[This is a long post…well, about a 6 minute read. I tried breaking it up but decided to keep it together. If you’ve been part of our journey these past 5 years, I hope you’ll find some time in the next few days and read it all. Thanks in advance!]

Back Camera

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

Next week we’ll share some news about the next step we are taking with church planting here in Dublin.

And while Liz and I have spent the past month talking to people about what our next steps look like, recently we heard from someone who commented that our vision for ministry here in Dublin has “continued to change and develop” since we arrived.

With us getting ready to take the next step in starting a church plant in Clontarf, I thought now would be a good time to start this series, as well as 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 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 intricate 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. Others have a different picture. If I share something like a talk 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 don’t allow for body language, facial expressions, or clarifying questions. If I use the quote by Hirsch above while we’re having 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 with the hope of not repeating myself too much. But that’s me assuming what you know, and you left to fill in the gaps of what I’m talking about.

Another problem is that at times I’ve used this space to wrestle with ideas I’m thinking about. While my hope has been to give a picture of things we’re working through, at times it ends up being more confusing than helpful. Sorry.

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. In the meantime, we’re stuck with words on a screen.

So, 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

  1. your situation never changes (which is impossible), or
  2. you stop learning and growing.

Back Camera

Before moving to Dublin in 2012, Liz and I had spent a total of about 7 days in this city. While we read about the city, the people, and its culture online, we knew we needed to move here and embed, become part of the neighbourhood…in order to learn and better understand.

I believe one of the biggest problems with the modern church planting movement is that so many church planters are more focused on the ‘type of church’ they want to build than they are with the unique people that live in their city.

I believe it would have been arrogant for us to say while in Ithaca, “here’s the type of church we’re going to build once we move to Dublin.” To think that, although we’d only ever been there as visitors, we knew enough about Dublin and its people would have been ridiculous.

While there are downsides to a blog as a form of communication, one upside is that I actually have some of the things 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 others I wrote around that time… you’ll see is that while the bigger picture ideas about what we wanted to see happen in Dublin were pretty specific, we knew the ways we would actually go about that, wouldn’t become clear until we arrived.

We understood that clarity would come as we grew in our understanding of Irish culture. Part of the growth would be practical stuff. For example…how will we fund what we are doing? 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?

A Problem With Our Plans

Sometimes, even things you believe you have well in hand change. That will cause the vision to develop differently than planned. Our vision (which was worked out with a church here) was to be part of a church in the city, and eventually, start a small group in our neighbourhood. Then some people in that group would be our team when we began to plant. That was the plan.

Once we had a number of people sign up for the group, 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. (Sadly, we’ve 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 plan 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.

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 country.

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’s often how life works.

So, Did Our Vision Change?
Has our purpose for being in Dublin changed?

The vision hadn’t changed, but we needed to find a new way to bring it about.

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-based (here’s another post about that from 2015) 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 vision 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, we aren’t robots. 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, “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. So 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 parallel to our experience. The wide-open path we’d marked out turned out to be some pretty huge mountains instead. And 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!