Tyler Chernesky at Christ Community Church in Kansas City gave an interesting talk about friendship and Proverbs at the Downtown location on October 7, 2018. This post looks at Christ Community Church and Tyler Chernesky as well as the man who is the driving force behind this EFCA church movement in the Kansas City metropolitan area – Tom Nelson. The amazing aspect of Tyler’s talk is seeing it play out in a challenging trip to Missouri amongst a couple of friends who I have known for years who validated what was taught.
“I’ve discovered a way to stay friends forever–
There’s really nothing to it.
I simply tell you what to do.”
“A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out.“
There are “friends” who destroy each other,
but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24 NLT
Tyler Chernesky closing in prayer at Christ Community Church’s Downtown campus.
One of the many things Mr. Rogers says about friendship.
When I realized that I was going to Kansas City I wanted to sit through a service at Christ Community Church. As I write heavily about the EFCA as an outsider I wanted to sit through and observe a service of this church that is affiliated with The Gospel Coalition. Please correct me if I am mistaken but Christ Community Church which has multiple locations is the largest EFCA church in the Midwest District of the EFCA. It was an interesting experience and this happened during a challenging trip in a hard time during life.
Tom Nelson speaking about work.
An Overview of Tom Nelson’s Christ Community Church
The story of Christ Community Church actually goes back to 1988. Tom Nelson and his wife worked to plant an EFCA church in the Kansas City area. Christ Community started out as a Bible study and eventually moved to hold its first worship service on March 5, 1989. The first service occurred in an office building at Prairie Village, Kansas. In time Christ Community met at a couple of schools. In 1994 the church acquired ten acres in southern Leawood, Kansas. Construction began in 1999 and what would become the series of churches in the Kansas City area grew out of Leawood. In 2000 The Leawood church opened and held its first worship service. This blog considers Leawood to be the main location for Christ Community Church if my research is correct. The next location planted was Olathe campus in Kansas in 2006. Following that is the Downtown campus which started in 2010. In 2012 a campus in Brookside was begun and the last campus was started in Shawnee, Kansas. Tom Nelson is the force behind Christ Community Church and I will look at him in detail next. Bill Gorman leads the Brookside location, Gabe Coyle leads the Downtown extension. Andrew Jones leads the Leawood location while Tom Nelson is the senior pastor. Nathan Miller at Olathe appears to wear a couple of different hats in the organization but he is the senior pastor at that location. In the link I am going to provide you can read about the philosophy behind Christ Community and all how campuses work together.
Tom Nelson attended the University of Minnesota and the University of North Dakota. He then went on staff at Campus Crusade first at Minnesota and then the University of Kansas. Crusade transferred Tom to Southern Methodist University down in Texas. Tom picked up a degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. Upon finishing he decided to relocate to Kansas City and worked at planting Christ Community Church. Christ Community grew out of his apartment. He then went onto Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he earned a DMin. Tom would go on for becoming known for connecting faith and work. He did this with a ministry that he started called Made to Flourish. It networks pastors and has events all around the United States. At The Gospel Coalition in 2015 they wrote about this unique ministry in, “Tom Nelson to Lead New Pastors Network.” The EFCA also announced Made to Flourish in an announcement which you can read here. One event that appears to be key to Tom’s ministry is when he confessed to practicing “pastoral malpractice.” Tom wrote about this for The Gospel Coalition which you can read here. His confession was also discussed and featured at the national EFCA Today in the summer of 2012 which you can read here. At The Gospel Coalition he serves on the council for the organization. He also has published a large number of articles. You can read some of those articles here, here, here, here and here. These articles are designed to give you a taste of some of Tom’s work which is prolific. In addition to writing articles Tom has published a couple of books that deal with the theme of work. That includes, “Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work” and “The Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity.”
Tyler Chernesky preaching at Trinity
Tyler Chernesky at Downtown Christ Community
Tyler Chernesky is from Fort Wayne, Indiana where he attended Carroll High School. He thrived in forensics and was notable for doing extemporaneous speaking. He also was involved in student government. Tyler attended Indiana University in Bloomington in 2008. He wrote an opinion column for the university newspaper called the Indiana Daily Student. At Indiana he was involved in Cru and he studied English, history and religious studies. Upon finishing he enrolled in Trinity Evangelical Divinity School from 2012 to 2015. He also worked in the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity which is on the Deerfield campus. He earned his Masters of Divinity and moved to Kansas City and became an Associate Pastor at Christ Community Church in January of 2016. He lives in Kansas City’s Westport neighborhood and he deeply enjoys musicals and plays. Plus according to my research one of Tyler’s hobbies is to travel.
Tyler’s Talk on Friendship and Proverbs
Tyler Chernasky gave a talk on October 7, 2018 about friendship which is part of a series at Christ Community called “Restart Smart.” The talk was based off Proverbs 20:6, 18:24, and 27:17. Tyler started out by showing Fred Rogers stating that friendship is the challenging work of building friendship. And then choosing the costly path of love. As Tyler said good friends are hard to build and few are interested in the effort. Many people want friends but few want to be there for a friend. They often think that a friendship is for them only. In our society friendship is often devalued, and many people think that the only intimacy comes from romantic relationships. Tyler stated that in the church the Biblical concept of friendship has been lost. But its important to note that the Bible strongly urges friendship. Drew Hunter has gone on to state that the Bible is all about friendship. From Adam, God’s relationship with Abraham, Moses speaking to God, Jonathan and David and Ruth and Naomi are all examples of friendship. Jesus, as Tyler said, ate with sinners and sought friendship with them. Outside the church passionate romance has been elevated, and inside the church marriage has been held up so high that everyone has suffered.
The first aspect of friendship is to be self aware according to the Christ Community pastor. People need to search their own heart and be self aware. Tyler shared a story as to how he is an aggressive achiever and how he he takes it hard as he is a terrible texter. Its hard for him to receive a text stating “I miss you” as he interprets it differently. He feels he is letting someone down, when in reality his friend just misses him and validates their friendship by the text. What also helps people become more self-aware is counseling, journaling, prayer to God, and to ask a trusting person to receive feedback. The next point is to commit to radical candor. Its important to be able to challenge others directly when appropriate. You do so out of love to help guide people long term. Telling the truth can be difficult at times. Tyler reminded the congregation of Proverbs in “faithful is the wounds of a friend.” That was followed by making forgiveness a habit. Friendships die when people ruminate and continue to hold issues against people. Forgiveness is messy and he acknowledged that in some situations boundaries are important. He knows that there are people who have been hurt, or rejected or stayed in a friendship they should not have. He recalled what David wrote in the 55th Psalm about how painful it was to be betrayed by a friend. Tyler asked the question are you withholding forgiveness? The fourth point he wanted to emphasize is practice self-sacrifice. Often times many Christians think of self-sacrifice only in the context of marriage. They forget that friendships also require self sacrifice. Tyler pointed to Jesus as he made his point. Jesus was not married, was single and had no partner. John was Jesus best friend. Jesus called people out and sought their friendship. As he closed the talk the pastor of Christ Community Church asked are you the kind of friend you would want?
Analysis of Tyler’s Talk
I sat through Tyler’s talk and really chewed on it. The sermon was good and I appreciated it in many ways. These are some of what stood out for me as I listened to the Christ Community Church pastor’s talk. Much of what he said was practical and I considered to be healthy. In talking about forgiveness and friendship I appreciate how he brought up boundaries. That is important in life. Another aspect that I was grateful for is how Tyler was willing to look at the scripture through the lens of other Bibles. At some Neo-Calvinist churches that ESV version is deified. Tyler in his talk also used the New Living Translation I think is good. If you want to read more about the issues I have with the ESV you can do so in, “Wayne Grudem’s Un-Orthodox View of the Trinity and the Question that Must Be Asked: Can the ESV Bible be Trusted?” When Tyler was willing to share from his own life from his own friendships I found that encouraging. Often in some churches there is a do as I say attitude from people who will not share from their own life. Tyler’s delivery came across as fresh, honest and solid. As I wrote about issues in Neo-Calvinism I started to realize that there are many different streams inside the movement. Tyler seemed to be less rabid as compared to some people I met from Sovereign Grace or Acts 29 a while back. I do agree with what Tyler said about marriage. In evangelicalism marriage is made into an idol and is being worshiped. That is a legacy of the evangelical culture wars and from people like James Dobson. This is one of the reasons why I think James Dobson has been so toxic to evangelicalism. I wrote about Focus on the Family in, “An Overview of Focus on the Family and Questions The Wondering Eagle Would Like to Answer in Time.”
There is one aspect to his sermon that has weighed on my mind and its this consideration. Tyler spoke about the importance of forgiveness. I would suggest that for forgiveness to work it needs to be coupled to sincere repentance or remorse for hurting a person. In writing this blog over and over one of the lessons I get from evangelicals is that many do not practice forgiveness. Nor do they own error. And I would like to ask if the reasons why that is, because evangelicals often follow people who do not seek forgiveness, admit error or own mistakes? For example look at Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill Seattle. He has hurt countless people in his “ministry” before he fled to Scottsdale, Arizona. The same is true for C.J. Mahaney from Sovereign Grace. After practicing blackmail on Larry Tomczak and allegedly covering up child sex abuse inside SGM he also fled to Louisville, Kentucky. He didn’t own or seek forgiveness for his sins. Can you imagine the message that could be sent to Seattle, Washington, or the Washington, D.C. area if either one of those individuals sought forgiveness and owned their mistakes and spiritual abuse?
With the exception of one story I have written here this also occurs inside the EFCA many Christians do not ask for forgiveness. Let me explain with some examples. When I wrote about Matt Boedy’s situation at an EFCA/Acts 29 church in Columbia, South Carolina he didn’t receive forgiveness for the wrongs that he experienced. The Acts 29 pastor James Walden never owned his mistakes or asked for Matt Boedy to forgive him. In Matt Boedy;s case counseling law was broken and his spiritual abuse situation went all the way up the EFCA to the top in Minneapolis, Minnesota. You can read about Riverside Community Church in, “Disturbing Allegations of Spiritual Abuse at James Walden’s Acts 29 Riverside Community Church in Columbia, South Carolina.” D.A. Carson was a professor that Tyler Chernesky probably had at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Carson lashed out at a rape victim from Sovereign Grace while defending C.J. Mahaney in a statement from The Gospel Coalition which you can read here. Carson recently retried from Trinity and he didn’t own his mistake or seek forgiveness from the person he wounded. You can read about it in, “From D.A. Carson to Steve Estes the Following Question Must be Asked: Is the Evangelical Free Church of America a Safe Place for Sexual Assault Victims?” As a result of Carson retiring and the EFCA letting this injustice stand I would propose that many parts of the corporate EFCA do not believe in seeking forgiveness for wrongs that are committed. How distressing is that? That many parts of Christianity can’t practice something as basic as that?
Having explained all that there is one exception that deserves to be singled out and recognized. It comes from the EFCA’s Eastern District Superintendent Eddie Cole. At the time an EFCA Church known as Community Evangelical Free of Elverson, Pennsylvania practiced church discipline and excommunication on an alleged sexual assault victim who knows she could be dead in a domestic abuse situation. You can read the story in, “Steve Estes and Community Evangelical Free Church in Elverson, Pennsylvania: A Painful Story of Domestic Abuse, Inappropriate Church Discipline, and Failed EFCA Polity.” In trying to work out the situation Eddie Cole met with the family of the victim and on behalf of the EFCA apologized for the incredible injustice that took place. His apology was appreciated not just by the family but also in the community. Now many of these situations I am raising are not in the context of friendship which is a key difference. However, seeking forgiveness and owning pain from a mistake goes a long way. Its especially important if as Tyler says Jesus seeks our friendship and forgives us. This issue of Christians not practicing forgiveness I would suggest is why much of evangelicalism has deep systemic issues.
Seeing What was Taught at Christ Community Church Play out in Missouri and Kansas
Before I get into the history of two individuals who I call James Crestwood and Scott Van Sweringen at this blog let me explain the reason why I was in Kansas City. My Mom died after a long painful illness on April 1, 2017. My Dad has had a difficult time with the loss of his partner for 53 years. My Dad also has been dealing with a brain tumor for six years. Recently an MRI at Stanford University showed that his brain tumor has been growing again. The news is not what we wanted to hear. Dad has expressed that he has wanted to travel. My sister took him to a medical meeting in Hawaii where he connected with medical colleagues and he also traveled to his hometown of Butte, Montana. Dad used to live and work in Columbia, Missouri when he was employed by the Medical School of the University of Missouri. He has wanted to go back and see it for years. With the recent medical news of Dad I suggested to my sister why don’t we take Dad to Missouri? He has wanted to see Columbia for most of his adult life, why not take him there and let him experience it again? My sister and I decided to take that course of action and that is why I was in Missouri for most of the week. This was a trip for my Dad to allow him to enjoy life and have a deep, rich and meaningful life. We also took Dad to a few other locations that he wanted to see. For example the Truman Library in Independence and the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas.
Tyler Chernesky at Christ Community Church started out his talk by discussing what Mr. Rogers said about friendship. About the challenge of building friendships and what that is. Let me briefly recall two individuals who I have met in different stages in my life. James Crestwood I met in 2006 here in Washington, D.C. He worked for Kansas Senator Jerry Moran and handled his social media. James invited me to his church National Community Church as led by Mark Batterson. The relationship at times has not always been easy but much has happened over the years. James witnessed a faith crisis that I started to experience. The darkest moment of this friendship was when he was leaving for Kenya to be a missionary and I was diving into a faith crisis. We stood outside Ebenzer’s Coffeehouse screaming at each other. Afterward I apologized and he wanted to keep in contact. I wrote about this in, “Growing Doubt, a Foreshadow of what is to come for 5 years, and James and Gina Head to Kenya.” When he and his wife were in Kenya I sent them packages which helped both of them. Lots of beef jerky and craisons for his wife. When he came back to Washington, D.C. to work he wanted to connect. James was there even while my faith crisis dragged on for almost five years. When my leg became infected from some bacteria I picked up at the gym, he visited and helped out in the hospital. My times in both a hospital and nursing home was almost a month combined. When my Dad had a medical crisis in 2012 and we learned he was dealing with a brain tumor he told me to come over to his apartment at almost 3:00 in the morning. As my family was dealing with a medical crisis in California he hugged me and said, “I can’t imagine what you are feeling.” Then he reached out again when I faced a false accusation from someone who tried to get me involved in a Sovereign Grace church here in the Washington, D.C. area. That false accusation was the darkest season of my life. He heard about what happened and wanted to meet right away. I still recall talking with him in a park in D.C. and him saying, “I have no idea how I could recover from such a situation.” James saw me pull slowly out of a faith crisis. When he came to D.C. we wanted to visit. When my Mom died after a long illness on April 1, 2017 James was the first person who contacted me. He called within a matter of minutes and as I was walking back to the car in the hospital parking lot. As I was grieving and dealing with the situation he actually invited me to come out to Kansas and spend time with him and his family and help out with his livestock and farm. And when his Mom died earlier this year I reached out to him to see how he was processing it. I have written a number of open letters to James. You can read those here, here, here and here. That is one friendship.
Scott Van Sweringen I met through Facebook in the depths of a personal faith crisis in 2010 or so. Scott is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and he helps run the City Union Mission in Kansas City. When I was an agnostic but in reality a militant atheist he pursued and wanted to talk about faith and more. Scott is a guy who likes model trains and is a fan of the former Nickel Plate Road railroad. In contrast I like the Northern Pacific, Milwaukee Road, and Great Northern. Scott built that bridge with me. It was rocky at times and the friendship looked like it would not survive. When I was pulling out of a faith crisis that consumed half my thirties Scott encouraged and spoke regularly by phone. As a result we have had this friendship for almost 9 years. When I passed through Kansas City on the way into Kansas Scott has wanted to meet and talk. I have written about him in an open letter here.
When I flew to Kansas City on Friday October 5, I was already in touch with both James and Scott. Scott and I got together at a Panera Break before he reported to work on October 9 at 6:30 in the morning. We met at the Panera off Berry Road. There Scott and I spoke about a lot of things. We discussed death and dying. He shared personal loss in his own life and watching a relative deal with Alzheimer’s disease. We spoke about the issues and problems within evangelicalism. From its strong embrace of politics to his gratefulness that Moody has stayed away from politics and is not like Liberty University. Nearly two hours flew by in what felt like 15 minutes. The last time I was in Kansas City he invited me over to his house to show me his model train layout. That is the picture I have above this section. We hoped to get together again later on in the week but that did not work out. Family commitments and his Honda CRV developing problems prevented that from occurring. Sometimes that happens and I understand as people are busy. But as I reflect in what Tyler Chernesky preached in the context of Scott he reached out and continued to support. He has forgiven when I approached him after my faith crisis. He has invested a lot of time, been kind, and texts me regularly. Knowing how I feel and the theological issues I deal with from time to time he texts messages on how he feels about a number of issues or what he learned in working in a homeless mission. Its very different than what some people learn in a suburban church setting. And last of all Scott speaks his mind when he feels he needs to and for that I am grateful.
When I took my Dad to Abilene James came over to the motel we were staying in after dinner at the Brookfield Hotel. On October 10 I saw James in the lobby and we hugged for a couple of minutes. He took me around Abilene and shared about his family connections to the town. We went to a bar in Abilene and grabbed a beer. For an hour and a half we had some hard but healthy discussions about grief, mourning, loss and death. He talked about the decision he and his brothers faced in Kansas City to remove his Mom from life support. He talked about how his individual brothers are dealing with the death of their Mom and how his Dad is dealing with it. He spoke about his parents marriage and how his Dad is strict and blunt while his Mom was kind and appealed to the best of you. James spoke about how he has wept a couple of times and wonders when the death of his Mom will hit him fully. I shared what I learned about death and dying. How I have spoken with a grief counselor and the challenges it has left for my family. My family has been broken. I mourn and grieve this regularly.
The following day we had breakfast in a Perkins in Salina, Kansas. Tyler at Christ Community spoke about how a friend challenges when appropriate. James asked me about some of what I have written. Its an honest question and while I deal with heavy topics at times I also try and use this blog to help others. And to process what I have experienced. Recently I had a situation which I shared with James at Perkins. I wrote about an Acts 29/EFCA church in Saint Paul, Minnesota called Trinity City Church. Trinity is planting another Acts 29 with Fellowship Associates of which John Bryson of Acts 29 Fellowship Memphis is deeply involved. You can read the post in, “Acts 29 Trinity City Church Plants Immanuel Fellowship in Minneapolis with Fellowship Associates. Is the Culture that Led to the Alleged Cover-up of Voyeurism and Child Pornography in Fellowship Memphis Being Duplicated in the Twin Cities?” After I wrote that post one of James friends and someone I interacted with in the past contacted me. Turns out I wrote about his church and he was not that pleased. So to be fair I wrestle with some of this and at times I do not enjoy this. But I also shared how I have been able to help people find peace. The same peace I was denied. James also spoke with me about his faith and what he is learning. And he continued to challenge me at Perkins like he had done for 12 years. That afternoon my sister, Dad and I after finished at the Eisenhower Library went to Cozi Inn in Salina for lunch. Cozi’s is one of the top burger places in Kansas. And James came by to say hello to my Dad and sister. Plus he also wanted to say goodbye and asked me to keep in touch. That was hard for me to let him go. As I reflect on James he has always intervened in the most difficult periods of my life. From a medical crisis, to a false accusation to my Mom’s death. He has always worked hard at building that friendship and speaking truth into my life. He has shown me a lot of grace and mercy. Tyler Chernesky’s talk stuck in my mind as I was leaving Salina.
So as I wind this long post down for me in a difficult situation amidst a parent dealing with an illness I saw Tyler Chernesky’s sermon come alive after I left Christ Community. In a Panera Brea in Kansas City to a bar in Abilene, Kansas the spiritual lessons from Christ Community came alive. And there is another aspect that I also chewed on as well over the past week. Are there different streams of Neo-Calvinism with some being aggressive and militant and others being kind and compassionate? If I am going to be honest and committed to truth I need to reflect more upon that at a later time. But it was one of the more practical sermons I have listened to and for that I am grateful that I made a decision to sit through the service at Downtown Christ Community Church. Since Tyler likes musical theater I am going to sign off with a song from Wicked that deals with friendship. Christ Community it was a pleasure sitting through your service.