say, "What are your dreams? How can I join what you're doing? I want to hear what you're thinking." 

But, think about the city. Think about how the ecosystem of the city works. Think about how the church and the business and the arts and the inter-church relationships and pair church and how all of those things connect. And think about how important it would be if they actually worked together, if the church wasn't angry at the pair church for not being the church. And the pair church wasn't vice versa. And the business leaders aren't like, "Oh, they just want our money. They don't care about anything else." And there's this whole ecosystem and it's broken. Think about how it all could connect and give some vision to it. Build some bricks and put some mortar together and think about that and ask, "How can this all bring together?"

Tim Keller's Center Church has some of that. Just understanding how ecosystem works in the city and how it can all work together. And really, just celebrate all of the facets. Be a learner of all the facets. Be a learner of fashion. Be a learner of music. Be a learner of business. All of these things. And be curious about that because people are really happy and excited. It's like serving and honoring when you can do that.

Alright, sixth lesson. Prove it before you ask for it. I'm mostly talking if you're the new guy on the block. If you're a new guy on the block, and you begin to talk about revival, you know, there's just a disconnect. Especially the people who have been there a long time, that might have been praying for a long time for a revival. Man, spend some time saying, "Okay." And that sounds kind of works based. And I hope that's not how you're handling this and taking it. But, we want to be a people who are faithful in our own context and faithful with what God has given us before we start laying tracks for something great beyond what we've been faithful for.

Because when we start laying tracks and start developing all of these really great dreams and really good conversations. But everybody's like, "But dude. You can't even invest in your own. You can't even manage your own household. You can't even like live into what God has given you." Then, a lot of that stuff just kind of falls to the wayside. You can't develop a church planting network without planting a church. I guess you can. I guess people have done it. But you can't do a movement without building your own church. So prove it. Prove it before you ask for it. You know, I've been on both of ends of that where this is an area where I reflect and I think, "I probably have too big of a dream for Columbus too early. I should have just shut my mouth more and just kept my head down." And those lessons came even early where I had to just say, "You know, no. Just focus." I'm not doing it, like proving myself so I can do these. It's not like a step. But I want to be faithful. So prove it. 

Lesson seven. Honor, honor, honor. Show as much honor as possible. If you guys haven't gotten to meet Dave Harvey, he's like the over honorer. You feel like, you know, you just feel like he's picking you up on a throne and carrying you around. You feel so good around him because he's just really great about that. But really show as much honor as possible. This line is with me. It stays with me all the time. By R.C. Sproul, he says, "The mature Christian is easily edified." So when you're meeting with someone, you're not looking for the false doctrine. You're not critiquing. You're not like, "Oh, they're just another hipster. They're just another whatever." You know, not blowing them off like ... It's just showing honor to them. 

And I learned this lesson because I was asked to come to ... So after things happened in Ferguson, Missouri, if you guys remember a few years ago. The riots happened and Michael Brown when he was shot. And his pastor, Michael Brown's pastor. Some of our pastors in the community flew him to Columbus to meet and talk with the pastor. So he was sharing that he got to baptize Michael Brown's father like two weeks before the shooting happened. And like there was family was a wreck, but there's just a lot of change and transformation happening in their lives before all this happened. It was really encouraging and we were sitting because we just flew him out to say, "What have you learned from this? What are you learning from all of this?" 

So it was a really good moment and part of that was he was going to preach and have a big service in one of the big, prominent African American churches. And this church is way out of my theological comfort zone. And I'll talk about that in a second. But, I showed up and thankfully, I wore dress clothes cause it's an African American church and I brought somebody and they did not. It was one of those moments of like, I felt good about myself but of course, I made fun of this guy so much. But him and I got brought to the front and put on stage. And he's super embarrassed. And I'm kind of embarrassed because I'm not wearing a suit, but I'm still dressed nice. Something as little as that is just fascinating to think, "How could I show more honor in this? I should have dressed nicer." He definitely should have dressed nicer, and he got made fun of it a lot. Especially considering he grew up in the black church. He felt really weird. 

But all that to say, how can we show honor? Call pastors "pastor." Yeah, show respect, even if they're outside of your tribe. And I think for me, it has won my heart in so many ways to be honored by others. On the other side of it. Just being honored and having church planters come in who aren't saying, "I'm gonna be a better church planter than you." Or, "I'm going to be a whatever better." Or, just even having that attitude. But an attitude of honor. 

Lesson eight. 

Audience Member: Could you give the R.C. Sproul quote?

Speaker 1: Yeah. "A mature Christian is easily edified."

Yeah. The lesson eight is reaching outside your tribes, kind of connected to the honor. Reaching out to your tribe. This is again, a very challenging thing for some of you who are maybe big theologs. Maybe love the theology and the ... As Dave Harvey said yesterday, "You might be the ..." What did he call nine marks? I'm not going to get into that. 

But you know, you're wanting to control everything.

Audience Member: [inaudible 00:29:15]

Speaker 1: Yes. Yeah. But, reaching outside of your own tribe really helps bring a community together. And it gives you a place to be able to talk about things are real. 

So I talked about this prominent African American church. He was ... This pastor was and is mentored by T.D. Jakes. And so you can imagine what his theology is. But, so many times, I left his office in tears of just how the Lord used that time to convict me, and just build a friendship. 

And it's crazy. Because I'm in New York City this weekend and this pastor's cousin is there. And he's like, "Oh man, I've heard all about you." He's like a prominent African American leader in Brooklyn. And just opening a lot of doors in those relationships. And just being able to step outside your comfort zone. Especially with international churches. How can you reach out to the Nepali church? And to the Chinese church? Nobody reaches out to the Chinese church. Or international churches. I mean, no white churches ever do that. 

So we had a joint service one time with a Korean church. There was a translator and everything. And it was, man, it was so challenging. But it was really good. And we had a really good friendship and relationship at this particular Korean church. You know, especially if your church is pretty mono culture. Like, how can you engage with churches outside of yourself? Some of you might be begging God for your church to become more multicultural. We'll have a panel on this in a little while. But, praying and begging to make your church more multiculturing may never happen. I don't know, this may be super cynical, and I'm pretty jaded and cynical. But, it might not happen. But if you're able to still build some relationship outside of your own tribe and figure out ways to connect and relate and to have friendship, then man, I think that just might be what God asks you to be faithful with. And again, we can talk about that more. 

But high church, low church. Reach out. I went to an Episcopalian service a couple weeks ago and it was super awkward. I didn't know how you're ... I grew up in Catholic church. But I didn't know if you were supposed to like drink the wine or dip. All these things I just didn't know. And I had ... It was just really unique. But, man, the pastor was really blessed that a Southern Baptist like me would come into an Episcopalian church and have communion and spend time with him. It was really encouraging.

All right, lesson nine. I'm gonna go faster. Lesson nine is hide behind people. Hide behind people. This group, the Catalyst Group that I talked about before, earlier, that was a group of business leaders. So they are the ones that had been orchestrating a lot of this movement stuff that we've been talking about. Sort of the larger ecosystem. And so I'm getting together with them and we're talking about things. One of the big areas that we talked about was prayer and citywide worship. How do we just gather all the churches to pray and the people in churches to just pray and have citywide worship? 

And so they asked Veritas, me, and Joe Byler that's here, if you haven't got to meet him. I was going to describe his as a guy with a beard, but that's not helpful. But he ... We were asked by this group to lead this citywide worship. We thought about and prayed about it. And Joe helped orchestrate a lot of the music and got a lot of worship leaders from a lot of different churches. And he had a really great cohort of the leaders. But we decided we were going to hide behind a lot of people. And we didn't want like ... Joe didn't want to be the guy known to be doing the music part. I didn't want be known to be doing like sort of the flow and liturgy and invitations and all of these kinds of things. 

And so we tried as much as we can to hide behind people. Because we knew that if Veritas was the sort of person behind this, if people knew that, it would just ... It doesn't bring collaboration the same. It's just like, "Oh, it's just a church trying to do this." And so, we found people and hid behind these business leaders and build this. And the last one they had, there was like 10,000 people that came out this worship and prayer night. And I wasn't even there. Which it was hard. 

But when you hide behind people, better things happen. Always better things happen. Like, hide behind as many business leaders as you can. I don't think revivals going to come through obvious means. We think revival comes when you preach a killer sermon and a million people get saved. I don't know if that's how it happens. I think it's gonna be through business leaders who catch a vision of the gospel for their workplace and their business. And artists who ... It's gonna be way more than you can do. And if you're bottle necking the vision. You're not hiding behind other people and you're not inspiring people. 

There's a business leader in New York City who, he, Jim I think you know this guy. I know you know him. He said something to me just a few weeks ago that was incredibly encouraging and it relates to this. When he said, "I love seeing people at their highest of passions in the business world." So when they start getting amped and animated. He's like, "And for me, when I ... What I want to do, when they get to that place of high prominence of passion, I want to then talk about how the gospel can take them further. And not in their business and success and that kind of thing, but actually just in their passion for love and image of God and building the church and those kind of things." To me, that was really brilliant because you're hiding behind people and you're boosting the passions that these Christian leaders might already have in their life. So hide behind other people.

Lesson ten. Last lesson. Maybe the biggest. I don't know. Definitely I think it could be right up there as the biggest. Don't neglect your first community, your church. I said this already, I know. But you are responsible for your church family. If you're a pastor or you're an elder or you're a deacon or you're serving in your local context. You are responsible for that community first. I mean, logistically, they pay you. So don't use them. They need you. You need them. Don't neglect your church community. 

Sometimes, what is best for the church is you taking time to network with the city. So there are times when it encourages the church. It strengthens the church. It builds up the church, your local church, by going out and networking. I've seen a lot of pastors do the opposite where they're like, "I don't have time for all that networking stuff. Or relationship or citywide building or movement. I don't have time for that. I just gotta do this." And I think that's actually unhealthy for their church as well. It doesn't bring them into the larger story and the larger narrative of the city. And it doesn't help them and strengthen them. And we've been hearing a lot about that partnership and what the beauty of that. 

But, the other end is just going out and just spending all your time being apostolic and talking about the great movement and next church plant and these kinds of things. And you're missing out what God is doing right in front of you. I've seen a lot of that where you're not making time to develop friendships and relationships within your own context with your own church. You're becoming known by other pastors. Maybe here at a conference like Sojourn Network. People here might know you more. If people here know you more here than they know you if your own church, you're doing something wrong. That's really important because you have to be known in your church. You have to be ... You have to know your church. You have to come representing your church to your city. You can neglect ... But there are times, again. The best way to serve your church is connecting with someone outside of it. 

All right. So these are ten lessons. These are ten small reflections that I've been processing over the years and again, I feel grateful to talk about it. But I also realize that I'm in a place where I'm starting all over again in a big, much bigger city and a much harder context. And starting to actually apply these things where I am. So I also will end and just say I am a learner with you.