2018 Update, Part I

When we go back and read our last blog post, it strikes us how much God has done in an incredibly short period of time. As of our last post, we felt that we were on the brink of God’s movement here in Crafton and in Pittsburgh. We were right, but the direction of God’s movement caught us completely off guard. Over the last 4-5 months, we have been in a hectic whirlwind of activity as we have tried to keep up with what He is doing and be sure that we are following Him in the midst of it all.

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With the help of our interns from Arlington Baptist Church and the Pleasant Garden Super Summer Sports Camp, we spent June and July building momentum for 412 Church. At the same time, however, we realized that our Wednesday night Bible study was not growing in the way we had hoped. Though the members themselves were experiencing some spiritual growth, our numbers had stagnated, and most of the people attending were members of other churches. We wanted our church to be made up of new believers and people in need of a church home; it was never our intent to start a church by taking members from other congregations. As we built momentum in the community and began to examine the effectiveness of our Wednesday night studies, we decided to hold a community interest meeting the week after sports camp.

For Greg, the meeting was a bit of a Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:36-40). If the meeting drew a crowd, we knew that God was moving us forward. If not, we knew that we would need to reevaluate. When the only attendees were core team members and people from LFCC who supported us, God answered our prayer clearly. Our core team met the following week and unanimously decided that we needed to move into a more focused time of prayer and to re-adjust our outreach strategy. We challenged the members of our Wednesday night study to either commit to joining us or to commit more fully at their own churches, and on Wednesday, August 15, we held our last Wednesday night Bible study.

The night of that final meeting, Pastor Ken of Living Faith visited to share some additional news with our core team: after six fruitful years, Living Faith would be merging with a new church plant in the Moon area.  We had no idea what this would mean for us (since LFCC was our sending church here in Pittsburgh), but we saw how God could use this merger for the greater good of His kingdom. As we have interacted with the new plant–Vintage Church–we have grown more excited about the ways that God will move in the city as a whole through what is going on all around us.

Though unsure of our role with Vintage Church, our core team prepared to move into its new phase. But then God began moving in their lives, as well. By August 17, two of our core team families found out that they would be moving. It was evident that God was the one orchestrating both moves, but it meant that our core team had also gone from four families to two in a matter of days. All around us, other people with whom we had been developing relationships began to move as well.

It became abundantly clear that God wanted us to pause our efforts at planting 412 Church. While we were confused and a bit hurt by this clear change of direction, we desperately wanted to be sure that we stayed in tune with God and His plans during this time. We spent time praying, searching the Scriptures, and seeking wise counsel from trusted believers both here and outside of our context. God indeed was moving, and we wanted to follow Him no matter where that would take us.

Thanks to the prayers of so many of you, God gave us a mighty faith during all of this seeming chaos. He reminded us over and over again that He has been in control every step of the way. On our journey to that moment, we could look back at so many “Ebenezer stones”—stones of remembrance like those the Israelite people erected to look back upon and be reminded to say, “Thus far the Lord has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). We knew without a shadow of a doubt that God brought us to Pittsburgh, and we trusted that He would show us our next steps.

Greg quickly realized that God still had work for us to do in church planting and in the city of Pittsburgh. For months, the Lord had been bringing two passages into Greg’s life, and he finally realized why when all of this came to a head. When Jonah was upset at God for the death of a small plant, God responded, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jonah 4:10-11) God reminded Greg that He loves the people of Pittsburgh even more than we do and that He has a plan for them.

Then, in Habakkuk 2, God tells the prophet to “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay.” God had given Greg a vision for churches reaching the lost all over Pittsburgh, and though this passage, He reminded him that His plan was still to save His people here. In spite of seeming setbacks, God was moving, and we were going to get to be a part of it. 

 

*Since this is such a long story, it will be continued in a second post.

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2018 Update, Part II

Welcome back to the story! God is surely moving in Pittsburgh, and we are so thankful that you are a part of it.

Once we knew that we would remain in Pittsburgh, we still had to determine where we fit into God’s plan. Over time, it became clear that God had prepared a place for Greg–and for our whole family–at a young church on Mt. Washington called The Well Church. The Well Church is only three years old. When they started, 8-10 people met each week. Since then, they have grown to 60-70 people each week. On top of that, they have baptized 14 adults in the last three years! God is moving at The Well Church, and we are excited to be a part of that.

The Well Church

One way that God showed us His plan for our family was through a NAMB training event Greg attended in Boston. The pastor of The Well Church, a friend named Adam Sewell, happened to be attending the same conference. During one session, the speaker began to challenge those present to discern whether their role in church planting aligned more with the role Paul played in the early church or more with the roles men like Timothy and Titus played. The speaker suggested that God has designed His church to need both people gifted like a Paul–naturally skilled at evangelism and visioning, driven to infiltrate new ground with the gospel–and those gifted like Timothy–with gifts of discipleship, more talented at keeping that new ground by helping new believers mature into christians who can lead and sustain the church.

Since The Well is a new church plant, Adam recognized the need to establish disciples and leaders within his church, but he was gifted like a Paul. Greg, on the other hand, realized during the same session that he was more naturally inclined to serve the church as a Timothy. Later that day, Adam shared with Greg that he had written in his notes, “I need a guy like Greg Lawrence.” Adam asked Greg to pray about whether or not joining up with The Well Church might be God’s leading. There was much Scripture searching and prayer and council before and after this moment, but it was a key in solidifying our new direction.

Greg will officially come on staff with Adam and The Well in January 2019. No one at The Well is full time, and we will need to continue to raise support for Greg’s position, but God has been preparing us and our supporters for this moment. In addition to his new role, Greg will continue to work as a chaplain with Marketplace Chaplains. Megan has been blessed with the ability to work from home as a researcher and editor, and she will continue to do so. We are trusting the Lord to provide the remaining support we need to cover Greg’s income at The Well. If you want more information about partnering with us through financial giving, please contact Greg.

This season was a trying one for us, but as you have prayed, we have truly seen passages like James 1:2-4 and 1 Peter 1 play out in our lives:

“ . . . [N]ow for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6b-7).

Through your prayers, God granted us faith that has now resulted in steadfastness in us and praise and honor for Him. We experienced His presence and guidance and strengthening in ways that can only be attributed to the prayers of His people praying over us words that we didn’t even have for ourself. For this, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. God certainly changed our plans, but in a strange way, this detour has led us even more directly to what God was calling us to do. We get to work with a thriving church plant in a city we love. We are joining the work the Lord is already doing, which has always been our hearts’ desire.

We are excited to fill you in this upcoming year on all that God is doing here in Pittsburgh as He establishes new churches in the city for His glory. Thank you for your support and love. And merry Christmas!

 

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People and Parades

It has been a full summer already, and it’s not over yet! Read below for some highlights!


Bay Leaf Mission Team

In April, a mission team from Bay Leaf Baptist Church came to help serve our neighbors and core team families. In the pictures above, you can see the team graciously helping clean up the yard of a core team family that was dealing with unexpected hospital visits.

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This team also conducted door-to-door surveys in our borough. These spiritual surveys are a means to gauge the spiritual condition and needs of our neighbors. One of the most telling questions was when we asked, “Where do you turn for answers to life’s biggest questions?” Answers ranged from inner moral self to spouses to parents, but rarely ever to God or His Word.

BL Mission Team

We were able to follow up with many of the households by sending out thank you letters to those who took the time to answer the survey. In the thank you letters, we also invited our neighbors to our weekly Bible study. As we conducted the surveys, the team also had the opportunity to invite families with kids to Super Summer Sports Camp.

 


Super Summer Sports camp

Super Summer Sports Camp is a week-long summer camp for kids k-7th grade here in the borough of Crafton. Pleasant Garden Baptist Church has been running the camp for many years, and they have graciously allowed 412 Church to partner with them. In fact, they have become strong partners for us this past year, and we are so grateful for their support! The community of Crafton loves Super Summer Sports Camp and eagerly awaits the arrival of this love-filled team. In all, 112 kids registered for the camp this year, which broke all previous records!

IMG_2052Each day, the kids got to rotate between games like soccer or flag football to things like crafts, “Mass Organized Chaos,” and a Bible lesson. The kids hear one big truth from God’s Word each day, reminding them that they are created with purpose. Pastor Larry did a great job explaining Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and how everyone who trusts God to forgive him or her can be saved. The team also help serve the Ronald McDonald House at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and painted lines on a basketball court in Crafton. Their impact is felt throughout the borough and city every year.


Interns & Crafton Celebrates

Arlington Baptist Church sent us two interns who have jumped right in to work with us in serving the city. Muanpi and Zach will be with us for the month of July, and they have already been a huge help. They served as volunteers at our local week-long 4th of July carnival called Crafton Celebrates. The Crafton Celebrates team was glad to have extra help, and Zach and Muanpi’s unwavering service that week led to a great conversation with one of the leaders about her faith!

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One of the highlights of the Crafton Celebrates weekend is the opening day parade. 412 Church was represented for the first time by having a float in the parade. We had a blast walking running along aside our truck and handing out candy along the way. I even had three separate conversations with local residents while in the parade. One was with a gentleman named Leon and his kids, who were curious about 412 Church. Another was with a grandmother who had taken our spiritual survey and her grandkids. She remembered how lovely the people who talked to her were and wanted to get in touch with our church. The third conversation was with a few kids from the sports camp who remembered me and yelled, “Hey Pastor Greg!” while we drove by. I got to talk with them and their uncle after the parade ended. I can’t begin to tell you how good it was to see all our efforts coming together that day.


Thank you for praying for us and our small church as we represent Christ in our community. It’s making a difference!

When it rains, it pours

I know you have all heard the phrase “when it rains, it pours.” The phrase seems to have defined the past few weeks for our city, our family, and our little church. Here in the Burgh, we have experienced some crazy precipitation. Snow melts followed by rain and temperatures in the 60s are leading to problems for this town that generally knows how to handle winter weather. But what can you do when the Ohio River rises to its highest point in 13 years? Roads were closed, landslides have been affecting entire neighborhoods, trees and roofs are being damaged, and the power has gone out for many families.

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On the highway near the intersection of two of the busiest interstates in the city!   Photo Credit: Larry Gioia

For our family, the rain revealed some issues with our new house that needed resolved as quickly as possible. In one week, we realized our basement takes on water during heavy rain, our roof was leaking (which led to some damp spots on the ceilings in two bedrooms), and our dryer was no longer functioning. In order to get the dryer up and running again, strangely enough, our best option is to completely replace our breaker box, which apparently is so old that the manufacturer went out of business about 40 years ago!

Through all that we go through in life, it may seem like the phrase “when it rains, it pours” only refers to difficult situations. But during this seemingly crazy time, we’ve also seen it apply to blessings. Through the physical, financial, and emotional “rain” of all that has been going on, God has poured blessing onto us and our church! Let us share a just few of them with you:

  • During a small break in the weather this week, we were able to have a new roof completely installed, so we will not have to worry about it once #2 comes. The sun came out, and we had a chance to meet new neighbors and to interact with many neighbors we have not seen throughout the winter. We even found out about a few needs we hope to meet in the coming weeks!
  • God has provided jobs for members of our Bible study who desperately needed them.
  • We hosted a women’s event that rejuvenated many of the ladies in our group and introduced us to a new friend.
  • God gave us an incredible spiritual conversation with one couple we have been praying for fervently over the last 3 months.
  • We took a whirlwind road trip to NC and had a chance to visit friends and churches who partner with us in prayer, through mission teams, and by contributing financially to the church. Throughout the road trip, we were prayed for, encouraged, fed, housed, and loved in such beautiful ways. New partnerships were formed and old ones strengthened. It was refreshment for our souls!
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Visiting friends and playing at the museum!

You see, even in the rain, we are always reminded of God’s faithfulness! After all, He is the one who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). Are the sun or the rain trials we cannot face? No! We serve the God of the universe, who is always working His plans toward the fulfillment of His promises and “for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The promise we are holding to in this season? John 4:35b-36: “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. ”

No matter what this life brings, we pray to remain faithful to Him who brought us first to His kingdom, then to this city and these people, that we may see the harvest brought in and see both sower and reaper rejoice.  

Traction in the Snow

It is a cold, frigid winter here in Pittsburgh. Like a lot of places in the states, we are battling to keep snow off the roads and heat in our homes. One of the downsides of the winter season is the seeming lack of human interaction that can occur. For churches who want to reach out to others, the cold can thwart many outreach efforts. It’s really hard to get any traction going. BUT it’s not impossible.

Arlington Baptist Church sent up a college group at the beginning of the month intent on helping start some traction for us, and God greatly used their efforts and freezing feet. The very hour they arrived, I put them to work cleaning a child care room at the local church where we have just begun to host a community Bible study. This Bible study combines the core team of 412 Church with a group that had been studying together in the home of our friend Micah Lester (who is also a member of the core team). By meeting in a public location rather than our homes, we are able to invite even more people to join us and provide child care for the many kiddos our families have. Cultivate

God blessed this Bible study, and we are seeing great growth in this area of ministry. After cleaning the nursery, the Arlington team also provided childcare for the first week of the study so that all of us could meet together uninterrupted.

To help us form new bonds, the Arlington team learned a new strategy and put into practice what they learned by trying what I call “Eat to Exegete.” When we “eat to exegete,” the team and I maximize any time we spend eating out by engaging our waitresses with questions about their lives and asking to pray for them. On this trip, we were able to get to know some of the real problems a few ladies were facing–in one case, the suicide of a teenaged son. Practicing these humanizing habits in public settings is a great way to serve others in a situation where we often expect to be served. We also always make sure to leave a good tip!

The team also made meals for many not-yet-Christians Megan and I know to help us continue to build relationships. We delivered a ton (and I mean  a ton) of frozen chicken pot pies to friends who included Syrian refugees, Iraqi refugees, ex-drug addicts, ex-homeless, and some newcomers to Pittsburgh. A group of us guys got to sit down with the Iraqi family, eat with them, and engage them in conversation. Wow; not bad for the dead of winter!

Though six inches of snow and temperatures in the single digits may make the winter season seem like the worst time to gain traction in ministry, we are finding, unsurprisingly, that our God can do whatever He pleases whenever He pleases. Praise God for the work He is doing this winter!

Quitting my Day Job

I (Greg) have been working twelve-hour shifts on weekend nights for the past six and a half years. I often came home from Saturday night’s shift at 4am and then served at church Sunday morning. I also was working in Ohio, which meant long commutes and building relationships with non-Pittsburgh people I wouldn’t be able to invest in throughout the week. Although my job was a huge blessing in how it helped get us here to Pittsburgh and provide much of what we need physically, it became apparent over the last few months that something needed to change. Church planting responsibilities have ramped up, and it was beginning to feel like I was giving my spare time to the work God meant to be our full-time focus.

Although I see bi-vocationalism as a means to provide while being a viable part of the community, I clearly wasn’t in my community with this job. So here’s what you need to know:

  1. I quit my Walmart job. (Whoohoo!)
  2. I have been hired for a season (3-6 months) as a part-time interim associate pastor at Living Faith Community Church.
  3. I am in the interview process with Marketplace Chaplains to become a (really) part-time chaplain for a local Pittsburgh warehouse. This is a great opportunity for me to use my years as a forklift driver to speak into the lives of local workers in times of crisis.
  4. Additional funding for the work of 412 church has come in the form of a couple of great churches and individuals who have come on board as planting partners. We are thankful for the support shown by our partners in this way and will seek to honor their trust and confidence as we work together for the gospel in Pittsburgh!

Please pray that God will continue to provide all that I and our little family needs as we have taken this step of faith. Pray that we will be sensitive to His spirit and use this time to lean into the work He has for us. I am very excited for this new season. Thanks for praying alongside us. If many pray, many will be able to rejoice at God’s work. 

-Greg, Megan, and Graeson

 “On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.” 
2 Corinthians 1:10b-11