On episode 56 of The Edge of Innovation, we are talking with Pastor Paul Buckley of King of Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts.
What Is a Church?
A Faith Community
An Engineer Becomes a Pastor
Planting a Church
What Do People Look for in a Church?
A Christian Worldview
What is Christianity?
What is Sin?
Knowing Right from Wrong
Exploring Christianity with Pastor Paul Buckley
Paul P: Hello, everyone. I’m Paul Parisi, and today I’m here with Paul Buckley who is a lead pastor at King of Grace Church in Haverhill, Massachusetts. Welcome, Paul.
Paul B: Thanks. Great to be here.
Paul P: Good to have you. As we’ve talked about the Edge of Innovation, we talk about a lot of eclectic, different things and we really want to focus on the people as opposed to what they’re specifically doing technically. We’re a technical company, Savior Labs, but all of this technology is built to do something. And we’re not really focusing on the technology here. We’re talking about what we’re doing and what we’re hoping to accomplish.
What Is a Church?
So, I guess, King of Grace is a church, it’s that fourth word. It says King of Grace Church.
Paul B: Yeah, we’re a church.
Paul P: So what does that mean? I mean, there’s a lot of churches on a lot of corners. We’re in New England. It seems like they’re everywhere. Is it just an ordinary church? Is there something ordinary about church? Tell me about what a church is?
Paul B: Yeah, good question. That’s a word we use, and I think we don’t necessarily think about what it means. Really, it’s a community of people who are committed to faith, to their Christian faith, and they’re committed to one another in living together, walking out that faith, and serving the community. In some ways, a church should be a community within a community. So churches are all around us. They’re in multiple communities. But really, the historic idea, the biblical idea of a church is it’s really a faith community. It’s a faith community that lives within a community to be an influence for good on that broader community as well.
Paul P.: Okay. So you’ve used this word faith a couple of times. I don’t want to get too far afield here. But what is faith? Is it a wish, a hope? I’m not sure. What is faith? Give me a high-level understanding of it.
A Faith Community
Paul B: Yeah, well, there would be two aspects of faith when the word faith is used. It can be, you know, what you believe — the particular things you believe are true. It also is a body of belief as well. So when I say a faith community, I mean it is a community of people that believe something, but it’s really it’s a community defined by a body of belief. It’s a worldview really. I would argue that we all have faith. We all have a faith. We all have a worldview, and that influences who we are, how we interact, what we do with our lives.
So a church is a faith community. It’s a community defined by a body of belief, a particular worldview.
Paul P: Okay. So now we’re talking about…you’ve mentioned churches and faith, and so there’s lots of different churches out there. There’s like the Catholic Church, Mormons, Buddhist churches, Jewish churches, you know. What do those differentiations and how do they… I’m not asking for a sort of detailed analysis of every faith that’s out there, but how do you, at a high level, from a social point of view, talk about those?
Paul B: Yeah. Good question. The word church is usually used in the Christian context. So if you’re speaking of Jewish churches, rough equivalence of a church, it would be a temple, a temple community. Other as well — Buddhist temple and so forth.
So when we say church, there’s an implication there that we’re speaking of a Christian-faith community. And certainly we can look in society, and we see all sorts of faith communities and they may call themselves churches or associations, temple communities, so forth.
Paul P: Why isn’t it called a club?
Paul B: Good, good question. Yeah, well, a club would be different. Generally speaking, a club is an association of people who have a common interest, and they usually limit their activities to those particular interests. So, they’re generally narrower interests in a club. So a tennis club. What do you do there? Well, you play tennis. So generally, that’s how we use “club.” A church, faith community really is more holistic. That body of belief that we hold together is not a very narrow interest. It’s a very broad worldview, and there are commitments. There are lifestyles that follow from that worldview. So it would be much broader. And that’s why we wouldn’t want to use the word club because that would imply that somehow it’s maybe more casual and narrower in scope and so forth.
An Engineer Becomes a Pastor
Paul P: Okay. Well I’ve got a bunch more questions on that, but we are too far afield. So you’re Paul Buckley. Now I know that you have a Ph.D. So did you go to divinity school?
Paul B: No, I didn’t. I went to Johns Hopkins, which, actually, Johns Hopkins has a divinity school there, but I didn’t get my Ph.D. in divinity.
Paul P: So what was it? What was it in?
Paul B: In science. A Ph.D. in material science.
Paul P: So that doesn’t sound conventional. I mean, I imagine most people who are — I guess I’ll use the term — clergy. I guess you could be a monk or a priest or a pastor or a lot of different terms for that. Most of them don’t get there by going to school for material sciences. Is that true?
Paul B: At least not immediately.
Paul P: Yeah.
Paul B: True. Yeah. I didn’t get my Ph.D. merely to be a pastor. Certainly it has implications. I think it has a lot of implications in pastoring. But I was a research engineer for 14 years for the government and loved what I did, loved my work. And I did a lot of work that made a Ph.D. really important and really helpful.
Paul P: Okay. What could have happened that said, “Okay. I’m going to take this” — I don’t know — “lucrative career” — an engineer — “and go into this other business or career becoming a pastor”?
Paul B: Yeah. Sometimes I ask myself that question. It was a process, and it was a long process in some ways. Though I have to say, from very early on, I had an interest in Christian leadership and trust in a sense of call, obligation that I think, was more than just my bright idea to serve in that capacity, though I always thought of it as really being a lay leader of some sort. That’s what my personal preference, in some ways, would be.
Paul P: Okay. And by lay leader, what do you mean?
Paul B: Yeah. I mean by that someone who’s not full-time, you know, ordained clergy or really not ordained is what we mean when we say “lay.” So not being an ordained pastor, not being full-time. And so my expectation was just to serve in a capacity where, you know, I was a leader in the church, not necessarily a pastoral leader.
Paul P: Okay. But something must have… I mean, that’s a pretty radical departure from saying, “I’m going to be an engineer working in a job” — you were in a career — to saying, “I’m going to throw that all away.”
Paul B: Yeah. Well, it felt like that at times, and certainly when I told my dad initially, he thought that. Yeah. Good question. Again, it was a process. And so my desire to serve led me to serve in multiple capacities. And as I did that over time, I found myself being fairly effective in pastoral-type roles.
Paul P: Interesting.
Paul B: And it wasn’t necessarily planning to do that. At times I was, and, you know, toyed with the idea. But by the time the opportunity opened up, at that point in my life, I wasn’t planning on it. And I was, to a degree, effective in that role. And that wasn’t just me. It was those that I helped, those that I served, those that were over me — my pastors. Basically, there was a choir of folks saying we see a pastor here. And, I was probably the last guy to say, I guess you’re right. But it became pretty obvious, and I had to make a decision. I had to make a decision what the best stewardship of my gifts in my life would look like. And I would love, and still would love, to be in science. But you can’t really do both, at least the particulars that I chose.
So as I thought through that, I thought through what is responsible, and really, behind all that, a sense of what is God doing, you know, when I look at how I’m being used, and I look at the opportunities; I look at the needs; when I pray, when I talk to others, so forth and so on. You know, what do I think God wants me to do? Where’s my purpose? And not that it was some sort of lesser purpose to do science — I would have loved to continue — but there was a strong sense, well, I think this is what I ought to do. I think I do, in a sense, add value, a particular value, in this role. And so that’s kind of what led me to become a pastor and to become a church-planting pastor.
Planting a Church
Paul B: Okay. Now wait a minute. So you became a pastor, but then you said…what’s this church planting? I mean, there’s lots of churches everywhere. Explain what you mean by church planting.
Paul B: Yeah. A church plant is really a church, a new church, that’s started. Every church that exists, at some point, was a church plant. In the West, we’re kind of used to established churches. So we don’t think in terms of church plants because they were planted a long time ago. But they were planted. So the history of Christianity is a history of church planting. Jesus gave his followers this commission. He told me to go out and make disciples and affect the whole world. And really, the pattern in scripture and the pattern in Christian history is through churches, through local faith communities being started in areas growing and becoming more like Christ in their belief and practice and then being a positive influence in the community where they are.
Paul P: So you decided to — I imagine with other people’s encouragement — plant a church. And where did you do that? Is that in Haverhill where you are now?
Paul B: The church in Haverhill is the one we planted. Originally, we were in Methuen. So we were, at the time before we started the church, before we planted — and we did this with a team. It wasn’t just us, my wife and I. It was a whole team. Before that, we were in Maryland, though we’re from the Boston area. My wife is from Haverhill actually. We were in Maryland, and then we were in the Philly area. And so, from there, we came up and started the church, and as we worked with an organization, our denomination, and others as well, we made a decision to start something in the Merrimack Valley. And so originally, we thought Methuen would be a good place, and it was in many ways. We picked Methuen, and grew.
And over time we were kind of drawing people from a regional area, a fairly broad region, and we are to some degree still doing that. But we started to realize we were going to be more effective if we concentrate on a particular city of town, not to the exclusion of anything else, but to major on a particular city or town. And through a number of circumstances — one being that a wonderful building opened up in Haverhill, others being that everything we were doing in Haverhill was very successful, very well received. And also that, of any particular town, Haverhill was the most common one where people lived in our church. So all that kind of led us to locate in Haverhill in 2009.
What Do People Look for in a Church?
Paul P: And so now, I imagine people come to church and go from church. It’s something to do on Sunday, I guess. But what do you think people — families, individuals — are looking for? Why are they going to churches? I mean, we have so many different social opportunities now. Not that that’s too different. I mean, you know, years ago we had the Elks Club and the, whatever, the Square Dancing Club and all those different clubs. Is, is church different than that? I mean, you’ve mentioned it sort of is because there’s a common faith. But what are they looking for? Is it where I get my needs met? Or what do you think it is?
Paul B: Yeah, that’s a great question. I think initially, there can all sorts of thoughts there. And, and we as a church are prepared to welcome people coming from all different motivations. But I think long-term, to stay a part of a church, stay a part of our church and many others, there’s something more going on than just a particular interest, a club-like interest. Because there people who come because they want to have a spiritual experience for their children. They think that’s a positive thing. So they want to expose them to that. And that’s fine. That’s a fine motivation. But I don’t think that motivation is going to sustain someone’s involvement in the church long, long-term. They might come just because they like what we do in the community, and they want to check us out and see what’s going on.
But long-term, really the things that keep us and lead us onward are, are I think, more substantial than those particular interests. It’s really the idea of a robust worldview that shapes our lives in a positive way makes a real difference in how we live, how we relate to others, what we think about ourselves, how we understand God, and the choices we make in life, really, in every arena. It’s about a comprehensive worldview that propels us, that gives us something bigger than, I think, we can get in all those other interests. So clubs are great. I’m involved in clubs and so forth, but you’re not going to find something robust and comprehensive, define your life on a larger scale from those particular clubs and interests.
And I think, you know, it’s something to think about. Sometimes we can affiliate with a lot of different organizations along different interests but never have something that kind of gets deeper, gets to the heart, like, why am I here? Who am I? What should I be doing? You know, what is this about? Is it, is it worth something? Is there a purpose here? Those are really important questions that, I think if we don’t address them, they’re just going to be there, and they’ll nag us, and there with be a sense of disease, of just being ill at ease and so forth if that question doesn’t get answered.
A Christian Worldview
Paul P: Interesting. So as you were talking about that, I sort of thought of sort of different silos. Like I like photography and woodworking. So I could go to a photography club or a woodworking club or read magazines on photography or woodworking or computers. I love computers. And I could be really good at computers, but that doesn’t really inform photography. Or it doesn’t cross those barriers. And so, I guess it’s more holistic. Would you go there?
Paul B: Yeah. I think your, your worldview does influence your view of those different silos, and a Christian worldview is a robust one. I think it has an answer, and.it has truth. It has a lifestyle that affects all the different silos. So, a Christian should be involved in these different interests. It’s part of what it is to be human and to thrive as a human. But being part of a church helps you understand, have the perspective, the reinforcement and, and the fulfillment that, that God intended in all those activities.
What is Christianity?
Paul P: So, I mean, so you, you’ve used the term Christian several times. And what’s the simple definition of, of that? And how does it differ from other religions? Because I think that everybody — certainly in the 21st century world would say they’re all equal. You believe whatever you want. We have an almost overwhelming encouragement to believe whatever you want, as long as you are true to yourself, you’ll be fine. So is that part of Christianity? Is that an extrapolation of Christianity? What is Christianity, I guess?
Paul B: Good, good question. Yeah. When we talk about being a Christian or having Christian faith, there are different aspects of what we mean. First there’s people that are nominal Christians, and what I mean by that is they take the name of Christian, and they like aspects of that and I don’t think that’s necessarily a problem. But historic and biblical Christianity is really following Christ. That’s probably the simplest definition. If you’re a Christian, you’re a follower of Christ.
Paul P: A follower of Christ. Okay. He’s not alive today. He’s not walking around. I can’t follow them with my car. What do you mean by that?
Paul B: Good question. Yeah. Well, I think he is alive today. That’s fundamental to following him, that we believe he is alive. We believe that the accounts of his life contained in the scripture are true and that from what we read and know, he did die, but then he rose again. He died on a cross. He suffered, died for sins to make atonement for sin so that we could be forgiven in him and have life in him. And then he rose again from the dead, and he ascended into heaven, and he’s coming back. Those are basic Christian truths that are contained in scripture, have been believed for thousands of years. So a Christ follower, one who follows Christ is one who follows a Christ who has died for sin and rose again and is alive.
What is Sin?
Paul P: So what that he died for sin? What does that mean? What is sin? I mean, because nowadays, it’s like do whatever you feel is good. Right? I mean, we define what’s good a bad by our own selves right now. So he died for sin. Can you flesh that out? What does that actually mean?
Paul B: Well, sin is not a happy word for us, really, is it? We don’t like to talk about it. It’s not mentioned much.
Paul P: So yes and no. But I don’t think anybody that can be reasonably intellectually honest about things, there’s this thing called sin, which you can define any way you want. You can give me your definition of it, and it’s neither. People don’t like to talk about it. Why do you think about people don’t want to talk about it? I mean, somebody has to talk about it. It’s like saying there’s no water in the lake. It’s like, well, we don’t talk about that. But the reality doesn’t change. So sorry to interrupt, but if there’s this thing called sin, and you’re saying that Jesus died for sin, what does that equation mean? What does that actually mean?
Paul B: Yeah. Well, we don’t like to talk about it because it’s uncomfortable, but we always deal with it. We see it around us. When someone does something wrong, we react to it. We know, really, what’s wrong and what’s right, to a great degree. Sin is really doing the wrong thing or failure to do the right thing. So we know that. We live with that.
Paul P: So is it that simple?
Paul B: Yes, it is.
Paul P: So you’re saying I shouldn’t do the wrong things. If I’m being intellectually honest, and I don’t like what somebody is wearing, I shouldn’t kill them. I mean, I’m being extremely outrageous here. But where does that come from, that notion that it would be wrong? And I think 10 out of 10 people would say, “That was wrong to kill that person. Why did you kill that person?”
“I didn’t like their shoes.” Well, that’s even worse wrong. So where does that come from?
Knowing Right from Wrong
Paul B: Yeah. That’s a great question. I think it comes from who we are. Fundamentally part of what it is to be human, what we would say, we’re made in the image of God. We’re made like God in the sense that we understand about people, we understand relationships, we understand ethics and so I think it’s inherent. Even if someone were not to grant me that, I would say it’s always very logical. The Golden Rule — do to others as you would have them do to you —and then there’s different versions of that, of course. It makes sense because you’re not the only or central being. When you start to acknowledge other identities around you — you know, “What right do I have over them? I should treat them as I would treat myself or want to be treated.”
Paul P: Okay that sounds reasonable.
Paul B: And that’s a biblical truth, but it’s also a logical truth that you see across all different worldviews really. But I would say it’s more than that. It is that, but it’s more. I think it is part of what it is to be made in the image of God too. I think we have inherent understanding of right and wrong and it’s built in.
Paul P: Well, let me stop you there. We’ll get back to that whole concept here of this.