Welcome back to the Monday Morning Church podcast. Derrick Puckett is joining us today from Renewal Church of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois. Derrick, great to have you on the show today.
It’s great to be with you. It’s good to be here.
Derrick, tell us a little bit about how you came into your position there at Renewal.
My position at Renewal, in a church plant, starts when I was a child. I grew up in Gary, Indiana, which is right outside of Chicago, across the border. A lot of people from Gary are from Chicago area. And I grew up there, it was 95% African-American, if not more now. As a child growing up in Gary, there wasn’t much to do there. It was the murder capital of the world and you can involve a lot of the things up the streets, or you can do school, or you can do sports. I kind of dabbled in all three of them. One of the joys of growing up and Gary is if you stand out on the beach, the shore, you can see the Chicago skyline. So I fell in love with the city, as a child, because it gave me a vision of something a little bit more hopeful than what I was seeing on the day to day basis with the dilapidated buildings and poverty where I was living. So I fell in love with Chicago. I fell in love with riding down Lake Shore drive, and seeing these huge buildings, the skyline. I didn’t pay attention much to the murder rate or the things that were going on in Chicago because it is better than what I was living in. So I fell in love with the city. It just gave me a big picture of hope, growing up.
And when I went to High School, my mother and father got divorced. We moved to Indianapolis. I started venturing and got really great in sports, and went to a college prep school where I was one and only black kid in the school. So I went from all black demographic in Gary to primarily an all-white demographic in my high school. So I had to learn how to navigate the lines of majority culture, minority culture just at a young age. And I really think the Lord was just wiring a DNA in me to see something much bigger than my own demographic, this whole multi-ethnic vision that we have here at our church. Known Jesus when I was 18. I met my wife, girlfriend at the time. She was a big in a Campus Crusade High School movement, and just really walked in front of me, introduced me to a guy who share Christ with me and disciple with me. I went to college, started a college ministry there. A branch of Campus Crusade reached out to African-American students with the intention of bridging the two back together and to this day, that ministry is one of the largest in the country. It’s the African-American ministry that does a lot with Campus Crusade which is primarily white on campus, because I went to the Campus Crusade ministry before I started it and all I saw was white people in the room. And there was four other white people with myself and I loved what they were teaching us. There’s got to be something on this campus for people that look like me or that are not white. And I didn’t want to start asking the ministry because I felt like that’d be the same thing. So we started with the intention of bridging too and by God’s grace, it did just that. But I talk about that because a lot of African-American students were from Chicago-Gary area, so the talk or the hope about coming back to the city and doing something here kept coming up.
I didn’t want to be a pastor. That was a journey for me. I’ve been preaching since I was 19. Soon as I started that ministry, I started opening my Bible and started preaching. Before that, I wasn’t a believer but I started going to church at 16 and I was in the pulpit opening up services because it was something to see a young, black male coming to church, driving himself to church to just sit in a pew. That wasn’t a normal thing. So they latched onto me really quickly. But I didn’t come to know Jesus for another year and a half. Went through college, kind of fighting that whole call towards pastoral ministry although we kind of led a ministry that felt more like a church. It was very large. Over 100 people coming each week and I’m preaching every week, leading Bible studies, discipling people. And with that, when I graduated, went on staff with Campus Crusade. I was challenged by several pastors because I was post fighting this call to pastoral ministry and I had a lot of issues, a lot of problems. I felt like the church wasn’t doing things right whether it be discipleship, or the division across racial lines. All these things I just had problems with and a pastor friend of mine in Indianapolis challenged me to go into church plant. I had never heard that before. Like, what is church plant? Who does that? Don’t pastors just take over churches and start preaching? And so I started researching that. I found a couple African-American guys that I had been following, that planted churches. And I’ve reached out to the organization at Little Rock, Arkansas. I got accepted to that but went to a church called Fellowship Memphis because the guy who was a recruiter over that program had asked me to come. I said, I want to plant a Gospel Center multi-ethnic, disciple-making church in Chicago. He said, well, we have one of these in Memphis. Why don’t you come here? So I ended up on Memphis. It was under the Lead Pastor named Brian Loritts there. And I met a guy named John Bryson. I was trained there, did my Master’s and the whole hope was to go there and get that DNA, and take that, and take it back to Chicago so we could plant a church here. Different culture, but same DNA. So Renewal started 2014. I moved here the year before just to kind of get the lay of the land and be a student of the city. And we’ve been going ever since now. We average 200 or more people, 2 years in, and it’s been great.
So your dream was to have a Gospel centered, multi-ethnic disciple-making church. A lot of churches say that they want to be multi-ethnic and obviously, you would be starting out an advantage in the sense that you, as a pastor, are a minority but has that worked? Is your church multi-ethnic or has there kind of been a struggle to bring all these different sides together under one church?
It’s a great question. I think you’re totally right, Courtney. People want to be multi-ethnic or they like the idea of multi-ethnic. But multi-ethnic takes a lot of intentionality and it takes you kind of checking your presuppositions or your comforts, the things that you like, at the door for the sake of the gospel. I call it the theology of discomfort for gospel good and it’s really that’s what it takes. So it takes me walking in and it not be in the Sunday of Derrick every week. That may mean I may not like every worship song, at least the type of song. The quality would be great but it may not be the song I like. It may be more a contemporary Christian for me, or the next one might be just my flow and it may be gospel. So with that, we do a lot of things very intentionally. So as we hire people, we’re not just trying to hire the black guy or the white guy. We pray thoroughly through it. We are intentional looking at if we’re going to hire somebody, we want to see a wide spread of candidates. We don’t want to see just the white or the black candidate. We want to see who’s the best for the job and who fits our DNA, a little bit more too. But we do things, like any worship set, you’re going to hear gospel, you’re going to hear contemporary Christian, you want to hear a hymn. It’s going to be all blended together and we’re going to do it very, I’d say, high quality. So I spend a lot of time with the worship ministry because that’s not something, naturally, that people do. Usually, a one job or the other. So to be able to do that, it takes a lot of time. And there is still that whole uncomfortable vibe a lot more than anybody else because they have to actually practice each week.
Also on Sundays if I’m preaching you probably going to see a white guy that does, or Hispanic lady that does announcements or host. So we’re just probably intentional with that. We keep our vision in front of people or renew, at least, this vision of being for the city. We don’t talk about multi-ethnic all the time but you’ll see it because we do talk about it biblically. But I also think that starts with leadership. That’s the one thing I didn’t say that’s probably the most important is that whoever is leading the church has to be able to cross lines both ways, if that makes sense. Be able to go if it’s white and black or whatever dynamic you might have. That person needs to be able to be comfortable with and who they are, be comfortable enough to be able to meet other people where they are and cross the line. Brian Loritts, he’s my mentor, he wrote a book Right Color, Wrong Culture. It talks about in cultures there’s many different subcultures. You have the C1, C2, C3 who use different cultures. If we use black culture, for example, we’re just going to use three. There’s many subcultures but we’ll use three. You have the C1 where the guys totally assimilated to white or the majority culture. And you have C3 who’s every movie there is a gangster. He’s the typical guy people think of when they think of a black man on the streets or something. Then the middle guy is the guy who go both ways. So if we use movie actors, the C1 would be like you’re Carlton Banks.
I’m seeing his dance in my head now that you’re mentioning his name.
Yeah. Exactly. That’s Carlton Banks. He won’t do anything for your church to diversify the church because he’s totally assimilated to majority culture. Then C3, you think of the movie, I must say Ice Cube. Ice Cube is every movies, he’s a gangster. He is who he is. He’s going to tear up the white church if it comes in and tries to diversify. He’s not helping it. But in that middle, you got people like Denzel Washington. Everybody loves Denzel. Will Smith. Everybody likes Will Smith. Folks that can kind of go both ways and they can be who they are and comfortably speak to many different cultures. So from a leadership perspective, that has to be understood to be able to speak and preach to many different contexts. So that’s what I say goes back to my story. I really believe the Lord has just really wired. Before I even knew him, he started doing that at a young age. My father, almost like a black nationalist through and through to going to this all-white college prep school. Then I’m married, by God’s grace, a Belizean woman. She’s Belizean and white, biracial. I didn’t plan on any of that but I think the Lord just really ordered all of that and for His purpose, that’s for sure. But with that, what I was saying, this is the last time I’ll say this but that person, nobody’s born that way. I think people are made that way. People are made so within our church, we try to instill in everything we do because we understand it. It may be an anomaly in terms of the leadership, the worship, things we do. So how do we instill a culture of discipleship and training up the next leader to be able to go out and do this at other churches? Because cities are not getting more divided. They’re just more diverse, people are coming into the cities. And this is what people are looking for. But I think the church, sadly, is kind of behind on how do we adapt and do it. So we’re trying to do as much as we can to train up leaders too.
Yeah. A lot of what I hear you say is, like you said, a lot of places want to be multi-ethnic or think that they want to be multi-ethnic. But you can’t just hope. You have to be intentional and there has to be lots of intentional education for the leaders of those churches.
Now, I’m curious about the discipleship part. Since that’s such a core value for all of you, have you found that discipleship looks different amongst these different groups that are coming to your church or is there a one-size-fits-all method of discipleship in your church?
Yes. It is totally not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. I think you said that first, it’s so many different people come from and so I do a leadership pipeline. We did the first few years which was very instrumental with our church, one of the greatest things we did at our church. I could talk more about that later but basically we took 25 people or so, they were pretty committed to the church and they spent every other Sunday with myself and my wife, and we just walk through vision and values of our church. And one of those are small groups. How do you discipleship? What’s your history behind it? Some people never heard of small groups and I’d say particularly, African-American culture too because, you want me to let people in my house? That’s not something that we need now. I mean, back in the day, in Civil Rights Movement where we all live in an all communities before desegregation and things, yes, community, it was all about that. Now, people are more reluctant to let folks in their house and the more so do everything that the church hints. Wednesday night Bible studies where the younger, I would say, more majority culture was kind of kept to small groups, missional communities, and things of that nature. But even in that realm, those were totally different than that someone who may function as accountability group more than Bible studies or sermon-based studies. So what we did is tried our best to kind of put those things on the table and in each group, people have to share their stories. Where you come from, worship background, who are you. 5 to 10 minutes, that way people get to know each other because my whole goal is for them, not only just fellowship, I want them to do life with one another.
Acts 2:42 is the model of how we do our Bible studies in terms of people being devoted to the pastor’s preaching, to the fellowship, the breaking the bread, and the prayers. So we see that in the early church and we want our church to be the same. So checking your presuppositions on where you come from at the door and when they come into the study, they’re doing sermon-based studies where it’s based around my sermon, as well as in service observation, application and interpretation from an interpretation and application of the text. And they also do outreach in the city too. So we kind of keep it really, instead of like if you’re in a suburban context or more of a context that doesn’t move or fluctuate much like the city, these are open groups. So the sermon-based structure helps us keep it to anybody who come in because you can listen to the sermon, that’s all. And if you hadn’t listened to the sermon, we’re still walking through the text so it doesn’t feel like you’re walking in on a study that you missed the last ten weeks and you can’t fit in, so people come in and out and it helps us in terms of our city always fluctuating and moving. So it just has to be different. And then people know that they’re doing it like the people that are different than them. So what people say and where they come from is going to be different.
Now, I want to hear a little more about, you talked about this leadership pipeline and maybe some other areas that — or just like a quick rundown of some highlights that you’ve got there at Renewal, some things you guys are doing really well that you really found success with.
Yeah. So church planting is difficult, I think. And I think one of the things is every church plant that comes in and dream of what they think the church should be like, what’s going to happen and I think that the task with that is not trying to duplicate what you’ve seen happen and then trying to figure out who you actually are. And I think that’s just a pastor, period. And for me, I know that I am a big visionary, preacher, pastor discipler. So with that, we’re going to preach Sunday mornings, we’ll make a Sunday experience in terms of preaching and worship. But through the week, I need to have space to be able to develop leaders and cast vision. So that didn’t look like me leading a weekly Bible study, if that makes sense. That meant me bringing 25 or so people in my household and just spewing out vision the whole time, this is what we’re about, this is what we see the early church. We have a three-part vision, renew, rebuild, release. So we want to renew hearts. But the power of the gospel rebuild eyes to discipleship, release people from city and will impact. So I take those and I split those up over three different weeks. I also have people teach that. Like, now that I’ve taught you, I need you to be able to recite it. I also had them, what’s the gospel? Tell me what’s the gospel. Do a presentation on the gospel. Five-minute presentation, you can be as creative as you want to but I want our people to know the gospel. So what’s that look like? I do a presentation on it, so higher vision. And then I want you to apply that and do it so some people who would write a rap, some people who sing a song. But if you’re in an elevator with somebody, how are you gonna share the gospel? What did Jesus do for you? Why was that important for you? And probably small groups. So all these different topics is what I want for everyone was for me for me to give vision on all of them that allow people to apply that vision to their lives.
That was healthy because it fit me as the leader and that allowed people to learn how to work with me too, because they were in my house. It is very intimate and that way people were able to take the vision and own it on a different level and it builds up a lot of relational capital with me and to people in our church. So if you walk in a Sunday morning at Renewal, one of the things that we do want to hear or feel, probably, is genuine fellowship where people really love each other here. And that’s just been since the beginning of our church, which is different to be where it’s so diverse and multi-ethnic because Chicago’s about 30, 30, 30 split, per month, white African, American and Hispanic. And then 10%, other. So, for us, we’re probably about between, on a good Sunday, 40-40 white and black. And it is about 10% Hispanic, and then you get 10% others. So we’re pretty, to me, it’s one of the most diverse contexts I’ve ever been in. But with that, the other thing I would say we do really well is worship. That’s a really big thing especially in ethnic communities. Some people come to church just for the worship, not word. For me, I said, if we could have a high vision on both of the word and worship and do the week well, don’t sacrifice any, II think we can create something that’s not been done well. And that’s what we’re really striving towards doing. So we’ll have a very high preaching moment. I’m going to preach expositionally and preach the word of God line by line, word by word, and we will have a high worship experience where, sadly, I think in our conservative cultures or more high [inaudible-00:20:44], didn’t worship very well. We’ll preach but we won’t worship and I don’t see that. Biblically, I see high worship. We got a whole book, a large book of the bible psalms is all worship. And it’s one of those that, I think, the Lord desires. I think both of them agree and we need to do them well. So you’ll experience that on Sunday. So all of these have been very high vision things for me since the beginning and then just trying to develop leaders who get that and who can run with these vision too. And that’s just more my DNA. So it goes back to the leader knowing themselves and it able to run the length that they’re good it.
Yeah. Absolutely. So I’m curious, you have this church in Memphis, obviously, where you spend some time and adopted some of their DNA in your current context. But do you have some other churches that look similar to Renewal where you’re able to kind of have fellowship with their pastors, bounce struggles, successes off of each other? Or is that a pretty small group of people right now?
In Chicago or across the nation, either way.
Across the nation, I do. I wouldn’t say there’s too many in Chicago that have the same DNA or look the same. There’s a couple folks that I do talk with a lot here in Chicago namely a guy named Brian Dye who’s been here in the city for a while. I mean, that’s a House Church Movement so the church is totally different than ours but it’s somewhat diverse and urban here in our city. I talked to mainly a lot of the guys that came out of the program that I was in Memphis before I became a campus pastor there. A guy is in San Francisco. His name is Chris Davis. He pastors his church out there called Redemption. I guy named Albert Tate, he does a church called Fellowship Monrovia, right outside of LA. I talked to Brian Richie, pastors his church out there in California. I meet some guy in East Coast, like Eric Mason, good friend of mine and mentor. He’s in Philadelphia. A guy up in New York called Brandon Watts, another one in New York called Jordan Wright. So there’s a handful. Another guy, Lance Crump in Atlanta. But not too many — when I think of the Midwest, I don’t know too many in terms of what we’re doing, especially, led by a minority, I just want to say. There’s not too many in terms of multi-ethnic churches led by minority leaders that I know of. There’s not a lot of that, at least, thriving. And then I think, statistic-wise, 2.5% of churches are multi-ethnic. And that’s the 80/20 rule so 80%, one culture, 20%, the other. And to me, that’s not multi-ethnic at all. But that’s the culture. There’s even less of that that are actually multi-ethnic and then they see less of that that are led by minority leaders. So it’s a very unique thing that, I think, we’re doing here and it’s happened in several parts around the country that I’m privileged to know a lot of those guys.
Yeah. I mean it’s definitely exciting to hear about it and all of this, you know, church planting is a notoriously stressful season and being a pastor can obviously be very taxing. And then when you add on all of that, also the expectation to unite a group of congregants who are very different from each other in upbringing and perspective on the world, where do you go to make sure you’re staying healthy?
That’s good question. For me, I talk to the same people like every day. I have got a couple pastors that are in similar space in ministry. We talk every day and I found that it’s like you see biblically, you see a Davis, a Jonathan, you see a Paul, you see Jesus with his 12 disciples. So it’s bigger than just us doing ministry together but it’s us fellowshipping and us talking. We talk even if it’s just five minutes. We just to talk about what’s going on in our day, pray for one another, keep each other accountable. That’s been very helpful for me because I think a lot of pastors don’t have that Nathan by David side when he’s actually needed to be there. I think we need that a lot in our line of work. One of the things I do for myself to stay healthy. So I do people preach, have a quiet time and things of that nature. I think you should have a quiet time. You definitely need to have time with the Lord. But I like to use the language of like, what spurs your affections for Jesus? What do you like to do? What helps you be a better Christian, if that makes sense? And so there’s things that — I love working out. My wife’s a personal trainer so I have to work out. I play basketball at least three times a week. People are like, why are you doing that? You need to preach. You can break your leg. I just love it. For me, I could be on the court and I don’t have to think about anybody, anything else just. I’m just playing basketball. And it allows me to step into office or in a counseling session and I’m a little freer. I’m a better pastor because I worked out. I love reading, specifically history and biographies. So it may not be a Christian person but I can read a good book and learn. I like doing that as well as listening to music. I love music. So just finding those things that’s for your affections for Jesus and I tell people, do more of that. Have your quiet time but make sure, whether you call it a hobby, I think it’s more than hobby because it is actually helping you in your devotional life to step into that, to the point where I might be studying and having a hard time at home while I’m stressful, and my wife will just tell me, go to the gym. Go play basketball. Get out the house. And it’s so helpful. So that’s something I definitely had incorporated for years now and it’s great for me.
That’s wonderful. Derrick, I really appreciate you being on the podcast today and I especially appreciate the unique perspective that you bring, and that your church is bringing into our Christian world.
Thank you so much for asking me to be part of this.