I first met Steve Rahn and his wife Denise in Maine during the 2011 LEAD Conference and got to know their story a little bit. What struck me at first was that this sweet, quiet couple was planting a church in a hardscrabble, not-so-sweet area outside of Boston. Brockton, Mass. is not easy soil. And Steve was doing things The Way You're Not Supposed To Do It. He basically hung a church sign up, started a service, and started pounding the pavement, handing out granola bars to people on the streets and telling them about Jesus. And God started blessing their ministry. (In New England, the cookie cutter church planting rules rarely apply.) This past spring, Steve's church -- Grace Church Brockton -- hosted a Gospel Wakefulness Conference, and my wife Becky and I got to spend more quality time with Steve, Denise, and their lovely little girls. Steve's heart is for Christ and his gospel, which means it is for hardened souls in a hardened area. I'm honored to call him a friend and brother. I pray God will continue prospering his mission, and I hope you will profit from hearing more from him below.
Where are you from and how did you come to faith in Christ?
I grew up in Lansing, MI. I came to faith in Christ at a young age---probably 6 or 7. I actually remember very little about what it was like before I was converted. God used a few really long discussions between me and my mother to bring me to faith in Jesus.
How did you know you were called into pastoral ministry?
I actually wasn't sure I was called to be a pastor until about a year into pastoral ministry! I thought maybe I was called to ministry during my college years, maybe even a little before, but I pushed back against that call for quite a while. A church that ran a Christian school in NC hired me as a school teacher after I graduated college. After one year at the school, the church asked me to serve as youth pastor. I agreed and about a year into that role I realized just how completely out of my depth I was. Out of sheer desperate need I began to study theology and pastoral ministry in a way that I had never done before. It was during that time that God began to grow in me a much deeper understanding of the gospel and of the call to proclaim that gospel. It was also during that time that He cemented in my heart a deep, unequivocal call to pastor ministry.
Tell us about Brockton, Massachusetts and how you came to plant a church there.
Brockton is city of roughly 100,000 people about 20 miles south of Boston. It has a large immigrant population. It is known in the area for its struggles with poverty, violent crime, drug abuse, gangs, etc. It is made up mostly of low income families.
While serving at the church in NC, I brought our youth group on a ministry trip to help a Connecticut church plant. It was then that God burdened me for New England. I was already being drawn towards church planting, and on that trip God really narrowed my focus to the Northeast.
I moved up a year later to serve at a church in Massachusetts as a teacher/assistant pastor. My intent was to serve in a New England church for awhile, get a feel for the landscape and culture, and prayerfully decide on a location in which to plant. And that's when God narrowed my focus to Brockton.
What has been the most difficult part of church planting in Brockton?
Building relationships. This is difficult in New England in general. And in Brockton, for many legitimate reasons, the people aren't quick to jump into trusting community with others. The upside to that is that when you do build friendships with them, the relationships you have are incredibly strong.
What is your greatest joy in ministry so far?
Wow. Just one? Probably seeing a room of people who were born in different continents and have totally different religious, education and social backgrounds all being transformed by the same gospel. We have people who have struggled through drug addiction and homelessness. We have a lady who grew up in a pastor's home. We have a lady who was abandoned as an orphan in Bombay. We have my seven year old daughter who's praying fervently for her little friends to be saved. We have a guy who's had to separate from family members over Voodoo. And we have a lady who absolutely loves reading the Puritans. And they hear the same gospel every week, and by God's matchless grace, it's transforming all of them!
What is your hope for New England looking into the future? What is needed here?
My hope and prayer is for revival---for God to transform rebels to worshipping disciples for His glory.
I think what's needed is for churches and Christians to intentionally and compassionately proclaim the gospel in every avenue that's open to us. And we need to live lives that have been obviously wrecked and rebuilt by the gospel. We need to penetrate deep into our completely post-Christian context in a deeply countercultural way. I think for all of that to happen we need, by God's grace, wisdom, patience, humility, courage. We need to be praying for these things. And we need to be praying that God does great work in the hearts of our neighbors. And if anybody reading this thinks that inner city church planting might be for them, I'd love to talk to them about coming to Brockton and getting involved at Grace Church!
Every Monday for 5 weeks, I will feature another interview with a Pastor I Admire. I trust hearing the personal and ministry testimonies from some very different folks pastoring in different areas will be a blessing to you. Previous weeks have included interviews with Steve Benninger and Roland Mitcheson. Next week: The California boy in the Bible Belt whom God used to restore my joy in the ministry.