Rather than writing a typical “do-this-and-you’ll-succeed” series of blogs on church planting, the CGCS is displaying the story of a new team; the highs, the lows, the flaws, the successes, the providence, the frustration; all of this will be present in the blogs and cover various topics. Sometimes they will be writing blogs solo, other times (like today) they will be writing on the same topic, but independent of each other’s responses to the prompt. Today, they answer the question, “So you’re planting a church; why Washington DC?”
After years of prayer, counsel, and consideration, my wife (Abby) and I (Wesley) concluded that God had called us to plant churches in Washington DC. When I try to answer the question “Why DC?” multiple stories of God’s providence and timing rush to the forefront.
The story began in college. Abby and I had a few particulars for what type of city we wanted to minister in. First, we wanted to plant in a city that had a great need for gospel witness. Washington DC has become a center for urbanization and has had a significant increase in population. Simultaneously, there has been a decline of churches in the city, leaving a great need for healthy gospel ministry.
Also, we wanted a city that was full of international people groups. While in college, Abby and I had a huge heart for international ministry. In fact, she helped start a ministry for international students studying at our university. We desired to find a place where the nations lived, and DC is a city filled with internationals coming for jobs, refuge, and education. Lastly,we desired to plant a church in a city of influence. I studied U.S. history and U.S. military history in my undergrad, and I learned more about DC than any other city in the world. Washington DC is arguably the most influential and powerful city in the world and influences the culture of our country in a variety of ways.
The next chapter of our story begins by looking back a few years to Abby’s freshman college roommate. This roommate was only there for her first semester of college and then transferred to a university closer to home. What was a seemingly insignificant event, has turned into the beginning of a lifelong ministry partnership. My wife lost touch with her for a number of years, but her and her husband ended up becoming our neighbors at SEBTS. The two I speak of are Jordan and Macey Thigpen. They entered our lives in God’s timing right as we began to not just consider, but engage with the idea of planting in DC. We quickly became best friends with Jordan and Macey, and it was evident that God had placed them in our lives to be on mission together in DC.
Months later, Jordan invited my wife and I to meet Ben Palka, who was gathering a team to plant a church in DC. You see, God provided a desire and passion for the city of DC early, while simultaneously orchestrating friendships later that would partner with us on this mission. This is the beginning of our story of how God has providentially called us to Washington DC and we couldn’t be more excited.
One spring while I (Jordan) was in college at Georgia Southern University, I got a phone call asking if I would like to be an intern at a church in the Washington DC area for the summer. I was a day away from signing a contract to work a summer camp. Accepting that invitation to be an intern in the DC area was the first of multiple providential events that captured my heart for church planting in the District.
I have heard some people give reasons for choosing a city to plant a church like, “I just fell in love with the city,” “I could really see my family thriving there,” or “I just have a heart for those people.” Those are all valid reasons! When I try to answer, “Why DC?” I can only reply with 1) because there is great need and 2) God’s providence has led me there. I’m not going to DC because I have a lot to offer the city (I had stress headaches and shoulder tension my first month in my internship near DC). I am going because I know God desires disciples to be made in Washington DC, and I am willing to be a vessel.
After the internship, I returned to finish my last two years at Georgia Southern. I met my wife, Macey. We got married, and applied to attend SEBTS. Now, only a year and half into my degree, God’s providence has found me again. The church I am a member at, Imago Dei Church, was interested in planting a church in DC long before I was a member. Things began to spin much faster when our best friends here at SEBTS, Wesley and Abby Welch, approached us wanting to do ministry together in Washington DC. Shortly after this, Ben Palka stood up at a member’s meeting of Imago Dei and announced he wanted to gather a team to plant in DC. Those last two sentences could sum up “Why DC?” God has orchestrated clarity on two essential things: the work is blatantly needed, and the coworkers are irresistible to partner with.
I was raised in upstate New York and did not have faith until college. I was a happy hypocrite, serving as the student-body vice president at my college and living a completely non-Christian lifestyle. Jesus saved me from myself, and my life has never been the same. I started sharing the gospel to everyone, discipling new friends, and preaching Christ all over New York. I eventually started working at a church, starting some ministries, and eventually moving a long way away to seminary (SEBTS). Since becoming a Christian, I have always found the most satisfaction in directly participating in the mission of God.
The need for gospel work in Washington, D.C. is massive. The city continues to experience drastic change as a development boom has brought revitalization accompanied by new homes, apartments, businesses, and attractions. The population is growing more and more as people come to live and work in this world-class metropolis. While there are some faithful churches in the city, the population growth, and the need for effective evangelism, Christian friendships, and rightly contextualized teaching demands many more.
These are all factors that could interest any reasonable Christian worker to move and labor here. Yet, it is my local church, my own aspiration, and God’s providence that gives me the determination to plant the gospel in our Nation’s Capital.
I have been immeasurably blessed to have helped plant, serve, learn, and be a member at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, N.C for about five years. The elders of our church helped birth, affirm, support, and celebrate this church-planting effort as a good endeavor. It is wonderful to have a church family praying, supporting, and joining your work.
My background in unbelief, progressivism, urban ministry, evangelism, preaching, and politics fit well in D.C. Being in a context where I am around ambitious, work-driven people without vibrant faith is a dream come true. I love the rhythms of this city and simply want to be here on mission.
Finally, God’s providence in bringing our team together is a great testimony to his mercy and grace. It has already been mentioned, but there have been far too many moments during the last few months of pre-preparation where puzzle pieces have fit perfectly. I can see and rejoice in God’s weaving together of the Thigpen’s, the Welch’s, and my life to be on mission together.