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.

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
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

On the 18th Anniversary of My Mother's Death
My mother with my sister, Heather. 

My mother with my sister, Heather. 

On January 15th everything was seemingly normal. By evening on January 16th, everything changed. It’s been 18 years since the tragic evening when my mother died. She was 36 years old. It’s been so long since I have shed a tear about my mother passing. The shock of the situation is over. After all, I have lived more of my life without her than I did with her. Yet, there’s still a profound heaviness each year on this day. It’s a day when I’m willing to let my memories collide with the potential of a life with her in it. I don’t often entertain the question of “what if…” as I find little value in looking at the world in impossible outcomes. She’s dead and she’s gone, of that there’s no doubt. For years I thought it was a bad dream of grief and anger and guilt. I prayed for resurrection. I prayed for another conversation. I prayed for relief and release.

The finality of her death set in a number of years ago and I opened my eyes to reality. It’s been my experience that tragedy has a way of leaving an indelible mark on those who suffer with the tragedy. Not all deaths are tragic, but my mother’s was. The worst part is that when death happens, the impact of the relationship doesn’t die with it. That’s the most difficult aspect of death. You just find a way to be comfortable living with suspension of the relationship in light of the brutal finality that is separation in death. Christ has brought me rest from the burden. 

But, today I allow myself the freedom to wonder, “what if…” 

What if my mother didn’t know how much I loved her because of my frustrations with her addiction? 
What if my mother would have been successful in getting treatment for her depression and addictions? 
What if my uncle Danny wouldn’t have died months earlier and her sadness wouldn’t have accelerated her addiction? 
What if my mother could see my siblings and me now? 
What if my mother was around and she could help my aunt and my cousins take care of my grandfather? 
What if my mother could see my children? Would she see herself in my daughter as much as I do?

Some questions lead me to laughter thinking about what life would be like. Other questions lead to a bit of sadness. But, I wonder. 

What I don’t wonder anymore is whether or not my mother loved me. Though I can’t speak for all people who love those facing addictions, my temptation was to believe that my mother loved her addiction to alcohol more than she loved me. My rather elementary [and ignorant] understanding of addiction was that if I would simply explain to my mother that I didn’t want her to drink anymore, she would abstain out of her love for me. Since she didn’t do it, she didn’t love me, or my rather distorted thinking told me. But addiction doesn’t operate in the expanse of logic and rationality and deductive reasoning. This is why addiction can be so troubling: it leads you to do things that you don’t want to do, but have little control over. It’s compulsive and abrasive. It’s not rational. It’s love misplaced. 

My mother loved me, in spite of her hurts and hangups. She loved me. She didn’t always know how to deal with everything raging within her. She was pregnant at 15 years old. She was divorced and had four children. She didn’t marry men who valued her uniqueness or her partnership. She wasn’t unlike many people I know who are a bit lost in the high tide of the seas of life, but unlike many I know: she had four children. My mourning for my mother always accompanies compassion. Her life wasn’t easy. I don’t know what I would have done if I was her. But, I know my mother loved me. And, as I reflect on her death, I tried to remember what she gave me in life. 

I miss you, mom. You are loved more passionately than you ever knew or understood. 

RandomNate Loucksgrief, family
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: