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
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: 

The Pax Center | Downtown LaPorte

Revive my imagination. That’s been a central prayer in my life over the last few years. It wasn’t until I had children that I realized that I had lost a bit of the imaginative spirit somewhere along the path to adulthood. My children never lack in creating worlds in their mind where anything can exist. Seeing their imagination work and lead to questions about possibilities within our present reality is one of the great joys of parenting. But, somewhere along the path to adulthood, my ability to imagine new worlds and possibilities started to slowly corrode. It seems to be a common path for many of us. In its place was a staunch and subtle form of cynicism that cleverly masqueraded as stoic realism. After seeing the violence and hurt within this world caused by the bitter poverties of loneliness, hunger, and cultural maladies, we can fashion a belief that the way of brokenness is an essential, if not determined, way of life for much of humanity.

There exists today a war of theological imagination. Central to this theological war are these crucial questions: is Jesus Christ also Lord of creation? If so, what particular way of living should manifest from such a confession? What if what we previously believed to be a determined fact of the way of life isn't necessarily so within the Kingdom of God?

Jesus was not a stranger to employing a healthy dose of theological imagination in His teachings. He was a master at it. We call these parables. They invite the reader/listener to imagine possibilities or scenarios outside of the normative path. Jesus was also quite proficient at asking the world around Him to imagine a certain way of being that confronts and engages the injustices surrounding them. Instead of perpetuating the systems of violence and brokenness, this would be a way of restoration, resurrection, and peace. In the midst of a volatile culture that featured many social, societal, and religious divisions, Jesus invited His followers to believe that the way of such broken systems is not the way of God. He also challenged them to believe that they are not an indeterminate form of being that must follow the status quo of power and influence.

Change can happen. Prior to giving perhaps the most profound sermon known to man [recorded in the Gospel of Matthew], Jesus gave an explanation and illustration of the way of the Kingdom of God called the Beatitudes. In them, Jesus has a particularly relevant benediction, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. ” In Christ’s economy, happy are those who make peace within their lives with God, their families, and their neighbors. Often we mistakenly read this as an instruction for peace-keeping. As important as peace-keeping may be, Christ has invited us into something even deeper: peace-making. Peace is a form of reconciliation. It starts with acknowledging that there are systems and people and events within this world that are broken and their brokenness affects themselves and those around them. This brokenness permeates the world in which we live. We see it in our families, communities, and even ourselves. Peacemaking challenges brokenness. More than that, peace-making is allowing Christ to have space to do His justice work of bringing that which is broken and chaotic and unjust back to rights. We believe this world could use a few more peacemakers at work.

When we planted the State Street community, we sought to be purposeful in our engagement with LaPorte. In that time, we have witnessed the many forms of division that is happening within our neighborhoods. Many of these patterns of brokenness we see already starting in childhood, patterns of poverty, loneliness, and despair. There is no absence of forces and collectives that seek to divide those within our communities. But, what if we sought to be a particular community that countered those voices of division with that of unity and reconciliation? That earnestly believed Christ can break down the walls of division between us [whoever we may be] and them [whoever they may be.] That said, “enough is enough! We seek unity over division."

This work is nothing new for Christ. It’s been the vocation that He has asked His Church to do since the beginning. The Apostle Paul acknowledges this work in Ephesians, "Christ is our peace. He made both Jews and Gentiles into one group. With his body, he broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us.” It’s certainly not easy work, but with Christ, we are tasked to imagine a world where it is possible. How many of the world’s greatest innovations and ideas were birthed by first allowing oneself to imagine a world where such a product, event, or idea would be possible? Peace within our community is possible. Engaging injustice within this world is possible. Christ has made a way. Can you imagine it?

I’d like to introduce you to a place in our community that is committed to the good news that makes all things well: the Pax Center. Pax is Latin for peace.

The Pax Center is a place that will ungrudgingly engage the divisions within our community caused by poverty, hunger, and loneliness.

The Pax Center is a place that will be willing to celebrate creativity and innovation within LaPorte.

The Pax Center is a place that will partner with other organization in LaPorte that is seeking the restoration of our community.

The Pax Center is a place with open doors, humble hearts, and joyful spirits.

May Christ continue to light the fires of restoration and reconciliation within His people that bring peace within this world. You can now like the Pax Center on Facebook or visit our website [which is currently under construction.] If you would like more information about the Pax Center and how to be involved, I encourage you to contact the Pax Center Director Jason Clemons on Facebook or through email. Finally, to echo the words of Paul in Colossians, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” Happy Thanksgiving and Pax vobiscum [Peace be with you!], everyone!

LOCATION: 605 Washington Street [the former Friend's Night Club]
TWITTER
: /paxcenterlp
FACEBOOK: /thepaxcenter
WEBSITE: thepaxcenter.com [still in progress]

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:

Hey Washington Street, State Street is coming!

I learned early when planting State Street that the act of planning is essential, but our plans shouldn't be held too rigidly. The goal of our community has always been to facilitate and encounter a profound sense of love with Christ and our neighbors. How this is done, however, can change and evolve to places and with people that never played a part in the initial plans of grandeur. The State Street vision that we had five years ago doesn't necessarily look too closely to the State Street vision we have today in particulars, but it does in heart and passion. 

We have always felt it was part of our calling and vocation to be in downtown LaPorte. Having these convictions has made some decisions more difficult, but we have tried not to allow the easiness of a decision effect whether or not it's the best thing for us as a whole. For example, many days (and some nights!) were spent thinking about how to build our addition at State Street to fit enough space in our spare yard while also equipping the ministries and initiatives we started with the tools necessary to continue to grow and help others. After a few months and countless changes, we had a plan. That plan is now in Indianapolis being reviewed. If the review is approved, we will hopefully start construction in October. But, even with this approval, it still leaves us continuing to find a location for our community garden and space for our neighborhood children to play [we have one of the only yards in our area.] When we get to the point of making a plan, it's after weeks-and-weeks or even months-and-months of thought, prayer, and planning. 

While all of this was happening, something occurred to make us rethink our plans. A family within the community, after seeing the success of the State Street community center and the incredible growth taking place, graciously offered us a facility to house these ministries. The location has a commercial kitchen, space to feed 120+ (we can only feed about 80 people at a time in our community meal), located just a few blocks away from State Street, and best of all... it would be free! Seriously. It's someone allowing us to borrow this facility, it's being given as a gift to help further the mission and footprint into LaPorte. 

Now, admittedly, this offer didn't fit with our plans. We had a room in our new facility designed for the food pantry. It wasn't incredibly large, but bigger than the room we have currently. However, and this is the challenge of growing any organization, there are times when you stay firm to the plans laid out and there are times when you allow the unknown-but-now-opened door lead you to a place that you never thought you could go previously. As of this last week, we acquired keys to these doors and have taken possession of the former Friends Bar & Nightclub on Washington Street in LaPorte. Ladies and gents, the party can now commence...

Now it's time for us to make new plans. Though we have acquired this building, it means that we have to continue to think wisely about how to use it, how to fund it, how to facilitate the ministries in this new space, and other scenarios. The board at State Street is committed to being wise stewards of the resources Christ has entrusted us. They're also committed to seeing us take part in restoring LaPorte in whatever way we are able. We don't know when we'll move into the facility. We still have another addition getting ready to begin on our State Street location. Over the next few months, we'll be giving the Washington Street building a slight facelift. Jason Clemons, our community center director, will be going to other churches and organizations to invite them to take this journey with us in helping to end hunger and poverty in LaPorte. In many ways, the dream has just begun. But, in other ways, this seems to be another chapter in a dream that was started five years ago.