These are our people! We work with them, study with them, fly around rotaries with them, freak out about the Red Sox with them, raise children with them, play ball with them, and … we love them. In His grace and for His glory, our Father has put a love in our hearts for our neighbors, this Bostonian people group. They (like us) are wicked sinners who need a strong and merciful Saviour to lead them to repentance, faith, obedience, and life. Desperately.
Although there does seem to be a ton of church buildings in greater Boston (yeah, there are still a few that haven’t been turned into senior centers, wedding halls, or charter schools), a depressing number of them threw Jesus and His gospel out the back door decades ago. This leaves a dearth of pulpits that are preaching Christ, of God-fearing pastors giving their lives for the good of their people, of worshiping communities where sin is being confessed and the gospel is being believed and the sacraments are being rightly administered and holiness is being sought and souls are being cared for and unbelievers are being engaged.
By no means do we fancy Seven Mile Road as the great hope for the gospel in Beantown. Please. But we do believe that we have been called by Jesus to participate in a great move of His Spirit as one small piece of a big, beautiful puzzle that He intends to assemble for His glory and the good of many, many souls. We’ve been given so much, and we want to do really well with what we’ve been given.
In 10 years we want to see 1500 Bostonians believing the gospel, being discipled, and living on mission in an ever-growing network of healthy Seven Mile Roads for Jesus’ glory and our joy.
Being that greater Boston is such a transient place (people and leaders coming and going rapidly), that things are always so fragile with any church plant (can we survive the next 3 months?), and that we’ve been figuring things out as we go along (lots of trial and error), we’ve never really looked too far ahead. We’ve usually planned for the next “season”, and by that we never meant more than 2 years. (I personally have said to many people, “Can you give us 2 strong years?” but never more than that.) And so when we began to prayerfully consider what our next season should entail, it was a surprise to our pastors that we found ourselves talking about committing to each other and this work not for the next year, or even 2 or 3, but 10. This has resonated with our congregation as well. And so we are ready to go all in for a decade together and see what the Spirit does.
So putting a number in there scares us. We went back and forth from writing “lots and lots of Bostonians” to “1500″ Bostonians to “however many Bostonians the father has determined to give us.” Gospel work is not about the numbers per se. And God is not obligated to save anyone. We could faithfully preach Christ and call people to repentance, faith, and obedience and get chased out of town without a converted heart to show for it. But that doesn’t seem to be the ground note of the story. Yes, we will take our beatings as heralds of the apostolic gospel in a hardened and idolatrous and perverse place like greater Boston. But the word of God is strong, and God loves sinners, and so we are praying and working hard to see many take hold of His gospel in faith.
Also, just to define terms, the 1500 are not warm bodies at Sunday services. The 1500 are repentant, baptized, believing men and women who are committed members of the body of Seven Mile Road. This means that we are really shooting for 2000+ saints, children, and not-yet-believers gathered every Lord’s Day. And Bostonians just helps display the specificity of this vision. We are not going to stop sending church planters outside the Hub, but this vision is about seeing this greater Bostonian people group in particular joining in the heavenly parte’ with us.
Yep, we are going for more than showing up on Sundays. Our vision is to see glad, fruitful, vibrant disciples of Jesus. This begins and ends with faith – believing the gospel. All throughout is obedience – learning to do what Jesus said and walking in the blessing that He intends for us. And all of it is necessarily done with a missional intentionality – an awareness that this gospel is not for you, yourself, and you, but for all who would call on the name of the Lord for salvation. Everything about Seven Mile Road needs to be driving people to repentance, faith, obedience, and mission.
We are not shooting for a single large church that packs two grand in each week. We are looking for a team, a family, a movement of smaller congregations dotting the Beantown landscape, working in tandem, super healthy, incessantly multiplying. (More on this in the strategy post.)
How awesome is it that those two go hand in hand! Jesus is the hero, the all star, the center, the Son of God and son of man who lived the life we were meant (and required) to live, died the death we had coming, rose from the grave in victory over all our enemies, and freely offers us life in His name. All of heaven and earth and everything in them will forever revel in His beauty, majesty, worth, and glory. We’re looking for get into that rhythm now. And when we do, we finally hit the groove we were made for. It is an awfully hard groove to walk well as we continue to wrestle with flesh, world, and devil. But it’s a glad groove that comes with a deepness of joy that nothing else can bring.
As all strategists know, there are varied potential paths for getting to your preferred future. The key is finding one that fits your theological convictions, the strengths of your church and her leaders, and the context you are called to engage. As we think about seeing our vision become reality, we’ve embraced the following basic strategic approach for the next 10 years:
To be one church with many contextualized expressions throughout the greater Boston area, including aggressively planting from within and carefully merging from without.
While we’re all for autonomous church planting (we’ve gladly done that with Seven Mile Road in Philadelphia and Restoration Road in Wakefield), we believe that we can do more and healthier gospel work over the next 10 years by keeping Malden, Melrose, and future Seven Mile Roads together than we can if they were each broken completely apart. In addition to providing obvious economies of time, expertise and scale, this plan allows local lead pastors and their teams to concentrate on the essentials of their local, missional ministry while benefiting from the hard work and collective wisdom of a unified Seven Mile Road leadership team and church body. So there will be, in a meaningful sense, one Seven Mile Road church in greater Boston. (Bonus: we don’t have to think up new names the next 10 times we plant.)
So there will be unity, but also diversity. Greater Boston is so parochial and provincial, with different zip codes being made of drastically different people groups. It’s also so expensive, and the costs of housing larger congregations just gets ridiculous. So it seems wise to us to multiply congregations that share an unified identity but are also super contextualized for their particular, local mission in their specific geographic/demographic. “Many contextualized expressions” is the best way we have found to express this idea. Seven Mile Road anchored to Malden and Seven Mile Road anchored to Melrose will feel like family (unity) even though they might look as different as my brother and I (diversity).
This strategy definitely has us zeroing in on the Hub. We are looking for people to join us who are determined to see greater Bostonians engaged with and transformed by God’s saving grace. This is nothing against all the other tribes of the world, just a clear focus here for us.
We are a church planting church, period. This vision puts multiplication on the front burner all the time. There is a tension here, because we need to see to it that existing Seven Mile Roads are healthy and sustainable, but we are also always thinking and praying and shaping and planning to send called, gifted, and qualified church planters and core teams to plant. This is primarily what we mean by missional: the gospel beautifully compels us to seeing that everything is done in a way that is bent toward those who don’t know Jesus and not just those who do.
We believe that there are some cases where existing churches or plants that are excelling in lots of ways could benefit by joining with Seven Mile Road, especially if their areas of weakness happen to be our areas of strength. This would be a careful, thoughtful, thorough process, but we see it as one that could bear much fruit in seeing more and healthier churches flourishing here.
Seven Mile Road holds to the apostolic gospel like a pit-bull with lock-jaw. The gospel is it, and we need it so badly. It is the center of our church. It is the center of our lives. It is the filter through which everything else in our church and lives is run through. It is the incredible, stunning, unexpected, beautiful, life-altering, propositional truth that God has in Christ redeemed sinners like you and I from the curse of our sin. It is the story of a loving and holy Father sending the Son to take our place on a cross, pay our debts, forgive our sins, cleanse our filth, make us right, adopt us as sons and daughters, give us eternal life, and begin conforming us into the image of the One by whom we were created. It is such good news. We could talk all day about what the Triune God has done for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And we do. We talk about it. Sing about it. Preach about it. Study it. Meditate on it. Wonder at it. If you don’t want to hear about the Gospel, Seven Mile Road will drive you nuts.
American culture in general, and Massachusetts for sure, is not interested in attending a church event. Invite the average person on the street in Boston to church and they are just not interested. The thing is that an invitation to Seven Mile Road is not an invitation to an event, but to a life, a new life, a different life, a different way of doing life. A church is not a place, it is a people, a people being redeemed, knit together and conformed to the image of God. Coming to Seven Mile Road is not just about showing up to a ‘religious service’ but about responding to a life-altering message in concert with a community of people who are responding the same way. Our goal is for Seven Mile Road to be a church where friendships run deep and our shared culture is different than anything that our unbelieving friends have ever seen before, one that enables trust, accountability, and a connectedness that moves us from being individuals to being a community. Even a casual reading of the New Testament shows that Jesus’ church was marked by a beautiful, messy, holy intimacy. These saints knew each other’s names, stories, sins, strengths, weaknesses, issues, dreams, fears, all of it. They shared life together in the gospel. That’s what we are shooting for here.
Greater Boston is a brilliant, sinful, corrupt, sophisticated, gritty, secular, liberal, beautiful, harsh, wonderful, diverse, expensive, international city. It’s all those things at once (and much more) because there are nearly 4 million image-bearers here who sin-like-you-read-about and are in desperate need of being reconciled to the Father. There is potential here for much evil, but also, by God’s grace, for much good and beauty if the gospel can take root. And that’s what we’re shooting for: to be a church where Bostonians who don’t know Jesus at all can spend some time with us and not stumble over our language, our suits, our style, our handbell choir, our felt offering bags, our pot lucks, our anything but Jesus’ gospel. What would it look like for the kingdom of God to flourish with Bostonian flair? What would it sound like on that Day for 1000s of crow-top wearing, Santarpios eating, Larry Bird loving Bostonians to sing “How Great Thou Art” wicked loud without pronouncing the r? We’d love to be there and find out.
Seven Mile Road holds to the Reformed understanding that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, all for the glory of God alone. The Gospel is about God, not us. His grace, first and last. He acts, we respond. And even our response is a gift of faith birthed in us by God’s Spirit. Yes, good works flow from the Gospel, but they are not the cause of it. God has freely chosen to show grace to us through no merit of our own. He called us, saved us, regenerated us, forgave us, justified us, adopted us, reconciled us to Himself. He did. We gladly go along for the ride. And even now, as we run after Him, it is His Spirit that enables our running, that sanctifies us, that pulls us toward holiness because He is a holy God who wills our holiness. These doctrines of God’s free, undeserved grace to us eliminate any arrogance and self-righteousness from creeping into our church life, and they also overcome all despair as we realize that life really is about the God who has given it, and not us. We rest in the fact that salvation belongs to God. Being Reformed theologically also impacts our understandings of Scripture, preaching, the sacraments, church government, etc.
Sadly, one of Bostonian culture’s most salient points of confusion and sin is around the “doctrine of man,” particularly around areas of gender and sexuality. Rather than embrace the wisdom of God in purposefully creating us male and female, equal and yet distinct, in His Trinitarian image, our tendency here is to chafe at our Creator’s good intentions for us by flattening sexuality and eliminating all gender distinctions in marriage, home and church. We hope to redeem that Bostonian trend by calling our men and women to embrace the manhood or womanhood that the Father has lovingly assigned to them, by calling men to serve our flock as pastors and by jam-packing our church with holy singles, healthy marriages, devoted fathers, happy mothers (you would not believe the moms we’ve got around here!) and lots of children, all as a witness to the grace and wisdom of our Father.
We see ourselves not only as a gathered people, but as a sent people, sent into the world to obey God, to carry our worship of Him into every moment of our lives, and to announce to our culture the good news of the gospel. Everyone at Seven Mile Road is a missionary, on mission with Jesus to see His kingdom break in on the kingdoms of this world. We encourage our people that the entire tenor of their lives should witness to the graceful redemption God has worked in their heart, from the way they work to the way they parent to the way they study to the way they recreate to the way they spend to the way they speak to the way they have sex to the way they consider the poor to the way … you get it. And all of this missional living gets fleshed out in particular neighborhoods and cities among particular people. Rather than focusing regionally, we want every Seven Mile Road church to know and be known by a specific people group that’s theirs. This is why our gospel communities are the epicenter of our missional efforts, bringing the fragrance of Christ to bear one locale at a time.
Read the New Testament and you will see that staring new churches is how the gospel spreads. There is no better way to connect with unbelievers than by starting new churches among them. The local church provides the perfect context for effective evangelism: a bunch of people who love Jesus and are following him gathering weekly to hear the preached Word and walking all week through life together in gospel-centered friendships. So we’re not out to grow a mega-church (nothing against them when they are done holy), but to multiply healthy congregations that grow roots in particular Boston zip codes and live with missional intentionality among those people groups. That will mean smaller churches and a constant fight for the sending churches to make budget as we invest in new works, but we’re good with that. In 10 years we hope to see 1500 Bostonians believing the gospel, being discipled, and living on mission in an ever-growing network of healthy Seven Mile Roads for Jesus’ glory and our joy.
Seven Mile Roads
In His wisdom, our Father has chosen the church to be the new covenant reality where the truth (good deposit) is guarded, where the gospel is preached, where sinners are baptized into new life, where saints are loved and encouraged and instructed and disciplined, where the keys of the kingdom are exercised in opening the door to eternal life, where God rules by His Word, where the new humanity that will inherit the earth is put on display, where Jesus shepherds His people through the care of officers (or undershepherds), where Jesus’ people are renewed in His covenant grace weekly at His table, where the least of these are defended and welcomed, where generosity flourishes, where sons of Adam and daughters of Eve can come in repentance and faith and be redeemed … and where many from among every ‘ethne’ would come as an inheritance for the Son, for His glory and their great joy.
For these reasons and more we long to see healthy, orthodox, gospel-centered churches living holy and missionally within every tribe and tongue on this planet. And so we are working prayerfully and carefully and purposefully at planting churches.
Pastor Justin serves as Executive Pastor to the Seven Mile Road movement.
Pastor Dan serves as Lead Pastor of Seven Mile Road Church in Malden.
Pastor Matt serves as Lead Pastor to the Seven Mile Road movement as well as the Lead Pastor to Seven Mile Road in Melrose.
Bryan is the Lead Pastor and Planter of Seven Mile Road Kennebunk.
Pastor Clint serves Seven Mile Road Melrose while preparing to plant Seven Mile Road Waltham