Monday, March 17, 2008

Reflections on my trip to New York City

I accompanied a group on 9 OCC students to New York City on February 29, for a seminar on church planting. These are some thoughts that I shared with our faculty on March 7:

Seminar: Church Planting Orientation with Dave Smith
Location: New York City
Date: February 29-March 3, 2008
Reflections by David Fish

Is this program worth keeping?
By all means! I have gone on a number of trips with students in the past. Never have I seen students so completely engaged in "class" material. Given the fact that students pay such a small fee to cover the cost of the trip, it is a great deal for them. They realize it, and I believe are thankful. We are 1½ semesters into a two-year experiment. I would concur with the students who give rave reviews. The partnership between OCC and the Orchard Group is unique. OCC is in a budget-cutting mode. If we had to cover all expenses for this program, I suppose that we would have to eliminate it. Thanks be to God for our partnership with the Orchard Group. I'm wondering if this program bombs out, if we might want to hire Dave Smith to be Rusty Hedger's assistant.

David Dean House of South Slope, Brooklyn.
Those who have gone on New York trips before are familiar with the David Dean House, kind of a youth hostel building that is part of a Baptist mission outreach in New York City. The accommodations are not up to a 5-star rating, but the people are nice. Sleeping arrangements are dormitory-style (on bunk beds), but that really doesn't matter, since we spent very little time there. The people that work there (Matt and Pamela, and Megan) are very nice. I was surprised to learn that they were from Missouri, and studied at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. When I realized they were from SBU, I asked them if they knew Dr. Jim Frost. How what they not know Jim Frost! He is the Chris DeWelt of SBU! They replied, "He was my professor! He married us!" Jim Frost has been a guest lecturer for our Perspectives course for the last couple years, and will speak in our class this year on April 29. I will be happy to give him greetings from Matt and Pamela (a married couple), and their friend, Megan, who live, work, and minister in Brooklyn.

Lectures/Conversations with Church Planters.
We met with a series of church planters, both from within and without the Restoration Movement. Dave had asked each one of them to respond to the following questions:
Why be involved in church planting?
Why do church planting in an urban setting in general, and in particular, why in New York City?
What advice would you give to someone who was considering church planting?
The different church planters offered slightly differing answers regarding methodologies, sometimes dependent upon a particular neighborhood in one of the boroughs of the great city. A common thread was on the church planters knowing themselves, with their particular areas of giftedness. I detected a move away from what church planting science used to say, namely that if you do this, this, and this, you will get this result. It doesn't happen that way in New York. There is a tremendous need for contextualization of the gospel message. The distance from missions to church planting is not far!

Is the Restoration Plea Still Valid Today?
Yes, it is! We met with people from different ends of the denominational world. All recognize that Christ is largely absent from the city, and are working to do whatever it takes to bring the city to him, without holding tightly to denominational distinctives, because the need is so great! I personally enjoyed the contact with Redeemer Church. We even celebrated the Lord's Supper there! The gospel was preached. They are Presbyterians (as were the Campbells). I was able to hear just part of the lecture by Dr. Mark Reynolds, who heads up the church planting division of Redeemer Church. What is so appealing to me, though, is that their church planting division has financially supported over fifty church plants, only fourteen of which would consider themselves to be Presbyterian works. The Restoration Plea is at work in New York, among church planters who see allegiance to Christ as the higher goal, than quibbling over pet doctrines. Are there problems with cross-denominational efforts? Yes, there are, but I applaud the unity efforts. On Sunday we attended three church services, at Redeemer Church, Forefront Church, and Gallery Church. Digging deeper (as we are wont to do) reveals denominational/doctrinal distinctives, but Christ gets the top billing.

Can This Program Create Internship Possibilities for our Students?
It already has! Dave's assistant (of sorts) is Nathan Winstead. He interned at Forefront Church while he was a student here. He returned to NYC to help out. Vocationally, he works for Jews for Jesus. Matt Berry, Tim Little, and Kyle Welch will be doing internships beginning this summer (that is, if Doug Welch approves his brother's internship). A student who went with us (Levi Hutton) will likely do a year-long internship at Park Slope Church starting in January 2009. This is likely just the beginning of internship possibilities.

The Sights and Sounds.
Friday night we visited Central Park, Rockefeller Center, and Times Square. We were on the Top of the Rock observation tower, and it was snowing! Saturday night we went to see The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, which is not something you get to do every week, thanks to generous donors of the Orchard Group. We walked miles and miles (and I found two nice blisters on opposite feet). We rode the subway everywhere we didn't walk. I noted a similarity between roads in Joplin and the subway of New York. Here we have road closings for construction at night. In New York, they have train closings for construction at night.

The city presents unique challenges for ministry. One church planter we met with told our students that they are likely to hear about the need for life-long learning. When I heard him say that, I said Amen! to myself. Then he changed it up, saying that in many ways, to be effective in reaching people in New York City for Christ, we need a spirit of life-long unlearning! He was addressing particular biases inherent in many of us Midwesterners, that create a hindrance to New Yorkers hearing the gospel. I think he was right on!

I'm thankful to have had the privilege of making a trip to the Big Apple with some of our finest students. May God give the increase from our intentional effort to insert ourselves into the city!

David G. Fish
March 7, 2008


Andy Rodriguez said...

well it's about time we got an update from you.

Gregory Fish said...

Nathan Winstead was in a group that did spring break missions with us in his old stomping grounds- Tusla. He's a good guy.

Glad you enjoyed it.