God Does New Things
My name is Arman Sheffey and I am the Founder and Executive Director of the Unshackled Network. In August 2018, I was faced with the question, what does church look like? I had been a pastor at a thriving church in an affluent nearby suburb for six years, and full time the last two. Life was great! However, on our family trip to Canada, something happened! God broke my heart for the poor all over again! As my family drove the long journey from Toronto to Round Lake in the far northern suburbs of Chicago, I realized I was now coming back home changed as though it were a second conversion. I knew that God was saying, “Now is the time. Now you must go to the poor and share with them my love.” I began to process, what is this church that He wants me to plant? God was doing a new thing and that new thing would eventually become The Unshackled Network. The Unshackled Network is a decentralized network of microchurches with a mission to help those in the margins of Lake County, IL, and beyond experience freedom in Jesus through equipping Spirit-empowered disciple makers called to the forgotten. However, the story of this family of missionaries ultimately had its genesis long before we launched in 2019.
When I was a 7-year-old black kid moving from Chicago to an all-white Dutch village in the south suburbs, it was hard. I was a child of divorce who struggled with identity, dealing with racial tension and acceptance. When God got a hold of me, He gave me purpose, belonging, and a new identity. I soon answered the call to pastor and began to understand more about how God had designed me while leading a new campus for my church. I was sent from the lower socio-economic realm of our initial location and off to lead in the affluent nearby suburb. This was when I realized a significant part of how I was wired was with a heart for the poor, a passion for those on the margins of life. In 2015, a seed was planted that one day, God would send me to plant a church focused on reaching the poor. So, I began learning what it meant to plant a church, attending Exponential conferences, and devouring planting books. Until God reminded me to focus on those that I was currently leading and that He would be the one to get me ready. I refocused and spent my time loving those I was called to lead at the time and eventually went into full-time in ministry in 2016. When the Lord took that vision off the shelf, I had some real heart-to-heart talks with our lead pastor and we discussed the call and with his blessing, I was released to go and explore God’s call to the poor. God was doing a new thing!
Over the next few years, I began learning from the Underground Network, reading books like Organic Church by Neil Cole, and having meals with different people in my area that were stirred in unique ways as I explored how God could possibly use me to help bring to life whatever He placed in them. It was as if God was having one long conversation with me and His message for me was all surrounding a simplified understanding of church, but also, an expanded understanding of who He is and how He works. As we continued to meet and dove into God’s Word more and more, we saw the convergence of worship, mission, and community playing itself out as the simple truth of who the church is. God was birthing a simple and yet expansive vision for communities that were unbound by the conventions of church to which so many of us had grown accustomed. We believe that the Gospel is too big to be contained by brick and mortar and to have true saturation; we also need churches small and nimble enough to start fast and reach deep.
In March 2019 the Unshackled Network was born, with goals to see every marginalized population in Round Lake actively engaged by the Gospel, to see 25 microchurches launched by 2025, and ultimately a thriving gospel community in every neighborhood in Round Lake. The Lord has led us to launch 5 microchurches, 4 locally, and 3 global churches in Kenya, Uganda and India have felt called to join our network. One microchurch, Frontline Street Intervention, and its leaders Chuy and Josue have developed a reputation as a trusted part of the community doing ministry with the youth and developing relationships with school leaders. Another microchurch, Freedom Fighters, went from doing meals together two Tuesdays a month to doing an online bible study on those days when COVID struck. Soon it evolved into a full worship experience every Sunday together on Zoom. Now it is led by Kim and Willie, a couple in their 60’s and 70’s, who are not the most tech-savvy, but fell in love with the ministry when their invited family members surrendered to Jesus during an Easter Zoom. A microchurch that started in my basement music studio is now led by one of our leaders who is an amazing man of God and rapper. As he developed his album, God was developing a church. Jonathan has taken the Beats, Bars, and Bible men’s discipleship microchurch and made it his own.
God does new things. Not only in my life, but in yours too! Just like God called me, He is calling you too! When Jesus was resurrected, He provided instruction to his disciples and sent them on mission. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 18-20. This Easter as we celebrate our savior’s resurrection, we must remember to also be on mission with resurrected Jesus.
We cannot imagine what else God has planned in the story of the Unshackled Network, but with great expectation, we anticipate God’s activity among us as we worship together on mission. What new thing is God calling you to? Just like those early conversations as we began, we’d love to talk with you about what God is stirring. Let us know if you’d like to discuss ways we can help you be faithful to what God is birthing.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3
Contact: (847) 238-2923, firstname.lastname@example.org