While attending the International School of Theology (ISOT), I chose church planting as my primary concentration as I pursued my Master of Divinity degree. If you would have asked me why I chose this concentration, my answer would have been simple: Kensington Church (kensingtonchurch.org — my home church and the place where I crossed the line of faith in 1998) was a church planting church. I believed one day I would be one of Kensington’s church plants and seminary gave me the tools needed for this dream to become reality.
While in seminary I began a weekly internship at Community Baptist Church (CBC) of Alta Loma and then switched my focus from CBC to their college ministry called The Flipside. As I began interning at The Flipside in early 2000, they announced how they felt called by God to leave CBC and plant themselves as a separate church. So I ended up being part of a church plant for the remainder of my three year internship. Not only was I learning about church planting in the classroom, but I was part of a real, live church plant from the ground floor. God is so good.
After graduating from ISOT and hiring in at Kensington in 2002, I did not think much about church planting for several years. I focused my energy toward learning what it meant to make disciples at a megachurch. Approximately four years ago Kellie and I started dreaming about what our future church might look like. It was casual conversation with no timetable in mind.
This dream started becoming reality about two years ago. On March 15, 2009 we heard a sermon preached by Kevin Valentine at Kensington where he described a time when “the ground began to shift beneath his feet.” As Kellie and I heard Kevin preach that morning, we felt like he was speaking directly to us. His story was our story. He gave words to what we were feeling at Kensington – the ground underneath us began to shift a little bit. We loved Kensington. God was using me to make an impact as Director of Spiritual Formation at the church. But the ground was shifting. So that night we started intentionally praying for God to reveal what is next for us.
Several months passed with no clear direction from God. Then on December 24, 2009, I had a mystical experience during Kensington’s Christmas Eve service. With my toffee coffee in hand, and comfortably sitting in the front row of the balcony along with a half dozen members of Kellie’s extended family we invited to church that day, God showed up. About ten minutes into the service I didn’t “hear” God’s voice audibly but “felt” him ask me this question: “Dan, how many more years are you going to be content sitting in the front row of the balcony on Christmas Eve?”
It was so clear. It was that exact wording. I can’t tell you about the rest of the service because my mind was going 100 miles an hour, pondering that question. Initially I wasn’t sure what the answer was. Was God asking me to arm wrestle the leadership at Kensington until they added me to the Christmas Eve speaking rotation? Was God asking me to have a more influential role, behind the scenes at our Christmas services? Was God telling me that now is the time to plant a church, that by next Christmas Eve I should be off Kensington’s staff and pastoring at a new church? Or was I supposed to be planting a church a few years down the road but moving in that direction by next Christmas? I wasn’t sure. I asked God for some clarification, for another sentence. But he was silent. He told me what I needed to hear.
A few more weeks went by with no further direction from God. Then on January 14th, 2010, we prayed differently and with more intensity than ever before. We had been praying on our knees almost every night to God for the past 10 months, asking God to give us a step while heaven remained silent. On January 14th, we cried out, “God, we’ve been praying for 10 months straight asking for your guidance. And 3 weeks ago you spoke clearly to me on Christmas Eve but you didn’t explain what you meant by it. Are you calling us to plant a church? Are you asking me to stay put at Kensington but maybe change roles? Are you calling us to work at another church in the area or maybe in another time zone? Are you asking me to quit my doctoral studies at Denver Seminary? Are you asking us to do something that isn’t even on our radar?” We ended our prayer by asking, “God give us a step. Just one step. Just one.”
We prayed that prayer on January 14th. On January 15th, less than 24 hours later, I received an e- mail from Jim Pool, lead pastor of the Royal Oak Vineyard Church. The subject line was “Church Planting Boot Camp Invitation.” My heart skipped a beat when I saw it in my inbox. I opened up the e-mail and began reading. Here’s what it said: “I wanted to take a few moments to invite you to our upcoming Vineyard Great Lakes Church Planting Boot Camp. We run these training weekends to encourage, equip and empower active and potential church planters (and their teams) to do great things with God. We’ll spend time together, pray for you, and discuss some key practices in planting healthy churches.”
God answered our prayer. He gave us our step. I called Kellie, excited beyond words, and knew we had to attend this “Boot Camp” (whatever that meant!) for church planters.
In March 2010, we made the drive down to Cincinnati for the Boot Camp and we encountered God all weekend long. For example, at the end of the first night, a Vineyard pastor named Jared who we never met before felt led by God to pray for Kellie and me. When he did, God gave him some supernatural “words of knowledge” that he shared with us. (In other words, God downloaded information into his mind about us he had no way of knowing). What Jared said during his prayer spoke so specifically to us, it made both of us sob. Plus, each of the four pastors who gave messages at the Boot Camp seemed like they were talking directly to us. And most importantly God opened our eyes to the Vineyard. As a result of the Boot Camp, we felt like we needed to seriously explore partnering with the Vineyard, that God may be leading us to become part of their worldwide movement made up of 1,500+ churches around the globe.
After a few months of “dating” the Vineyard we realized that “we were Vineyard” so we began their 7-step church planting process which includes an all-day church planting assessment.
Here is the concluding paragraph of our assessment written by Jesse Wilson: I affirm Dan's call to plant a Vineyard Church in the north eastern suburbs of Detroit. Dan and Kellie have experienced confirmation and blessing along every step they've taken in this process so far, and every indication on the natural and supernatural front continues to encourage them in the direction the Lord has put on their heart. Dan's experiences, passions, and skill sets, combined with the recent but unshakeable burden for church planting and promptings from the Holy Spirit are all indications giving a green light to continue pursuing the planting of a Vineyard church characterized by the theology and practice of the Kingdom of God. Dan and Kellie are in a healthy place with one another, in relationship to the church, and before Jesus, and it is my recommendation that they be released to plant.
Planting The Eastside Vineyard Church has been a decade in the making -- from learning about church planting back in 1999 while in seminary to praying specifically for God’s leading beginning in 2009 to working through the 7-step church planting process in 2010. God has led us every step of the way and I cannot wait to see what he has in store in 2011 and beyond.