Interview with Troy McMahon

By Brad Dupray

Troy McMahon has taken the nontraditional route to becoming a church planter. After a stint as a technical manager in the Navy, and then as a manufacturing manager for General Mills, Troy joined the staff of Community Christian Church outside of Chicago. Having served in several roles on that church staff since 1996, he is now facing his biggest challenge as he and his family move to Kansas City to launch a new church. Troy and his wife, Janet, have been married for 20 years and are blessed with three children, Jacob (16), Mitchell (13), and Judiann (7).

Tell me about your circuitous route to ministry.

I grew up as a pastor’s kid in small Christian churches throughout the Midwest. I never thought vocational ministry was what I was supposed to do. I began a path focusing more on “success.” I went to Kansas State University and got a chemical engineering degree.

The upbringing I had in church was a very positive experience—a comfortable, safe environment. Even when I went to Kansas State I went to church. I was one of the few college kids who did go to church on the weekends!

While I was in college I made a commitment to the Navy. I got a job with the “nuclear Navy” in Washington D.C. When my wife and I relocated from Kansas to northern Virginia, the first thing we did was find a church. We found a small Christian church called Central Christian Church in Springfield, Virginia. Not long after we began attending, the church hired its first associate pastor, Brett Andrews. Brett got Janet and me to become a part of the youth ministry there.

I was sitting around the dinner table with Brett in 1990, and he told me he had a dream to start a church for people who didn’t go to church. I told him that’s crazy—people wouldn’t come. I asked him if there were churches doing this and he told me about Community Christian Church and Dave Ferguson in Naperville, Illinois.

While in the Navy I finished my master’s degree at Virginia Tech, and after my commitment was complete I got a job at General Mills. My wife and I relocated from northern Virginia to Chicago. At this point, based on that conversation with Brett, we found Community Christian Church. It was literally so different from any church we had experienced before that I asked my wife if it “counted”!

I met Dave Ferguson, the lead pastor, who is just a year older than me. I was so amazed he had such clarity of purpose, such focus, such vision that I had to get together to see what made him “tick.” After just a few meetings we had a standing breakfast meeting every Wednesday for a year. I got a chance to know him and to learn from his leadership, and he got a chance to know me and understand my heart.

About that time I got a promotion at General Mills and relocated from Chicago to Atlanta. I was the start-up director at a brand new plant. It was a God-ordained experience. It was remarkably similar to starting up a church campus.

I was ready for the next promotion, and my wife and I were really seeking God’s will. Every Monday night we would do our prayer journal. On November 10, 1994, we got on our knees and wrote a prayer, “God, we’ll go anywhere you want us to go and do anything you want us to do.” In my mind I’m thinking about General Mills. A month later I got a phone call from the corporate headquarters to see if I wanted to interview for a job back in Chicago. At that same time Dave was thinking about Community Christian Church becoming a multisite church—starting a second location—and needing staff. This was back in the days when you would use a Rolodex. They were flipping through their Rolodex and my name popped up. So before they even knew I was moving back to the area, Dave wondered if I would ever come back to the area and would come on staff at the church.

We ended up relocating back to Chicago, and I ran a business unit for General Mills there. Dave asked me about it over a milk shake. He laid out his vision for this multicampus church, and I was intrigued. He had a role called community pastor. They would appoint a person who would be the catalyst for the location. I told Dave, “We’ve really got to get the right guy for that job!” He had set the hook. He said, “Troy, I want you for that job.” I was stunned. Vocational ministry was not in any of my plans. Being an active part of the church, being a leader, being a generous giver were all part of my plan. But vocational ministry caught me off guard.

Janet and I prayed about this, and there were so many obstacles—financial, relinquishing my dreams of corporate success, a huge cut in pay. Janet and I remembered attending a National Youth Leaders Conference 10 years earlier at Ozark Christian College and Tony Campolo was speaking. He had conducted an informal survey where he asked people who were 95 years old what would they would have done differently if they could relive their lives. They said they would have risked more, they would reflected more, and they would have invested more in things that last beyond their own lives. We were two young college students ready to get married, and during the next few hours on a park bench we made a commitment that we would not live lives of regret. Now here we were, nearly 10 years later, and we had an opportunity that, if we didn’t say yes, we would always look back on with regret. Because of that, the decision was clear that we had to take the leap.

Janet has a spiritual connection that is frequently a step ahead of me—a direct connection with God. In high school she journaled frequently. In college she felt there was a purpose in her life and that she wanted to marry a pastor, and I told her she was marrying the wrong guy. Now she’s been on staff with me at Community Christian Church for 11 years. She has led in children’s ministry, recovery ministry, and community groups.

Now another big change. How did you arrive at church planting?

I’ve been at Community Christian Church for the past 11 years and the thing we’ve been most passionate about is reproducing—reproducing leaders, Christ followers, small groups, campuses, and churches. I’ve been a part of that culture of reproduction. We’ve sent staff—good friends—to plant churches and I kept asking myself, “Am I supposed to do that?”

It appears you got your answer.

In conversations with my wife and Dave the answer would be, “You have a significant role to play here,” and that made sense to me. But there kept being this longing, this sense that God was going to call me to something different. Whenever I was around church planters I had this “holy disruption.”

What was the turning point?

When Dave said “yes” to being the vice president of this year’s North American Christian Convention, he and the leadership group got together and said we can talk about church planting or we can be about church planting. As they brainstormed and prayed, they came to the conclusion that if instead of impacting Kansas City for a week, they could plant a church, that could impact the city for decades, or generations, to come.

Did you make the connection right away?

He shared about it with me over our regular lunch meeting. I wanted to jump out of my skin! I said, “Dave, is that supposed to be me?” For the first time he didn’t say no. So for the next month we spent a significant amount of time praying about it and seeking personal counsel.

Did you feel like you were getting clear direction from God?

Over and over again we got confirmation. From circumstances, to God speaking to us through the Word, through relationships, from wise counsel—that this was the right thing for us to do, that we would be part of this church plant.

Why Kansas City?

I grew up outside of Kansas City, so it feels like I’m coming home. As we looked at the spiritual landscape of the area we thought, What if we could change the landscape of Kansas City? Starting a church passionate about helping people find their way back to God, a church focused on mobilizing Christ-followers to change the world, and a church relentless about reproducing leaders, artists, and churches.

How did you narrow the field to a specific location?

I met with a number of pastors in the area—three different churches, three different denominations. I asked, “If you were coming to Kansas City today where would you plant a church?” All three said they would go to the “Northland.” My wife and I came back and spent an entire weekend praying and driving around the area and felt like it was home—it was the specific place God was telling us to come to.

What’s your timeline?

My entire team will be relocating to the area this fall. We’ll begin launch team development in early fall and our goal is to have our first service on March 2, 2008.

How do you staff a new church?

When we started this we wanted to have a core staff of four people. That would cover lead pastor, small groups, creative arts, and kids. Our vision is to be a reproducing church project and what happened has surprised us. We have three guys who are coming on board as church planter apprentices. So we’re launching “pregnant!” Our plan is to reproduce within 24 to 36 months—to launch another campus and/or church. So right now we have a staff of seven plus two more interns.

What does a guy do for seven months before the church holds its first service?

The most important thing we’ll do is develop relationships with people—people of influence and people who are far from God. We’ll do some community impact events even before we launch. We’ll do a number of those events in the fall. We want to build a culture of serving. Rather than you come to us, we’ll come to you. Our first public celebration experience will be a community Christmas Eve service. We’ll be doing preview services in January and February, working toward the March launch.

You’ll be connecting with a lot of people.

The foundation for the church will be relationships. We’re going to build an infrastructure of five to 10 small groups meeting regularly before our March 2008 launch.

Transport yourself to May 2008. What would you consider a “home run?”

We’re praying for what it would be like to have 500 people on launch day. By May we want to have people who are saying yes to Jesus and being baptized. We’d like to have people in our apprentice ministry stepping into new leadership roles. We would like for people who don’t attend to have the perception that this church is making a difference in the community. We hope by summertime to have retained 50 percent of those who attended on launch day. We would like to be making plans to start a new service, our second celebration service, in the fall.

What is the toughest nonchurch-plant issue you’ve had to face?

Saying goodbye. During 11 years at a place you develop roots, and they’re not superficial. If you pull out a plant with deep roots it is a dramatic event. We’re more than coworkers, we’re extremely close friends. The thought of not being a part of Community is very difficult, personally. This is the place I’ve grown up as a leader and as a Christ-follower. It’s changed the direction of my life. Going to work at Community Christian Church is like going to a party every day. Recreating that culture is going to be hard. I’m going to grieve that loss.

Are you scared?

Completely. But it’s not an immobilizing fear. It forces me to pray more. It forces me to be in relationship with people I consider to be mentors who have experience and connection with God. It’s a fear that’s invigorating. It’s a difference between Heaven and Hell for people. I pray, “God, give me the courage, strength, and stamina to create a vibrant, worshiping, and difference-making church in this area.”

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For more information about the new church being planted in Kansas City visit http://reachoutKC.org.

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