The older I get, the more time I spend in the doctor’s office.. I used to be in and out, offering a prompt and polite no when she would ask “is there anything else bothering you?” These days, I live for that question. I come alive. I usually have a detailed list of complaints (complete with a list of potential Google & WebMD diagnoses that have been thoroughly researched and vetted). I’m reminded of this issue with nagging back pain a few years ago. A few years ago, I spent months unsuccessfully trying to fix my nagging back pain with all the typical remedies—massages, heating pads, stretching, ginger ale, you name it. Nothing really worked. In the moment I would feel better, but I wasn’t getting any better. So I slouched into the doctor’s office with my complaints.

I told her about my symptoms, raising my voice to compensate for the loud rustling of the construction paper laced patients’ bench. After a few minutes of having me lie on my stomach, she asked me to sit up. I was puzzled because she never touched my back once. She spent her time around my hamstrings and knees. She seemed distracted, and now I was a little upset. So I promptly and politely reminded her my hamstrings felt fine; it was my back that was the problem. But she promptly and politely volleyed my rebuke back across the net and corrected me.

One sentence from her changed my perspective—not just about my back but about life and ministry. She said, “Listen, John, since it’s all connected, the source of your problem may not be the place you notice the greatest symptoms.” The pain in my back found its root in the tightness of my hamstrings. To fix my back, I needed to focus on my hamstrings.

She wasn’t distracted. She just had a different area of practical focus.

Her solution: “Spend time strengthening and stretching those hamstrings, and that issue in your back will take care of itself. It may take a while for you to start feeling better, but eventually you’ll get better.”

Remember, It’s all connected.

What Does That Have to Do With Crete?

When it comes to church planting, we’re going to be spending a lot of time on what some may consider the hamstrings and knees. So as you pull up to the blog, we ask you to trust us (the way I trusted my doctor).

Our mission is to strengthen distressed and neglected Black and Brown communities by planting and supporting gospel-preaching, justice-driven churches in those communities. We want to see churches planted, people saved, and communities changed. All three. And we realize it’s all connected.

Here are three quick reminders about who we are (and who we’re not) at The Crete Collective that will help you make sense of what you’ll read on this blog.

1. We AREN'T distracted. We just have a different focus.

Historic and systemic injustices have created neighborhoods of poverty and need that are disproportionately Black and Brown. So much of my experience in church planting ignores the people and their conditions in these neighborhoods, leaving them distressed and vulnerable.

Issues like poverty, food insecurity, compounded trauma, and a race-based occupational hierarchy that keeps so many in our communities unemployed or underemployed can’t be overlooked any longer. If they are, we may continue to feel better that churches are planted, but the communities won’t get better.

By focusing on these issues, we aren’t distracted any more than my doctor was by focusing on my hamstrings and knees. It’s all connected. Each of these issues needs to be addressed head-on with the full force of the good news of Jesus embodied in the church. That means more than just the attention of a few scattered church members, but in some way, the collective force of the church as a whole.

So we’ll spend ample time talking about many of those things here. As we do, please believe us when we say, we’re not distracted. We’re just focusing on the hamstrings that need to be stretched and strengthened.

2. We ARE into Construction, not Demolition.

We’re builders. We believe in the power of the Church Universal AND we believe in the potential of the church institutional. We’re builders.

We live in communities that have been dismantled from the outside in and the inside out. Our neighbors have been hit by tornados of racism, dehumanization, and discrimination. Tidal waves of redlining and gentrification have swept over neighborhoods full of people who (stereotypically) aren’t the greatest swimmers. The remaining structures are crumbling from the termites of hopelessness, despair, and apathy.

These realities show us that our communities don’t need fewer institutions but different ones. Better ones. We need institutions aimed at restoring a sense of family, dignity, and hope for those who have endured so much strife, marginalization, and tragedy. Our communities know what it is to see things destroyed. We want to provide a different vision.

To that end, we are builders. Construction workers. We are those who assume this project of planting churches in distressed and neglected communities can and should affect both eternal and economic realities. We want to build institutions that devote attention to what’s of chief importance without suggesting that other areas of concern are unimportant.

In this social media age, where the quickest way to gain friends is to rally around tearing someone or something down, we want to give our energy to the construction of churches that aim to build up their communities.

3. We ARE Disinterested in being Defensive.

We’ve spent enough time offering an apologetic for the work we hope to do in our communities. We’ve frequently responded to questions like:

  • Why focus on Black and Brown communities and not all poor communities? Isn’t that partiality?
  • Why continue to champion pursuits of justice as opposed to conversations about unity, harmony, and reconciliation?
  • Why start a completely new network instead of just operating within existing structures you all have been a part of in the past?

Asking is a good thing. It shows a desire to understand, a humility to realize understanding may come from outside of yourself, and a confidence that there’s someone out there who has the answers. The questions are good ones. The problem isn’t in the asking; it’s in the time it takes to answer. It’s time taken away from addressing the actual problems that affect our communities—especially since so many of those answers have already been given in such great detail elsewhere.

Our limited time and resources already have an appointment with the urgent concerns of our neighbors. It’s our deep interest in addressing these problems which makes us disinterested in repeatedly providing an apologetic for the legitimacy of our work.

We’re tired of only doing historical work on our back legs—loading up on history in order to volley accusations of unfaithfulness back across the net when they’re served our way. We think history is more powerful when used as a proactive call to action rather than a reactive defense to claims of unfaithfulness.

We’re attempting to build something different. Among other things, that means new and different relationships marked by different partnership boundaries of essential and non-essential In essence, our hope is to move forward with those who understand the necessity and urgency behind our mission, as opposed to spending our time convincing the disinterested of their need for involvement.

We want to give our energy to the disenfranchised—those negatively affected by problems the disinterested deny exist. From here on out, you’ll hear a lot of what we’re for, not what we’re against.

A Brief Road Map of What's to Come

A little while ago, my daughter caught on that I navigate by using my cell phone. She asked to see it one day, and I obliged. I thought it was sweet she wanted to know where we were going. I quickly realized she didn’t care about where we were going. She just wanted to know when I’d be making a sharp turn so she could brace for it. It turns out Daddy is a bit of an aggressive driver.

Consider this introductory post as the same courtesy I gave to my daughter. You may expect this blog to be like those of other organizations with a strong desire for church planting and revitalization. In many ways, the journey will feel the same; however, there will be some different and (maybe) unexpected areas of focus.

So here’s a brief roadmap we’ve offered to our first cohort of church planters. We hope this gives you a sense of how things are connected, not just that they are. There may be sharp turns into unfamiliar territory, and I don’t want you hitting the eject button because you think we’ve lost our way. We want you to see the upcoming turns so you can lean in with us.