When our moving trucked rolled into Salt Lake City on January 29, 2010, I had a countless amount of strategies, philosophies and dreams for our church plant. I am sure I bored the life out of anyone who would listen as I discussed the who, what, where and when of Missio Dei Community. I was ready to deploy my game plan on that incredible city nestled against the Wasatch mountains. Little did I know that my church planting lingo and strategies would mean close to nothing when compared to words like Joe, Ron, Grace, Isaac and Justine.
I didn’t grow up as a Christian. I was a Utah Mormon who would have struggled to tell you who Billy Graham was. When I first encountered Christianity, the only thing that I was interested in was the short worship services. Rarely did much of it impress or intrigue me. In fact, the only idea that really captured me was the idea that in Christianity we are called into a relationship with God and, through that, into a relationship with one another.
It’s difficult to describe a relationship in words, but both before and after conversion, God was working on me. He opened my eyes to a Bible that I would have said I had known my whole life, but in hindsight had no clue about. God walked me through His Scripture, sometimes delicately and sometimes with the delicacy of a nine iron to the chest. He showed me Jesus like I had never seen, taught me words like pursuit and brought life redemption. God always seemed to be around me. He was with me in doubt, struggles, successes, accolades, failure and tragedy. He was a long-suffering God.
My relationship with God came much easier than my relationship with “church.” When I became a Christian, I didn’t really want anything to do with the church.
I didn’t know what “fellowship” was and I didn’t want to find out. I had no interest in worship music nor did I want my political affiliation defined for me. Once I shut my mouth, however, and started listening to His people, it began to be quite apparent that, through these broken people, God was bringing to life His Kingdom.
First, people were being incredibly patient with me. They didn’t laugh when I mixed up the Book of Mormon and the Bible. They patiently talked me through what it meant to respond to God in service and obedience. They didn’t excommunicate me when I made fun of Rick Warren’s shirts during our Purpose Driven Life Small Group.
What God was teaching me in those moments proved so much more effective to me in church planting than the latest book or the best demographics. God will first and foremost shape you in your relationship with Him. His name reigns supreme. As you plant, His name must be revered above all. He must be the first that you repent to, the first that you cling to, the first that you trust in. You aren’t the savior, and you are being shaped by this great God so much more than you will ever shape your church plant.
What God taught me 12 years ago proved to be my most valuable asset in church planting. I learned that names matter. When people like Bart and Catherine suffered my immaturity, those many years ago, as we met and prayed and talked about God, they were showing me that God’s church cared about me. They cared about me for me. I wasn’t a problem to fix or an asset to exploit, but rather a fellow disciple to encourage, rebuke and train up. I found that they cared for their neighbors, whether they were Christians or not. They served them and loved them. They did not force them to come to church, but showed them a love born out of abundance rather than scarcity.
It may sound simple or pedestrian, but that is how we have gone about planting Missio Dei.
Those names in that first paragraph are all people that I met soon after moving here.
Joe is a coffee shop owner who is no closer to accepting Jesus than when we moved here. He loves profanity as well as his agnosticism. One thing Joe knows for sure is that he is loved by our community and that we love Jesus. He knows us by name, trades life stories, parenting stories, offers music suggestions with us on a daily basis and has quipped more than once how he appreciates our love for the city.
Grace is an incredibly gifted nurse who loves Jesus. I met her through some insane circumstances and she jumped in with our motley core group. She studied Eugene Peterson with my wife and talked to me often about her dream of the American Church serving locally and globally in a selfless manner rather than an imperial one. She eventually left Salt Lake City for Gonaïves, Haiti, where she runs a medical clinic in a slum built on a trash dump.
My wife and I didn’t recruit Grace with a flyer. Rather, we learned her name and the life behind her name over Americanos, Ethiopian food and Contra Dancing. We didn’t sweet talk Joe into liking us. Rather, we remembered his name, prayed for him often, and sought to bless him and his business.
Those other names I mentioned at the beginning all have stories attached to them. Some are Jesus followers and some aren’t, but they are all people who we believe God wants to woo, redeem, love, heal and bring into the great news of the Gospel.
Names matter here.
Who really is the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Who really is Joe, Grace, Isaac, Justine and Ron? How can I be known more by God and my community? How can I know my community and God more? Those questions have seemed to go a lot further than my strategies and arguments about church planting philosophies.
Kyle Costello lives in Salt Lake City, UT with his wife Joy and his son Isaiah. He is the Lead Pastor of Missio Dei Community, a church located in the urban core of Salt Lake City, that was planted by the Orchard Group and Imago Dei Community in 2010.
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