Episode 2: Tim Morey
Nick: Welcome everyone to the Start in LA podcast. Start in LA is a local conversation on starting new churches hosted by Cyclical LA and the Fuller church planting program. We’re so glad that you’re listening with us. We have a couple of announcements before we begin with our close friend and colleague, Tim Morey. Stratton, the executive producer of this reminded me to make sure and tell everyone to sign up on the mailing list of the Start in LA website. If you’d like more information on Start in LA, that’s startinla.com. Also, from the Cyclical LA end, we hope that you’ll join us for the starters’ lunch, which is the first Wednesday of the month at Golden Road Brewery from noon to 1:30, or the discerners’ dinner, which is the third Wednesday of the month at Little Beast in Eagle Rock. Bethany, do you have any other announcements that you would like to share with us?
Bethany: No, but thank you for asking.
Nick: Yeah, you’re welcome. With that said, this is Dr. Bethany McKinney Fox, so she’ll be co-hosting with me today. Would you like to introduce yourself?
Bethany: Yes, that’s me, Bethany McKinney Fox. I’m here, and excited to be talking with all of you today along with my friend and co-host, Nick Warnes.
Nick: Hi. Yeah, I’m Nick, I’m the executive director of Cyclical Incorporated, and we hope to partner with lots of people to start lots of churches. Bethany, would you tell us a little bit about yourself before we get going with Tim?
Bethany: Sure. So, my full time job is working right now at Fuller Seminary as the director of student success. My main role being to make sure that our programs and courses are accessible for students with disabilities. Then I’m also in the midst of starting a church, we’ve just began meeting, called Beloved Everybody Church. It’s a church that’s collaboratively led by people with and without intellectual disabilities. That’s a little bit about me.
Nick: Amazing. Tim, you’re with us today. We’re so glad that you’re here.
Bethany: Hi Tim.
Tim: Thank you. Thank you for having me, excited to be with you.
Nick: Would you take some time and tell us a little bit about yourself?
Tim: Sure. So, as mentioned, my name is Tim Morey, and I am a pastor and church planter. I started a church called Life Covenant Church in Florence, California 15 years ago. So, we’re still alive and kicking, which always feels like a win-
Tim: Yes. Every day that that’s true, it makes us happy. So, I’m married, I have a wife, Samantha. We’ve been married 21 years, and I’ve had two beautiful, little girls ages 13 and 10. I do other things too. I teach at Fuller, and write a little, and etcetera, etcetera.
Nick: What have you written?
Tim: I wrote a book called Embodying Our Faith with University Press. That is all about this idea that our most powerful apologetic in a post-Christian environment is the way that we live together as a church. Really taking that statement of Jesus where he talks about, “The world will know that you are my disciples by the way that you love one another.” Flushing that out for our context, and talking about how we can intentionally embed that into the life of the church.
Nick: Did you know that Tim wrote a book, Bethany?
Bethany: I didn’t, but you know what, I’m actually very intrigued by the fact that your church has been going strong for 15 years. I’m wondering if that’s connected to the content of the book that you just mentioned in terms of just how you embody following Jesus, and if that’s what you attribute, the fact that you guys have ... I guess some church startups ... 15 years just feels great-
Tim: Yeah. No, seriously.
Bethany: ... and I want to just know, reflecting on how did that happen, how have you been sustainable for 15 years?
Tim: Yeah. I think certainly, that’s a big part of it. Well, of course, and you all know this too, but it just feels like grace. On the one hand, there’s plenty of stories of churches who’ve done a lot more things right than we have, but haven’t gone as well. But yes, I do think the way that we structure the church around these ideas ... maybe one way to go at this that I think probably Start in LA listeners would relate to is, so the book was basically a reworking of my Doctor of Ministry dissertation, which I did at Fuller. I did that under Eddie Gibbs and Dallas Willard. So, for folks who are familiar with those names, mainly other pastors, that’s how I describe our church.
Say, if you take one part Eddie Gibbs, one part Dallas Willard, mix them together, shake it up, that’s Life Covenant. So, we’ve really leaned heavy into spiritual formation, and then attempted to leverage that into mission. So, that really becomes the fuel for the way that we live in the world, and hopefully, it’s coming from a deep place of connection with Jesus.
Nick: That’s something that I haven’t thought about, Tim, with regard to some of the current writing that you’re doing. This is really interesting, Bethany. So, this Embodying Our Faith book, I’ve commended to many of my friends, and everyone’s enjoyed it. I would commend it to you as well. So, that seems like a real active kind of posture for a way to do faith but the irony is that, Tim right now is also doing a lot of work on the health of people who are starting churches, and tying that to spiritual disciplines. So, I can see those coming together.
Like you said, it’s fuel, sounds like a really powerful place to build a church that’s already had a life cycle of 15 years, which is pretty amazing.
Tim: Yeah. My current writing project, or I guess there’s a couple that are kind of going on. You’re part of one of those too, Nick, we’re in it together. But I’m under contract with IVP again for a book, which right now, we’re calling the Spiritually Formed Church Planter. I don’t know if it’s still going to be called that by the time we get there, but that’s our working title. The idea of this is that we’re really looking at the inner life of the church planter. Of course, for any pastor, anyone in ministry, our own spiritual formation is critical to our leadership and what the end result, what the fruitfulness of our life is going to be. But specifically for church planters, looking at some of those dynamics that are maybe a little more unique to us as church planters where ... for instance, if you’re the pastor of an established church, then there’s some naturally built in safeguards for you, say in an area like power, right?
There’s already a board of elders, or the equivalent that was there before you got there. There’s already a history. Even if there’s no elders, even if it’s a purely pastor led church, still, that church has a way of doing things that was there before you got there. Those things become some natural checks and balances on the way that a pastor or leader wields his or her power. In the church plant, it’s all you. You’re the first one there. Depending on how well you give ministry away, there may or may not be other leaders, they may or may not be sufficiently empowered. Those kinds of questions. So, how does the pastor of a startup deal with power? How do they deal with their own ... shift to another topic but their own issues of ego?
In this unchecked environment, how do you take your ambition, which most church planters are naturally ambitious, how do you funnel that into some healthy directions as opposed to it going sideways? Anyway, that’s the kind of questions that are at the heart of this book.
Nick: So, what are some disciplines that you’ve implemented in your story that have helped you? You’re a very naturally humble guy with a humble posture. But from the experiences that I’ve had in helping to partner start a bunch of new churches, that’s not necessarily a common posture. So, what keeps you grounded, what keeps you humble in the disciplines that you practice?
Tim: Thank you for thinking of me that way. Let me list several, I guess, and then maybe if there’s something you want to hear about specifically but I would say some of the practices that have been most essential for me, and that I recommend to the church planters that we work with too, which I should mention as well, I suppose. Also, Life Covenant Church has been a church planting church, so we’re connected to other churches in that way too. But-
Nick: We should talk about more of that in a minute.
Tim: Okay. We’ll come back to that. For me, just to name a few that have been critical. Solitude, taking daily, and monthly, and annual times of solitude, and building those into my rhythm of life has been essential. Meditation and scripture. Sabbath keeping has been huge. You both know, just the burn out rate for pastors in general is so high. For church planters, it’s even steeper. That’s another thing that we’re focusing on a lot in this next book. That’s been key. Another one has been being in spiritual direction. We actually recommend that all of our pastors be either in spiritual direction, or therapy at all times. You don’t wait until you break that you just build this in on the front end.
One that was not part of this for me when I started, but has become very life giving since then is just diet and exercise. Approaching that as a spiritual discipline, not just a physical practice, but as an act of stewardship. That’s been very tremendous and has made my top five or top six disciplines too.
Bethany: So, I’m interested in this both ... so, I guess the tension between this book that you’re writing on disciplines, and ways for a planter to be caring for themselves spiritually, and being healthy spiritually and things like that. And your first statement about your church, and its longevity, which was ... it’s about grace. So, I’m just wondering about this tension between, “We’re going to all screw up, and we’re not going to abide by the healthy habits of a church planter all the time.” Just like you were saying, there are other churches who did everything right or “right”, whatever that means. But yeah, I’m just wondering about how you see that tension between both acknowledging that we’re just dependent on some stuff that we have no control over and the movement of the spirit, and these proactive stances we take to our own development, to how we structure the church, that kind of stuff.
How do you go in and out of that relationship between those two things, or how do you think about that?
Tim: Yeah. Well, Dallas Willard has this statement I heard him make many times where ... try to say it right and not botch it. But he says that grace is opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning. I think about that on many different dimensions, but as a church leader, I think, “Okay, ultimately, I’m responsible to know as much as I can, to seek out as much wisdom as I can from spirit, and from my peers, and to make the best choices, which best position us to do well. To be fruitful and to last a long time.” But then I think also, there’s a humility inside of that where I have to acknowledge that the spirit blows where it will. Moreover, I think of Paul in Corinthians, where he says ... I’m paraphrasing him here, but he says that only God brings the growth. That we’re responsible to sell, or to water, whatever our particular role is, but only God brings the growth.
So, I feel that. Usually, I feel it from a place of peace. Sometimes, I feel it from a place of anxiety. Maybe depending on where the church is at. We’ve had three distinct times in the life of the church where I didn’t think we would make it, where I thought, “Yeah, somewhere in the next 12 months, we’re going to be shutting this down. Even 15 years old, I’m not convinced we won’t have another one of those. But all those are out of my control, right? That’s part of the grace part I suppose. All I can do is try to live close enough to Jesus that I show up being the best leader I can be, and bring that to bear on the church.
Nick: Why don’t you tell us a little more about Life Covenant Church? It’s birth, specifically for the context of Start in LA. We’re looking to grab multiple narratives from multiple perspectives, and just a mutual learning regarding how churches go from zero to one, how they actually find their start. Would you share a little bit about how you went from zero to one with Life Covenant?
Tim: Yeah. I was very blessed in that ... part of my journey too is for maybe five, six years, I worked for a denomination as well, in their church planting arm. Just part time is where we’re doing Life Covenant.
Nick: That’s the Evangelical Covenant Church.
Tim: Thank you for that. Evangelical Covenant Church, great, great tribe, and wonderful church planters. For a few years, I had the privilege of being the director of our church planter assessment system. In that, one of the things that we’re always looking in churches of whatever kind were, what are this person’s gathering gifts like? One of the ironies for me in that is, I don’t think gathering is one of my strongest gifts. So, we try to factor this in to church planting projects. What’s the best way for this person to gather? Some people are amazing. You could just drop them in the middle of say, Topeka, Kansas, and they’ve never been there before, and a church will happen. I’m not that person.
So, for me, part of what we were thinking about when we were starting Life Covenant was who’ll be the best people to start with. I was very blessed to have served as a college pastor at a large church in a neighboring city, and developed a number of relationships there. That church was gracious to say, “If there are 20, 25 people that would like to come with you, you can do that.” So, we started with about 20 people that we had personally invested in over the course of three to five years. So, that zero to one was covered for us in I think a pretty gracious way. In my gift, in my wiring, that’s a pretty good place for me. I’m kind of a slow mover, both in ministry life, and in physical life. I’m a long distance runner, so thinking about, “Okay, what’s a sustainable pace over time to walk with people over the course of years, build into them slowly, and then be able to do something significant within its ...” It’s really how we run the church now, and that’s how we started too.
Bethany: What was you impetus to start a church? What made you decide to do that?
Tim: Yeah. What makes any of us decide to do this? It’s nutty, it really is. What were we thinking? For me, it really started in seminary. So, I went to seminary in San Diego, Bethel Seminary in San Diego, and at the time, I was a pastoral intern at a large church right next to a university campus. We were always trying to think through, “How do we better reach these college students?” I was just out of college myself too. That’s the church that I started walking with Christ out while I was in college. So, here I am serving on this church staff, it’s a 100 year old church, and I’m discovering that I am really ineffective at changing the culture of this church, much to my surprise because I thought the ideas were fabulous. But, when it came time to implement it, it was pretty tough.
So, in the midst of this, I think my own wrestling of, what kind of pastor am I supposed to be, this idea of church planting was introduced to me, and I’d never heard of it, which seems weird now, all these years later where it’s very common but [crosstalk 00:18:12].
Nick: We still have [inaudible 00:18:13] that we press on all the time is that starting new churches is still too extra ordinary. It’s still so far at the edges of the bell curve for most ecclesial contexts, and how do we re-normalize this work? That’s something that ... however we can continue to do that work together, I think will be important.
Tim: Well, I’m glad you say that. I think you’re right. When I first started thinking about this, the only church planter that I knew of was a guy named [inaudible 00:18:38], who was doing something in San Dimas, California with younger adults. He was the only model that I had at that point. He’s a good model, thankfully. But for me, to your question, Bethany, the impetus really came out of the combination of this desire that these younger adults would be reached with the gospel in a way that made sense to them. I didn’t have the language of contextualization yet, but it was a contextualization question. How can we be radically faithful to the gospel? How can we live by the scriptures, and do it well? But do it in a way that’s going to make sense? That’s going to come in the heart language of the students?
This burden coincided with my discovery that I’m really bad at doing this in an established context. What would it look like if we started something ourselves?
Nick: What are some of the differences that you see, for people who are listening, and maybe considering doing existing church ministry versus potentially starting a new church, how can we compare and contrast those?
Tim: I think there’s a number of ways. One of the things, and for me, this goes back to some of the work we are doing assessment to, is we ask the question, is this a person who feels comfortable starting with a blank slate, and building something from that, or will they do better if they start where there’s already some infrastructure around them? It’s a tricky question because most church planters in my experience aren’t necessarily good at infrastructure. Strategy is a piece that might there, might not be there. Administration is rarely there. In fact, it’s a running joke in assessment. When you say [crosstalk 00:20:33].
Nick: Another ENFP.
Tim: Right, right. Exactly. We’re profiling people in every which way. But I think that’s one of the questions I like to ask people who are considering a church plant is, when you picture yourself pastoring a church, what does that look like? As their vision comes out, one of the things I’m listening for is how much structure is already there. How much structure is assumed versus how much are they going to have to start, and are they going to be good at that, or is that just going to be an albatross hanging around their neck.
Nick: This is something that was really important for Northland Village Church, is we started that eight years ago. Tim has been a mentor of mine throughout our time in starting Northland Village Church. Something that we noted was our gratefulness for actually starting a church with the Peace USA, with the Presbyterian Church because of the infrastructure that was just built in right away. We didn’t have choices with regard to the polity and the governance. We didn’t have to make any decisions, it was just like, this is what we’re doing, and people hopped on board with that.
There’s so many wheels that we have to start when we’re starting a church. To not have the wheel of understanding how we would essentially make decisions together, how power would be used was really nice for us.
Tim: Right. I think that’s a great example. The issue of polity, how will we function together as a leadership body within this church is a really important question. Also, questions of ministries. What are going to be the engines that make this church go? This isn’t true across the board but often enough that I think you can generalize. Many church planters overly rely on their charisma, on their personality to drive this thing forward. That’s great as long as it’s great, but it wears off, right? Eventually it wears off, and eventually, as leader, you tire out. So-
Nick: It’s also not sustainable to reproduce within. If we can set a DNA that’s more replicable, that might be helpful.
Tim: That’s right because then everything bottlenecks at the church planter, right? So, one of the questions we try to ask early on, and this is ... actually, a lot of what we’re doing in that book, Embodying Our Faith, is asking the question, what are the ministry structures that will further embed the values into this church that we’re hoping to embed, and continue to be the engine that drives that forward as opposed to the personality of the church planner?
Bethany: Can you share maybe a couple of those ministry structures that you started with at the beginning that are still in place, and maybe one or two that had to be discarded because they were not functioning the way that you wanted them to?
Tim: Yeah, sure. So, at the start, and still, we try to take a very simple approach to the way that we do church. So, we tell everybody, “If Life Covenant is your home, there are four involvements that we want you in.” We tell them, “This is both for your own spiritual formation and also these become our vehicles for outreach as well.” So, we tell them we want them to be part of the worship gatherings part of Sunday. We try to help teach, okay, this is what we benefit from that. This is the importance of this piece of the puzzle. We want them to be involved in some kind of a smaller group in the church as well. We have small groups, bible studies, that kind of thing. Also mentoring relationships, hospitality dinners. There’s a small bucket that goes into that category.
We want them to be in an environment where they will be known well, and knowing others well. We want them involved in ministries of compassion, mercy, and justice, and there’s another bucket for that. There’s four, five principle ways that we involve ourselves in our community that way. Then other than more peripheral, somebody says, “I’d rather do this.” We’re like, “Dude, go. Do it.”
Then the fourth is just their own practice of ... we call them the personal spiritual disciplines, but things like solitude, and meditation, and Sabbath, and all these things. So, those four have been really important for us.
Nick: Was that from day one you had those implemented?
Tim: That was from day one, yeah. Yeah, that was from day one. Actually, those four have remained throughout our lifetime. There’s been a little bit of this and that on the periphery that we’ve done that hasn’t lasted but those have been pretty consistent. Those also ... at least those first three, those are also the ways that people come into our church as well. So, church people, the church people, we track this, and over time, 50% of those who have come into the church, it’s been through Sundays, 25% has been through small groups, 25% has been through ministries of compassion and justice. So, that factors into how we train our people too. Say, as you’re praying for that friend, you need to be asking the question as they start to show some spiritual hunger, what’s the best place for me to plug them into?
Are they at a place where they want to hear the faith taught? Or maybe the musical or sacramental experience of a Sunday morning is going to be powerful for them then great, bring them to Sundays. On the other hand, if they would rather be set on fire than [inaudible 00:26:17] church, say, don’t invite them to Sundays, that is bad evangelism, don’t do it. But maybe they’re hungering for community. Maybe they want to be in a more dialogical setting where they can ask their questions, then bring them to your small group. Maybe they want neither of those, but they are that 30 year old who’s starting to figure out that there’s more to life than earning this paycheck, and some day retiring, and I want my life to make a difference. Good, bring them to family promise, bring them to something that we’re doing where we’re helping those who are poor.
Bethany: So, it there ... just a second part of the question. I think that for anybody who’s focused around practices ... I’m an ethicist, so I think a lot about practices, and virtues, and all those kinds of things. I feel like an important thing when you’re thinking about practices is stopping one, and when that isn’t working. So, those four that you mentioned from day one are still working, but was there ever ... what’s that discernment process like to find out what isn’t serving the community, and is there a story you can tell about that, and how that went for you, for the community. If it was a struggle, if it was clear, just how that went.
Tim: Yeah. I think of a few involvements in our community that didn’t last, and that either they fizzled out, or we ended up saying, “No, this isn’t a good use of our resources.” Maybe a different way of coming at that might make even more sense for our church though, is the things that we say no to. So, we try to have a pretty single-minded focus on what we do as a church. Really, the only thing in addition to those areas that I mentioned, we have a love for church planting. We started with a really nutty prayer, but we still pray it, that God would allow us in our lifetime to be part of planting 1000 churches. So, we started planting churches early, and then that includes our global work too.
We made a 20 year commitment to the country of Mozambique in Africa, and we’re I think about 11 years into that now. We’re planting churches there, and we have a couple of orphanages, and what not. But I think that one of the main reasons that we have been able to do fairly well in that so far is that we say no to almost everything outside of those areas that I mentioned. So, for instance, every couple of years, we kick around, do we need to have a dedicated men’s ministry, or dedicated women’s ministry? This might change in the future, but at least today, each time we’ve looked at that, we’ve said, “No. If we did that right now, it would pull people away from these other four involvements we want them in. And if we don’t have people in these other four involvements, it’s going to diminish our impact in the community, and it’s going to diminish our impact to plant churches.”
Hiring decisions. So, we’re a small church. Including our kids, there’s about 200 of us. The last year and a half is the first time I’ve had an associate pastor that I wasn’t actively trying to get rid of. Because our associate pastors have always been church planters that we’re mentoring. So, it’s been this revolving door process. We planned it that way, but we haven’t paid for a worship leader. We’ve also ... the first time in these last few years is the first time we’ve invested in a very serious way into our children’s ministry, and a person now for that, and what not. Yeah. So, we’ve said no to a lot of things, more than stopped things that we started doing, and discovered they didn’t work.
Nick: Quick jump into you and your leadership, and Life Covenant’s work with starting churches. I know that there is not a certain equation that you’ve been following to start churches, and the multiple contexts that you’ve been starting churches. Can you tell us about some of the different churches that you’ve been working to start, and how those have rolled out?
Tim: Yeah. So, that’s really been a grace for us too. Again, we started the church with this prayer, and with this dream that we would be able to be a church planting church. So, we literally started praying about that at our very first meeting. People who were there tell me the church was about 10 minutes old when I brought up the idea of the next church. Then we just went eyes open, “God, what are you going to bring to us?” We had a guy and his wife come to the church probably around the end of year one. A pastor who was between churches, and somebody had recommended to he and his wife, and said, “This is probably a good place for you to come, and just sit, heal a bit, get ready to see what God has for you next.”
He ended up being our first church planter. So, the church was about two years old when we planted Catalyst Covenant Church in Westchester. It was about a year later that we planted the next one. Both of these church planters ended up being on our staff for a season. We call it our church planter and residence. Training by immersion, we have them involved in everything. Then we, in partnership with our denomination plant them out, and we’ve been blessed to repeat that process a number of times now.
Bethany: Did you get that value just from ... that was inherent in the conversations like when you were introduced to church planting, that was how people framed it, was that you start a church, and form yourselves as a church to start churches, or did that value come from somewhere else?
Tim: Probably more from somewhere else. I think it was a combination of a couple of things. One was this missional burden. To see people reached that weren’t being reached, and a recognition that most churches, even if they would like to be a church that is able to reach everybody, usually isn’t able to reach everybody. Personally, I don’t think that’s a fluke. I think this is part of God’s design, part of why we need multiple churches. So, that was in the mix, was thinking, “All right, like it or not, I’m going to be better as a pastor at connecting with certain people. I won’t connect with others, how can we raise up others to connect with people that I won’t connect with?” Another part of it was probably ... well, I’ll say it was both theological and personal to my wiring.
So, prior to starting Life Covenant, I served in two other churches, one during seminary, one for five years after seminary. Both of those were churches of about 3,000 or so. Being in that, I certainly saw a lot of strengths in those churches. I’m not anti-big church by any stretch but I was discovering that for me, that wasn’t going to be the right path. I just wasn’t wired for that kind of ministry. At one of those churches, I became the fill-in for the senior pastor when he was away and on vacation. So, those weeks, I would preach for him on the weekends, and I’d be in Trader Joe’s on Monday. People I’d never met before would come up and say, “Hey, that was great. I was really blessed.”
On the one hand, I was really grateful for that, but on the other hand, I was like, “Man, I’m not sure that I’m wired right to pastor people that I don’t know. I think I’m going to need to be in a community that’s small enough that we’re able to know each other, and know each other’s stories. I know the names of the kids, or the people that are in my church, and I’m going to need that.” So, that was part of it, was the personal. Then theologically too, I really was coming to a place of thinking, “To make disciples the way that we want to make disciples, to see life on life interaction that leads to Jesus shaped transformation, I’m not sure we’re going to be able to do that in a church of that size and scope.”
Again, I think we need all churches, from mega to micro, I think we need them all. But for me, I thought, “No, this is the place I’m going to need to be.” So, we just started praying from day one, “God, if you bless us with growth, would you do it via multiplication instead of just becoming a bigger, and bigger church?”
Nick: This is a great place for Start in LA to have an extensive conversation. Hopefully, we get to talk about this over and over again in that we really want to embrace, and learn from different ecclesiologies. Like Tim said, if a planter or a team of people feel called by God ... I was at one last night, to do a house church, amen, glory to God. May that be true. But if the planter, and/or group of leaders feel called to start a large multi-staff church, amen, glory to God. How do we discern the Holy Spirit, and do that together? So, as we move forward with this, we should place Tim and Life Covenant’s guidance by the Holy Spirit into conversation with some of the other diverse planters that we’ll be working with. Also, again, I wonder if I’m going to harp on this all season long, the renormalization of starting churches.
You have to call yourself a church starting church, Tim, and that breaks my heart. I just wish that this was ... no, you are actually a real church. That’s a little bit too strong, that’s a bit too dualizing, and I wouldn’t say that in public context except this is super public. But if I’m using hyperbole, I wish we didn’t have to qualify that. Everything that’s alive shares three things in common. It is born, it grows to moments of homeostasis where hopefully, it can reproduce, and then it dies. I think we would all agree in this room that the church is alive, and I really wish we could think in those three terms. There’s a birth, there’s moments where we get to homeostasis where hopefully, we focus on reproduction instead of any number of other ventures that churches focus on.
We can focus on other things too, but certainly, reproduction is common in everything that’s alive. Then we have moments where our life cycle ends. That’s a whole nother conversations, and when do we know that’s happening, and when do we close the doors, which I know a lot of us are having in this room with other churches. So, I’ll get off my soapbox. Sorry to get a little excited there about this, but I think this is really the renormalization of starting churches with a life cycle. Understand is a place that I hope that we continue to go in Los Angeles with our church starting.
Tim: Yeah. That’s a great soapbox with you, that’s great.
Nick: How about practices around the Covenant Church. So, you said that you partnered with your denomination, which is the Covenant Church. I’ve personally been blessed by the Covenant Church, going through your assessment process, and going through your training processes. Also, many of my friends I feel like who are orphans with the denominations almost always find their way at least to conversation with the Covenant Church. So, specifically within Los Angeles context, how is the Covenant Church ... and for listeners who are interested in starting, if you don’t know where to go, the Covenant Church is a really good place to go. For people who are orphans, how do you welcome people in as a denomination, and how do you get them going? Something like funding, other sorts of resourcing like training, you’ve talked about assessment. How would you welcome in someone who’s listening right now, and who wants to start a church?
Tim: Yeah. Well, I appreciate you mentioning your experience with the Covenant as well. Mine likewise has been really positive. I feel like I came into the Covenant by accident. I started working at a Covenant Church out of seminary. I was the college pastor. All the while knowing, and I was talking about it even at that point, we think we’re called to plant to church. It turns out, the Covenant had this amazing success rate hovering around 90% of their churches making it. For those who run around in church plant land, that’s a ridiculous statistic. It’s really, really good. So, I was like, “Okay. I want to check this out, and I’d rather be one of the churches that make it, so this is interesting.”
So, part of the appeal was also theological, which maybe we’ll come back to if it makes sense and we have time. But on the practical end, in the Covenant, we say there’s really four things that help us do well, and none of the four are particularly unique. But I think we’ve been able to implement them well. We’ve put a high premium on assessment, is one. Training is the second. Coaching, and then the way we approach funding.
With assessment, we like to contrast between ... as a church, you can reproduce in a reptilian style, or a mammalian style, right? Some denominations or networks, it’s about quantity, and it’s kind of reptilian. A reptile, it’s a whole bunch of eggs, some of the offspring make it, some don’t. But all in all, the race keeps going because you just lay so many eggs. Mammals, of course by contrast, approach a little different. Birth one or two, and they nurture those to a place of full life and sustainability. So, assessment is really key for us in that. We try to do some really good work of sitting with people, and really trying to understand their wiring.
We say ... this is my impression, at least we say no to more people than I think a lot of assessment centers do.
Nick: Do you know what percentage you say no to?
Tim: Boy. It would be hard to put a percentage on it, because usually, if we think it’s a no, we don’t invite that person to assessment to begin with. There’s a pre-assessment process where we start, and if ... say, it’s a regional director of church planting, or maybe it’s somebody like me that they’ll send to go and sit down with someone. If in pre-assessment, we’re not pretty darn confident that this person will pass assessment, then we don’t even get as far as an invite. But even within that, a typical assessment center will have maybe 12 to 15 planters that are part of that, and there will be one to two in that number that we don’t approve. That’s even after being very careful in who we invite.
Nick: So, for our listeners, if they wanted to connect with the Covenant Church, could they just contact you, and then that would be the next step to enter into assessment, and then training, and then they’d have a coach?
Nick: Then they’d figure out ... do you do industrial funding, the same thing for everyone, or are you diversifying that now? Do you have different financial packages for different people based on context?
Tim: It is somewhat diversified, yes. We take into account cost of living kind of things, the community you’re planting in. One of the pieces of our language that I like is we talk about a well-conceived project. So, in a well-conceived project, we’re trying to take the right planter in the right community, and then the funding plan for that needs to reflect both of those. So, yeah, the dollars and cents changes a bit. And also, even the way that that’s delivered. Sometimes it’s a three year plan, sometimes it’s a five year plan. Sometimes there’s more money up front, sometimes you come into more money down the road. But also based on the model that’s being used, what kind of a church are we planting? What’s the most advantageous way to fund that?
Nick: I appreciate the post-industrial nature of this, which then includes, of course, a high pneumatology, or theology of the Holy Spirit, you’re discerning together with people in context, what’s going to be appropriate. As [inaudible 00:44:16] appreciate a lot that you all are doing that. Can you give some example of a person who has worked with the Covenant, and has started in Los Angeles?
Tim: Yeah. Well, I think of my friend, Jon McDonald, Restoration Covenant. This is a church that was planted out of our church. He’s actually in Redland, so I guess just outside of Los Angeles, but in that larger LA footprint. Jon is one who was starting specifically with a burden for the city of Redlands but also the university that’s there. So, for him, a lot of what we talked about in the way we set up a coaching plan for him, the way that we approached the funding, you have to factor in, “Okay, if I’m going to be reaching college students, they have no money, so let’s put them in the mix too.” So, he being an example, I guess, of one where a project was customized around who he was, the model he was employing, the place that he was going to plant, etcetera.
Bethany: So, I’m really in this issue of embodied practices and things like that. I think I’m especially interested in how some of these things you’re talking about like Sabbath, solitude, how they interact specifically with our context here in LA. I know you’re in the South Bay, so I don’t know how you would describe the context in which you find yourself, and then how some of those practices, particularly interact with your context.
Tim: Yeah. Interesting. The first one that comes to mind is Sabbath. It’s the challenge of keeping Sabbath in Los Angeles. It’s just such a busy, rush, rush culture. There’s a lot of young professionals in our church, and the job expectations at times are nutty. Just the hours that people are expected to work and what not. To lead life at a sustainable pace at all is such a challenge. Then to curve out time within that for Sabbath is a frequent topic in our church. Because it’s such a challenge, I think it is so counter-cultural. Even the way that we look at leisure, which I think is part of Sabbath, but our leisure time tends to be very full, very busy. Often not very restful. So, that’s the question that we just ask a lot in our church, is how can we get better as a community at practicing Sabbath? Worshiping together, and then playing, taking time to be with friends who give you life, to play with your kids, etcetera, etcetera. It’s a challenge.
Nick: We’ve used this three [inaudible 00:47:18] thing in some communities I’ve been a part of: work, play and rest. What we found was Sabbath was often times filled with play, but play has ... just exactly what you’re saying, it can be different than rest. So, we’d go out and about for the weekend, let’s say go into the woods or something, and rent a place, and play together all weekend on the lake, or whatever. Super fun, but also super tiring. So, already going 110% in the city, and then go do that, really have very little to do with [inaudible 00:47:45]. I love that balance with both play and rest as a form of Sabbath. Do you call it leisure?
Nick: Leisure and Sabbath?
Tim: Right. Yeah, or the shorthand that Eugene Peterson uses, that we kind of like, “The Sabbath is for pray and play.” But then as you’re alluding to, we have to distinguish, “Okay, is it restful play, or not, what does that look like?” It varies from person to person. For some, going out and taking a run, that’s one of the most restful things they can do. For others, it wrecks them for the next couple of days, so that’s not Sabbath activity. So, just helping people understand where they’re at on that, and living to it well.
Nick: For church starters who are starting in Los Angeles right now, who are listening to this podcast, and maybe are wondering, “How can I discern a new spiritual discipline that’s fitting for me?” What kind of framework would you put on them in their discernment process for how to decide on which spiritual discipline to practice?
Tim: It’s a great question. One of the things that we do with new church planters is we sit down with them, and we teach them how to develop a rule of life. Then that becomes a living document. It usually changes over time, but that becomes a document that they and their coach will return to often. So, when they’re doing that, and as we’re coaching them into developing a rule of life, we try to have it be a mix of some kind of classic spiritual disciplines that we can more or less say everybody needs. Then also, on the other hand, ones that a little more accustomed for that, to who they are, to how God has wired them. So, for instance, if you’ve ever read the book, Sacred Pathways, that’s a book that I think does a good job of helping people lean into, “Who has God made me to be? Where are the places, what are the practices, the experiences, the relationships that really cause me to thrive in my relationship with God?”
Some of that differs from person to person. My wife for instance, needs high doses of nature if she is going to thrive with God more so than I do. I like being in nature, but she needs to be in nature. I need to read good books that are going to challenge me, and make me think. My wife, it’s a discipline that she goes in and out of. She doesn’t need it as much. So anyway, we try to think about that as we are helping a person put their practice together. What are those baseline things, and I put Sabbath and solitude in that bucket. Then what are those things that you personally need, and how can we help you get those.
Bethany: Yeah. I feel like especially for church planters, because we sometimes get so tied together with other kinds of startups, and entrepreneurial enterprises, there’s a lot of language around that of hustling, and the grind, and I don’t know, you guys-
Bethany: All those things. I feel like Sabbath is such an important piece then especially in that culture, especially for people who are really committed to the work, and working hard, and scrapping things together. I think that’s where that other ... to tie back to what you were talking about initially, about the grace of church planting is, by taking a Sabbath, you’re actually then making the space to know that it isn’t all your work. That it’s okay for you to take a day and not be gritting, or whatever.
Tim: Right. You’re grinding.
Bethany: You don’t need to hustle every day because God is actually God. I feel like that, especially for church planters, I think putting that in the everybody bucket makes so much sense.
Tim: So much. I think along those lines, there is a spiritual and a theological component I think for us as church planters and Sabbath taking where our willingness to take a Sabbath says a lot about how much we trust God to do the work of planting this church, right? How much is it me versus how much is it the Holy Spirit. If I cannot, will not get myself to rest, that says something not just about me, but about what I think about God, and what God is capable of, and what God is going to do. Again, using Peterson but he makes this observation with the idea of sleeping as a spiritual discipline.
He takes us to Genesis one, he talks about this whole notion that you have evening and then morning, the first day, the second day. That in Jewish thought, it’s always been that they day starts basically with you going to bed, the day starts with the practice of saying, “God, I’m trusting you to run the universe while I sleep. In the morning, I’ll get up, and I’ll meet you, and I’ll rejoin your work.” I think for church planters, if I’m able to help frame rest in that way for them, it’s really helpful for them, and I think ultimately for their church, because this will run downhill too, right? If you as a church planter are a workaholic, and if you by your actions embody a way of life that says, “It’s all about me, it’s all about my efforts.” How are you going to be able to instill a healthier way of life into those that you’re leading?
Bethany: Totally. I was just thinking about that exact thing about sleep a few days ago, and about the fact that you’re letting go. In sleep, you’re acknowledging that God is going to keep on running the world while you’re totally checked out. Then in that trust, can that trust continue even when we do rejoin the work in our waking time? Can that letting go, that relinquishment of like, we’re in charge still continue? I guess something I’m wondering about, because you have worked with other church planters, and been a church that plants other churches, have there been people, other planters who maybe that has not come easily to them, that they were not up for resting, or that was hard, and how did you move them through that? Or was that hard for you? Just how have you moved with people in that journey?
Tim: Yeah. I’d say that would be almost all of them, and I include myself in that too.
Tim: I think every strength has a built-in weakness. I think one of the strengths that most planters have, that entrepreneurial spark, the weakness in that, the dark side of that is a tendency towards workaholism, or in Enneagram speak, I’m a three. I think it’s a three, the effective person? Like the doer?
Bethany: The achiever.
Bethany: We can all be effective.
Tim: Yeah. That’s true. I would hope so. But I think that’s it’s a pretty common profile for church planters to be folks who are doers, who really are high achiever types. So, I find that this is super counter-intuitive. For me, this is why we start talking about it before the churches even started. We’re sitting down, we’re doing the rule of life together. I’ll routinely tell church planters, “There is going to be a season. Those first three, four months, it’s probably going to be pretty nutty, and that’s okay.” There’s going to be other seasons where it’s going to get nutty, but we still have to establish a baseline, something to at least return to that’s going to be sustainable.
That’s the question I ask a lot, is the way that you’re doing this, is this going to be sustainable over time? Some folks can’t see it. Sometimes I have to really help them see, “Okay, if you continue at this pace, is it going to last?” Our bodies start talking to us at some point, getting sick, breaking down, anxiety. Or if the planter is married, the spouse is often a good indicator on this. This is another thing that I do in coaching, is ... not all the time, but every once in a blue moon, I’ll say to a planter, “Hey, our next coaching appointment, I’m actually not going to call you. I’m just going to call your wife, and we’re going to have a conversation about how it’s going.” And yeah, it probably comes with a little bit of fear and trembling, but the spouse knows.
Nick: Well, Sabbath as a discipline of faith feels like a pretty good place to wrap up. We do have just a couple of minutes left. We want to ask you about some ways that people can connect with you. We know that you’re a professor at Fuller. Would you take a minute or two, and share about your work there, and how people could get connected there?
Tim: Sure. I love Fuller, I’m an alumni of Fuller as well or alum. Which is it? Alum, alumni?
Nick: Both sounded good. [crosstalk 00:57:43] both of them sounded good.
Tim: Okay. [crosstalk 00:57:45]. So, I went to Fuller, and have been a big fan, still love Fuller. The church planting program at Fuller I think is really strong. I think from my interactions over the last 15 years with different church planting organizations, I think what we’re teaching at Fuller, the way that we’re equipping people to understand context, to understand who they are, to bring those to bear in a given place with the appropriate methodology for their context. I think Fuller is doing a great job. For me personally, I teach a couple of classes in the program, one is Starting and Strengthening churches, and we focus there ... it’s sort of a church planting 101, and then it talks multiplying churches as well. Then I teach another one that’s sort of a spiritual formation for church planters.
Then, Nick, you’re teaching that program as well, and there’s some other really great practitioners, and professors that are in that. So, the Fuller program is on the fuller.edu website. For me personally, folks can track me down at Life Covenant Church in Torrance. Website is life-covenant.com. Then in terms of books and stuff, they’re on Amazon.
Nick: Perfect. Tim, we are so grateful that you spent time with us. Thank you.
Bethany: Thank you.
Tim: Thank you for having me. Really good to be with you.
Nick: Many thanks to Jennifer Kent, who is producing this. Many thanks to Bethany McKinney Fox, the co-host. Many thanks to the Artime Group, which hosts the office of Cyclical. This is where we are right now, which is why there’s jumbling, people working around us, which I hope is still a hospitable place to listen to a podcast. We’re really grateful that you spent time with us. Thanks for taking your time to be with us on this podcast. We hope that you will return. In the meantime, have a great day, and we will talk to you soon.
Hi. This is Nick with some announcements for you. From Start in LA, please sign up on our website for the newsletter, if that is of interest to you. Also, please mark in your calendars, on October 26 and 27, the dates are official, we’ll be having our annual conference. We hope you block that off, and hope that you will join us for those events. Also for your calendar, please from Cyclical LA, note that on August 1, at noon, we will be having our monthly starters’ lunch gathering. This lunch is for anyone who has started a new church, or who’s interested in starting a new church, and would like to gain some competencies and trainings for starting a new church.
That will be at the Golden Road Brewery at noon, and we’ll finish at 1:30 PM. Also, please note that discerners’ dinner will be at 5:30 PM at Little Beast restaurant in Eagle Rock, that’s in northeast Los Angeles. This is gathering is for people who are interested in potentially starting a church one day. If you have any announcements you’d like to give, please email them to us, and we will add them to this list for future podcasts. Thanks.