April 21, 2016

A New Thing | Jeya & Dan So

For background on this series, read this. This was inspired by the How I Work series over at Lifehacker. If there are planters, creators, innovators, entrepreneurs–ministry leaders that are working on new enterprises that you know and think I should profile, fill out this form or leave me a note on Twitter or Facebook.

About Jeya and Dan: The So's are the lead pastors of Anchor City Church in San Diego, CA. Jeya is passionate about unleashing the God-given dreams of the entire Church for the sake of the world. Whether through preaching, mentoring, worship leading, or counseling, she has a knack for tying together powerful insights about faithfully pursuing Christ in all things.
Born and raised in Michigan, Dan loves the amazing people and city of San Diego. He serves on the Advisory Board of Justice Ventures International. You can follow Dan on Twitter or read his personal blog. Dan answered questions for this series.

The Series: Colby Martin | Jane Gerdsen | Jeya and Dan So | Sara Shisler Goff | Katie Nakamura Rengers

Can you describe your new thing?
We planted Anchor City Church in January 2014, after years of genuinely wrestling with God's calling to do so. Anchor City is a Third Culture, multi-generational church called to bless and serve San Diego and the world. Here's a link to a newsletter we shared with friends as we launched out together.

Why you? What drew you to do this?
While we don't believe there is a prototypical church planter, we knew that we were not aggressive, type-A entrepreneurs or charismatic personalities able to draw large crowds (nor did we seek to be). As we've seen God work in our lives and through us, Jesus' words about the Kingdom being small, behind-the-scenes, and slow have rung true time and again.

Many Asian Americans experience a sort of "neither/nor" identity crisis at some point in their lives: being told (explicitly and implicitly) that they'll never be accepted as fully American because of their appearance while simultaneously feeling disconnected from the "home" country of their ethnic origin. One of the most redemptive and life-giving things we've learned about Jesus is that his goal isn't to wipe out our sense of ethnic or cultural identity (as some of his well-intentioned, but misguided, followers seek through "color-blindness") but to redeem it. Instead of being considered "neither/nor," in Christ we become "both/and." Third Culture people understand what it's like to feel constantly out of place and, instead of feeling bitter or frustrated, allow God to redeem that marginality and create empathy for other outsiders (no matter what their ethnic or cultural heritage).

After a long period of prayerful struggle, we felt compelled by God to plant a Third Culture church here in San Diego, where the fastest growing demographics are multiethnic families and individuals. We're thankful to be part of a generous, kind, and talented community at Anchor City who wants to live into the bigger story God has for our city.

How would you describe yourself?
Both Jeya and I are introverts, and shy to boot! So, meeting people for the first time or engaging in large groups is not always easy for either of us. We do, however, love building and investing in deep relationships, and that has been richly rewarding as we've planted Anchor City.

Jeya's StrengthsFinder results indicate that she's a Force of Nature -- she describes her pace as glacial: cautious and slow at times but, once being fully convicted of a particular call or direction, she's unstoppable! I would say my greatest strength as a leader and pastor is to root for people (my StrengthsFinder indicates I'm a Lifeline). I deeply believe in the giftedness of our community, and one of my greatest joys is being able to encourage others and help them see how amazing they are in God's eyes.

Where and when are you most productive?
Since we still rent property (and probably will continue to do so for the foreseeable future), we don't have a proper office space. We make use of various third spaces around town–particularly coffee shops and libraries–for our day-to-day work. We spend lots of time meeting people, so we're meeting people regularly at our home for counseling and meals. We've begun utilizing various online tools for training and meetings as much as possible (e.g., Google Hangouts, etc.).

I'm not a huge GTD-type person (though I do love crossing items off of checklists), but I've found this productivity principle particularly helpful: if I can finish a task in under 60 seconds, then I'll do it right away instead of letting a to-do list of small items pile up.

What inspires you to create?
Both of us love looking for unexpected connections. We are inspired by literature, music, architecture and design blogs, graphic design, food, and pop culture. Because creativity and the interconnectedness of all of life (and the fact that all of life belongs to God) is so important to us, we've sought to guide Anchor City into whole-life stewardship and discipleship. One of our key NextGen Ministry principles is, "This is our Father's world"—that we're not called to compartmentalize our faith but, rather, discover God already at work all around us (in art, science, drama, sports, etc.) and commit our whole lives to the adventure of following Jesus.

What are you currently reading or listening to that inspires you?
Makoto Fujimura is an important influence, particularly his books Refractions and Culture Care. Uppercase magazine consistently shares fantastic design work. The most recent Sufjan Stevens album is a haunting meditation on the particular wounds only family can inflict, the grasping loneliness of sorrow and, yet, manages to convey profound moments of beauty. I recently saw Drive Like Jehu in concert, reunited after 20 years, and loved their enthusiasm, gratitude, and flat-out volume. At its best, DIY punk music can create community. I don't get to slow down and listen as often as I'd like, but I'm a big fan of Radiolab. Count me among those who secretly wishes I could preach as well as Ira Glass tells stories on This American Life as well.

Start-up’s can be spirit-draining work. What nourishes your soul?
As a task-oriented person and someone who loves crossing things off my to-do list, I must remind myself that Kingdom productivity isn't always about getting stuff done. Fujimura offers this important reminder to creators and makers (artists, designers, pastors, entrepreneurs, etc.) in his book Culture Care: We need to feed our souls too. In that sense, even finding ten minutes here or there to gaze out at the ocean, where the water disappears into the sky at the horizon's edge (stay classy, San Diego!) and remember the infinite beauty of our God—dreaming, resting, thinking—is a vital part of fueling my productivity.

Getting out to see great live music is also soul-nourishing for me. Music has always been a refuge for me, and I love how so many oddballs and misfits (like myself) have found a place in DIY/punk communities. These days, I'm increasingly aware of how these communities point to our deep need for the acceptance, identity, and mission that can only truly be met in Jesus.

Starting something new requires knowing who will be served by the thing you are creating. What method(s) have you employed to understand your context (or market)?
Before moving forward with this church plant, we spent lots of time listening: to God in prayer, and to others in our city—in our neighborhoods, campuses, workplaces. We have spent time walking through neighborhoods, exegeting in ways that simply passing through in cars wouldn't allow. We've done demographic research, read books, and have generally tried to keep up with the life of our city, including places of pain as well as success.

Typically, there are fewer people available to get work done in new endeavors. What do you use to manage your time, get things done and/or delegate to your team?
I always have Tasks enabled in my Gmail to keep the day's schedule on hand. I sync my calendar on my desktop and mobile using a free calendar app (with notifications reminding me in advance of meetings). I keep my iPhone handy and use Siri to record snippets of thoughts, reminders, and tasks every day. I also try to keep an old-school notebook on hand, because I find some things stick better for me when I write them out by hand.

We use email for leadership messages (although group text messages tend to work better than group emails for our community), MailChimp for our newsletters, Twitter and Facebook (and, on occasion, Instagram) for general updates and encouragement, and our site is our front door for visitors and newcomers. We're hoping to share more stories from our community on our church's blog as well.

Time and resources are often limited during start-up’s. What time-savers have you found useful? What have you found is worth splurging on and what can you skimp on?
I definitely find as many little time-savers as possible (utilizing as many shortcut keys as possible in web/editing/writing/design, limiting my web-wandering, etc.). However, in the main work of planting and pastoring, we haven't really found any shortcuts in the deep, slow work of investing in people's lives. That being said, though, intentionally committing to meet at least one or two people every week outside of church/ministry settings has been really helpful.

Where do you find affirmation that you are doing what you were meant to do?
Our community is kind and generous, and being a part of what God is doing in and through Anchor City has been a great source of encouragement. Our local presbytery has been very supportive as well. We have a couple of mentors, both locally and further away, whose insights have been incredibly helpful.

On days that you go to bed with a deep sense of satisfaction, what happened? What was accomplished?
I love days where someone in whom I've invested (whether from family, church, community) has lived into their sense of calling (first and foremost, as beloved of God and, then, through the work of their hands) and has come alive through it. For example, we were a small part of a friend from Anchor City transitioning into fine art photography as vocation a couple years back. Recently, he's been commissioned to do a photo series about the Kingdom of God, and it is stunning! Knowing that I've been a small part of that unfolding story is deeply satisfying.

What advice would you offer to others starting something new?
Don't go it alone! Planting with a small team/community has been such a life-giving part of our journey. At the same time, invest in leadership development. Whether it's a formalized pathway or informally, be intentional about developing the leadership around you. Genuine collaboration (not the "here's the vision—now go do it" type of leadership) is hard but worth it, especially in the long run.

I would also suggest keeping an open-handed approach, both in terms of outcomes and expectations. It's good to have vision and strategy but, in the end, things might not turn out quite as expected. Leaders should strive to be lean, nimble, ready to pivot, etc. (as current business parlance suggests) but also be honest that, as a leader, it can be really hard to let go or to see things change from the original dream. Also, try to hold your people loosely—SD is a transitional city, so this has been vital for us. Instead of only being sad that people move on, we try to be a sending church who will bless and encourage as people move on to different chapters of their lives.

If there are leaders you think I should profile, fill out this form or leave me a note on Twitter or Facebook.

The Series: Colby Martin | Jane Gerdsen | Jeya and Dan So | Sara Shisler Goff | Katie Nakamura Rengers