Nate Loucks

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The Lion and the Lamb (and the Donkey and the Elephant)

“Vote your conscience.” With three words, Ted Cruz ignited the fuel of incensed GOPers at this year’s Republican convention. The auditorium filled with boos and disapproval. The next day the news stories were aflutter with Cruz' lack of support, and for some, lack of respect. Perhaps the time and place wasn’t right for Cruz, a former Presidential candidate himself embroiled in a longstanding feud with Donald Trump, to make that statement. Party conventions are the time and place for partisan politics and overly simplistic axioms about the rightness of each party. In a world of binary political distinctions and contentious political bickering that drowns out any nuanced civic discussion, voting ones conscience has seemingly become a secondary commitment. 

My grandfather was a passionate Democrat who believed in the rights of workers and the ability of politics to effect change for the common good. His son, my father, has voted for more Republicans than Democrats. He believes in a limited government that does not overtax its citizens and balances budgets. My grandfather was an active member of his church. He woke up each morning at 4am to spent an hour in prayer each day for his family, his church, and this world. My father is an active member of State Street. He volunteers dozens of hours each month to help further the mission and vision of our church community. He's been a great partner in ministry for me. One leaned Democrat, the other leans Republican. They both love(d) America, Jesus, and the church. Their faith informed their politics, even when they came to a differing opinion on what party to support. 

I have never joined a political party in America. Perhaps it's a symptom of a larger commitment problem (I've spent hours having an internal debate when a questionnaire asked about my favorite food.) I have voted for members of both parties. In some elections, the best choice I could decipher was total abstention (I believe that not voting is a legitimate option... but, that's for another blog.) Our multigenerational church community is filled with different people with diverse political commitments. As a pastor, I wouldn’t want it any other way. But, embracing diversity in anything comes at a cost. There is always the risk that people can love their political party or convictions more than their community. Too often in American, politics informs our theology. If our calling is to truly love our neighbor, that certainly should extend to those on the opposite side of the political spectrum. 

As we get closer to the election season hitting fever pitch, we thought it would be wise to center ourselves on some conversations that will likely impact each of us as we enter (or abstain from) the polls this year. We’re calling this series, “The Lion and the Lamb and the Donkey and the Elephant.” I hope you can join us. 

Week 1: A Call to Civility to Liberals and Conservatives (and every in between)
[Nate Loucks preaching]

Week 2: Justice: The Christian Way
[Becky Crain preaching]

Week 3: The World is Our Parish, Seeking the Common Good
[Nate Loucks preaching]

Week 4: Romans 13. WHAT!?
[Nate Loucks preaching]

I believe in a church that is quick to listen and slow to speak. That seeks to listen well to those we may disagree with on major issues. I believe in a church that cultivates a culture where each person is valued as uniquely created in the imago dei. I believe in a church that can disagree respectfully without false characterization of the other. Humility, meekness, and gentleness are virtues that Christ invites us to imitate. I believe in a church that is meek and humble and not proud and boastful. I believe in a church that can work for the betterment of the city and community it lives. I believe in a church that loves its enemies and prays for those who do us wrong. I believe in the church. Let’s talk about how we can better model the fruit of the spirit in this election cycle. Allow the church to be the entity that embraces the other in the midst of the chaos all around. I believe in a church that truly trusts that mercy triumphs over judgment. 

I hope you can join us this Sunday.

Church Planting Confessions | I’m not always sure the decisions we’ve made were the right ones.

Confession: I’m not always sure the decisions we’ve made were the right ones.

My life is lived within the boundaries of the binary. There’s vast amounts of nuance and deliberation within myself about the things I do and the person I want to become. Perhaps too much nuance, depending on who you ask. But, that’s actually not the confession I really want to delve into. That’s for another day.

When we planted State Street, I felt the burden of making these seemingly monumental decisions that would have fairly significant implications on the community we would become. Where should we plant the church? How will people engage more deeply in their faith? How will we be a tangible presence for Christ in the neighborhood we inhabit? I couldn’t sleep going over the possibilities and potential of such a community. It was fun to dream and think and imagine what such a community could look like, until it came time to make actual decisions. There were days (still are!) that I fake a sense of buoyant confidence to either (1) convince myself or (2) others that we totally know what we’re doing. We often don’t.

Around that same time we were planting the church, I had a conversation with my grandfather about the stress of making decisions that could affect dozens of people who were willing to go on this adventure of faith with me. My grandfather was always so strong and decisive. If you were to wander into uncharted territory, he’d figure out a way to get you out or through like a brave general. Challenges in life didn’t scare him. He started successful businesses and made good investments. He was everything that I’m not in many ways. We are different people. When I asked him how he always seemed so certain about where to go and what to do, he laughed. He confided that he was often uncertain. He didn’t know if things would work out and he didn’t ever know if he’d fail or succeed. His suggestion to me, and one that still echoes in my consciousness was simple: just try something, if it doesn’t work, try something else. And, don’t be afraid to fail. In one profound conversation, the man I had propelled as a fearless general confessed to his failures and fears. In some way, I think I deleted in hearing his failures more than I wanted to celebrate his successes. He was vulnerable and failed like myself. Fantastic!

The other Sunday I confessed to our community that State Street doesn’t look like I imagined it would. I have always believed that it would be better to form a church community into a certain type of people and abandon any notion of becoming a specific branded entity. There’s no mold or form that I believe we must fit in as a community. When someone tries to put a label on us out of genuine curiosity, it never really feels right. We believe in being a force for good in our community and social and civic engagement, but are we missional? Eh. We believe that becoming like Jesus in the way we act, think, and talk is foundational to the Christian life, but are we purpose-driven? Eh. We value the historical confessions of the church and believe that there is value in many liturgical expressions, but are we neo-liturgical? Eh. It’s difficult to brand what State Street has become. Or, perhaps it’s just my gray self rejecting the binary black-and-white distinctions. Who knows. It seems to have become a reflection of hundreds of different people from different backgrounds and different generations who have different stories but similar dreams. 

I’m often not sure if the decisions we make as a community are the right ones. We’ve made decisions that, upon further reflection and scrutiny, ultimately weren’t the right ones. We fail. I fail. I try to fail in confidence, but there are times when anxiety and depression can seep in from the weight of potential decisions that could go wrong (one of my confessions in this series is that I’ve thought about quitting multiple times.) I’m a mess. I'm not a perfect leader and I'm only a good Christian on some days. But, I’ve learned a few things (mostly from other wiser, merciful, and more knowledgeable people that help lead State Street) that has helped me navigate the potential failures and successes. Here’s what I’ve learned (and what I will tell myself if my 6-year old nephew Teddy ever finishes his time machine):

1. Have a good team and crave collaboration.

2. Do something for the good of others. 

3. Be willing to be wrong.

4. Be patient and gracious with yourself and others.

5. Listen, learn and go with the flow.

6. Lead like Jesus, forgive like Jesus.

Some of the truly great things that I’m most excited about in our community were birthed not from a long-term strategic vision, but from a willingness to try and listen and grow (the Pax Center and the Preschool come to mind.) That has been our story. It has taken much faith and energy and quite a bit of persistence. I’m not always sure the decisions we’ve made were the right ones. It doesn't appear that the map for this journey has been drawn yet. We are the cartographers of this mission. But, I’m grateful that where we go, we go together. 

Church Planting Confessions | Blog #1

On Easter, State Street celebrated our six year anniversary of the official launch. We gathered with nearly 500 people to give witness to the resurrection of Christ and to celebrate that, in the resurrection, mercy triumphs over judgment. It was a great day for our community.

I thought it’d be cathartic and even fun to go through a few confessions about my experiences with the pastoral life and planting State Street over the last six years. Maybe another pastor will wander upon these writings and get some hope from our journey. Or, perhaps, others will use this as permission to feel comfortable with their vulnerabilities. 

There are a few things about my experience as a church planter that are unique, or so I'd like to believe. On the top of that list is that I’ve never really felt “called” [whatever that feeling may be quantified] to be a church planter. I hesitate to even refer to myself as a church planter. Many of my friends and colleagues have felt deep desires to start their own community. They've read countless books and attended workshops and conferences on the how-to’s and the what-not-to-do’s of church planting. They’ve worked with church planting organizations that have guided and equipped them. That wasn’t my experience. I still haven’t read a church planting book nor did I ever get that deep guttural desire to plant a church. When I contacted a church planting organization asking for help and coaching, they told me that we were too close to our launch and we should consider waiting 12-18 months to open State Street. That was deflating. Understandable, but still disheartening. 

In many ways, State Street just happened. It wasn't a part of a longterm strategic plan or unrequited desire by anyone within our existing church community. The church I co-pastored at prior to State Street grew quickly and, after a few building additions, didn’t want to build an even larger building that would likely cost a million or more dollars. (In my 12 years of pastoring, I've went through four building projects... Lord, have mercy.) The solution that made the most sense was to plant a church with a group that I had been pastoring already. From the time that decision was made, here’s how our timeline worked out:

June 2009: Has initial conversations and made the decision to plant a church.

September 2009: Acquired our current location from the Salvation Army through land contract. 

January 2010: Started meeting with a smaller group in the new location while we renovated. Ugly floors, awful chairs, it was bliss.

Easter 2010: First open services to the public.

Needless to say, we were underprepared. Perhaps that church planting organization was correct. But, we've always maintained a willingness to learn and grow as a community. State Streeters are also tremendously resilient people. It's in our DNA that we don't shy away from difficult challenges and complex life issues. 

I’m still not a church planting expert. No one is seeking me out for tips on how to grow a church for good reason. I’m not sure if the way we've done it is how anyone else should do it. You'll learn throughout the next few blogs that we are a flawed community filled with hopeful people. Yet, it’s our story and I’m grateful for it. It's a better story than I imagined and it's taken far more work, patience, and faith than I had thought possible.

Tomorrow, I’m going to post the first confession of a six-part series titled, “I’m not always sure the decisions we’ve made were the right ones (or) what in the world have we just done?!?” 

 

To the Well-Intentioned Lady Who Called Me a False Teacher

To the Well-Intentioned Lady Who Called Me a False Teacher - 

Hi. I think we got off on the wrong foot on Sunday. I'm not even sure if we got to exchange names to each other when we met. You were upset when you approached me after church. I was tired from preaching two sermons about being vulnerable and transparent with our emotional health. I knew you were upset, not because you explicitly expressed that to me [which you did], but because you were physically shaking when talking to me. It was an equal mix of anger and frustration and concern. I'll again apologize like I did then. While I never try to shy away from discomfort from within our community, your disposition moved far beyond discomfort into anger. My hope is that I didn't cause it. My fear is that I did.

After all, you had just sat through a sermon [I'm still not completely sure you 'heard' it] that didn't use the King James Bible and saw women in the sanctuary not wearing long skirts. You were puzzled why people were using their phones/tablets [or nothing at all] when I was making biblical references. You were embarrassed for us that we allow [and encourage] men to work in our children's ministry space and thought it shameful that we would allow our children workers to use video clips for teaching strategies. You weren't sure how you were going to explain the chaos around you to your five year old son, who had taken to asking women about their lack of skirt-wearing. It was a tough day for you. Again, I'm sorry. 

Though you said that my sermon "made absolutely no sense" [my thought: if you thought THAT sermon didn't make sense, stick around for a while and you'll really hear a doozy] 

AND thought it was a ridiculous assertion that true Christians could suffer from anxiety or depression

AND believed that the King James Bible is the inspired English version and had never heard of the deceptive and dubious New Revised Standard Bible

AND threatened to have your pastor in Michigan call me to straighten me out

I THINK it's important to say: I ain't mad at ya [as unwise as it may be to quote TuPac currently, I can't help myself.] Seriously, though. When you left, I wasn't mad at you. Instead of anger, I felt empathetic. It has to be tough to live within your theological constraints. It has to be even more difficult to encounter a place that State Street that is an affront on those constraints. 

Unsurprisingly to you, it's not the first time I have been called a false teacher. One gentle soul once called me a heretic and didn't think it too funny when it was suggested there should probably be a formal council to decide such a fate. After all, if we're going to formally make someone an iconoclast, we might as well make a party of it! Why let the Carthaginians have all the fun?

I'd like to explain myself as I didn't have the time or clarity to navigate a coherent self-defense on Sunday. My wife can attest that I lose sleep when I believe people don't like me. I tend to internalize these types of problems and feel they reflect my interpersonal failures. It's a problem I'm working on. I think if you give me the chance I can help you understand some of my persuasions.

The goal of my life is to imitate the way of Jesus within the locations I inhabit and the people I encounter. It motivates all that I do. State Street and the Pax Center are birthed out of these beliefs that the best life is found in the imitation of Christ. So much of the Christian faith makes little sense to me, but following the way of Jesus makes sense to me. 

You told me that your goal is to do what the Bible says to do. You quoted a few verses from Deuteronomy when pressed about your conviction for not watching television (side note: a completely honorable conviction, but no need to bathe it in a false hermeneutic.) You said that you follow every dot and tittle within the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation. But, as I told you then, I find that hard to believe. Do you advocate the stoning of people that break the Sabbath? What about children you repeatedly rebel against their parents? What about apostates? All should be stoned within the context of a plain reading of the Old Testament. 

I also noticed, conspicuously, that you were not wearing a head covering. Yet in 1st Corinthians, the Apostle Paul exhorts the early church women to wear head coverings. The importance of head coverings was echoed by many of the early Church Fathers. Is there a reason why that particular part of the biblical narrative is disregarded? Of course there is! We all adopt the Biblical witness and adapt it to our culture. At some point in time, your tradition decided it was no longer important for women to wear head-coverings [I make no judgment, I don't advocate for the essential wearing of head-coverings either...] The Baptist tradition you adhere is one that has adapted their theology from other older Christian movements. John the Baptist wasn't a Independent Fundamental Baptist. Nor was Tertullian. Nor was Augustine. Your denominational and tradition ancestors read their Bibles, made sense of what they could, and adapted it to the culture that surrounded them. It came at odds with other traditions and put a wedge between them and other Christians. But, they were doing what they thought was best to live an honest faith. 

Most Christians I know are trying to live an honest faith in a changing world. Sure, we disagree on many things, but I think my denominational brethren and sistren are wanting many of the same things that I do: a coherent theology that makes sense of God and the world around them. We Christians need to do a better job at living within theological tension. I'm grateful for the love shown to me by my Lutheran friends, though they may disagree with my Anabaptist leanings. I've learned so much from astute Catholic theologians, though I'm thoroughly (and at times obnoxiously) Protestant. My Methodist friends remind me of what attracted me to Wesleyan theology and justice in my early Christian years. Even locally, I've had enriching conversations with Reverend Sally Wicks the Presbyterian, Pastor Mike Sutton the Evangelical, Father Thomas Kincaid the Episcopal, and Pastor Dennis Meyer the Lutheran. They come from different theological backgrounds but want the same thing: to follow Jesus. We may disagree on creationism/evolution, LGBTQ issues, covenantal theology, and nonviolence [and many other things.] But, they are my brothers and sisters in the faith and I'm incredibly grateful for them. As am I grateful for you. My friend Dr. Jim Stump once taught about the intersection of faith and evolution at State Street and reminded us that it's not that we all have to believe all of the same things on these secondary issues [and we have the historic Creeds to remind us of the primary issues], it's that we should demonstrate a willingness to allow others around our theological table to hold these divergent views. I agree completely with him. 

This is my point: as much as you had a hard time with State Street on Sunday and I'm guessing you will never return, I want to remind you that you do have a place with us. Everyone does. It's not a place of easy answers or an easier faith. Being peculiarly Christian is difficult. We wrestle with complex theological quandaries and learn to live out our faith with an amazing amount of grace and love. It's not a perfect place. But, it's a place for people like you who have all the answers and for people like me who struggle to find all the right questions. I do hope to see you again. I promise next time I'll remember your name! 

Grace and peace to you!
Nate the False Teacher

Let's Talk about Church Finances

I have a friend that is skeptical of the way many churches handle finances. He's not a Christian, or at least doesn't self-identify as one. One of the primary reasons he's skeptical of the Church is that his experience tells him that the Church cares more about money than about people. His story isn't terribly uncommon. The church hasn't always done well at talking about finances, handling finances, and caring about people over finances. Knowing this has affected the way we handle the topic of money and finances at State Street. 

There are a few things in regards to money and the Church that I hold in tension:

  1. Possessions and money are an important topic in Christ's teaching. There's been a tendency, at least since Christ's time but likely throughout all time, to idolize money, power, and possessions. Christ spoke about this temptation. The Church needs to combat this temptation. 
  2. Money is required to do the work of the Church: helping the hungry, creating communities of inclusion, staffing various ministries/initiatives, and, for practical purposes, paying the electric bill among other things. 
  3. The Church hasn't often spent money wisely. This shouldn't surprise anyone. The Church is made up of people. People aren't always wise in the way we handle our finances and possessions. The Church's lack of wisdom is an extension of humanity's lack of wisdom. 
  4. I think many of the proof-texts used to support the tithe in the Church are uninformed at best and manipulative at worst. This seems especially rampant among the Evangelical church.
  5. Generosity is an essential path in becoming more like Christ. Christ demonstrated an immense amount of generosity in His ministry and on the cross. I believe He invites us to embrace generosity in the same manner. 

These things held in tension manifest themselves in different ways in our particular community at State Street. We choose not to pass any plates for offering. We do, however, believe that giving is an essential part of our worship. By demonstrating generosity, we allow ourselves to also claim allegiance to something greater than ourselves. 

We have also decided to forgo some of the normative budget trends within the Church in order to make a new way forward that best fits our vision. While it may be normal to spend 50-70% on staffing, we don't think it will help us achieve our mission. The same can be said with building expenditures. Some research would say that we can spend 25-30% on a church facility. By doing this, we would limit some of the good work that we try to do in LaPorte. We don't believe this is the best or only way to lead a Church, but it has allowed our specific community to meet the needs of our specific ministry vision. 

Each year, our leadership team comes together and looks over the past year's expenses and income. We compare our past expenses with the projected budget. Our finance team is tremendous at calculating those figures in advance and presenting them to the leadership team. Our projected budget typically comes very close to our actual income over the year. This year we were within 1-2% of our estimated budget. 

We have certain metrics that we aim to meet. If we don't prioritize the money being spent on community ministries (like the Pax Center, missions, etc.), it's been our experience that those types of initiatives will be the first to suffer if budget cuts are ever needed. But, community ministries are essential to the make-up of our community. There is no Pax Center without State Street but there also isn’t a State Street without the Pax CenterFeeding the hungry, helping the hurting, and loving the lonely is foundational for us. So, we prioritize it in our budget. 

However, just like everything else that is worth doing, we had to sacrifice some things for a life of better things. We have a smaller staff and are extremely dependent on volunteers because of it. We don't spend as much money on facilities. Our staff is continually cognizant about spending only what we need or what will make their ministry better. They say 'no' to some things, to say 'yes' to our community ministries. But, because of our belief in the radical nature of the Kingdom of God lived out, we know it's worth it. 

We have an average attendance of roughly 300 people. About 1/3 of that number are children, many others are in economically depressed situations, others are young families without a ton of dispensable income and others are more financially stable.  In all, many of these give generously of what they have been given. We budget conservatively so that we can continue to do ministry in the way Christ has called us. But, He has been faithful in our five years of ministry to provide for our needs and much, much more. 

I want to be transparent when dealing with our finances. It's good to talk about it and not hide it. Certainly we need to be honest about the Church's past transgressions, but the way to fix them is not to ignore them or not talk about it further. I want to be transparent because I don't want the way State Street handles finances to be a hurdle for anyone to know Christ. It's worth talking about. 

Here is State Street's yearly budget put in pie chart format. If ever there is a question about how we maintain our budget or the values we maintain, do not hesitate in contacting myself or email the finance team at finance[at]statestreet.tv: