This July is the five year anniversary of our move to Dublin. I’ve been planning to do a series of posts this summer about that journey; how it came about, what the process was like, what the past 5 years have been like. Stuff like that.

I decided to start now instead.

In the next week, we’ll be sharing some exciting news about the next step we are taking with church planting here in Dublin. While Liz and I have spent the past month talking to a few families about what our next steps will look like, I heard from someone who said that our vision for ministry here in Dublin has “continued to change and develop” since we moved here. With us being on the verge of starting a church plant in Clontarf, I thought it was a good time to revisit our vision.

The Limitations of Written Words…

When we travelled to the States last summer, we spent a lot of time sitting with friends talking about what we’ve been doing in Dublin, and what we are hoping for in the future. It struck us how important face to face communication is. Newsletters are helpful…as are blog posts, but they are limited. Especially when it comes to conveying ideas like vision.

For example:

  • We all make assumptions when we hear certain words or phrases. I say “plant a church” and you have a picture of what I mean. And others have a different picture. And if I share something like a quote by Alan Hirsch where he says, “we are actually planting the gospel, not churches,” some who are familiar with Hirsch may understand immediately what I’m saying, others may think, “are they not planting churches any more.”
  • Written words also have a limitation in that they don’t allow for body language, facial expressions, or clarifying questions. If I used the quote by Hirsch above while we’re having a coffee together, you might ask, “are you saying you’re not planting churches?” And I could say “no, here’s what I mean.” Newsletters and blog posts don’t allow for that kind of communication.
  • And as wonderful as our newsletters and blog posts might be, 🙂 no one is reading them all. I write newsletters trying not to repeat too much. But that causes me to assume what you know, and you left to fill in the gaps of what I’m talking about.
  • At times I’ve used this space to wrestle with things I’m thinking about. While the hope has been to give a picture of things we’re thinking about, at times, it is probably more confusing than helpful.

Our big takeaway last summer was how important it is for us to get back to the States every couple of years to make sure we can have those conversations.

That said, I want to kick off our #5YearsInDublin Series looking at where, and if, our vision has changed and developed over the past five years.

A FAVOUR:  I recognize that this is not a short post. However, if you are one of our ministry partners, or if you’ve been part of this journey some way over the past 5 years, I hope you’ll read along…even if you have to print it out and read in when you have spare time. AND PLEASE…if things still aren’t clear, please contact us. If it isn’t clear to you, likely the same goes for others. We want to answer your questions, and perhaps even set up a time when we could Skype.

So, our vision.

Let’s deal with the second part first…

Has our Vision Continued to Develop?

Easy answer…yes. In fact, I’d be concerned if it didn’t, because I think the only way vision doesn’t continue to develop is if a) your situation never changes (which is impossible), or b) you stop learning and growing.

Prior to moving to Dublin in 2012, Liz and I had spent a couple of days here in 2010 (mostly visiting the Mater Hospital with her dad,) and about 4-5 days in 2011 trying to figure out where we would live. So while we read about the city, the people, and its culture online, we knew we needed to move here and become part of the neighbourhood,…in order to learn and better understand these things.

I believe one of the biggest problems with the modern church planting movement is that many church planters are more focused on the ‘type of church’ they want to build than they are with the people that live in their city. Is our goal to have a certain type of church, or is to reach the people who live there with the good news?

I also believe it would have been arrogant for us to say while still in Ithaca, “Here’s the type of church we’re going to build once we move to Dublin.” To believe that although we’d only ever been there as visitors, we knew what type of church was needed here would be ridiculous.

While there are downsides to a blog as a form of communication, one of the upsides is that, since I began blogging back in 2008, I actually have a record of what I wrote about our vision and plans as we prepared to move here.

For example, I wrote this a few weeks prior to our move:

Now, there are other parts of this vision for Dublin that aren’t yet clear. Perhaps sustainable will involve full-time ministry role…but if not, if it ends up being a bi-vocational type of deal, then, that can’t mean 60-80 hours of work year after year…clearly that falls under “not sustainable.”   [Read the whole post here]

If you read that post, as well as some of the others I wrote around that time… you’d see that while the bigger ideas about what we wanted to see happen here in Dublin were pretty specific, some of the ways we would actually go about that, wouldn’t become clear until we arrived.

We knew that part of that clarity would come by simply growing in our understanding of Irish culture. Part of it would be practical stuff. For example…how will we fund it? What would a church service even look like if the goal is to connect with people in Dublin who aren’t currently going to church?

Sometimes, things you believe you have well in hand change too. And that causes things to develop differently than you planned. Part of our vision (which was worked out with a church here) was that we would be part of a church here in the city, eventually lead a small group in our neighbourhood, and then some people in that group would be our team when we began to plant.

Once our small group actually had a number of people sign up, we were told a) we will not be able to lead a group, and b) we would only be allowed to plant some years down the road if and when the lead pastor believed his church could afford it. Within two months we were told, we were no longer welcome at the church. (We have since learned we are not the only Americans to have an experience like that there.)

I share that because when that happened, a key part of our planning was no longer an option. We were no longer building a team within a denomination we’d been part of for over 15 years; we were now an immigrant family living in a foreign city, where we had no long-term relationships. Yet still with a belief that what God called us to had not changed.

Once that happened, parts of life we assumed were settled, were now new items that we had to navigate among all of the other things you navigate when moving to a new place.

So, have parts of our visions developed over time? Of course. We can’t predict the future. We came with a plan and needed to make some pretty big adjustments shortly after arriving. But that is often how life works.

So, while our vision has developed since we arrived, did it change?

Has our purpose for being in Dublin changed? The answer is no.

Not in the slightest. When we were in the process of moving here, I said (and wrote (here)[] and (here)[] among other places) that our desire was to plant neighbourhood based churches. Rather than having a city centre-based church, our desire has always been to plant churches, and missional communities in neighbourhoods around the Dublin area (and beyond.)

Our vision has never been to plant one church. It has never been to do something other than planting churches. It has always been to plant reproducible, neighbourhood churches across the city. Along the way, we have naturally wrestled with questions like, “how do we do this?” or “who is going to join us?” and “what will it look like practically?”

But the goal has not shifted. Did we experience some doubt after being told we were no longer welcome in the denomination that’d been home for the better part of two decades? Of course, we did. But once we were past that, we began looking for how best to get back on the path towards planting churches in Dublin.

I’ve been reading the book, “Canoeing in the Mountains,” by Tod Bolsinger. Bolsinger tells the story of Lewis and Clark and their search for a waterway to the Pacific Ocean as they explored the Louisiana Purchase. You know the story, rather than a waterway leading from the Missouri River to the Pacific Ocean, what they discovered were the Rocky Mountains.

If they were still to reach the Pacific, they were going to drastically change their plans. Canoes were not going to suit in the Rockies. Rather than simply turning back, or trying to canoe through the Rockies, they developed new plans and strategies to continue their journey and reach the Pacific.

I feel like that is a helpful explanation of some of our experience. The path we’d marked out turned out to be some pretty huge mountains instead. And while getting through the mountains takes time and skills that we hadn’t anticipated needing, we believe that in the long term it has put us in a better place to do what we have always believed God called us here for.

As I’ve mentioned here, blogging is an imperfect medium to communicate at times. While there may be info here that was new, I hope this has been helpful and made sense. As we share over the next few months more about our first five years in Dublin, I believe this is important background. And f you have questions, or areas that aren’t clear, I’d love to hear from you.

Thank you so much for investing the time to read this!