Photos from the past can make a grown adult’s face grimace.
You probably have a photo like that, tucked away in a cardboard box secretly stashed away in the attic of your parent’s house. For me, my embarrassing picture is online. Worse yet, it’s the first image that search engines pull up when you google my name. Go ahead, take a moment to google Cole Deike. The first picture you’ll see, a little athletic vanity shot, was snapped my freshman year of high school. High school photos are humiliating enough for all of us, but to multiply the shame, it’s a picture from the cold of winter in the middle of a long, grueling wrestling season. My cheeks? Sunken in from cutting weight. My hair? Decidedly orange, really hitting that sweet spot between the color’s transition from blonde to brown. Think of a young, Midwestern David Bowie. In truth, while I was a high school English teacher, one of my students tweeted the picture at my teacher account: “OMG THIS IS MR. DEIKE.” You can imagine the chain-reaction of retweets. They had discovered it. It’s that bad. Our past is a monument assembled by the Lord to humble us.
God takes great delight in humbling his children. He has many ways of accomplishing this purpose, but sometimes a brief snapshot from the past is the quickest way from point A to B, from pride to humility. For musicians, maybe it’s the first demo you recorded as an angsty teenager in your parent’s basement. For writers, maybe it’s one of the first poems you ever scribbled on a napkin in your spare time. For many Christians, maybe it’s all the unbiblical theology you believed about Jesus before the Bible patiently corrected you. Our skill evolves, our competency increases, our christlikeness grows, our youth matures. And in our growing up we sometimes carelessly grow out, puffing ourselves up with pride, only to be kindly reminded by the Lord who we once were. Paul does this in Romans: “You who were once slaves” (6:17). And in Ephesians: “You who were once far off” (2:13). And Colossians: “You who were once alienated and hostile in mind” (1:21). And 1 Peter: “Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (2:10). Our past is a monument assembled by the Lord to humble us.
I’ve found this to be uncomfortably true even of the vision for Frontier Church. As I type this, the vision for Frontier Church is roughly two or three years old, stretching in reverse past the beginnings of my church planting residency and even further back into my pastoral training at my sending church. A church planting friend of mine reminded me of a foolish blog I posted in the adolescence of my church planting residency, commenting “Well, when we read that blog, we were like we don’t want to be like that church plant!” I dug up the blog, long ago trashed, and read it again. In the blog, the volume of buzzfeed hype articles I had been digesting had led me to brand Des Moines as “hipster heaven.” And even my response was “Well, we don’t want to be like that!” while face-palming. Again, our past is a monument assembled by the Lord to humble us.
Since then Frontier Church has already grown up, her vision has matured, her philosophy of ministry has flourished, her mission has aged gracefully. A vision, like a person, has a way of taking on flesh, sprouting its own legs, and taking on a life of its own. It’s been so satisfying to watch Frontier Church grow up, and she’s still really young!
Growing up is the fruit of community labor. The vision for Frontier Church has flourished into a more beautiful bride because of God’s love for her channeled through many different means, like the guidance and training of Redeemer Church’s pastoral team. Or the sage words penned by godly saints in faithful books. But I’ve noted two seismic shifts in Frontier Church’s personality, shifts that I believe will add years and years of faithful life to this local church: a shift from fast church to slow church, and a shift from hip church to heritage church.
FROM FAST CHURCH TO SLOW CHURCH
When God first called me into church planting, he called me out of public school teaching. That adjustment felt tectonic, marking a change from security to uncertainty. Needless to say, I wiggled. My first reaction was to calibrate everything towards rapid, catalytic movement, to try to be the fastest church in the city. At all costs. But some wise fathers and mothers in the faith came alongside me and assessed it this way: “an unhealthy focus of coaching over and above pastoral ministry.” They were right. I was rocked by their diagnosis.
And so the ship has been recalibrated by the gentle navigation of God. Yes, I still want our Fighter Groups to plant more Fighter Groups, our Community Groups to plant more Community Groups, and our church to plant more churches. I really do. But God has helped me appreciate the quiet strength of small advances over and above loud, explosive gimmicks. Of long faithfulness in one steady direction. Like experiencing his grace in the common nourishments of bread and wine in communion. Or in the painful small steps of my own sanctification. And so I find myself less tempted to call our plant a movement, and more content in calling our plant a church; less tempted to call our church a catalyst, and more content in calling our church a family. I welcome rapid growth at Frontier Church, but also slow church is okay, so long as my wife, future kids, and lifelong friends have a healthy church to gather and worship with fifty years from now.
FROM HIP CHURCH TO HERITAGE CHURCH
When God first called me into church planting, he called me out of socially acceptable vocation. And at first, I confess I struggled with the insecurity of being a pastor. I come from a wrestling background, but even years after walking with Jesus, I still would have been more at home in a wrestling singlet than a pastor’s robe. In consequence, everything in me wanted to rebel against stereotypical notions of how pastors are perceived, desiring to be seen as still relevant, hip, and with it. Honestly, pastoral insecurity drives a young church planter quickly in the direction of “hipster church.” The idolatry of always needing to prove my relevance led me to an inability to receive some traditions and rituals that have been handed down by the historical church from age to age.
Yes, some of the young adults who comprise our church plant are well-dressed, ambitious individuals. And yes, we aim for excellence in music, branding, and design. In the purely superficial realm of judgement, perhaps we’ll never escape the label of “hipster church.” But if you stay and stick it out with us, you’ll note a profound and tangible respect for some values and practices of older generations who came before us. Who we are as a church is what we have received first from Jesus in his word, and second from his body, the church. Gone are the days of wanting to be the most relevant church in the city, and I welcome the unearthing of the countercultural identity of the church. Surprisingly, we’ve discovered as a church that we long to hear the same gospel our grandmas believed and confess the same liturgy our grandpas confessed. We find ourselves yearning for something timeless. We’re discovering that the future of the church is vintage. And we’re eager to get there with Frontier Church.