Start in LA Podcast Episode 6 - Rob Douglas

Nick:                Hi, this is Nick from the Start in LA podcast, and here are a couple of announcements for you. Please remember that our conference will be February 1 and 2, at and around Fuller Theological Seminary. You can sign up for that at our website, StartInLA.com. Also, for all other information regarding this podcast and our quarterly meetings, you can get that at StartInLA.com. Also, you can sign up for our newsletter in that spot. Please do so, again, at StartiInLA.com.

Nick:                Hello, everyone. Welcome back to the Start in LA podcast. Start in LA is a collaboration between Fuller Seminary and Cyclical LA. We are excited to get people who are starting churches together, from diverse perspectives, to do mutual learning with one another, and today, we are really fortunate to have with us Pastor Rob Douglas, but before we get there, let's introduce Dr. Bethany, and I'll introduce myself, too. I'm Nick Warnes, I'm the Director of Cyclical LA and the Executive Director of Cyclical Incorporated. We love starting churches. And I'm here with Bethany.

Bethany:          Hi, I am Bethany Fox. I am working at Fuller Seminary as the Director of Student Success, and I also am starting a church, called Beloved Everybody Church, here in the Pasadena-Altadena area.

Nick:                Wonderful. And with us, we have, again, Pastor Rob Douglas. Pastor Rob, we're so glad you're here.

Rob:                 Thank you. Good to be here.

Nick:                So tell us a little bit about yourself. You decided, for whatever crazy, weird, spirit-led decision, to start a church. But before we get there, what were some key moments in your life, leading into starting a new church?

Rob:                 I would say that it was a very slow process for me. I'd not even really thought much about doing any church planting, until maybe four or five years before starting.

Nick:                Was church planting even a part of your plausibility structure?

Rob:                 No. Zero. Maybe it came across, when people asked me that question, "Have you ever considered church planting?" maybe I would have said, "For about 10 minutes, at a point maybe when I was irritated with something in the current situation." I'm like, "Man, this would be kind of cool," for about 10 minutes, "to do something completely different," but, no, never really ever considered it, not a viable option. I would not have seen myself as someone that would have done this kind of work, for sure.

Nick:                So what ended up cueing up this journey you've been on in starting a church?

Rob:                 Well, it started with conversations. I think the original conversation was right down the street from here, at the Art House, happy hour with you, and you asked me that question, "Have you ever considered church planting?" I said no. I think maybe my answer was, "Yeah, for about 10 minutes." I think that was the original ... the first time I'd ever even really thought about it, and then had some subsequent follow up conversations with our Executive Presbyter for the San Fernando Presbytery, Ken Baker, yourself, and others who started just asking to be in dialog about planting a church. So I think those were the initial things that got me thinking and praying about it, and started that discernment process, which for me, was really long and slow, and maybe even slightly painful, because it was not something that I was considering or ever saw myself doing, so it was a struggle for a couple of years.

Nick:                Well, this seems like an interesting place to probe into, doesn't it, Bethany?

Bethany:          Yeah, I'm curious about ... because when I ... My story was that when I first heard about church planting, I was like, "Oh, yeah, this is the thing I want to do, absolutely." But it seems like, for you, that option was presented and your reaction was not love at first sight, but something else.

Rob:                 Absolutely not.

Bethany:          What was that? What did it stir in you? Because you clearly were open to it. You started the conversation, but what was that mixture of interest and then other stuff?

Rob:                 Okay, well, I was open to it in the sense that I had had one experience in the past that it reminded me of, and that was, when I graduated from college, my goal was ... I was on a PhD history track to teach college, university history. That's what I was planning on doing, and I was already accepted into a graduate program in history. I had a strange experience where I had all my stuff in my car, and I walked onto campus, and there were no students on campus, and I walked on, and I was like, "Something isn't right with this." I actually ... this is pre-cell phone days, right ... I had to find a payphone. I called my parents. My Dad answered the phone and I'm like, "You guys are going to think I'm absolutely crazy, but I'm not supposed to be here." My dad was like, "Okay, well, come home and figure it out." So I literally got in my car-

Bethany:          Wow.

Rob:                 ... came home, and two months later, I was enrolled at Fuller. How many times I considered Fuller before this moment, zero, so I'd never even thought about going to get a theological education before.

Rob:                 So that experience, when I was first asked these questions about planting a church, that's what's in the back of my mind, is, well, I've already had one of these experiences where God took me on a different journey than the one that I had planned for myself, so just because of that, I knew I had to remain open to it, and so that was what was in the back of my mind.

Rob:                 What was really in the front of my mind was, I'm not the right person to do it, I don't have the right skills, I don't know what I'm doing, I really don't know much about church planting. It wasn't something that I has aspired to do. I was quite content doing what I was doing for the last 20 years, which was mostly youth ministry, but I did some other stuff in ministry also, some stuff in worship, and some preaching, and teaching, and other things, as well. But I thought that I was genuinely doing what I was supposed to be doing and what I was called to do, so the church planting thing was kind of this new thing that was introduced into a situation where I was already ... thought I was already doing what I was supposed to be doing, and maybe I was. I think I actually was. So it was a bit of a struggle. It took me, I don't know, I want to say four years to work through it.

Nick:                Why was it ... you used the word painful. Why was it painful, that discernment process?

Rob:                 Really, because I just ... I was content doing what I was doing, so the thought of upsetting the apple cart, whatever, and doing something completely different that I didn't know about, it was like ... It would be like a different career change where you're not prepared, you don't think you have the right skills, education, tools, whatever, to succeed. That's a kind of unsettling thought.

Rob:                 So it was part that, and just, I guess, uncertainty. I don't know. I also had questions. My family needed to be onboard with it and I wanted to have a parent church that would send me to do it, and so working through those things took some time. And as we're working through those things, I'm doing my own personal discernment, and I knew and sensed God leading me in that direction, but there was a tug-of-war going on. Yeah, I was a little resistant to it, and yet I knew I was being pulled that direction, so I was going with it, but I was also pulling back a little bit on the rope.

Nick:                Something that's interesting is the contrasting pneumatologies that you went through. The first story is, right, the history story, where you have a moment where you've discerned ... and this isn't ... I know you ... Disclaimer for listeners, I know Rob really well, I consider him one of my best friends, and Rob isn't the guy that does this ... The history story, that's not a normal thing for you. That was an extraordinary moment.

Rob:                 Correct.

Nick:                So the pneumatology, the way the Holy Spirit rolled out in that context, was very distinct and very quick. The discernment regarding starting a new church was very long.

Rob:                 Very long, and I had agreed ... What I had agreed to was to walk through the process, with people, in that discernment process, and so there were steps that I was asked to take. So what I agreed to is, I thought, well, as long as the door continues to remain open, I felt as if I was being guided through those doors, I would be willing to continue working through the process, and just dealing with my own issues about it. So working through those things took a little bit of time. There were some steps-

Nick:                This social based stuff, I mean, you have two girls going into college and, what, you're going to start a church right then? Are you crazy?

Rob:                 Yeah, that was another thing. Right.

Nick:                The economics of it?

Rob:                 It's a little risky, right. For sure, it's a little risky. But what I came to was, I mean, I'm not averse to taking risk, I just was slow in wanting to make sure that I was doing the right thing, and that I was doing the thing, that God really was leading me through this process, that it wasn't just me wanting to do something. So it took a little while but the discernment ... by the end, the discernment was really clear. Where I ended up was that if I didn't start a new church, that I would be unfaithful, and that was what I couldn't ... I couldn't live with myself under those conditions. To me, that was the deal breaker. I couldn't be unfaithful, and I knew that if I continued to stay in doing what I was doing, that I would be missing what I needed to be doing, yeah.

Bethany:          Can I ask a question? You said a couple of times that you felt like a church planter needed to have certain skills, and that those were not skills that you had. So what I'm wondering is, what did you think ... what was your preconception of what those skills were? And then, I guess what I'm wondering is, did that change or did you kind of just say I don't ... Did your sense of the skills needed change, or did you just kind of decide that you ... or did you build those skills, or like ... Do you know what I mean?

Rob:                 Right. I'll give it a go. My early assumptions were two. I'm fairly introverted, and so when I looked around, that's not what I typically saw with most pastors, anyway, and church planters. I also thought, age-wise, I was getting a little on the older side. I thought it more of a young person's game, and I said, "I don't know. I'm not really sure if this for me in my life stage and where I'm at." So there were a few of those issues, but I think that being more introverted and a little quieter and not the rah-rah, get up and cheer leader, that's not my style, that's not who I am, and I just think ... I think I thought that that's what you needed, to have that kind of rah-rah energy in order to plant. Of course, that's just ridiculous. That's just not true, so yes, I learned that that just ... it's not accurate.

Rob:                 What I realized, too, that I didn't realize at the beginning, was, I didn't think that I was a starter, and what I learned, even up to just planting, was that actually I was, I just didn't consider myself that. I didn't think of myself that way, but I had started plenty of things. I had other people actually, kind of, Nick and others, speak that into me and say, "Look, you've already started a bunch of stuff. This is one of the reasons we're interested in you planting. You do know how to start stuff." But if you had told me, you know, "Do you know how to start stuff?" I would have said no. So that was kind of a slow realization that, "Oh, yeah, I've started plenty of stuff, and yeah, the stuff I've started has done well and stayed the course." So those were learnings, those were things I learned. Yeah.

Nick:                Speaking of starting things, you started what's now known as Lightshine Church. Can you tell us ... We're really interested in this story for multiple reasons. Something that I always think is fascinating is that magical-slash-holy-slash-mysterious, crazy process of going from no church, to a church. From nothing there, to now there's a church there. So how did you get your start, how did you get going, and something else we want to talk about with you, just for our listeners, too, is starting in Los Angeles in suburban contexts. So we're going to dig into that, but maybe you can include some of that, too, where you started and then how you went from nothing to something.

Rob:                 Sure. We started in Thousand Oaks area, California, which we're probably, what, 30-40 miles west, northwest of Los Angeles, and we started with good partnerships, so in partnership with the Presbytery of San Fernando, in partnership with 1001 New Worshiping Communities, the PCUSA, and with a parent church in Westminster Presbyterian Church in Westlake Village. So we're a good example of partnership. We wouldn't exist, probably, without any one of those three entities. The 1001 movement helped us with the grant funding in order to get started, as did the Presbyterian parent church. I did some personal fundraising as well, to make sure that we could start well.

Rob:                 We started by forming a team, and I did that in a little unusual manner. I actually didn't ask anybody to be on that team, I just hoped and prayed that there would be some folks that would want to join me and I let them come find me, and that's a little unusual way of doing things. I'm not sure I know someone else who's done that. I think we ended up with about 13 people that wanted to join with us on that team, and they're a pretty diverse group of people. A couple were current church folks, but there were also some hurt church folks that had left and were not anywhere, and at the idea of what ... I kind of just made some pitches here and there, and said, "This is what I'm trying to do," and some people resonated with that and joined us.

Rob:                 I think we took nine months before opening, and we met weekly for nine months. We started meeting at our parent church and we quickly moved out of that context, into homes and public spaces, coffee shops, restaurants, bars, and did that kind of thing for about nine months, working through a bunch of things, kind of coming up with a plan, and who we were trying to reach, and what we were trying to do, and how we might do it, and who was needed, the kind of people and gifts that were needed to do that. So that took us about nine months before opening, but I think we started with 13-ish people.

Rob:                 Our space, we meet at a place called Time of Your Life. It's actually a DJ, dance party space, and the owner, Joe Hecht, is a friend. I had his son in when I was a youth pastor, and he actually contacted me and said, "I've got your space for you. I heard what you're trying to do." I believe he was a former Young Life kid, so I think he kind of understood a little bit about what we were trying to do. I went a looked at his space. I'd actually been there before because, as a youth pastor, I had been over there, and as soon as I saw it, I'm like, "Done. We've found our space." He's been generous, a good host. So we had a space that's in Westlake Village, probably two miles or so from our parent church, which is a little unusual also, but we're so different and we're doing completely different things, that it hasn't been a problem for us, so far.

Nick:                The initial preconceived notions around ecclesiology and the suburbs is something that stood out to you, I know, when you were talking about the potential for Lightshine, and I know this is part of what attracted people to what you wanted to do, is doing a kind of non-attractional ... in case you didn't note that from Rob story, he's not working real hard to attract people to even be in a launch team or to worship services, but you want really high-committed people who catch the vision. So in the suburban context, oftentimes, there's a lot of work toward attracting people to worship services, toward attracting people to church programs, and you're doing something quite different. So I know, I mean, going from nothing to something certainly includes, at the heart of it, gathering those 13 people. At the heart of it is the weekly worship service, even in a non-attractional setting, which is of note.

Rob:                 Right.

Nick:                One of your key lines is, "Gather well, scatter better," right. Don't you all use that?

Rob:                 Yeah.

Nick:                Can you talk about how you scatter, and how you went from no scattering, to now there's a group of people who are scattering?

Rob:                 Yeah. Well, that's good. I mean, and we use that "Gather well, scatter better," just to say ... You know, the church has been gathering well for a long time, and we want to gather well. We don't say anything otherwise. I mean, when we do gather, we want to be at our best. But we thought one of the things we were missing was the whole scattering piece and being a sent people and not a one-hour worship service a week, or its related programs, as well.

Rob:                 So, right, we're very low program, which is ... this is maybe one of the things that is the most unusual in our suburban context, because churches are very well-programed. The ones that have a lot of people are very well-programed. It's a affluent area, it's a very highly educated area, so these are smart, successful, busy people, and we have some very large churches, one in particular, but some other very large churches in the area that represent something that's really different. They're very programed, staff-driven.

Rob:                 So we were trying to do something different. We wanted to try to do more life together type of stuff, and instead of offering programs where people come to us, or that attractional model that you were talking about, what we really desire to do is just to connect better with our community. We wanted to be a church that's just a part of our larger community, not something separated from it. We just wanted to be a part of that community, and to help make our community a better place. Connecting with folks is really important to us, so we were trying to actually design ... instead of programs where people come to us, we were trying to design things where we go and be with people in the community, outside the church.

Nick:                What's some examples of things you did?

Rob:                 One of the kind of unusual things we do is we have a ... we're partners with the public school, which in our area, is pretty unique. Lots of churches have tried it, and as far as I know, none of them have been able to stay with it or have succeeded in even doing it, because public schools have said ... well, there's a little problem, mixing problem, and ... I've had a lot churches ask how we did it, and so it's maybe a valuable story. We met with the principal of the school, and her question was, "Well, what do you guys want? What do you guys want?"

Nick:                To thump people with the Bible.

Rob:                 Right.

Nick:                Is that what you wanted?

Rob:                 That's what she thought we wanted, and so-

Nick:                I bet she's experienced churches wanting to do that.

Rob:                 She probably has, right. Right, she probably has, and interestingly enough, she was a Christian, but she was very skeptical. I mean, really skeptical. I had a partner in this, who is actually a teacher within the district, within her district, with me, and so we both said that our goal wasn't ... it wasn't about what we wanted, that we were there meeting with her because we wanted to find out what they needed, how we could support their faculty, teachers, and students and families, so that we could just be a help to their community and what they're doing.

Rob:                 The school had some needs, which is ... we were directed there by the school district. So because of the needs that were there, they thought, "Well, you guys could really help if the school wants your help." So the principal was really skeptical, and she actually said ... I'm not going to ever forget this ... she said, "So, you're telling me, if I said we needed Kleenex and copy paper, what would you say to that?" My friend and I, that's a high school teacher, we said, "Then Kleenex and copy paper is what you'll get," and that's how our partnership started.

Rob:                 We actually did a month-long drive for Kleenex and copy paper, and we probably had 100 reams of paper and hundreds of boxes of Kleenex. So this guy and I actually had to go get dollies and load my truck up, and we had to cart the stuff in on dollies, we had so much, and we loaded into their teacher staff room. Then they welcomed us to come to their staff meeting, and the teachers gave us a standing ovation on day one, and that was how our partnership was formed. So we got off to a really good start by helping to meet needs.

Rob:                 The next step for us there was they had a need for a tutoring program. There was nothing on that part of town, and a lot of the kids that need tutoring have transportation issues, they can't get to tutoring. Oftentimes, both parents are at work or they live with grandparents. There's all kinds of reasons. So we started a tutoring program that's been running for almost five years. We just finished our fourth year a couple of weeks ago. So that's kind of unusual. We're on campus every week in this school, so that's just one of the things that we do, where we kind of go, and that's a big part of who we are, the school, a big part of who we are. But we do other stuff like that.

Nick:                A lot of publicity goes toward starting churches in the city. I'm really grateful for my friend, Charles [Clotherman 00:24:06], who just started Oil City Church in Oil City, Pennsylvania, in a rural setting, and he has got a great vision for taking so much focus off of starting churches in the city and remembering that we need churches in rural settings and in the suburbs as well. You started Lightshine Church in a suburban setting, and we all know, with that comes great opportunities and great hurdles. For people who are thinking about starting a new church in a suburban setting, do you have a couple of points on either side, that potential church starters who are listening might be able to glean from?

Rob:                 Sure. Let's start with a more positive approach to the suburbs. One of the things that's interesting about church planting, suburban church planting, is, if so many of the churches are attractional, program-based churches ... which my experience of growing up and living in this suburb and being there for 30 years, that's very much what the church landscape looks like ... to me it's really exciting to be a suburban planter in a non-attractional model because there's not a lot of people doing it and it's doing church in a more family style, more together model, in a very fractured community anyway, we find to be really valuable and really important.

Nick:                So we get to push some sense of a prophetic edge, in your context, by doing ... The way your ecclesiology, the way that you do church is prophetic, just in its very being.

Rob:                 Right, yeah. It's very different and it does push against the ... particularly the ideas. I mean, family is super, super important. People's lives, in suburban contexts like mine, revolve around their kids and their kids' activities, and this is just an interesting thing, but then if you go to church, the expectation is that your kids have ... the spaces are separate. So kids have programs that they go to, and parents want to send their kids to a Sunday school class, or a youth ministry, or some kind of kids' program in the evening, and there's this separation, there's this family separation. And churches, just in suburban contexts, we excel at pulling kids away from their families and disconnecting the family on Sundays, and on other days where there's other kinds of programing.

Rob:                 So what we really wanted to do was say, well, if family is so important in a suburban context, which it is, how about we bring families together instead of separating them and pulling them apart? So we don't do a ton of ... We try, in most of the stuff we do, to do things together with kids. We have a little bit of ... kids do a few separate things, but generally speaking, we try to have kids participating in everything we do, and there's really good reasons for that, too.

Rob:                 I'll just name one. Aside from what it might do for a family, to actually do church together and to be able to talk about the things that kids and parents are learning and how they're growing, those are really valuable, but the other thing that's really valuable in this kind of a context is to be able to have other adults in kids' lives, that are not their parents, that are trusted, trusted adults that are not their parents. Then as these kids grow up, they've got these trusted adults in their lives and people that they can genuinely lean on, and go to, and talk to, and kids generally don't want that from their mom and dad. We're just doing something different. Right, so it definitely pushes a bit of a prophetic edge in that regard.

Bethany:          In terms of that prophetic edge, obviously doing that kind of work is hard because you're pushing against both, sometimes, some internalized expectations about what church needs to be and what a successful church looks like. And also, the people who are with you, or who might come, you're pushing against their expectations and long-held senses of what church needs to be. So I wonder if you can talk a little bit about that journey, both internally and in relating to the people in your community, of non-attractional, non-programmatic, that's so synonymous with church that is really is something new? Yeah, I wonder if you could talk about that a little bit?

Rob:                 I would love to talk about that. That is an excellent, excellent question. This is one of the ... you said it's a prophetic edge, but it's also, for us, it's also one of our biggest challenges because, like I said, in a community ... our community is a bigger is better community, and we're not big. With the folks that we have with children, they already now ... they understand what we're trying to do, and their kids really enjoy it and they love participating.

Rob:                 Yesterday, in worship, our kids were all drawing things and putting them on a board, and kids were all participating and active, and they're ... generally, they love it. But what it does is it ... the hard part is, anybody who visits us is immediately going to see, "Oh, I can't drop my kids off at a Sunday school. Oh, they don't have a nursery," that kind of stuff. That hurts us, there's no doubt about it, because people's expectations, church expectations, people that are churched folk, they understand that, and so they want that ... they think that that's what they need for their kid, those folks aren't going to ...

Nick:                Do people show up on a Sunday, or to any of the things that you do throughout the week, and see it, and they're like, "Oh, nevermind," and then you never see them again?

Rob:                 Correct. Yeah.

Bethany:          Are there ways people have, though, come with that expectation but been like, "Oh, I see the value in this"? Have there been conversations like that?

Rob:                 Yes. I have had conversations with a few people that at first said, "I really wish there was more for our kids," and then have ... and I thought, "Uh-oh, here's another family that's going to take off and go to the church with all the kid programs," and stuck it out, and we've actually had ... Yes, we've had these exact conversations where we've talked about this question and the value of being and doing church together as a family, and they've seen the benefits of that. I think they're having real family discussions, which is much harder to do when your kid is separated out. So, yes, we've had some really positive ...

Rob:                 And that's what I say, we're not designed to reach people that are just ... they've been Christians their whole life and they're used to the more institutional traditional style of churches and what they expect. We're not designed for them, so they may find us and say, "You guys aren't for us," to which I would say, "You're right, and there's other churches that are doing the kinds of things that would probably benefit you and your family more," and I would be happy to refer them to those places, because that's not who we're designed for anyway.

Rob:                 So folks that don't have that church background, those expectations, they come in with a completely different ... They don't know any ... People that we connect to, that they just don't know any different, and they see what we're doing and they're like, "All right, this is cool." They like us, and I think they understand a little bit more, right away, what we're trying to do. I mean, this is a different question, but people aren't exactly beating the doors down to find a church. I mean, that's another topic.

Nick:                So we have the sociological phenomenon of less people wanting to connect with the church, and then on top of it, we're starting churches that are actually asking more of people in a "your way, right away" culture, make everything easier, make everything more efficient. These are huge priorities in our Western context today, and you're inviting people in to something that's going to be harder, but you're also saying, "In the long run, this is going to be very meaningful for you and your family." So how do you take people from ... whatever. Have you seen anyone shift from being a shallow consumer of religious products to actually finding meaning within Lightshine?

Rob:                 Yes, for sure.

Nick:                What was that like?

Rob:                 Honestly, it's one of the more gratifying things, to see that kind of transition take place, because we're just not ... we're small and we're not a staff-driven church. So what we say is, if we want to grow and do things, whatever that is, one, the vision, that vision for starting new things, can come from anywhere, which is, to me, that's really exciting. I mean, half of the time, it doesn't come from me, which, I find that ... first of all, it's kind of liberating for me. I don't have to be responsible for every single thing that happens.

Rob:                 A lot of ministries or ways that we connect with our community, that they start from someone else having a vision or gifts or a passion for something, and then the church getting behind them and supporting them. We've developed a couple of really good partnerships because of the gifting and passions of people in the congregation. So yeah, watching people go from, right, kind of spectator, consumer of religion, to participating in something and watching what happens to that person, they come alive, they've got purpose and meaning, and then to have the church support those folks in what they're doing is really exciting.

Rob:                 And stuff wouldn't get done. If we were relying on one full-time staff person, and two five-hour-a-week employees, and one part-time worship leader, I mean, what can really get done? What can we accomplish? So we rely on ... and we talk about this all the time, pretty much every Sunday we say something about just asking for folks to consider their participation and where they might fit in, because nothing happens without people stepping up and making it happen.

Bethany:          Can you talk a little bit about ... because I feel like there's the one thing of other people's expectations of what church needs to be, but then maybe when you're the one running that vision and sometimes coming up against resistance or things that feel hard, can you talk a little bit about your own spiritual practices or different kinds of things that allow you to swim upstream at times when you feel pressures to conform, and what are the things that keep you on track, vision-wise, with what you feel like God is calling you to?

Rob:                 Yeah, that's a great question, because I often do feel that way, and it is a bit of swimming upstream, which, I'll just say that, by nature, I'm a upstream swimmer, by nature, so I actually I like that anyway, and I'm used to it, and I was ... I was like that long before I was a church planter, so that does not bother me, swimming upstream, and doing different things, and going against the grain a little bit, thinking outside ... Those things are a little bit natural, but dealing with the expectations adds a different element to it.

Rob:                 And so, I think, what are my spiritual practices? Solitude and quiet works maybe really ... may be the best thing for me. I'm also a little introverted, so it does me good physically, but spiritually, to just slow myself down, sit, and be quiet in prayer. But those quiet times, where I'm by myself, are extremely important to me. I don't know that I'd do well without them. Probably the other thing is, I would consider it a spiritual practice, I'm not sure that others would, is exercise. I have to do stuff, whatever it is, and to be honest, I'm not sure that it matters too much what I do. But that solitude and activity, kind of the opposites, I need to hit both of those things.

Rob:                 Something else that's really important to me is having some kind of mentors and folks that ... where sometimes, especially being a suburban planter, it goes to an earlier question, too, is I'm a little bit isolated geographically from, say, my church planting peers here in the city. So just having this group ... So this would be actually good for CLA. The Cyclical group is actually really important to me, so I actually take that really seriously, and it's a commitment for me, just to get there, but it's important to me also, because those folks actually really help me do what I do better. I think that's just simple things like that, that practice is real important to me.

Bethany:          How so? What is helpful about getting together with the other church planters?

Rob:                 Yeah. Well, there's a lot of things. One, there's some, just, friendship, camaraderie, but also, if I have questions or I'm trying to figure something out, that's the group of people that I will go to, and pull someone aside, and say, "Hey, do you have 30 minutes? I'd like to run through a problem or something I'm dealing with." Those folks have been the most helpful to me, so that's probably the biggest thing, right there. I use my Cyclical folks for all kinds of things like that. I learn. I mean, I learn a lot. That's where I really learn about ... I make mistakes or I can't figure something out, that's who I go to, to get some guidance.

Nick:                What's interesting is so much time goes into gathering the best trainers for a Cyclical LA starters' lunch, or putting together the most thoughtful meeting for the discerners, and I'm pretty sure ... I mean, I haven't been a part of this for a while now ... that when it comes down to it ... I'll speak in hyperbole ... no one really remembers the training. No one really remembers the sweet programing. No one really remembers the thoughtful meeting that was constructed. What people remember is the mutual relationships with other people around the table, a sense of normalcy, perhaps, in life, where we feel so different because not very many people understand why we're doing what we're doing, as people who are starting churches. And then, yeah, the encouragement, what we learn from each other, all feels to be really essential.

Rob:                 Yeah, that's good.

Bethany:          And just to throw out something, at a Cyclical starters' lunch that ... an activity we did once that was super helpful, I remember ... and it kind of goes to your point, Rob, about the fact ... leaning on each other. We had this thing where, I don't even remember ... Nick, you led it, so I don't remember the specifics, but it was like, take 30 seconds to say a problem that you're dealing with at your church right now, and then we'll take two minutes where all the other starters at the table are just going to throw out a bunch of options and solutions and ideas.

Bethany:          That was so awesome. I mean, that was really a sense of, there is so much collected wisdom and experience at this table, that, like, we had the most random ... I mean, I'm not going to name people's issues, but we had totally diverse issues people were dealing with, but for every single one, there were people that were, like, had thoughts, ideas, and that is such a rich and rare thing to be able to experience, so I'm totally with you on that.

Rob:                 Yeah, I remember that, too.

Nick:                Well, as much as I'd like to keep talking about Cyclical LA and meetings, just back to Rob and back to now being at, what are you, year five in Lightshine?

Rob:                 Yes.

Nick:                So you're five. You've done the work of producing other people who start churches. You've partnered in starting other churches. You've started this very successful program with the school. You've been faithful, Sunday in and Sunday out, showing up and preaching. You've developed all sorts of spaces for people to connect with the church again. So you've done all these things and we celebrate that.

Nick:                I'm interested in some of the adaptations you've made to keep the church moving forward, to transition some of your initial thoughts. It's easy to put together a initial vision. It's easy to even maybe try to execute that initial vision. The challenge, to me, comes in when you then need to adapt and change from your initial ideas. So can you tell maybe a story, or just some frameworks, for how you've adapted, now you're five, six, with Lightshine?

Rob:                 Sure. I think some of our adaptations ... like one I would highlight would be the stewardship financial piece. I think we've learned some things along the way because that's been one of our biggest challenges. You've got your grants and things that help you get started, you get a little bit of support, and very quickly, that support is dwindled down to nothing, I think in our case by the end of year three, and then year four and five, we've been on our own. But the challenge is, is the lines of giving, so if you're looking at graph, right, our giving line has gone up for five consecutive years, which is wonderful, but it's just below what we need.

Rob:                 So we've had to learn, and I've actually learned quite a bit about this from other folks. As a leader, one thing I learned, I remember I kind of pulled some folks together to help me think through this, which is not my area, as you know. Not my area of expertise, the numbers thing and the ... I'm not real interested in it, but you have to be-

Nick:                Hey, Rob, what's 56 minus 39?

Rob:                 I don't know. I'm not doing it. I'm not doing it. I'm not going to play this game. But that's the thing. Honestly, that's one of the things I had to learn, is because it's important, I do have to care about it. So I do care about it now, and I've actually learned some things from folks in our congregation.

Rob:                 Like one really entrepreneurial guy, when I was meeting with him about it, he said, "Do you understand your constituency, like, who's giving and what they're giving?" And I said, "No, I don't look, so I have no idea what people do." It was for a valid reason, or something I thought was for a valid reason, I didn't want to be influenced by money and by what people give. This guy just looked at me, and I'll never forget his quote, he said, "As an entrepreneur," he said, "You are an entrepreneur," he said, "You can't not know what people are doing." Those kind of things like that, I've learned some things along the way. I think that's one important thing.

Rob:                 Maybe another adaptation is, so when you first start, you have this collective discern vision of who you're trying to reach, but that's not necessarily who you end up reaching. So I think one of the things we've learned is, and we're just in this process right now of looking at this much closer, saying, you know, we thought we were designing what we were doing together to reach this kind of person, and we're connecting better with a different type of person than we set out to reach.

Rob:                 So what does that mean for us? I don't know the answer, I'm not going to answer it. I'm just going to say that these are the kind of adaptations that you have to learn from these things, and it will require us to change some things that we do. Exactly how or what that'll look like, I don't know yet, but our leadership team is looking into answering questions like that, because things change. I mean, they change rapidly, and you try things and they fail, and then you decide not to do that again, then you move on, you try something else. We're constantly adapting and trying new things, and the good thing is it's easy to do in a church plant because it's part of who we are and what we do.

Nick:                You can set that DNA early on.

Rob:                 Early on. It's normal.

Nick:                We're going to be a group that's consistently changing in our dynamic culture and context. Yeah.

Rob:                 Yeah, and if it fails, it's not that big a deal because you just try something new, and everyone moves on, and we try a different thing. Yeah.

Bethany:          So, Rob, just as we're finishing up here, I think I'm just wondering, as you reflect on five years in, what are some insights or just ways of being, as a church starter leader, that you might want to share with people who are earlier in the journey or just thinking about it? What are some insights or gifts you feel like you'd like to share with people who are earlier in their ...

Rob:                 Right. Yeah, that's great. Maybe two things come to mind. The first is something that really interests me with church planting is community discernment and doing some of that work together. I've seen a number of planters not do that, and that can sometimes have a different effect later on. So something that I think was really important to what we did was trying to discern that vision together. I remember people telling me about the statistics on how many folks will eventually leave your team, and drop off and whatever, and I think part of that has to do with the ... discerning stuff together and having people's voices heard, listened to, in that community discernment process, and I think we did a pretty good job of that.

Rob:                 My recommendation to someone thinking through this is, how do you do that well and make sure that voices are heard, and people are listened to, and that those ideas are really enfolded into that discernment process of how the church is going to move forward together? I think that was important, something that was important to me and to us, because I think all of our original team, if they haven't moved away for work, they're still with us. So I think we did something well there, that's worth more thought, and I haven't given it a lot of thought, but it's just something that I think we did pretty well.

Rob:                 The other thing I think we do really well is, and that interests me, and I think maybe it's ... this is maybe one of my few strengths. Something that really interests me as a church planter is making friends and connections outside of the church, in the community. Not necessarily every connection being made ... as a matter of fact, it's definitely not with the expectation that someone is going to come join with us. I mean, I've done it long enough to know that that's not how it works, and that if you want to talk about discipleship in a new church start, it's extremely slow, which is fine. But making friends is easy, and helping to shape and change people's view of the church is, it's difficult because ... I mean, there are plenty of reasons, like the pastor who just wanted to buy a $54 million Learjet, right. That kind of stuff works against-

Bethany:          For sure.

Rob:                 ... people like me and what we're trying to do. So it takes a lot of work to ... but it's one person at a time, saying that church is different than Learjets, and that I don't need a $54 million plane to point people to Jesus.

Rob:                 Personally, I love doing that. I like making those connections with folks in the community and just helping them see the church differently. And then if they are someone that might be interested in church, maybe, at some point, God nudges them to come find us. But I think making friends, and building those kind of relationships, and helping change people's perception of what church is, is something that we do pretty well, or maybe I do that pretty well as a leader, and I try to help other people be able to do that as well.

Bethany:          Can you maybe share a story of a time you've done that recently with somebody in your community? Like, who are we talking about? Like, your barista or your librarian? Who are the people you're talking about?

Rob:                 Well, I'll give you a good story from a couple of years ago. You mentioned barista, so I would frequent a particular little family-run coffee shop, but I was there all the time. So when I was planting, instead of going there as an introvert to study, which is, let's say that's what ... I did that for a long time. I actually started going there when I was in seminary, so this is a special place for me, right, and I'd study there for hours and hours because I needed the caffeine. But I began to look at that place differently once I started learning and understanding more about missional church planting.

Rob:                 So I began to see that place as, wow, maybe I'm supposed to be paying better attention to people, and that transformed my whole outlook on that third space idea, that I wasn't just there for me, but I was there also to make connections and build relationships, be a friend, and just be a part of a community, which, I was there all the time anyway, I just wasn't seeing it that way. So I kind of began to just have a really short little prayer, you know, "Help me be open to people today when I go here."

Rob:                 It was kind of strange but it wasn't too long after that, that ... Everybody knew what I did. They all knew I was a pastor anyway, because I see them every day, and I talked to them. I was always friendly. I'm a friendly person. But then I started having people say, "You know what? I'm going through a divorce, I'm having trouble with my teenage kid, would you mind talking to me about it?" This kind of stuff started happening with some frequency, and it never happened before being a little bit more intentional and open to, I think, what God was looking for from me, as a church planter, in trying to connect better with the community.

Rob:                 So now I just have a different outlook in public spaces like that. I'm more open to those kind of things because of experiences like that, so I'm now much more intentional about them, and I love it because I love people, so it makes perfect sense.

Bethany:          Totally. It makes sense that God is already at work in the world and so-

Rob:                 Right, asking me to join with God in what God's already up to.

Bethany:          Yeah.

Rob:                 Right, and having that outlook is just true, but am I willing to join God in what God's already up to? Now the answer is yes, so ... and that changes things.

Nick:                Right, for sure.

Bethany:          Yeah, it's a beautiful thing. Thanks.

Rob:                 Yeah, absolutely.

Bethany:          Rob, thank you for being here. Rob of Lightshine Church, thanks for talking with us today. It's been great to hear more of your story. I also want to give thanks to Stratton, our EP, and to Jennifer, our producer. Also, big thanks to Our Time Group for hosting the space where we've been recording, and just thanks to all of you for listening and joining us today. Have a great day. Bye.