Interviews

Fostering community, relationships, and generosity with Kyle Brooks of Oakland Startup Church

This week we’d like to introduce you to Kyle Brooks. Kyle is the founding pastor of Oakland Startup Church, an emerging community located in the heart of Oakland, CA.

The following interview is from a series I did as part of another project, GTHR.


From time to time we like to highlight community builders. These individuals captivate us. They draw us out. They invite us into a fuller way of being. They are relentless seekers of a simpler, more integrated, transparent, participatory version of ekklesia. One that reminds us of our beginnings and reunites us with our divine calling to be vessels of redemption for a world desperately out of order.

Their lives tell stories that beg to be shared. And we’re excited to introduce them to you, in their own words.

This week we’d like to introduce you to Kyle Brooks. Kyle is a Church Planter in Residence at Christ Church East Bay and the founding pastor of Oakland Startup Church an emerging community located in the heart of Oakland, CA.


In one sentence, what is your purpose, or reason to be?

My purpose is simply to be with God, and from that place of freedom and love to assist whoever God brings my way in finding their way to him through Jesus.

How did you come to be where you are right now?

That’s a very complicated question with a very long answer. But if I’m trying to be succinct, I came to be where I am (spiritually speaking) through the words of a friend,

“Even when you can’t hold onto God, he holds onto you.”

Those words gave me the faith that I needed in order to doubt, and the doubt has brought me to greater understanding and faith in God than I could have dreamed of beforehand. Of course, I still have a long way to go, but it’s those words that still animate me and give me hope for the future.

What big decisions along the way have brought you to the here and now? The ones where courage conquered fear.

My wife and I moved to Oakland to begin the process of starting a new church two years ago. In order to do that,

We uprooted our lives in Michigan, left all our friends and family there, moved to a city we had only visited once before to work alongside a church we had never even attended with the end goal of starting a new church—something we had never done.

Needless to say there was a lot of fear. The truth is, we still experience a fair amount of trepidation when we look at what’s ahead.

That said, through prayer God made it clear to us even in our short visit to Oakland that this was a place we could really love on its own terms. He made it clear that he was directing us here. And we trust that he’ll hold onto us no matter what happens.

We uprooted our lives in Michigan, left all our friends and family there, moved to a city we had only visited once before to work alongside a church we had never even attended with the end goal of starting a new church—something we had never done.

When did you realize you wanted to be in ministry? Any interesting moments as a child?

When I was in eighth grade my classmate in Spanish class called me “el predicador”, which means “the preacher.” But that was probably just because I talked too much. The truth is I thought I wanted to be in ministry before I experienced God calling me into it. It wasn’t until I was a junior in college that God shook me up with that calling, but that’s another long story.

What’s your process these days for fostering community, relationships, and generosity (both within the community and abroad)?

We try to provide different onramps to relationship for different people. For example, if we just met on the train, I probably won’t invite you to an intimate dinner at our apartment because that would probably weird you out! But you may want to come to an art show with us. If you’ve done that a few times, you may want to go out to dinner with us. If we’ve done that together, you may be willing to come over for a meal and really get to know each other.

It’s all about being intentional and opening up the right kinds of space.

Relationships are typically the foundation for community and generosity, and they take time and intentionality to develop.

However, there are moments when acts of unique generosity deepen a relationship quickly.

You want a stay with us for a few days while you get on your feet? Can I help you find a job? Those kinds of acts connect the hearts of human beings, and we try to look for ways to give away the resources we’ve been given.

And when you’re not doing any of the above, where can we find you?

On the golf course. I try to find the cheapest deal as often as possible. It’s the one activity that can truly take my mind completely off of ministry, theology, and the tasks of the day. And sometimes my mind and heart need that reprieve.

Down time and work/life balance: How does this vibe with you? How do you make it all work?

Honestly, I have a hard time with the phrase “work/life balance.” Work is life and life is work.

Even when I’m home there are things that take effort. Even when I’m with family my pastoral knowledge bank might get tapped. My parishioners are also my friends.

I try think of of it more like rest-work rhythm.

God told us in the 10 Commandments to rest one day per week as a community, and Jesus clarified that this was not to enslave us but to free us to be even more human. So,

We work from a place of deep physical and spiritual rest.

So the staff I have been a part of these last two years follows a “Pastoral Rule” together, which is a set of commitments like: keep one Sabbath day per week, don’t spend more than three nights per week away from your wife and kids for ministry related things if you’re married or have kids, pray the Daily Office (morning and evening prayer), etc. Doing this in community is critical, so I try to find as many ways to spiritually rest in community as possible.

Honestly, I have a hard time with the phrase “work/life balance.” Work is life and life is work...I try think of of it more like rest-work rhythm…We work from a place of deep physical and spiritual rest.

Most difficult situation to date?

Let’s just say there was yelling in public and false accusations involved, but beyond that I can’t say much for the protection of others. It was not pleasant.

Biggest triumph / accomplishment?

In ministry it’s hard for me to think of things as accomplishments because you realize just how deeply you rely on the prayers and gifts of others and the power of God to make anything happen.

But I was incredibly pleased to be a part of the launching of Christ Church East Bay’s third location in Lafayette, California. We were a small band of 20 committed adults when we started, and after 8 months of prayer, teaching, brainstorming, moving around, and inviting we launched public worship with about 60 committed adults and about 40 kids. It was exciting to watch God work in that community.

What would you tell your five year-ago self?

Engage more deeply in your cross-cultural friendships and find a mentor who isn’t white (even though I have LOVED my white mentors).

Pray like your life depends on it.

Learn how to simply be with God.

Who do you look to for inspiration? Or, who madly lights you up and makes you want to chase down your dreams?

I read biographies for inspiration. Well crafted stories about unique lives make me want to sprint the marathon.

From Steve Jobs to Jesse Jackson to Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Lesslie Newbigin, hearing how people came through the adversities they faced spurs me on in the face of my own.

Future plans? What dreams are in the pipeline?

We want to be a part of a movement of new churches in the Bay Area that give their cities a taste of God’s kingdom of Justice, Peace and Joy (Rom 14:17).

Our friends and our cities are longing for that kind of world, and the more we can reproduce communities who live that out the more we can help the people we love see the good news we so love to talk about.

What three pieces of practical advice would you share with someone who wants to create, shape, and inspire a community of their own?

When it comes to creating community, there’s no substitute for hospitality.

Not pseudo-hotel or pseudo-restaurant hospitality, but the kind that makes other people feel like they can toss your moldy cheese when they find it in the fridge.

When it comes to shaping community, there’s no substitute for listening.

You may have an ideal that the rest of us don’t, and if it’s not our ideal too we will never commit to it like you want. Listening well and finding the patterns in people’s longings are crucial parts of the process.

When it comes to inspiring a community, there’s no substitute for being in-spired yourself—literally “breathed into.”

If it’s just your breath it’s going to sound like a lot of hot air, but if it’s coming from someplace deeper people will know. For me, that means taking the time to pray, read Scripture and other works, and talk to people I am not trying to inspire just to learn from them.

When it comes to creating community, there’s no substitute for hospitality.

Any favorite methods, tools, or technology you’ve found to be essential?

In the age of email blasts, I’ve found Mail Merge technology to be essential for cutting down on my time and actually getting responses from people who are buried under their inboxes.

A personal mantra?

“If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing.” — Jesus in John 15.

Where can we find you and your community online?

Kyle:
Twitter: @kbrooksy7

Oakland Startup Church:
Web: oaklandstartupchurch.org

🤝 Stay in touch

I send an email several times a year with a handful of the most interesting things I’ve written or uncovered at home, abroad, and on the web.

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