Put On Your Work Boots and Build Some Bridges

May 20, 2019

You can’t talk about the city of Pittsburgh without talking about her bridges. These “Aztec gold” steel links do so much more than transport cars and pedestrians from point A to point B. These bridges, stretching across three rivers that convene downtown, also pull together dozens of diverse and charming neighborhoods – all distinct in their own ways. The connecting power of these bridges is what has grown Pittsburgh into the passionate and thriving city it is today.

Take the bridges away and what would be left is just a bunch of isolated communities with unrealized potential.

Such is true for God’s expression of connectivity on earth – the local church. From this perspective, Pittsburgh’s strength is also her biggest problem: we need more bridges … the “local church” kind of bridges that connect the Kingdom of heaven to earth so that people can experience the newness of life that Jesus came to bring.

Oh, sure, Pittsburgh has a lot of church buildings. In fact, many have rich histories and elaborate exteriors firmly cemented into prime property that yet another mattress company is drooling over for its next location. But many of those church buildings are closing their doors at an alarming rate. So, just like a closed bridge becomes a steel barrier between two communities, church buildings alone can’t make Kingdom connections.

Then there is the hurt experienced by so many of our Catholic brothers and sisters as one of the most tragic abuse by priests scandals unfolds right here in Pittsburgh.

Boy does our city need more bridges – local churches! Not ones of brick and mortar, steel and concrete. We need local living churches — vibrant groups of Jesus followers – who are ready to live out their faith in ways that infiltrate this city, unleashing God’s power to make all things new.

As bleak as all of this sounds, I see great hope. In the same way that the former grime and smoke from Pittsburgh’s industrial heyday has largely blown away, the darkness of spiritual isolation is slowly lifting, too.

There’s a deficit of churches. But when I think about the way this city values gritty, hard-working, “from the ground up,” self-starters, I think Pittsburgh’s spiritual future lies in the hands of church planters.

The Mehaffey Family with Pittsburgh in the backgroundThat’s why I said “yes” to moving my family to Pittsburgh last year. Toney Salva is an entrepreneurial leader who pioneered new church planting in the northern part of Pittsburgh. He saw where the city was stretching out 15 years ago and moved his family here to start a church that is all about making all things new. When a leader like Toney invites you to come and investigate his city, you say “yes.” And I’m so glad I did. I quickly saw how Discovery was leading the way in connecting people to the Kingdom of heaven, and very involved in bridge-building through new church planting, both locally and around the world. And I wanted to be a part of it.

Now a year later, I can say with great anticipation that I strongly encourage – and even implore – young church planters to take a look at Pittsburgh. Different neighborhoods need different churches and with Pittsburgh having so many varieties of neighborhoods, we need a wide variety of men and women to come and start some churches.

Of course, Pittsburgh’s not alone. Cities across the country are being hit with the one-two punch of church closings, combined with disenfranchisement with the local church. I can remember growing up in the church and meeting so many missionaries who were going to “other places” around the world to tell people about Jesus. Today, we know that in the United States, church planting is one of the most effective ways for reaching people with the Good News of Jesus Christ.

So come join gritty “starters” like Brandon and Danielle Stephenson, who launched One Church in Chartiers Valley. Or Brian and Kristi Henry who started Treeline Church in Pittsburgh Technical College.

I applaud these brave bridge-builders and challenge those of you considering church planting to put on your steel-toed work boots and get started.

Now in full disclosure, church planting is not easy. I had to be honest with myself and realize that – as driven as I am – even I’m not a church planter. (Read more about that here…)

But for those of you who are wired to be the inventors – to do the hard work needed to start something out of nothing, I can guarantee you’ll be fueled by the power of the same Spirit that rose Jesus from the dead, along with an army of innovators like me, who want to come alongside you to start a healthy, life-giving churches.

Matt Mehaffey

Lead Pastor, Discovery Christian Church (Pittsburgh, PA)