I just spent this past weekend in Dallas, TX at a church that was I familiar with as a child. My parents would listen to the pastor of First Baptist Dallas, Dr. Chriswell, on the radio in our home in the mountains of Idaho. But what I knew of the church was far from what I learned about the church on this particular trip. As I arrived in Dallas, my expectations of this large church in the heart of the city, tucked down in between the sky scrapers, was that it would be locked into a 1950s tradition that I would not be able to relate to or even understand. I also figured they would not understand me and our mission in Seattle as a church planter called to move to a city that did not like and surely didn’t want the message of Jesus. I thought it likely Epic Life Church and FBC Dallas would have little in common, except the name of Jesus.
I was wrong. And what I found to be similar surprised me.
I caught a bus to the car rental complany, flashed my driver’s license and headed to my car the church had reserve for me. I headed straight to the hotel, a valet parked my ride, I checked in and caught the elevator to the 17th floor to 1722, all taken care of by the church. As I entered the room late that night the city lights were singing the praise of man’s great achievements in building expansion and the creative process the Master Creator has allowed us to experience. I tossed my suitcase on the king-size bed, walked around the desk and pushed back the curtains across the entire Western wall to gaze out on the towers of the city. Below me came the lights of FBC Dallas, which covers 3-4 city blocks, squished between several 60 story buildings.
My stay was wonderful.
I came to find out that just a few years ago FBC Dallas came to a crossroad. Their buildings were old and decrepped, actually falling apart from 140 years of use. The city had changed dramatically and literally grew up around them. Should they sell it off and move to the suburbs? Should they invest millions into ancient buildings? Should they demolish it all and start from the ground up right there in the heart of the city?
One thing I have learned on this road of church planting is the state of the ‘Church’ in Seattle and other major cities in our country. As cities grew around the original churches and business and buildings moved in around them the norrmal thing for the congregates to do was to move their families to the suburbs and commute to their church in the city. As the price tag of ministry grew for the church and lure of the worth of their land, they would sell the property and move the church to the suburbs, where their people live. This of course left major spiritual holes in the city. Seattle has the same problem, either the churches have left or the buildings are still present but with only a handful of members.
When we started Epic Life Church, the planting team determined to Stay. We knew God called us to start a church in the city of Seattle and we knew we had to find a way to remain in the city of Seattle. Ministry in the city is expensive and, like is common, people tend to drift out of the city because of the cost of living, which drops dramatically the further away from the city center a person goes. We know this is going to happen. How can we keep the vision of establishing Epic Life as a church of the city alive? We constantly cast the vision for our people to claim the city, to remain and to start more churches within the city limits. Longevity will speak volumes to the people of Seattle as well, and bring about a certain level of trust in the Church, and will result in trust in Christ Jesus.
Back to FBC Dallas. What have they done? They have done what few churches have done, or have done well. FBC Dallas chose to remain in Dallas and remain Big! They chose to implode several building and rebuild a building that is a beautiful center piece of the city. It is truly beautiful and I think will become a testimony to Dallas that the Church is here to stay. They didn’t do the easy thing, which I think would have been to move to the suburbs, find a large track of land and build a building that would have cost lots less and maybe would have attracted more people. They did the hard thing, they claimed the land in the center of the city for Jesus. It is a beacon of hope for the city and has become a stop on the tourism trail in the city of Dallas.
But even more FBC Dallas is surprisingly extremely missional in their perspective and giving. Now I am sure this is a constant push and possible battle, but the leadership and people that I met were very encouraging to me as a church planter and the church supports dozens of works around Texas and the world. The ministry personnel loved on me, encouraged me and exhorted me to Pastor well. It is a surprised blessing to now minister with a church who understands the important vision of reaching the City for Jesus, which requires us and them and hopefully more churches to Remain.