Tammy Melchien is a church planter, campus pastor and a pioneer. She spends her days as the campus pastor at the Lincoln Square Campus of Community Christian Church in Chicago–a NewThing church. Several years ago she started out with a team of approximately 20 who moved with her from the suburbs to the city to launch a new location. Tammy is passionate about the Jesus mission and helping people find God. Her journey is unique and she offers us lots of wisdom.
When did Jesus become real for you?
Honestly, as a small child. I had a pastor growing up who loved the children in our church. He would take time in every service to call us up and tell us a story. He would bring me a McDonald’s milkshake when I was home sick from school. Between him and my parent’s godly influence, I fell in love with Jesus at a young age because I was loved well by his followers. Then, when I went to Europe with a traveling basketball missions team after high school, I fell in love with ministry and using my gifts and talents to serve the Jesus mission.
Why are you a church planter?
I ask myself that often. I want to give my life to further Jesus’ mission. I believe planting this church in Chicago is how he is asking me to live that out.
What circumstances led you to believe God was calling you to plant a church?
4 years ago I sensed God calling me to take a next step in my ministry leadership journey. Being in a culture at Community that is all about reproducing churches, I began to get a vision for how God might be able to use me to plant a new church in the city. It felt like a better alignment of my gifts and passion than what I was doing at the time (children’s ministry) and also a better stewardship of my life as a single adult (who previously was serving in family-centric Naperville).
Where is your 3rd place?
The coffee shop 2 blocks away. Which I guess is also kind of my 2nd place since I office there a lot too.
At the end of the day, what does a win look like for you and your project?
My greatest desire is to see people find their way back to God and take next steps towards him and living out his mission every day after. The changed life is the win I’m after.
What difference does/will your church plant make in the community?
I hope we will become known as a church that invests deeply in loving and contributing to our neighborhood. I’m not sure we need to start a lot of programs or organizations, I’d love to see us continue to come alongside existing non-profits and initiatives and help provide the support and volunteers that can make their efforts flourish. We are focusing our efforts on 2 organizations: Gateway to Learning, a special education training center for adults with intellectual disabilities, and The Lincoln Square Friendship Center, a new food pantry in our neighborhood.
How are you developing people? Staff, volunteers, launch team?
At our 2 year mark, I had to make some staffing changes (mostly for financial reasons) and in some sense start over with a new group of very part-time, young staff members. Right now I am focusing on trying to develop them to be leaders of leaders. We use an apprenticeship model for leadership development at every level in our church.
What have your learned about raising funds for your project that can help the rest of us?
Not going to lie, this part is hard. But if there is one thing I look back on and regret is that I spend too much time over the past 3 years in fear over our finances. Cast a big vision. Make the big asks. But at the end of the day, you have to just leave it in God’s hands and trust. The path might not always go the way you had planned, but somehow things always seem to work out. And I’ve decided that if the worst thing that happens is I end up living in my parent’s guestroom, then the lives that were changed here in Lincoln Square make is still worth it.
What is unique about your context and what have you had to differently to reach people?
In comparing this experience in the city to my previous time in the suburbs, I feel like our attenders are younger, they have a lot of freedom to travel and be involved in lots of activities (of which church is just one), and there is a much faster pace of transition (mostly people moving for jobs). I’ve found that many times people are more committed to their Small Group than the weekend service. I think this may be because Mon-Fri they are locked into a job and schedule. Weekends they are all over the place. It’s a dynamic we are still trying to figure out.
How is your family part of your church planting adventure?
Single. But my mom and dad and sister cheer me on regularly.
What is/was the great challenge you faced planting your church and how did you overcome it?
Honestly, I think this question relates to the previous one for me. I knew planting a church as a woman would be different, but that has not actually seemed like a challenge. Planting as a single person has been challenging. I look at many of my peers and how much their spouse does to help make the church plant successful (and how much emotional support they have from that), and I feel like this job would be a breeze if I had a wife. J
Who inspires you and why?
People who are faithful, missional, and not after glory. I have a mentor/friend, Lora Hobbs, who I got to spend time with this summer who is one of the most gifted, loving people I know. Her impact on the lives around her is astounding, yet none of it ever goes to her head. She is humble, unassuming. Desires nothing more than loving Jesus and following the path that he lays out before her day by day. People like that inspire me.
How are you caring for yourself spiritually as a leader?
I’ve been a relentless journaler for over 20 years. It is my lifeline to God. Setting aside time to read his Word and journey most days of the week is essential to my spiritual health.
Do you have a plan for planting more churches/campuses etc. What is it?
I don’t know. I’m part of a church that has big plans. But for now, I feel like I am supposed to pastor Community Lincoln Square and I find great joy in that.
At the risk of stating the obvious, you’re a woman. There aren’t many female church planters. What’s the best part of that for you?
The best part is twofold 1) I think there have been people who have been drawn to our church because they feel like they’ve finally found a place where women are given a chance to lead. 2) It hasn’t seemed to matter. I’m sure there are probably people who didn’t come back because the pastor was a female, but I’ll never know. For the people who are a part of our community, I think it is a non-factor. I like that it really hasn’t been a big deal. What’s been the greatest challenge? Sometimes feeling left out of the circle of all my male peers…Sometimes wondering if I’m overlooked as a leader because of my gender…Being in pastor’s gatherings when you know many of the people there don’t think you should be there.
Why don’t more woman plant churches?
1) It hasn’t been modeled for them. 2) We aren’t mentoring enough of them for this type of leadership role. 3) This is a stereotype, but I think many women are waiting for someone to invite them to do something (they don’t push their way into opportunities). I know I was extremely uncomfortable during the season where I was pushing to get to plant in Chicago. Felt out of character for me. I think most church planters are a bit more testosterone driven. J 4) I think the schedule is demanding. If I was married and had kids, unless my husband played the role that most church planting wives play, it would be difficult.
What can we do to help more woman plant churches?
1) Take the few examples we have of women in these types of leadership roles and get them up front. Women need to see women leading. 2) Current church planters (men and women) need to include women in their mentoring circles. I think we tend to draw apprentices that are like us. Since most church planters are men, mostly men are being raised up to plant churches. It will take an intentional effort to apprentice women to change this. 3) Realize there are different temperaments and that women may need to be called out to church planting differently. 4) This is a tough one. Certainly a strong church planting team could help.
What coaching would you offer a young woman who wants to plant a church?
Get a significant amount of ministry leadership experience before you do. Then do a Leadership Residency and go for it!
Just for fun—do you have a favorite band/musician? If so who and why?
Not really a favorite. I’ll give you this…someone introduced me to an unknown singer/songwriter, Audrey Assad, and I’m really digging her stuff lately.
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