New T216 member invites everyone to the table
Matt and Naomi Buehrle and their family moved to Cleveland in 2008 to be part of a church planting effort. Things didn’t go quite as expected, but the journey taught Matt plenty about the Kingdom and God’s providence in all situations. After serving as an elder at Lighthouse Alliance Church in Rocky River, Matt, his family and a group of friends are teeing up a new adventure: a church plant to Cleveland’s west side inner ring suburbs. Thanks to his ongoing participation in Transform216, BHITC is along for the ride, too!
You moved to Cleveland to help start a new congregation, but then those plans didn’t work out. What are some of the lessons that experience taught you?
At the time, it felt like a disaster. I had uprooted my then family of three boys and a pregnant wife from Chicago to Cleveland. One of the roots of the failed attempt was that as a ministry team, we didn’t come to a mutual understanding and agreement about core values. The lead planter and I used the same words, but held different meanings of concepts like Biblical teaching and community. In a nutshell, I learned that values that aren’t tested or observed in real life aren’t worth much. And, I learned that when I have concerns about the chemistry of a ministry team, I should probably talk about them with my wife!
Describe the type of congregation you hope to see started? What do you hope it will be known for in the community? Why do you think starting new churches is important?
It is my hope and prayer that a congregation will be birthed on the west side of Cleveland (Cleveland, Lakewood, Rocky River) that always provides a spot at the table for those who haven’t found a spot that fits them elsewhere. The image of a “table” is important for me in this process because it describes how Jesus first came to us: “eating and drinking” with lots of different kinds of people. That’s a picture of what I want to see in this new church: people sharing meals together in their homes with those who haven’t yet found their way home to the family of God. When the people of God don’t just add another meeting to their schedule, but begin to simply do the normal stuff of life together and invite others to join them, we’ll be surprised what could happen.
Of course, Jesus was accused of being a drunkard and a glutton as he shared time around the table with the “wrong” kind of people. I think we, as a new church, would be in good company if we got some of the same accusations hurled at us, as we open up a spot at our tables – and in our lives – for those who would never park their seat in a pew.
Your plan is to be a bi-vocational church leader, meaning that you’ll continue to work a primary job as you plant a new church. Why is that approach important to you? What do you think are the advantages to bi-vocational ministry? What are the challenges?
My wife Naomi and I have been married for nearly 16 years. While we were dating before I went to divinity school she asked me, “why can’t pastors just work a regular job and do ministry on the side like the rest of us?” I agree that some should get paid in a full-time capacity, but I personally have bought into the Apostle Paul’s case for bi-vocational ministry. He made tents for a living; in my case, I adjudicate medical claims for a living. I love not having to be a burden on the congregation’s bottom line. I love seeing money that would have been used toward a full-time salary for me being used toward, perhaps refugee ministry, ministry to orphans and widows in their distress, and partial salaries of others serving alongside me.
Bi-vocational work will push you quickly into raising up other servant leaders to share the ministry. It will force me to be crystal clear with my time and energy – using the specific gifts God has given me; encouraging others to operate out of their gifting. As for the challenges of bi-vocational ministry, they are many. Burnout is a very real possibility if servant leaders are not raised up to shoulder the ministry alongside me – and quickly.
What value has participating in T216 added to your ministry and sense of call to plant a new congregation in Cleveland?
T216 has been critical in not only helping me shape and bring focus to my calling, but the camaraderie of this band of brothers has been a lot of fun, as well! I’ve been able to rub shoulders with guys who are in the thick of starting new churches. The seasoned pastors and church planters who serve as coaches in T216 are also a joy to be around. I feel confident in God going into this new venture, as I hear of the faithfulness of God to these guys in the midst of their struggles and successes in ministry over the years.
Live in Lakewood, Cleveland or Rocky River and want to learn more about the church plant Matt is leading? Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.