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 in State Street
A new chapter, a new look

At the beginning of 2016, I told our congregation that it feels as if we are turning the pages to a new chapter of our community. In the last 18 months, we’ve opened the Pax Center, finished a significant building addition, and added another full-time pastor. I half-jokingly refer to State Street as an experiment. The way we handle money, the path to staffing, and the questions we ask take us down a path of uncommon ground. To do what we do, we must do things in a different way. This new chapter will be an exciting challenge. The experiment continues. 

To go along with this next chapter theme, we decided to incorporate new branding. We have a new logo and website (designed by Apollos.) The logo is simple, yet tells a part of our story. It is not merely an image, it is an identifier and reminder. It says something about us. 

The logo that we went with leveraged two of our main priorities: Jesus and love/charity. In the scriptures, wheat is a sign of charity and love. We believe that the greatest gift the Church can demonstrate to the world is an unrequited and committed love. It is a love filled with mercy, not judgment. It is a love that embodies the common good for each neighborhood. At the heart of all of our ministries and projects is this objective: love God, love others, and love well. At the heart of our new logo is the cross surrounding by wheat grains. It serves as a reminder that Christ invites us to love people well, because we are people who are loved well. We believe that everything we do, including our branding, should tell that story. 

Along with this new logo, we have a new website. Check it out. 

State StreetNate Loucks
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?!?” 

 

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