This is a story I’ve been meaning to write for awhile. It’s the story of how God used a blog (not mine) to make Ember Church a reality. Enjoy!
One of the best experiences I had while working at Heritage happened the weekend before Lent, 2010. We usually brought in a big-time guest speaker the weekend before Lent, and this year was no different, because we invited Scot McKnight to come speak to us about Mary. The responsibility fell to me to pick Scot and his wife Kris up from the airport, escort them to the hotel, and to and from church for the weekend. They could not have been nicer, more down-to-earth people; and Breena and I got to share lunch and dinner with them! (Thanks, Heritage!)
Scot has a very popular blog called the Jesus Creed, on which he (and others) makes many thought provoking posts every day. There is usually good, civil discussion in the comment threads. I enjoyed taking part in the discussions for the better part of 2010, and Scot was even gracious enough to post several of my book reviews there.
When I moved into full time church planting in early 2011, I stopped commenting at the Jesus Creed, but was still an active reader. One day, in the Spring if I remember correctly, Scot posted about a book he recommended to me over dinner, Introverts in the Church by Adam McHugh. It is an excellent book and, as an introvert, I resonated with so much of what he wrote. (You can read my review of the book here.) I left a brief comment on Scot’s post about the book, saying something to the effect of, “You recommended this book to me when you were in Columbus, and I really enjoyed it!”
Later that day I got a comment on my own blog from someone going by the handle Pastor Mark. My first thought was, “Is Mark Driscoll commenting on my blog? Does he want to fight me?” As it turns out, it was Mark Farmer, a pastor in Columbus and fellow frequenter of the Jesus Creed blog. He contacted me because he had read my mention of Scot’s trip to Columbus, and thought it would be great to get together to chat. I happily agreed, thinking this was a great chance to meet another pastor in the area. I am, after all, the world’s worst networker, so whenever I get an opportunity to network with other pastors, I jump at it.
This is where things get God-level interesting. Mark and I both live in Westerville. In fact, we live in the same neighborhood. What is more, he pastors the church that is about a 2 minute drive from my house! We met up at Panera and had a wonderful conversation. He was a missionary and church-planter in France for a long time, and I was eager to hear his stories of ministry in what I perceived to be a difficult environment.
Meanwhile, Ember was still in the planning stages, but the summer was fast approaching, and that meant the fall, and our launch, was right around the corner. I had been looking into renting the local elementary school for our Sunday morning services, but the cost, along with the cost of storage, audio/visual equipment, and time to set-up and tear-down seemed prohibitive. We had some money, but not enough to get us off the ground in an elementary gymnasium.
So we turned our attention to renting space at a local church. But who would let us rent part of their building to hold a church service while they were having their own church service? It seemed like we would have to look into the possibility of meeting on Sunday nights.
I had been against that from the beginning because I thought people would then perceive us as Junior Church, or Extra Church. In our culture, you go to church on Sunday morning, and everything else is extra credit. Fighting the culture over Jesus would be hard enough; I didn’t want to have to fight the culture over what time you go to church, too.
But it didn’t seem like we had many options. As we brainstormed the various churches we could contact, Mark popped into my head. I said to the team, “I just met the pastor of a church right down the road. I don’t think they have anything in their building on Sunday nights. I’ll talk to him.” The following Monday I spoke with Mark, and he presented it to his deacons that night, and they approved it! So we drew up a rental agreement, and we found a home! And it’s so much better than an elementary school gymnasium. The building is beautiful. We get to store our stuff on site. They even gave me an office! All for much less than it would have cost us to rent a public school facility.
God is full of surprises. You never know how he’s going to provide for you, or make his mission possible. For Ember Church, it was a popular author, his blog, and a local pastor with a wide vision of the kingdom of God.