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3 Years Church Planting in Dublin & 5 Principles Of Ministry

13 October 2017

Ha-Penny Bridge Dublin

We’re coming to our 3rd birthday as a church and seeing as my last blog post was a year ago for our 2nd birthday, it feels appropriate to do another now. At the very least it helps me collate my thoughts as we look forward. Let me share 5 thoughts I have learned over the last 3 years of church planting.

(1) A long-term posture of investment

Like any capital city with multiple universities, tech companies, a growing economy and free movement within the EU, Dublin is FULL of new people. People are continually flooding into Dublin for studies or jobs or to be with their partner in a country that recognises their visa… or for whatever other reason. Just this year the intake at Jacob and Annabelle’s school is far more international than any other previous years. When you walk around Dublin City Centre you hear all kinds of accents and languages. This is exciting and provides a great opportunity for the gospel.

However, I see two challenges with this:

  1. Loneliness – Integrating new people into Irish society and communities can be challenging. Many people can find it hard to make friends in Dublin and can feel lonely and isolated. It has been said that “The Irish are the friendliest people on earth but the hardest to get to know.” That is a caricature, but any caricature has some level of truth.
  2. Consumerism  – It’s easy for people to come and take from Dublin (education, jobs, money, experience etc) and then leave when they have what they want. This will limit Dublin’s flourishing and will never enable us to care for the most needy in the city.

So for a church plant to survive and thrive we need to give new residents a vision of what they can give to the city, not just take from the city. And those of us who have been here longer than 5 years and are settled into communities and friendship groups need to do all we can to help people settle.  If we’re to become all that God wants us to be in the city, we need people to stick around and commit, to buy houses and have families (as Jeremiah 29:4-8 encourages the Jewish exiles in Babylon to do). We need those who will buy into the vision and make life-decisions for the sake of the mission.

Churches thrive (and therefore cities thrive)Dublin with cranes as people commit and invest, both internally in the friendships and externally in the city. We need a long-term posture of investment if we’re going make a difference. So, as I have often said, so I say again to those who are part of CCC… stick around and make career choices that are about committing to Dublin. As you do you will make a much bigger impact to the kingdom of God.

(2) A Provocative Church

We have found that whilst people in Dublin, as everywhere, are looking for meaning and purpose, often they have little space for God. Additionally, as is well documented, many have been burnt by church and have no desire to get to know God even if he does exist. There is hurt or anger or disillusionment. What does this mean for church? It means that no matter how sexy/cool/impressive our ‘events’ might become… people are not just going to turn up in their droves. Gone are the days when Christianity was a dominant part of the culture, everyone attended church and people wanted to know how to get right with God and live for God. That was the last 50-100 years, but it’s not today. So we need to rethink church. Instead of expecting the people to come to us, we need to go to them. This was always the vision of the New Testament, that the church would spread out and take the message into the marketplace, into homes and into the social arenas. Our methods of ministry must change, even if the gospel message and the importance of the corporate gathering remain.

Don’t mishear me, once someone decides to dip their toe in and see, I hope they experience something wonderful, transcendent and compelling… but how do we tempt people to dip their toe in the water and take a peek in the first place? We must become a provocative church, a church that provokes questions and draws people in through the quality of our lives. Blaise Pascal famously said:

Make religion attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature. Attractive because it promises true good.

Earlier this year we held two seminars to equip people in this provocative and question-asking approach. I think there is much work to be done here in equipping the church to help seekers and sceptics explore faith and connect in. I still think our focus on the pub will help with this as that it is a non-threatening neutral environment to start conversations and relationships.

(3) Clarity on vision & values

We are by no means a large church, nor do we want to become one. But over the last three years we have grown, and with numerical growth come opportunities and pitfalls. The opportunities centre on investing in people, creating community, the creative energy that comes from new people/ideas and the potential for more ministries/City Groups to develop. However, the pitfalls of numerical growth are often greater… and they can lead you away from your vision and values. Here are some that I have pondered:

  • Pride – We can easily find our identity in numbers. We can think we’re doing well because we’re growing bigger. Remember… Jesus wasn’t a big fan of the crowds!Samuel Beckett Bridge with birds
  • Assimilation – Jesus was about forming spiritual families and missional communities, not people who turned up to ‘consume’ the latest thing. As we grow bigger, we can forget that Jesus wanted to ensure that people became part of the community and not just the crowd. As you grow, it is easier to miss people and it’s easier for the church to feel cliquey.
  • Life transformation – Numbers are great if the numbers represent people who are being impacted and changed. Otherwise, they’re just numbers.
  • Outreach – It is quite possible at this point that the church has grown sufficiently to allow most of your relational needs to be met with Christian church friends. This is tragic if it happens. We turn into a closed-minded group and we lose the purpose of what we’re supposed to be doing. It’s important we prioritise neighbours, families and friends who are not part of church.
  • Purity of vision and values – the danger of a growing church is that the question changes from “How can we reach out?” to “How can we keep everyone happy?” We must not become a church that is all about ensuring we fit people’s needs or are becoming trendy… or whatever else.

It’s those last two that scare me the most when I think long term about the church. We could easily continue to just grow the church through new Christians to the city or de-churched people connecting in… and that’s great, but not sufficient. We’re not living up to our calling and purpose; Jesus wants us to be his missionaries here in Dublin. So how can we also grow through people coming to Christ? How can we help spiritual seekers connect to Christ and His Church? How can we nurture a similar ambition to Paul who said in Romans 15:20:

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.

When we started the church, we always wanted it to be a church (a) that’s relevant to the sceptical Dub, and (b) that would work for the common good of the city. We talked about it being ‘a church not for ourselves’ and I hope and pray that it remains that way. To do so, we’ll have to resist that internal inertia which is part of why we have a strategy to become a church planting church.

(4) Organic leadership structures

Many people have negative feelings toward the words ‘authority’ and ‘structure,’ yet for any organisation to thrive it needs leaders, it will need to give authority to certain people so decisions can be made and structures will need to be put in place to ensure everyone and all the activities are co-ordinated towards a common aim. And the New Testament talks plainly about leadership structures and the importance of those that govern.

Trellis supporting a vine

But the model of leadership in the New Testament is always patterned after Christ the servant-leader and, as I explain elsewhere, all structures within churches are to be like a trellis that supports the vine. The trellis is not the important thing. The vine is the life and focus, but the trellis helps it develop.

What we often forget is typically many of the most ‘influential’ people in church life are not part of the official leadership structures, but use their gifts, time and passions to invest in others, organise events and come up with creative new ideas. So whatever structures we put in place to support and oversee the church, they exist to help the creative and passionate individuals get on and do what they do. The structures are really to ensure these people get released and that THE WHOLE CHURCH is using their gifts. So the leadership structures must be organic, in that they need to be flexible but also they’re there to serve the life that God is growing.

What does this mean in practice? It means instead of trying to fit someone into a particular role/need we have in church we must look at (a) the gifts of the person and (b) the passions of the person, and channel those two things in such as way that brings life to the vine.

But let me ask another question that relates to all this and our future… when do you stop becoming a church plant and just become a ‘church’? One of the markers of this transition is that you have appointed leaders (in the New Testament these are called Elders/Pastors/Overseers, the terms are used synonymously – see 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5 & Acts 20).

So as we mature as a church we need to appoint elders and develop more of a leadership structure. At the moment it’s Leanne and myself who meet weekly. Then there is the staff team, which meets weekly, and finally there is a leaders’ gathering that meets quarterly.* Leanne and I also meet with Caroline and Justin and Daniel Czulno (a friend and financial advisor outside the church) twice a year to look at whether our finances match our vision and values, and to think over strategic decisions.

I don’t imagine that our leadership structures will look much different from this, although I suspect a group of elders being appointed and meeting monthly/quarterly may be a natural next step. Whatever we do we (a) want to keep everyone involved and encourage more to join, (b) keep it life-giving, fun and organic and (c) allow flexibility and space to involve people with different timetables, roles and gifts.**

(5) Joyful hard work

When I think back on the last 5 years (2 years settling in and 3 years church planting) I can truly say I have had a blast. It’s been so much fun. I have been so energised. I have learned loads. I have changed (for the good I hope?). It’s been stimulating and fast paced. But it’s also been hard work. It’s had lots of ups and downs. There are disappointments – events that didn’t take off, pastoral challenges I didn’t expect, people who left that I thought would become key leaders. Leanne and I have had moments where we’re pulling our hair out (each others’ sometimes!) and tensions have run high. There have been times when I have been exhausted. But throughout it all I have known an energy, a joy, a zeal and a grace for the work. The Apostle Paul once put it like this (2 Corinthians 4:7-9):

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 

And he goes on to talk about the life of Christ coming through his life and ministry. It was Christ sustaining and enabling him. And that is what I have experienced and so whilst it’s been hard work, it’s been joyful hard work. If you go into church planting thinking it will be easy, you’ll be crushed under the hard work. If you go into church planting prepared for the hard work but without the joy and resources of Christ, you’ll also be crushed under the hard work. It’s joy that sustains us in our work! I pray God will give us all lots of joy as we think about investing long term in the City and into the lives of others!

If you have got this far… thanks for reading! Do pray for us as we try to apply these 5 principles and ask God to enable us to become a church-planting-church.

*Leanne & I gather together all the Staff Team, Interns, Apprentices, City Group Leaders, Ministry Leaders & Sunday Leaders four times a year

**Additionally, part of this maturing process is to appoint an Advisory Team for support, accountability and advice.


2 Years Church Planting – Climbing Everest

14 October 2016
climbing everest

This Sunday we celebrate 2 years of being a church…doesn’t time fly?! I wrote some reflections on church planting at month 6 and month 12 so I thought I’d write a few more reflections now we’re at month 24. On our church blog I wrote about 3 reasons why we should give thanks – to stop pride, stop grumbling and keep us excited. In this blog I want to reflect on the journey so far and think about priorities for the year(s) ahead.

So let’s retell our story of the last 4 years, using the analogy of climbing Everest which I recently used on a leadership retreat. It has 3 stages.

Sept 2012-Sept 2014: Training the team

Leanne I arrived in Dublin in September 2012 and for 2 years we focused on three things.

  1. Team – We gathered a team together to form a house church. We started as 6 people and by the end of the 2 years we were about 20 people.
  2. Training – We did some altitude training in terms of settling in, making some friends, Christ City Church House Churchbecoming financial viable/sustainable and understanding the culture and the people (contextualisation). We wanted to understand Dublin well before we launched the church.
  3. Vision – We clarified our vision & values which in summary is to see the spiritual, cultural and social renewal of the city and our values are mission, discipleship, community & leadership. Put even more simply, we wanted to be a church for the skeptical Dub, particularly those between the ages of 18-35. We wanted to be a community that could connect with those that were not connected to church.

After 2 years, we were ready to start the climb!

Sept 2013-Sept 2014: Reaching Basecamp (year 1)

In year 3 of being in Dublin (year 1 of the church) we arrived at basecamp, a place where we can grow for the long-term. Here were some important milestones.

  1. Launch & venue – We actually launched the church and started in Filmbase in Temple Bar, then moved to Immanuel on the Quays briefly before settling at Synge Street Secondary School
  2. The PubIdentity – After being fairly hidden, we became known in Dublin, and started to grow. People found out about us. And we had tonnes of fun together, growing in community. Going to the pub was a key part of our identity, both in connecting to the city and ensuring everyone who came felt welcome.
  3. Early signs of vision – What we had hoped started to happen. Those who were skeptical started to engage. We saw some people baptised. We saw some ‘prodigals’ return and we saw some ‘de-churched’ get connected.
  4. Early signs of values/structure – We started training leaders and set up City Groups, Life Groups, Sunday Leaders and we became a charity.

Sept 2015-Sept 2016: Starting to climb Everest proper (year 2)

So this time last year it seemed that having got ourselves set up and established as a church, it was time to think ‘long-term’ and about what we were hoping to achieve over the next 10-20 years. And there were 3 things that really stood out to us, which we have started to implement and want to keep focusing on.

(1) Leadership development –  We want to continue to grow our internship and apprenticeship which has been a huge success. It has been great seeing people grow through the year(s). We will keep doing 6:30 leadership to develop leaders and over the coming years hire some more people onto staff. We will sorely miss Caroline when she heads off on maternity leave.

(2) Remain an outward facing church – in 2 ways:

  1. Be a church where skeptics are welcomepicture of a skepticI want our church to remain a church where those who are skeptical, non-believers, unsure of what they believe or have fallen out with church can connect and be engaged, be welcomed and loved.
  2. Be a church that is about the city of Dublin. It’s less about building a great church and more about playing our part in making Dublin a great city. We want to infiltrate every sphere of Dublin – schools, colleges, homes, community, business, art, music, finance, politics…you name it. We want to be salt and light in these areas, trying to make a positive difference. A key ingredient in this is learning how to integrate faith and work.

(3) Multiplication – Planting other churches/congregations. As part of the DNA of the church we want to have a vision for multiplying and planting other churches and starting other congregations. That is partly why we want to raise up leaders and this is partly what it means to be an outward facing church. But this will also require sacrifice and a willingness to put God’s mission above personal comfort. Our hope and prayer is that we can have multiplied by our 5 year anniversary.

Christ City ChurchThere are more ideas that we have prayed about that we’d love to see happen but they’re less clear at this stage – like starting a mercy ministry or renting a multi-purpose space for offices/training/cafe/meetings or planting churches outside of Dublin/Ireland or setting up a more formal faith&work initiative. These kinds of things excite us…and hopefully they can come further down the line.

I ended my recent church blog like this:

I love the holy ambition of Paul, who knows that nothing can stop him because God is for him, and he ends his letter to the Romans by saying (Romans 15:20):

It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”

That is what I want for our ambition as a church. To be excited that God will lead us to places where Christ is not known… and we can build a new foundation with him.

So as we come this Sunday to celebrate our second birthday as a church and look to the future, we must remember what he has done so far and give thanks. Let’s avoid the pitfalls of grumbling self-indulgence and proud self-reliance by thanking him for what he has done. And let’s stay excited and expectant of what is to come!


Jesus The Salesman

20 September 2016

So I work in sales for HubSpot and volunteer as a Pastor with Christ City Church. I have commented before here and here about how fun and interesting I find the intersection of these two worlds. In the introduction to my talk last Sunday to the Church, as part of the Jesus The Revolutionary series, I outlined how in some senses you could say Jesus was the greatest ever salesman. Read on before you make any judgements. You can listen to the talk – it is based on Mark 2:1-12 where Jesus forgives and heals a paralytic man.

Many of you will know that I work full time in business for a company called HubSpot as a salesman. HubSpot is a software company that helps other companies perform inbound marketing and grow their businesses online… I won’t bore you with the details right now, but here is my business card if you’re interested (haha!). For those of you who didn’t know that, you’re now not sure whether to trust me and listen to this talk… as you have always been told never to trust a ‘slimey’ salesman!

Well I want to start this sermon by giving away the secret of a good sales person, and it’s very simple. A good sales person is able to get under the surface of what is going on the mind and heart of a potential customer and discern their deepest pain and their deepest desire. If you’re able to discern the motivation/heart – then you’re able to help that person solve their pain and realise that desire.

So when you’re being trained in sales at HubSpot they talk about level 1-2-3 pain and desire:

Level 1 – is surface level pain and desire. Someone wants to speak to me because they’re interested in our software to grow their business. They want to become better at online marketing and we might be able to help them. It’s general and surface.

Level 2 – is specific pain and desire, maybe you find out that they have to grow their business by 25%; that they’re losing market-share; that they have pressure from the boss to make a change; and that the website has to become more effective at attracting new customers. So we have gone a bit deeper and now things are more urgent and pressing.

Level 3 – is when we get right to what we call personal pain and desire. For example if that person doesn’t see changes and turn the business around they’ll lose their job; but if they do they’ll get a promotion and a salary increase – both scenarios will affect their families!! Now we’re getting deep… and now that I have discerned their motivation, the consequences and the urgency, it’s much easier to help them and ensure they get the right solution (which is always HubSpot software!!!)

So do you see – the best sales people move from a general surface level issue, to a specific and clear pain or desire, to a personal motivation. But here is the thing – very often the person who is interested in HubSpot has not seen clearly for themselves just how big the problem is or how far-reaching the consequences are. So a good sales person has to ask the right questions to ensure that they see it clearly. As you all know, we’re often blind to our own biggest problem, but other people can see it much more clearly.

So the best sales people ask lots of good and probing questions, making the person feel uncomfortable at times, but in the end the potential customer is always grateful. In fact, a good sales person will not actually try to sell you anything, they’ll just try to help you see for yourself what your biggest pain and desire are, and lead you to work out the right solution!

Well I know this is very cheesy and potentially irreverent… but this passage shows that Jesus is the greatest salesman that has ever lived; not that he was trying to spin anyone or sell something false (though I guess that is how people who don’t believe in Jesus might see it… including my manager at HubSpot!), but in that he always wanted to take people deeper. Jesus was able to discern the heart better than anyone else who has walked this planet. He is able to see right into our greatest pain and desire, and he can see the stuff we can’t see or are too proud to see, and he wants to take us deeper – he wants to take our surface level problems that we bring to him, and go much deeper.

He’ll often make us uncomfortable, he might even offend us and turn us off following him. But if we’ll open up to his gentle probing, he’ll bring a freedom and joy, a peace and contentment we had never thought was possible.

That is what today’s passage is about – it’s the first of five consecutive conflicts that Jesus has with the religious leaders in Mark’s Gospel. And in this story Jesus is going to take the paralysed man much deeper than he had bargained for, but he’s also going to take the religious leaders much deeper than they had bargained for. So let’s look how the story begins…

Do read the passage and listen to the whole talk, but if you want to know how I concluded the talk*, here it is:

You see, at that moment Jesus had the power to heal the man’s body, just as he has the power to give you that career success, that relationship, that recognition, that job, that home you’ve been longing for. He actually has the power and authority to give each of us what we’ve been asking for on the spot, no questions asked. But Jesus knows that’s not nearly deep enough. He knows that whether we’re a paralysed man lying on a mat or one of us sat here tonight in Dublin who is desperately trying to make ourselves feel more valuable, we don’t need him to just grant our deepest wishes; we need someone who can go deeper than that. We need someone who can remove the sin that enslaves us and distorts even our beautiful longings. In short we need to be forgiven, we need to know Jesus as our priest, our sacrifice and our temple. That’s the only way for our discontentment to be healed. It will take more than a miracle worker or a divine genie – it will take a saviour.

And now, a shameless plug, for those who are interested in discussing more about all this kind of stuff – come to The Intro Course, starting Wednesday 28th September, 7.30pm at Third Space at the Y on Aungier Street. No question is too simple, and no question is too feisty.


* Heavily drawn from the end of chapter 3 of Tim Keller’s book Jesus the King.

Rubicon – An Interview with Greg Fromholz

16 March 2016

RubiconI heard about Greg Fromholz 4 years ago, just around when we decided to move to Dublin. People said he’d be a good person to talk to. But try as I may it took me 3.5 years to actually get a coffee with him…but when I did it was well worth it and I was inspired and encouraged by his story – inspired because here is someone that really wants to love and serve Dublin, encouraged because you can be from outside Ireland and still have an impact.

He is also the co-founder of Rubicon which is a really cool and niche event that happens every year. He’ll explain more below.

(1) Greg, tell us a bit about yourself, your family and how you fill your weeks. Also, what’s your favourite thing about Dublin?

I’m originally from the United States, having moved to Ireland in 1990.Greg Fromholz I fill my week in a quite a variety of roles that at times feel like I’m juggling chainsaws and badgers, but is incredible. I spend my fill my week writing, having published my second book “Broken; Restoring Trust Between the Sacred and the Secular” last August with Abingdon Press; speaking; directing music videos with everyone from Rend Collective to Guy Garvey of Elbow and documentaries Phyllisand the soon to released “Peterson: In-Between the Man and The Message”, a short film with Eugene Peterson; co0ordinating Young Adults work for the Archbishop of the Church of Ireland; serving our church plant Holy Trinity, Rathmines: and running the Rubicon gathering. And I love it.

I’m married to Alexandra, with three brilliant kids,  Chloe, Joshua and Eden and one ridiculous dog named Mr. Bojangles.

I love roaming the streets of Dublin and discovering the art and coffee and people that continue to bring such a vibrancy to this old/new city.

(2) Tell us about Rubicon – why did it start? What was the vision? How have the first few years gone?

Rubicon started 5 years ago with Rob Jones and myself hoping to create a space for discussing and debating the interplay of culture and faith, a community where the big questions can be wrestled with. We wanted a conversational TED Talk styled event with 95% local speakers as well as a strong 5% from outside Ireland for outside perspective.  The first years have gone really well, we’ve been able to maintain the boutique style of the event by limiting number to 120, so as not to lose the intimacy of conversation.

(3) What is the line up and theme for this years conference? Why have you chosen the focus you have?

The line up is really exciting this year- but of course I’d say that as I’m running it- but I do believe it. Brian Zahnd, Pastor and Author of “Water to Wine”, “A Farewell to Mars” and “Beauty Will Save The World” is our keynote.

Joining him are: Stephen James Smith – Slam Poet, Writer and Performer of “Dublin You Are” :: Pádraig Ó TuamaCorrymeala Community Leader :: Dr. James Gallen – Lecturer in the School of Law and Government at DCU :: Sr. Imelda Wickham – Wheatfield Prison Chaplain ::  Ferg Brown – Founder and Owner of Roasted Brown :: Natasha Paulberg – Dublin Composer and many more.

This year we will be looking at 1916-2016; Church State to Secular State, how the church has evolved, changed and atrophied over the past 100 years as well as it’s role going forward.

(4) If you were doing a SWOT analysis of the Irish Church, what would say are it’s strengths and weaknesses?

Great question. I can be like a teenager at times with the Irish church- loving it at times and annoyed with it at others. As a parent of a teenager this becomes more and more apparent as we go on. Yet, I have a deep hope that is rooted in the incredible communities and churches that are restoring a trust that has been severely shattered over the last decades and indeed centuries by the tradition and not so traditional churches. I think at times the churches strength is also it’s weakness, that of familiarity and it being part the cultural DNA; this gives both opportunity for influence but also gives the church a lot more work when it comes to restoring that trust. Work that I believe we should all dig our hands and souls into.

(5) Why should someone come to Rubicon?

Because being challenged beyond what we are comfortable with can also be great fun. And, let’s be honest, we are all pretty good at complaining about issues and maybe not so good at gathering, conversing and solving problems. Rubicon represents the opportunity for hope-filled conversations with diverse voices as we, together, explore culture, the arts and the future of Christianity in Ireland.

Here’s the details on the 2 days; 

Rubicon | April 16, 9am-5pm | Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines

Rubicon+ | April 17, 12am-3pm | Holy Trinity Rathmines

With Brain Zahnd and special guest singer-songwriter Jason Upton

(6) What’s the best book you have (a) ever read and (b) read in the last year (that’s not the bible)?

It’s a tie between The Wounded Healer” by Henri Nouwen  or Run With The Horses by Eugene Peterson.

And it’s another tie between Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense” by Francis Spufford or Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

twitter/instagram/fb: @gregfromholz

An Interview with William Vanderbloemen on leadership

26 January 2016

William VanderbloemenSince the CEO at HubSpot found out that I was a pastor he has been connecting me with every HubSpot customer who has a Christian background. One such customer is William Vanderbloemen, who has been a successful HubSpot customer for many years. He was a Presbyterian pastor who decided to move out of leading a church and set up a business to help churches find the right staff. He is one of those guys who (a) knows everyone, (b) is full of energy and (c) is incredibly likeable.

He asked me to do a podcast for his show so in return I asked him if he’d do a blog-interview on leadership since he speaks with lots of leaders and we have both an Internship Program and a leadership course at Christ City Church so I am always looking for good material to share with those participating.

(1) Hi William! Who are you, what do you do and what is your most favourite thing about Dublin?

Hi Steve! Thank you so much for inviting me to be a part of your blog. I founded Vanderbloemen Search Group, a pastor search firm that helps churches and ministries find their key staff. Before that, I was a pastor for fifteen years. I love what I do because, like you, I’m passionate about helping churches apply business best practices to the nuances of ministry to help them do what only the church can do best. We have a team of 30 located in Houston, TX, and we have the honor of helping churches all around the world build great teams. My favorite thing about Dublin is its rich history. I’m a bit of a history nut.

(2) Who have been your inspirations growing up, who do you enjoying reading and what do you do on a day off?

John Maxwell spoke into my life as a young pastor, and I’m forever grateful for his wisdom in leadership development. I also highly respect Sam Chand, who has helped me think through key decisions throughout my vocation. On a day off, I soak up time with my wife Adrienne and our seven kids. We enjoy heading to the golf course. Adrienne and the kiddos are now better golfers than I am!

(3) Why did you stop being a pastor and set up Vanderbloemen Search?

I was 31 when I was called to be the Senior Pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Houston. At the time, I was the youngest pastor to have ever been called to lead as the Senior Pastor. In my six years there, I experienced the joys and challenges of trying to bring innovation into a traditional context. As a young pastor, this was challenging, particularly in regards to team building.

William VanderbloemenI was looking for agile, creative problem solvers to join a more rigid context, and it was difficult to find the right DNA match. I even used a search firm during my time at First Presbyterian, and it wasn’t a good experience. I knew that my peers and I didn’t learn about hiring, firing, and team building in seminary and that the church needed help from someone who could apply the best practices of the corporate world to the sacred nuances of ministry. So I studied executive search for a few years before Adrienne and I felt called to bring my past experiences, ministry network, and search expertise together to found Vanderbloemen and help churches build great teams. We started the company on the Ides of March in 2010, and 5 and a half years later, we have over 30 full-time team members and have completed over 600 searches for churches and ministries around the world.

(4) From your experience of hiring church leaders, what are the key characteristics you look for?

The number one characteristic we look for in church leaders is a passionate calling to ministry and a love for the Bride of Christ. Beyond that, agility is a key characteristic that we believe an effective church leader must have. In fact, Ever-Increasing Agility is one of our team’s values as we serve our clients. Agility means being able to pivot and change to adapt to what your church and community needs. It means seeking innovation and avoiding the phrase, “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Ultimately, when we’re helping our churches find their new team members, we’re spending time understanding their DNA as an organization so that we can match that DNA in the right candidate that God is calling to their team.

(5) How do you stop your heart from becoming cynical or despondent when you’re called in to hire a pastor because the previous leader had sinned and had to step away from leadership?

We talk as a team often about how we are called to love the Bride of Christ. Even when she fails us or when her leaders fail their followers, we’re still called to love the Church because Christ loves the Church. The Church is made up of sinners, which reaffirms the fact that we’re all in need of a Savior. It’s a humbling reminder that God can use “the least of these” to do immense work for His Kingdom.

(6) What do you think are the key issues facing the church in the west today and how do you think we can handle them?

With the rise of digital media, the world is noisier and more connected now than ever. With social media, email, and smart phones, everyone’s rolodex is at their fingertips. You would think this would make it easier for church leaders to find their key staff, but it actually makes things trickier. It’s never been easier for people to make themselves look great on paper. The real art to effective team building is getting beyond the resumé, beyond the happy Facebook posts, and truly understanding the person’s heart. This takes a lot of time and expertise, which is why in our extensive search process, our team interviews both our clients and our candidates face-to-face. This face-to-face time allows us to see the intangible aspects of the organization and the candidate as we discern the right fit.

(7) What are the 3 best books on Leadership that every young leader should read?

  1. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
  2. QBQ! The Question Behind The Question by John G. Miller
  3. The Key to Everything: Unlocking the Secret to Why Some People Succeed and Others Don’t by Matt Keller

5 Leadership Lessons From HubSpot

27 September 2015

Dharmesh ShahOne of our core values as a church is Leadership (training people up so they can use their gifts to serve others) and this Wednesday we are starting our 6.30 Leadership Course. Do come and join us if you can. In this post I wanted to reflect on a few leadership lessons I have learned from working at HubSpot for the last two years.

Before I do it’s worth talking about two errors that churches make when learning leadership lessons from business.

  1. They dismiss business principles altogether, thinking these can’t add anything of value to the kingdom of God (because the world is dark and evil and hostile to God’s kingdom, so the argument goes). However the Bible teaches lots about ‘common grace’; that is the idea that God’s grace has been given to everyone in some measure without distinction of their relationship to God. For example, Jesus talks about our Heavenly Father causing the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 6) or Paul talks about God providing food for people and giving joy to their hearts when speaking to the pagan crowd at Lystra (Acts 14). Additionally, as everyone is made in God’s image, we all bear god-likeness, even in our worst moments. So God, in his grace, gives gifts and wisdom to people who don’t follow Him and we should recognise that and learn from it.
  2. They adopt business principles fully without filtering out what contradicts the values of the kingdom of God. We should find that there is lots of good and lots of the image of God in business, but we should also find some things that are at variance to what Jesus says. So we need discernment. To give one example, let’s talk about ‘measuring success.’  The business world will (rightly!) look to the bottom line and other similar ‘hard metrics’ to see if they’re being successful or not. However Christians should look to faithfulness and fruitfulness. Whilst finding some clear metrics to help guide whether you’re on track as a church may be helpful, how can you measure love or the transformation of one life? We need discernment and we mustn’t let the world’s standard of success become ours.

With those two caveats in place, here are five things I have learned from HubSpot. It’s all been positive and most of it comes from our two cofounders, Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan, both of whom I have had the pleasure of getting to know a little bit.

(1) Vision Matters

Brian HalliganHubSpot is great at vision-casting. We’re constantly coming back to what we believe and why we’re doing what we’re doing – which is about building a great company and hitting certain finance targets, but also beyond that to changing the way people learn, engage and buy online. We want to make marketing and sales a more customer-focused discipline, that adds value rather than irritates people.

Leaders have to keep the vision central.

(2) Culture Matters

One of the reasons I joined HubSpot was for its culture. Check out my recent post which talked a lot about that. My parents recently came to visit our Dublin offices and were overwhelmed by the warmth, energy and engagement of my colleagues. When my kids and their cousins came to visit, my colleagues showed them how to use the Xbox and engaged with them. HubSpot places a huge emphasis on finding and nurturing the right people so that (a) people want to work for the company and (b) people want to do business with the company. Employees and customers matter, and that is great!

Leaders have to invest in people and culture.

(3) Organisation Matters

When I joined the company there were around 500 employees, now we’re about 1000. Growing by 500 people in two years (and having an IPO!) means you have to up the level of organisation to make the machine work, without losing the culture (point 2). Systems, software, processes and meetings need to be put in place. Whilst this often ends up with more admin than when we were a smaller company, it’s important and means everyone has what they need to do their jobs. Additionally, they have placed a big emphasis on creating another tier of management to ensure the business runs effectively, not to mention a few key senior appointments in administration and strategic positions.

Leaders have to be disciplined and bring in the right people to help them get things organised.

(4) Tough Decisions Matter

I have only been at HubSpot just over two years but I can think of three very tough decisions that the C-Suite have had to make and ultimately which our CEO has pushed through, which have all been brilliant. However, there was some controversy and it didn’t please everyone. I remember when I first joined, the CEO took over as VP of Sales for a short time and said he was going to make things ‘black and white’ to clear up some confusion that had come about. He also said that he would be making some big calls which wouldn’t please everyone, but overall it would get us back on track. He was right.

Leaders have to stand up and be counted and make tough decisions, drawing clear lines so people can follow and accepting you won’t please everyone.

(5) GSD (Get Sh*t Done) Matters

One of the moments I most remember in my interview was the when my MD said to me “Steve, we have a slogan here at HubSpot which is GSD…Get Sh*t Done…Steve, can you get sh*t done?” I can’t remember exactly how I answered (I was trying not to swear as I answered him!) but I think I persuaded him that I can get my head down, work hard and make things happen when needed. It’s simple but true. Leaders don’t faff. They work out a vision, gather a team, make some decisions and then get on with making it happen and seeing results.

Leaders have to get on with it, focus on what they’re trying to achieve and put all their resources into achieving that goal without making tonnes of excuses as to why it couldn’t/didn’t happen.

I am sure there are many more things, but these are five things that do not in any way contradict from what Jesus says and can be applied helpfully to further the kingdom of God. If you want to learn more about how God wants to raise up leaders, do come along to our 6.30 Leadership Course, starting this Wednesday (30th September), 6.30am at 28 Bachelors Walk.

Church Planting: Year 1 into Year 2 – 5 Reflections & 5 Aspirations

3 September 2015

DublinI came to Dublin 3 years ago with the aim of getting a job in the high-tech sector and starting a church. I am 2.5 years into working in technology sales and we are just about to enter the second year of our church plant. Do read my blog post called Living the Tension about being a pastor and a salesman for more on how my two lives intersect. In this post I want to reflect on a few things by looking back at year 1 and looking forward to year 2 . You can read my previous blog post about 11 lessons I had learned about church planting after 6 months to catch up on the story up till now.

So here are 5 things as I look back (reflection) and 5 things as I look forward (aspirations).

5 Reflections on Year 1

In no particular order,

(1) More Normal Than Expected

The first thing to say is that starting a church was actually more normal than I expected. (I probably had the wrong expectations!) You have to rent a building, start services, organise a preaching rota and a music team and a refreshments/welcome team and all the normal things you have to do in every church. In terms of leadership, Leanne and I had to plan the rhythm of our week and our Sunday routine so we didn’t overstretch on the one hand but didn’t miss a trick on the other. Then we had to start raising up some leaders (of Sunday Teams and City Groups) and invest in them so they could share the responsibility. Overall it was very normal; it was like every other church I have ever been a part of.

(2) More Fun Than Expected

I am not sure what I expected but once we started I looked forward to our Sunday Services, our midweek meetings and our social events. I found I was energised by church life and did not resent it or wish it away. Even when things went wrong or my expectations weren’t met or I had to work long hours (which happened a lot!), that didn’t dampen my spirits, enthusiasm or sense of fun. In fact I wrote a blog post about the vision of our church one year ago called ‘What happened to all the fun?‘ where I lamented that church life had got so boring in so many cases. Well I am glad to say that year 1 was not boring but full of fun. And of course, the people that I met and the friends I have made are the real reason for that!

(3) More Long-Term Than Expected

I once heard someone tell me “make less of your 1 year plans and more of your 10 year plans” and yet I think I forgot that this year. Whilst I am delighted with how far we have come and are excited about the momentum we have going into year 2, I also see that “we are only just beginning…we have barely scratched the surface.” Building a community of Jesus followers and equipping them to seek the spiritual, social and cultural blessings of Dublin doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a long time to make a positive impact on a city! Leadership development cannot really be fast tracked. It takes relationship building, trial-and-error, opportunities, mentoring, feedback and all that takes time.

(4) More Uncertain Than Expected

As I look back I can see that some of the plans I had took off and others flopped. Some of the people who I thought might become leaders did and others did not. And there were many surprises too. Some ideas that I hadn’t taken into account and some unexpected people ended up becoming central to what we were doing. This all makes you realise that Jesus builds his church, not me (Matthew 16:18). Whilst I do not think it is wrong to plan and think strategically/wisely, ultimately we have to leave it in God’s hand and trust that he is at work through our feeble efforts.

Then there was the issue of renting a space. When you don’t own a church building you are at the mercy of your landlord to keep their side of the bargain (which did more than enough!) and to keep you on (which they haven’t been able to do). So just as we were really beginning to feel at home, we have had to move on and find a new home, 28 Bachelors Walk. This isn’t necessary a problem, but it keeps us on our toes.

So on the one hand everything felt more fragile and vulnerable and on the other, more empowering and exciting than anything else I have been involved with. Which leads me to my next point…

(5) More Prayer Than Expected

As with all of these reflections the issue may be about my expectations rather than anything else. Since Leanne and I decided to come to Dublin (February 2012), we have prayed more fervently and more specifically than in any other time in our lives…and guess what? God has answered our prayers, way above and beyond what we expected. The small steps and prayers of faith that we have made have been met with great blessing and provision. I remember on one of my pre-Dublin ‘reckies’ I was walking up one of the hills outside Dublin with Jon Tyson, a church planter based in NYC, and I asked him “What bit of advice do you have for me?” and he said “Pray!” It has proven to be good advice and given the uncertainty and fragility of the last 3 years of being in Dublin and the last year of starting the church, we could not have got where we are without prayer. God has been our strength and song, our rock and our refuge.

5 Aspirations for Year 2

So with those five reflections in mind, let’s look ahead at what I hope will remain.

(1) Non-Christians Remain Welcome

When Leanne and I came to Dublin we wanted to start a church that ‘made sense’ to non-church going people. We hoped that those who didn’t call themselves Jesus followers would feel they could come (with no sense of pressure to convert!) and check things out. We hoped that the community and the services would be warm and welcoming but would also provoke questions. And then as we engaged with their questions, doubts, fears, concerns and hurts, they could discuss them without feeling they needed to ‘agree with us’ to remain part of the community or come along on a Sunday.

So it has been a joy to have many people come along who haven’t come to a church service for years (expect for your typical christenings, weddings and funerals) and they have then joined us for a drink down the pub. Some have come back, others haven’t. And I remember on 2-3 occasions self-proclaimed atheists have joined us and (from what I could see) felt at home. As I explained in A Church Not For Ourselves, if the church of Jesus Christ is to do what he meant it to do, it must be able to engage with people who don’t go to church in a way that they feel like they never need to come again.

I have had friends and visitors say to me:

I am not coming again but it made sense to me what you’re doing.

I am not going to become a Christian but I may join you down the pub for more discussions in the coming months.

It’s not my cup of tea but I would like to meet for lunch to discuss this more.

Steve I think you’re nuts but what you’re doing is great.

I was totally put off church growing up and whilst I still have reservations, I am keen to come back and explore more.

I’ve been so delighted to hear this kind of thing!

(2) The Pub Remains Central

One of my favourite stats is that as a church we spend one hour ‘in church’ (4.30-5.30pm) and then two hours down the pub (6-8pm) each week. Last year it was Crowbar, this year it will be Sweetmans. In fact, this statistic fits nicely with some of my most favourite words from the mouth of Jesus, from Luke 7:34;

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’

Jesus clearly enjoyed his food and wine, so much so that he could be accused by the religious establishment of being a drunkard and a glutton. He also hung around with the wrong people (tax collectors and sinners!). In all cultures, particularly Irish culture, the place where people eat and drink is the place where friendships are formed, banter and conversations happen and people loosen up to be real and honest, whether with doubts or joys.

I hope the pub continues to take up two thirds of our time on a Sunday!

(3) The Non-Religious Feel Remains Normal

Meeting in a film screening studio in the middle of Temple Bar was a fantastic way to ensure that we didn’t smack of being religious! Yes, we had a cross at the front of the room and a Bible verse on the wall but nothing about what we did looked or smelled like church as the average person would know it. In fact, we hope it felt quite normal and accessible. But more than just the setting we have worked hard to keep our services short and simple, to not have any Christian jargon, to explain everything we are doing and to continually affirm that people can engage as much or as little as they like. I am not saying we’re perfect, but we work hard on our language and we certainly don’t want to form a Christian sub-culture (or clique!) which alienates people who are not in it.

I remember one time a young guy came to visit for the first time and we were watching England vs Ireland on the big screen in the room (Ireland won!) and then we watched an 8 minute video about the founding of the Guinness Brewery and the Christian principles which drove it. And when I turned round to him he said:

“What kind of church is this? You watch rugby, watch videos about Guinness and go the pub?”

My hope is that it might be the kind of church that Jesus would want to be a part of.

(4) Truth Remains Decisive

For all our efforts at being culturally relevant and having fun and not feeling religious we must not and cannot compromise on truth. That is what is so impressive about Jesus. Just when he is getting popular he makes sure he tells people the truth about who he is and what it means to follow him so that they are not deceived. In fact, he famously said two things about truth which we mustn’t miss, both recorded for us in the Gospel of John.

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 

I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus would not fit in nicely with our post modern tolerant culture which says “there is no such thing as truth, you believe what you want and I’ll believe what I want…let’s just not say anyone has the truth.” Jesus would think that idea was ludicrous and tell you that truth isn’t subjective. There is such a thing as objective truth and ultimately it is found in him. And Jesus is so concerned that we know the truth because, from all the way back in Genesis 3, it was believing that lie that meant we were enslaved and lost, so it is as we discover the truth that we are set free.

In the last year we have had people who, whilst not Jesus followers, have been fascinated by what the Bible actually says. They may have been brought up going to church but they have never really engaged with the scriptures directly. Some have found them exciting and attractive, others offensive and narrow. However, as we move forward as a church we are not interested in teaching the latest ideas that will be palatable to people’s ears, we’re interested in truth…and truth that will set us free. So truth remains decisive for us and ultimately that truth is grounded in the person of Jesus and his resurrection. We build all we believe from those two things!

(5) Adventure Remains The Order Of The Day

My hope is that as a church we don’t take ourselves too seriously and that we have a blast. On our holidays Leanne and I read a book by Eugene Petersen based on the book of Galatians all about Freedom and he starts one chapter like this:

The word Christian means different things to different people. To one person it means a stiff, uptight, inflexible way of life, colorless and unbending. To another it means a risky, surprise-filled venture, lived tiptoed at the edge of expectation. Either of these pictures can be supported with evidence. There are numberless illustrations for each position in congregations all over the world. But if we restrict ourselves to biblical evidence only the second image can be supported: the image of the person living zestfully, exploring every experience – pain and joy, enigma and insight, fulfilment and frustration – as a dimension of human freedom, searching through each for sense and grace. If we get our information from the biblical material, there is no doubt that the Christian life is a dancing, leaping, daring life.

I hope that after year 2, that can be said of us!


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