“So, why are you starting a church?” he asked. This was the question my boss posed to me while he and I sat in a meeting room discussing the news that I’d just given to him about moving my family to start a church in San Francisco. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting the question and found myself a bit unprepared to answer. Lots of questions started running through my head… “why am I starting a church? What am I hoping it’ll accomplish? Does anyone even care? What if people hate me for it?”
You see, I’m not someone who wears my faith on my sleeve, but I’m also definitely not shy about it. If you inquire about a choice I make, I have no issues with explaining how my faith shapes those choices, and I think that any of you reading this who both know me personally & don’t identify as Christian know this about me. My boss knew this too, but in his words, “I didn’t know you were THAT religious.” Not going to lie, I laughed pretty hard when he said that.
My answer ended up being simple, though. “I think there is a simplicity to following Jesus that we’ve opted to make complicated. I see Jesus being misrepresented a lot in the world and I think I’ve just decided to do something about that.” His words were just as simple, “Well, you gotta do what you gotta do! I’m excited for you.”
I haven’t been a guy who has worked in church his whole life. I’m what you would call a “corporate professional”. I’ve spent over 10+ yrs having amazing opportunities in the corporate world, whether commerce with amazing fashion brands, working in start ups, leading strategy for major brands, even being a freelancer hustling up my own clients. I’m so thankful for the path my life has taken; it has taught me much. There is no doubt that it will shape how Emily and I build church.
So, Why A Church?
The Church has always been the place that I know I’ve been called to build, but I must admit, I have always been hesitant. I’ve always helped, often in large capacities and roles within church, but never as the job from which I’ve earned my living. I’ve liked being able to help without the weight of actually leading a church community. The weight of leading a church is something that I’ve never taken lightly, because it’s not just a career path but something to which you must genuinely feel called.
But at the end of the day, and I think that it’s the reason why I’ve always known that I would end up building the Church as my vocation, I truly believe people need to know that they are loved, just because. You think this would be understood, but you talk enough people and you realize that it isn’t. You see, I didn’t grow up in church. Had no faith background. I’m a type A introvert (is that a thing?). I love a good debate, I love seeking out opposing opinions to learn from & form my own opinion, and I’m pretty skeptical of things at face value. However, it was the simple idea of “I love you just because” that changed my life about 18 years ago. I didn’t have some down-and-out story. Quite the contrary, my life was pretty great. Yet I felt, and feel, that the message of Jesus loving and ultimately dying for us “just because” has gotten lost in what people outside the church see and believe about church today. And, to be fair, in a lot of ways, they’re right. They may flick on the news, or interact face-to-face with someone who claims to love God but treats them with complete disdain, judgement and hostility.
“The Gospel” was always supposed to be good news. But today, in many spheres people don’t associate Christians with being the bringers of Good News at all. I can’t begin to describe how many conversations I’ve had with my friends who don’t follow Jesus and the frustration they have from seeing those of us who claim to be Christian act like anything but (and I know I’ve been guilty of this!). As one of my friends put it:
“When I’ve read Scripture, I saw a Jesus putting others first, ahead of Himself. All I see today is a Christianity trying to put themselves first ahead of everyone else. That doesn’t make sense to me. It seems like Christianity today is asking everyone else to go to the back of the line.”
I think it’s funny, because most of my friends who don’t follow Jesus have zero problem with mistakes. I think they get the idea of “we are all imperfect” and in a lot of ways understand “grace” better than most, but what confuses a lot of them is the intention behind our pursuit of Jesus. It’s worth asking ourselves a couple questions.
Do I pursue Jesus because I want to be more like him? More peaceable, kind, patient and someone who stands up to injustice? Or do I pursue Jesus because I want to become some kind of moral authority and dictate some kind of moral superiority over people?
We have to remember that Jesus set us free for freedom’s sake. Not to grandstand, condemn, blame, push a political agenda or force our views on anyone. We should want to see people discover Jesus, just because. If our focus was simply on that vs “okay, now what do we do with them?” I think we’d see incredible things happen. Jesus paints this picture well in the story of the woman at the well, in John 4.
This story gives us a great glimpse into His heart, and what ours should be too. Jesus wasn’t worried about providing her with all these next steps. He doesn’t seem to be thinking, “I wonder what she’ll do next?” She encountered the love of Jesus. It was that love that helped her see that she was free, and so she went back and shared that freedom. She had a real encounter with Jesus, and a real encounter changes everything. She saw the love of Jesus for herself.
I think we’ve forgotten that we’re meant to pass on the same freedom and grace Jesus showed us. That, like Jesus, we are meant to serve, not to be served. At the end of the day, for Emily and I, our desire is for our lives is that they look like a daily exercise in this simple idea.
Can I put others first, trusting and knowing God will provide for me?
That question shapes a lot of my daily thinking. Even though dying to myself and my own wants is no simple task, and much easier said than done, I believe that it’s the very core of the life we’re called to as followers of Jesus, and I’m so grateful for His grace for that journey. I also firmly believe that it’s the type of Christianity the people of the Bay Area need to see exemplified in our lives before they’d ever step foot in a church service.
All of this matters because when you forget the “you’re loved, just because” part, it makes people feel judged and incapable of approaching Jesus, when nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus’ intent was to make us like Him- not perfect, but peaceable, patient, kind, loving and honoring to people. To extend that to every single person, no matter what, regardless of their background, culture, or belief system. He lived and died so that all could know they are welcome at the table. This message was disruptive to the culture within which He lived and it’s still disruptive today. This is the “why” when someone asks me, “so, why a church?” You are the why. You matter. Just because. You matter. Just Because.
Okay, Sounds Good, But What Kind Of Church?
I get this question a lot, and to be fair, I struggle to answer. Most churches I see tend to pick a “thing”, or a bent. If you’ve attended churches at all you probably know what I’m talking about.
Do you have great theological teaching?
How is your “worship” experience?
Are you or are you not Spirit-led?
I could go on and on (mostly because I love GIFs), but I think you’re starting to get the idea. I feel we often pick an area and go deep, and sometimes can be very personality- or gifting- driven by whoever is leading the church. I think I struggle with it because my wife (yes she co-leads with me) and I want to see all of it come to life. We don’t want to become just a brand that does one thing well. Also, if I may ask, why can’t church look like many elements and strengths working and co-existing together? Does a focus on one thing mean it must necessarily exclude another? I don’t believe so. It’s something I’ve always struggled to understand about the way church is fleshed out. This also means it fundamentally can’t be the Chad and Emily show.
The reason why I say this is because I often observe that many churches or individuals have started churches/ministries out of a reaction to something they didn’t like. “You don’t do discipleship right, you don’t do worship right, you don’t pray enough or you aren’t socially active enough. So I’ll do that one thing over here.” I don’t think our method of building church should be solely based on a reaction to methods we don’t like, but instead a steady constant building, a place making room for different voices, again and again and again, as it grows in its diversity of thought.
Building of course takes time, and I think we suffer more from an issue of being patient than anything else. Ultimately, our tent pegs should always be getting pulled up & spread out, making more room, not shrinking. That comes from dialogue, from making room for other voices, loving strongly but holding loosely. Loving well looks like realizing people have many different ways of drawing near to Jesus. Some people like big churches, some don’t. At the end of the day, you can see Jesus and the Bible make cases for both. We see Jesus both gathering crowds and spending one on one time with people, teaching deep truths and also allowing others to discover and share deep truths. You can see Him be both to the point, and completely compassionate and empathetic, meeting people where they’re at. So why must one side exclude the other? These are questions I ask myself all the time. I think we hope to see a church that has a “this/and” culture vs. “this/or” culture. That also means that it’ll take more than just our voices (Emily’s & mine) to shape that culture. It will also probably be a bit messier and a whole lot more complicated, but isn’t that true community anyway?
We want to be a place where many things can co-exist and strengthen each other, a place that allows people with abilities, talents, passions and experience that we don’t possess to have a voice.
Being a strategy guy, I think of this as a platform approach to church vs. product-based approach. Our hope is to create a strong foundation of community for others to build upon. A platform can support many people’s passions and callings. A product can only support a handful.
We see it as our job to be facilitators to create a platform that gives everyone a place to stand, not merely a product that only a certain demographic may prefer. Our role is to create an environment where everyone can have a genuine encounter with Jesus.
Also, let me be clear. When I say “platform”, I don’t mean the physical one you may see a teacher/preacher or worship team do their thing from. I’m talking about the community and family of God being a strong foundation for people to pursue their God-given passions to be individuals, with the added bonus of a community that’s there for them, rooting them on in grace and love.
I don’t want to be forced to pick a “style”. I think God is best found in the middle. I don’t want to pick any road and only go deep in that one area. Hopefully the people that attend Liberty SF one day will be as diverse as possible. All loving Jesus, all loving people, but working it out in their own way at their own pace, knowing they aren’t alone on the journey. Every person being empowered to take their next step in their faith, knowing they have something to bring to their church community, work place, marriage, and friendship circles.
At the end of the day what we aren’t trying to do is find a bunch of people to serve an agenda. What we are looking for are people who believe that we as the church exist simply to know Jesus and to make Him known. For people to come as they are, and learn what it looks like to Follow Jesus, Thrive in Community and Make a Difference.
Okay, Interesting! Can I Help At All?
I’m glad you asked. You may be sitting here and don’t believe in anything that has to do with Jesus but you believe in Emily and I. You may be someone who has been a part of church your whole life and has had this tension in your heart knowing that church could be something truly beneficial and life giving to the world if only it got out of its own way, quit protecting its own interests and truly put others first.
We’ve already had people in both camps come to us to offer their help, and I love it. My favorite story is a guy named Phil, who I play Xbox Live with (shout out to my Destiny fireteam Xur Father Figure). He lives in TX with his family, doesn’t attend a church. He’s not someone “who does the church thing”, in his own words, but over the course of us playing together and just talking about every topic under the sun (you’d be surprised how deep a convo you can have when you’re killing aliens), he chose to give to us because, in his words, “if a church like this existed where I lived, I would come. I was blown away by his generosity and partnering with us to, in his own words, “build a safe space for people to explore their faith and teachings of Jesus.”
There are honestly a few simple things you could do that would be massively helpful to us.
- Send up your thoughts and prayers. I know this sounds like something a politician says, but genuinely if you pray, pray for us. If you don’t, think of us as we take a risk. I love risk, although it isn’t easy when you have three kids depending on you, but I want them to see their mom and dad take risks. Regardless of your faith background, I think we can all get excited about someone taking a risk.
- Join us or tell someone about us. If you’re out there in the world, either in the greater Bay Area or anywhere across the globe and have a heart to see everything I’ve shared here outworked, tell someone, or come join us yourself! Come help us build by being a part of a grand experiment to build something bigger than any one person could on their own. There will be aspects of building that Emily and I can do on our own, but I look forward to meeting the best and brightest willing to bring their abilities that help bring community fully to life.
- Support us financially. So yea, this is the fun ask. SF isn’t cheap, we have lots of kids and bla bla bla, all the things you would hear. Our hope is to raise 100k over the next 100 days (basically from now till mid October) to help carry the operating cost of the church in it’s first critical year. My hope is if Phil, who I play video games with and whom I’ve never met & lives in Texas, can give, so could any of you who love to back dreamers. You can do so by clicking here (just click drop down and select San Francisco).
In The End.
To all of you reading this, whether you’re a friend we already know or one we don’t, thank you for reading. For taking the time to hear our story. My wife and I will be posting more frequent updates on our progress through my Medium page if you want to follow along. You can also follow us on our social pages below. Also, we want to say thank you to Paul and Andi Andrew our lead pastors and to our Liberty Church family for believing in us, as we embark on this adventure out West. I love that they’ve exemplified this to us in so many ways. We love you Paul, Andi and our Liberty Family. We’re excited about the journey here in SF, and we’re thankful to be a small part of the bigger story God is writing in this city.
Peace be the journey (yes, that’s from Cool Runnings),
Emily, Chad, Jaxon, Arden and Harper.