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 | 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
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