Nate Loucks

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Nate Loucks is the pastor of State Street Community Church and the President of the Pax Center in downtown LaPorte, Indiana. These are thoughts on faith, social entrepreneurship, and the beauty of life.

Posts tagged state street
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?!?” 

 

Jackson Street Community Garden

A few years ago, John and Jane Slater and I were discussing the possibility of starting a community garden for neighborhood kids around State Street. The Slaters had some experience in doing this in Rolling Prairie with great success. It’s always been our goal to do anything we can to help better our surrounding community, so the partnership made sense. In the last few years since starting the garden, dozens of children have learned how to grow their own crops. They’ve made friends, expanded their food palate, and experienced the benefits of working together for the common good. Many people have given much time and energy to this program over the years and their work has made a difference. 

Like everything else we do, there’s the thing as it begins and then the thing as it evolves. The community garden, and our involvement in urban gardening, is evolving. The Pax Center and State Street Community Church is partnering with other organizations in LaPorte to help manage the vision of the Jackson Street Community Garden. I couldn’t be more excited. Why? Basil Hallberg describes perfectly the potential impact of a community garden on a place like LaPorte, “Community gardens supplement food security efforts by increasing the availability of nutritious foods to low-income urban residents. Community gardens can supply vegetables and fruits to needy participants and their families, but gardens alone will not eradicate food insecurity. Community gardening offers other benefits to society beyond providing a nutritious supply of fruits and vegetables. These include environmental benefits such as reuse of remediated Brownfield sites and reductions in crime, vandalism, and health care costs as well as increased social cohesion.1” Community gardens contain the potential to change neighborhoods. Not only do they provide nutritious food to supplement ones weekly diet, they also provide an important third space where others can be known and get to know others. It has the potential to combat hunger, loneliness, and community apathy.

We will still have our Sprouts summer program (preschool through second grade) at State Street. But, starting this year, our summer gardening program for children will be at the Jackson Street Community Garden. We are also going to provide adult mentorship for those wanting to learn how to garden. Very soon, families and individuals will be able to reserve a plot in one of the garden boxes. Though the Pax Center will help control some of the vision of this space, it is our hope that the community will help own this space and use it to the betterment of our neighborhoods in LaPorte. In the next couple of weeks, the drainage problem at the Jackson Street Community Garden will be getting fixed. After this issue is fixed, we will be installing the perimeter fence, building the garden boxes, and fixing up the site. Once this is done, we will open up registration for garden plots to the community. 

So, here’s a few questions you may have:

What other organizations are partnering in this endeavor?
The primary partners of the Jackson Street Community Garden are the City of LaPorte, the Main Street Association, the LaPorte High School FFA and Agriculture classes, and State Street Community Church/The Pax Center. Many, many other individuals and organizations have helped get this project off the ground. 

How can we sign up for a garden box plot?
We will have details on how to sign up in the near future. Please pay attention to our Facebook page.

How can I help? There are a few ways you can help:

  1. We need financial and corporate partners. If you would like to donate personally, you can donate securely online here. Your donation is tax-deductible. If your business would like to talk about what a partnership with the Jackson Street Community Garden may look like, you can email me. I’d love to meet with you.

  2. You can share this news with your friends and neighbors. 

  3. There will be some work days in the future where we will be building boxes, spreading mulch and dirt, and other things. Join us. We will list these days/times on our Facebook page.

Here's a video I took at the site yesterday: 

Spring is almost here! A message about the Jackson Street Community Garden from Nate Loucks.

Posted by The Pax Center on Tuesday, March 8, 2016
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: 

Reclaiming the Art of Neighboring

I have a very special place in my heart for Bethel College. It was at Bethel that was introduced to a form of Wesleyan-Anabaptism that gave my faith a sense of vitality and substance that has propelled it into adulthood. It was there that the words of Stanley Hauerwas, John Howard Yoder, and John Wesley first introduced themselves into my theological paradigm. I'm really grateful for that season of life. So much of who I am today is a profound reflection of that growing season. 

When Shawn Holtgren emailed me and asked if I'd be willing to speak in chapel, I was thrilled. To be able to give back in some small way to the institution and people that have given so much to me was an honor and challenge that I was excited about. As my wife could attest, it was also probably the most nervous I had been in many years of speaking. But, for those that wanted to watch the message, here's the video. I entitled it, "Reclaiming the Art of Neighboring." It's a bit about what we've learned in community at State Street. 

OUTLINE

IDEA: Challenge for the church today: Reclaim the art of neighboring. 

"The Church doesn’t need more revolutionaries, we need more people being faithful to the already revolutionary message of neighboring in Christ.”

MICAH 6:6-8 CEB
6 With what should I approach the Lord
        and bow down before God on high?
Should I come before him with entirely burned offerings,
        with year-old calves?
7 Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
        with many torrents of oil?
Should I give my oldest child for my crime;
        the fruit of my body for the sin of my spirit?
8 He has told you, human one, what is good and
        what the Lord requires from you:
            to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. 

ISAIAH 58 (CEB)
58 Shout loudly; don’t hold back;
    raise your voice like a trumpet!
Announce to my people their crime,
    to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 They seek me day after day,
    desiring knowledge of my ways
    like a nation that acted righteously,
    that didn’t abandon their God.
They ask me for righteous judgments,
    wanting to be close to God.
3 “Why do we fast and you don’t see;
    why afflict ourselves and you don’t notice?”
Yet on your fast day you do whatever you want,
and oppress all your workers.
4 You quarrel and brawl, and then you fast;
you hit each other violently with your fists.
You shouldn’t fast as you are doing today
if you want to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is this the kind of fast I choose,
    a day of self-affliction,
    of bending one’s head like a reed
    and of lying down in mourning clothing and ashes?
    Is this what you call a fast,
        a day acceptable to the Lord?
6 Isn’t this the fast I choose:
    releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
    setting free the mistreated,
    and breaking every yoke?
7 Isn’t it sharing your bread with the hungry
    and bringing the homeless poor into your house,
    covering the naked when you see them,
    and not hiding from your own family? 

JOHN WESLEY ON NEIGHBORING, “One of the principle rules of religion is to lose no occasion of serving God. And since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbor; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us.”

THREE THINGS WE’VE LEARNED ABOUT NEIGHBORING
1. Be honest. 
2. Be kind. 
3. Do something. 

BILL LOUCKS, “Do something. Even if it’s wrong. Do something.” 

As a bonus, here's the picture of the white-water trip that I talk about in the video: