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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Interview with Chicago Church Planter Rick Kuhr

Recently I interviewed Rick Kuhr who planted a church in Chicago and started gathering people in January 2007. Rick is 32, married and has a daughter. Checkout this podcast and learn from Rick's church planting experiences.

You can use the player on the right to listen to the most recent podcast, download the church planting interview or read below.

: How did you know you were called to plant a church in Chicago? Why did you pick Chicago?

Rick: I did a year of mission work in Spain and after that year I knew I wanted to be in a place that was needy spiritually. Chicago is one of those is short on the national average when it comes to churches and there is a lack of witness in that city.

Matt: Were there people that God used or events to help shape your vision for Chicago? Or was it more like, "this place needs God, so lets go." ?

Rick: I had a friend who was planting in Boulder CO and had asked me to come with him. I wasn't sure but I knew wherever I went I would need to be called by God, I wasn't going to move my family if I wasn't called. One day, this friend who had asked me to go with him said, "Rick you need to be unleashed from this. You just got to do what you have to do." And for the guy who had asked me to go to release me, that was huge. He encouraged me to get involved in Chicago. I called the national church director for church planting (for The Vineyard) in Chicago and asked if they were doing in work in the UIC area. That ended up being the only area they were doing work in at that time. So that was a big confirmation. A year before I had been praying and actually asked my wife what she thought about planting in the UIC area and then that was the only area they were planting in. After doing bible studies on the campus for 3-4 years and asking college students what churches were there, I realized that people would travel 4-5 if not 10-12 miles to go to church! I thought that was a little crazy and saw that the need was there. I found out there are smaller churches in the area but none of them are being a strong witness in that area. So we decided to do it!

Matt: When you got on the ground, how did you go about launching the church?

Rick: We did it a little differently. Usually a leader will gather a team and then they will go out. I came in on the middle of everything. The Hyde Park Vineyard had organized it without a leader and I found out about it after it had already started forming. I operate quite relationally so that was different because I didn't have much chance to get to know people I just felt called to the area and that was prodded me to interact with people. It was really the Hyde Park Vineyard who really had gathered some people who would be committed to the plant, so that is how we originally got together. Personally, I did not do much of the gathering. A lot of the people came through the UIC bible study which I had been involved with.

Matt: How many people did you have in that initial group? How did you get the word out amongst non Christians in the area?

Rick: Part of our vision is connecting people to Jesus. We try to focus everything we do to be centered on relationships. So we did kind of everything in the beginning, from doing water giveaways, handing out flowers, door to door prayer. and flyers. Ideally people to come because they know someone. Other people have come because we have been active in the community, being aware of people, talking to people on the streets, really founding that vision of being interactive and aware of what is going on. We have done pizza at a park where there are homeless and different things like that.

Matt: How many people are you gathering right now?

Rick: Well, Chicago is really transient so our numbers can be low because we are in the university area. Last week we had 15 the week before we had 27. So, our average is somewhere in between there.

Matt: You are bi-vocational (working full time job and planting a church) how do you manage your time? How does that affect your life and your ministry?

Rick: A mentor of mine says in church planting you either struggle financially or with your time and if you are bi vocational you typically aren't going to have the financial stress but you will have the time stress. We already lived in the area and I already had a job so for me it really comes down to time stewardship. I have to take advantage of every second I can. So, when I walk to work I talk to people. I usually engage with them using a question that goes along with the theme for the coming Sunday or the time of year. My commute is 15 min so I take advantage of it and talk to people about Jesus. It is doing stuff I already do but incorporating Jesus into it. I try to multi-task and be effective. I make sure that I get time with God, ultimately that is what will effect me, my family and the people I talk to. My second priority is my family, if my family health is not doing well that will effect the overflow of me being able to love other people.

Matt: How do you find time for the church and preparing messages during the week?

Rick: My main gifting is evangelism, so apart from my walking to and from work I would spend an additional 2 hours talking with people on the streets, getting into conversations. I make sure I am consistently in the word because the directly effects everything that we do and I believe it is good to speak on a Sunday what God has been speaking to you, so that is something I make sure to do. Usually, since we have a baby, I study late at night. I don't get the most sleep. It really comes down to time stewardship. I try to utilize every moment I have during the day, from meeting up with people on my lunch breaks to praying or reading the word.

Matt: What do you do for work?

Rick: I am a personal banker. Which is great because I've been able to talk to a lot of people about Jesus. In my work I talk a lot with other people about daily life, so I am able to bring Jesus into the conversation quite easily. The whole idea of being bi-vocational is not appealing to me because I see it more as a way of life. We are all ministers of Jesus.

Matt: What other challenges have you faced? What have been some of your lows and how have you pushed through them?

Rick: I am an off the scale extrovert and have always operated out of relationship with people. So, it has been hard for me is having come into the middle of a plant where I don't know anyone, they don't know me. I had not been around long enough for people to see my actions, because actions speak louder than words. So, it can be hard to speak into people's lives when they haven't had time to really see what you are about. Second difficulty has been we had a lot of individuals who had a lot of great ideas and because I came in later in the process I think that was something that was difficult. It was a situation where the leader wasn't established. People had their own ideas, their own agenda and when that didn't pan out to be the way that the plant was going to be that was very disappointing for them, which was then expressed to me or other individuals, which was hard.

I look at church planting can be a little bit like the bi-polar disorder-everything is magnified. The great things are incredible and the victories are awesome but the defeats are in the valley, they are deep. So where there is a lack of consistency or history there is those real highs and real lows and that is something I have really had to work through. My calling here is something that I am convinced that God has given me. And through human eyes success in a church plant would be getting the church going, getting all the activities and ministries in place and having that fly. In reality, if God calls us to an area, we need to be committed to that. God honors our obedience. We could look at church plants and think, "o they don't have this going or that going." But it is in the process that we are able to love God, that is what is important. I just heard about a guy who is planting out in Montana and things have flopped from a financial standpoint and almost ruined him. It you find your value in how your church then you've missed it. It is about the kingdom of God advancing and being obedient to him. Church planting is so intense and you can be so caught up in your own little world rather than focusing on the big picture and advancing the kingdom.

Matt: What have been some of the highlights/victories for you?

Rick: We have had homeless people come to our gathering, which is cool. About a month ago we had a meeting where 1/2 of the people there were either Latino, African American or Asian. For me to get to a point where we see a diverse group is exciting! My wife and I are both Caucasian, so sometimes it can be difficult to get people to come in a multi-diverse, multi-economic area when you look different to them. It is important to have different ethnicity's on your team because that communicates to people who are different to you that they are welcome. So, that has been really exciting.

Another guy came in off the streets, and we helped him get a place at the YMCA. We helped him a job situation, transportation and he has come and we helped him get established. Talk about social justice and ministering to the heart and spirit of an individual. I have not heard of to many stories of churches seeing someone so broken being redeemed in that type of way. He is helping us with music and serving in the church he is part of the community. It is obviously hard work and a huge investment but really encouraging. A lot of the conversations on the streets have been incredible. One question I have asked is "what makes people selfish?" I had 2 conversations yesterday about this questions and they were incredible. I think people like dealing with that question regardless about where they are on the spiritual spectrum because they realize selfishness is a problem and they want to overcome it. But, touching on those issues that are at the core who we as humans are. People are aggressive about lust and pornography and anger and jealousy, different things in how they live their lives. I believe we can be aggressive about living a life of love. I believe we can be confrontational with love.

Matt: How has God provided for you in terms of finances for the church? How have you covered your costs?

Rick: We have been really blessed in this area! It is pretty simple, I don't get a salary and we don't pay for our location. We are in the same location as another church, which is a huge blessing. They said to us that we could use their place, they want to use their facility for the advancement of the kingdom. I am sure it happens but I have never heard a church receiving a blessing like that. We are incredibly blessed to be the recipient of that. So, we don't have any huge costs. That makes things pretty easy. A lot of our money goes to outreach. We have a different starting time, we start at 4.30pm and we are thinking of that for a long term basis due to people's work schedule. But, anyways, we actually get together afterwards to have a bite to eat. And coming back to community, living life together and the vision to actually see that accomplished we use that as an opportunity to get to know people. And those who come and eat, for the most part, we buy them dinner. So, a lot of the money that we spend is on things like that.

Matt: What is your vision for Chicago? What plans do you have to expand?

Rick: Our vision is to connect people to Jesus, in a general sense. And that looks like, sharing life with people. I think sometimes with churches they can go for social justice but it turns into social gospel...where it is not ministering to the whole of the person, but they just talk about the spiritual aspect. Those things are all connected and we can forget to help out the physical needs. So we want to be a community that is able to merge that. Not neglecting social justice and also addressing the real issue of the spirit being redeemed. So, community, meeting the needs of the whole person, and also being really into the scripture, really understanding it. We want to be expectant for God to speak, for him to guide us and lead us but doing that with the foundation of the word. Having that mix, kind of a double barrel action.

Matt: I am doing a church planting internship, in St. Louis. You are already doing the stuff, out in the field. What would be your advice for me?

Rick: I would encourage and challenge you to have a team. The research that has been done shows that if you don't have a team you are setting yourself up for disaster. So, I would challenge you to bring a team, people that will help you along the way. Make sure you love God and loving Jesus and loving people as the main thing. Also, maintain that balance. We are useless as followers of God if we forget that we are following God. It may sound obvious, but if we are not receiving, others can't receive from us as easy. We need to be able to have a balance with our family, our wives. There is a huge witness in loving our wives and loving our families. That responsibility in the community needs accountability. You need an established overseer. Those would be my advices. Go with where you are strong. My most recent blog is about we as individuals are meant to live in co-dependence with God and others to advance the kingdom.

Matt: Rick, thank you so much for your time, I so appreciate it.


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