By Jeff Finley

“But the word of God continued to spread and flourish” (Acts 12:24).

J.R. Rushik is a successful church planter who helps others succeed in Christ-compelled multiplication through the Church Development Network and his recently published book, “The Disciple Makerspace.” While continuing his work with CDN, Rushik also is stepping into a new role — superintendent of the Acts 12:24 Churches.

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“J.R.’s unique gifts are what Acts 12:24 needs at this moment in its leader.” – Superintendent David Harvey

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Retiring Superintendent David Harvey, who led the conference (which stretches from Maine to the Carolinas along the Eastern Seaboard) for a quarter century, commented in an email that “J.R.’s unique gifts are what Acts 12:24 needs at this moment in its leader.”

Rushik has worked closely with Harvey for years and has known him even longer. He recalled during an interview with Light + Life, “The first time I really met Dave Harvey, I was a high schooler. My dad brought me to a district meeting, and Dave was there leading the pastors in group discussion on the topic of multiplication.”

Harvey spoke that day on reaching millions of people and seeing the kingdom of God, and both men have worked for decades since then to try to make that vision a reality.

Left to right: Jeremiah, J.R., Kim, Nathan and Ryan Rushik

East to West and Back

Rushik traded the East Coast for the West Coast for a season of life that included earning a Master of Divinity degree at Azusa Pacific University and serving as the youth pastor of Light & Life Christian Fellowship in Long Beach, under the leadership of Pastors Larry and Deb Walkemeyer who now serve as the Free Methodist Church USA’s strategic catalysts for multiplication. Rushik recalled that during that time, Larry Walkemeyer had a vision to plant churches in every City Council district. Rushik helped plant the first church in the new vision — a church that met in Long Beach, on Sunday evenings. Rushik said his time with the Walkemeyers shaped not only his ministry outlook but also other parts of his life such as his marriage to his wife, Kim.

Rushik eventually sensed God calling him back to ministry in the Eastern United States.

“I grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania in a rural area, but I had just this heart for a region near Philadelphia, and the Lord placed us there,” Rushik said. “I wouldn’t follow our model of church planting in some ways. It was kind of a parachute drop church plant, and we’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way.”

Nevertheless, the Lord blessed the church plant that is now Storehouse Church — a vibrant and growing congregation in Plymouth Meeting, Pennsylvania.

“One thing that we had was a conviction that the Word of God changes lives and a deep passion to see this work established,” said Rushik, who added that Storehouse also places a “high value on seeing people engage — to encounter Christ and see their lives transformed.”

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“In some ways, it was a massive decision, and in some ways, it was a simple decision.” – J.R. Rushik

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He said Storehouse “never grew radically fast as a church” but “steadily grew by 50 people a year.” It began in the Rushik family’s apartment, then moved to a community center, then to an elementary school, and then to a middle school. Storehouse operated with the portable church approach for more than a decade. Ultimately, “the Lord opened doors for an existing church facility, and we were able to purchase that property and moved in there,” he said. “It was a really exciting journey.”

While pastoring Storehouse, Rushik earned a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary. Rushik said his doctoral work addressed kingdom multiplication. Meanwhile, he was under the leadership of Superintendent Harvey who cast a vision for kingdom multiplication, “and it just became the right time in the conference for that vision to take that next step, to see these ideas actually become a reality.”

Harvey invited Rushik to leave Storehouse and join the conference leadership team. The Rushik family moved from the Philadelphia area to Maryland where the conference office is located.

“In some ways, it was a massive decision, and in some ways, it was a simple decision. My wife and I really felt like this was the right next step in this season,” Rushik said. “The Lord’s blessed it. I will say it’s quite a change going from the weekly rhythm of being the lead pastor leading the congregation to giving vision and voice to a decentralized work, but we’ve enjoyed it.”

Longtime Storehouse staff member Tasha Hoover transitioned from associate to lead pastor.

“It’s just thrilling to see her step into that lead pastor role. The church has rallied around her, and great things are happening,” Rushik said. “We were just there for a night of worship, and it’s really encouraging to see something that we helped start continue to thrive in this next season.”

Developing the Network

With fellow Acts 12:24 leaders Theo Burakeye (who died in December 2021) and Chris Pulice, Rushik launched the Church Development Network, which Rushik described as “a byproduct of the heart of” the Acts 12:24 Churches.

“It was born with a desire to see multiplication of the kingdom of God happen in a way that rapidly produces obedient disciples and churches that are formed under a shepherding authority with care and guidance as new works begin,” said Rushik who added that CDN wants to “turn the knob on multiplication — specifically in the West. My role over the last three years has been to take what was happening, particularly throughout Africa, and to understand and contextualize those processes and practices.”

Rushik said the network learned from Burakeye “who planted 75,000 churches in 33 countries during his lifetime.” The network worked to bring this fruitful approach “into a Western context where the principles are the same, but the practice is unique to our context, and so a lot of what I’ve done has been casting a vision of multiplication and providing simple tools, resources and strategy.”

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“Let’s encounter Christ and hear from Him, and from that space, trust that the Lord is going to lead and guide us.” – J.R. Rushik

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The network has spread beyond the boundaries of Acts 12:24 and the Free Methodist Church to include people and churches in many states and across denominational lines.

“We’re so blessed to see the work multiply. It’s an amazing thing, but it’s not really my thing that I’ve done. It’s because we were able to put clear vision, simple tools and strategies in the hands of gifted people and release them for this work,” he said. “We’ve gone from the three of us — myself, Chris and Theo — as the initial trainers and catalysts for this movement. Now we have well over 100 trainers that are doing this. Every weekend there are Encounters taking place with new churches being conceived and church planters taking these first steps as they receive care, discipleship, mentoring and coaching so that they can be activated in ministry. This past weekend, we had four different Encounters all taking place at the same time. I wasn’t at any of them, but I know from the reports that the Lord showed up in a powerful way.”

Rushik noted that “one of the unique components of CDN is our emphasis on seeking the Lord in the Upper Room, which is a priority of prayer first, planning second. One of the strengths of CDN is we are intentionally going against the typical Western church flow, which is ‘let’s plan, plan, plan, plan. Let’s get it all figured out. Let’s make sure all our bases are covered and then go.’ Instead we say, ‘Let’s go to the Upper Room. Let’s encounter Christ and hear from Him, and from that space, trust that the Lord is going to lead and guide us.”

The Disciple Makerspace

Rushik said “The Disciple Makerspace” book includes the story of CDN’s emergence, but it also serves as “a point of vision for what I believe the church should become.” The intended audience is not just people who are involved in CDN.

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“What do you desire to make? What do you hope to produce? What’s your unique contribution that you want to bring?” – J.R. Rushik

 

“It’s for everybody really — especially pastors but anyone who would want to see a fresh idea or understanding of how a church could look like the biblical New Testament church,” he said. “Without being critical of the way the church is functioning in the West today, it gives us a unique perspective on some of the ways that we can make it look a little more like the example Jesus gave us and the New Testament gave us.”

The book’s title comes from the field of modern education. In an educational makerspace, an interactive classroom provides the tools and equipment where a teacher asks students, “What do you desire to make? What do you hope to produce? What’s your unique contribution that you want to bring?”

Rushik explained, “The goal of the teacher then is to guide that student using the tools and resources in that room to create what is on their heart to create, and I believe that pastors and ministry leaders should lead their churches and make disciples in same way. Giving priority to positioning their church as a place where every disciple is given the tools and the freedom to bring their unique contribution to the ministry of the church and to the kingdom of God. The Makerspace framework combined with CDN’s Multiplication Flywheel creates an intentional, relational rhythm for planting churches without compromising the beauty, simplicity, and power of the biblical church.”

Click here to order “The Disciple Makerspace” from the Light + Life Bookstore.

Click here to connect with the Church Development Network.

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Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He joined the Light+Life team in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media. He is a member of John Wesley Free Methodist Church where his wife, Jen, serves as the lead pastor.

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