A New Confessional Congregation In Detroit

Guest post by the Rev Mr Dan Milward. I met Dan several years ago when I spoke at a conference hosted by Redeemer PCA in Traverse City.


New City Presbyterian Church is committed to church planting in Detroit. Our church planting initiative is called the Detroit Project. Motown and The Motor City are two of Detroit’s well-known nicknames (because of its history as the automotive capitol of the world.) Shortly after 1977 and the building of the Renaissance Center (the largest privately financed project in the world), Detroit became known as the Renaissance City. But the city continued to struggle and people had given up on the possibility of a true renaissance. But now in 2013 there appear to be signs of a legitimate comeback, most apparent in the Downtown and Midtown areas.

Our starting point to accomplish this vision is to establish biblically faithful, outward facing, mission-minded churches at the Northern and Southern ends of the most influential corridor in Detroit—the Woodward Corridor—Royal Oak to the North and Midtown/ Downtown Detroit to the South.

Both my wife Laura and I were born and raised in the northern suburbs of Detroit. This is where we were married and blessed with three beautiful children. We worked together as a team in building one of the largest retail floor covering companies in the state, and in 1992 we sold our two companies and moved the family north to Traverse City. My favorite pastime was fishing and I had a long-time dream of becoming involved in the fishing industry (fishing charters, river guiding, etc.), and happily did so for two years, after which time it became obvious to me that God had a different kind of fishing in mind for me. He was calling me into the ministry.

In September of 1994 I became the area director for a parachurch youth work. After five years of fruitful work there, I entered seminary with the idea of working in the area of Christian Education. A short time later I began to realize the call God was placing on me to be a pastor. Providentially, in the summer of 2001, a little over one year into my seminary studies, I was asked and agreed to pastor a small community church of about 30 people on the west side of Traverse City. After three years and a congregation of over 100, and on the brink of finishing my seminary studies, a small group of folks approached us to consider becoming the church-planter for a new PCA work in Traverse City. We formally received and accepted the call to take on that work, and I be- came the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Traverse City, PCA.

Now, nine years later, Rev. Ryan McVicar, the head of “The Detroit Project” and Church Planter of the first congregation in Royal Oak, has invited us to join him in this work, specifically to begin a congregation in Midtown Detroit. After much prayer and affirmation from our presbytery and denomination, Laura and I have accepted the call and upon the raising of our funding, we will be moving to Midtown/Downtown Detroit to begin this kingdom work.

The Detroit Project is seeking partners who will be involved with us relationally, prayerfully, and financially. We do trust that God will provide the resources and the people necessary for the launch of this initiative. We would like to ask you to prayerfully consider partnering with us.

First and foremost we believe we are entering into an area that has been overcome by spiritual darkness for decades. That said, the enemy is not likely to give up territory he believes belongs to him. Therefore, we need faithful Christians who will commit to pray for this ministry regularly. We need to pray to our Lord and Savior to bind the forces of evil and to allow the power that is at work within us to shine through in the light of Gospel truth, both through our message and our love and service to the city.

To enter the field and begin ministry, we must raise 50% of the proposed five-year budget. Experience has shown us, the new congregation being formed will provide the other 50% over that same five-year period, and typically by year six should be self-sustaining. The proposed (and approved by the denomination) five -year budget is $1,350,000. Therefore, we are seeking proposed financial partners who will join with us in providing the $675k.

If you know someone who lives in Metro-Detroit, please consider telling them about our church plant and encourage them to contact Daniel Millward to learn more about our vision and values. If you currently live in the Detroit area, please consider partnering with us by joining our “start-up” team to help shape and build this new church from ground level.

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  1. Interesting. My mother’s family had lived since shortly after the Civil War in the Traverse City area, and my father’s family, which had lived in the Upper Peninsula since the 1870s, moved to Flint during World War II and then spread to the Detroit area to work in the war defense plants. Both communities are areas with very little history of confessionally Reformed churches.

  2. DTM, TC is my hometown and I can confirm that until Redeemer showed up there was indeed little to no confessionally Reformed work and witness there. I’m grateful for her, to say the least. Recently Dan preached a splendid two kingdom sermon. But from TC to Detroit? Now that’s a calling.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for this guest post about New City Presbyterian Church. Our family lives in Metro Detroit and is part of this church plant. Pastor Ryan is a hard working and faithful servant bringing Word and Sacrament to us every week, and we have a committed and enthusiastic core team of volunteers. We are also very excited that, Lord willing, Pastor Dan will join us. God is doing great things at New City. Prayers and any support would be greatly appreciated, and if anyone knows anyone in the Metro Detroit area, please spread the word about New City. Thank you again.

  4. Dr. Clark,

    Thank you for this post. I spent the first 35 years of my life in the metro Detroit area before meeting my wife in Traverse City and then moving to Holland, Michigan.

    We live in Hudsonville now and I still can’t get over how many churches there are in this part of the state, many of them good, confessional churches. Detroit is quite a different animal, dominated by Roman Catholic churches in the suburbs and Pentecostal-type stuff in the city. I was just reading an article in the Detroit News a few weeks ago about how the RC churches are hurting in Detroit. They’re turning 100-year-old churches into mosques and parishes are being forced to close churches and schools and merge in order to survive.

    Detroit is definitely a place in need of some good churches. I went online about a year ago to try to find a good church for my sister who still lives over there, and I think I found one OPC church that I could recommend to her. There isn’t much to choose from – yet.

    This is really good news! Again, thanks for posting this.

  5. ZRim, I’m curious. How did the PCA in Traverse City start? I’m aware there was a RCA congregation up there which had a conservative split, but I know only a bit about that split and from what I know of the people who left, their objection to the RCA seems to have been that the classis rejected their overture to call for a boycott of a major American company on Christian grounds. (My advice was that the church as institute does not have clearly biblical grounds to call for boycotts in all but the most extreme of cases, and decisions like that are generally best handled by individual Christians and Christian organizations, not the institutional church.) What I have been told about that RCA split is secondhand, however, so it may be inaccurate.

  6. Dr. Clark,

    I hope this PCA effort doesn’t become like the PCA’s push in San Diego where they pretty much ignored the NAPARC comity agreements and planted churches in other Reformed church’s back yards.

    The reason I express this is because I believe there is already an OPC in Royal Oak, which I’ve visited in the past while staying with family in the Detroit area.

    Providence OPC: http://www.popc.org

    • Hi Brad,

      My impression is that there is not a great number of confessional works in Detroit.

      Comity is difficult. I feel your frustration. I agree that we need to be respectful of each other but it’s also a reality, as I noted in an earlier post, that there are sharply different approaches to ministry and worship in NAPARC and sometimes within the same denominations. The My impression is that the philosophical differences are sometimes so great that the “progressive” planters think that they’re so distinct from more confessionally oriented types that comity isn’t an issue.

      I understand how the world looks from the pov of a small-ish church plant where the pastor and elders are trying to be confessional, where the distance between their approach and the broadly evangelical approach is greater. It usually means that growth is slow, assembling the core group is harder, getting elders takes longer, and finances are more difficult. Then, bang, not far away comes a new, exciting, more contemporary, hip, edgy-sounding/looking/feeling church plant and it can feel like a punch in the gut to the more confessionally oriented work struggling in the same area.

      Otoh, I’ve seen “confessional” congregations planted or moved right on top of other works. Congregations have split and moved across the street from each other!

      The real, underlying issue is less about comity and more about what a Reformed/Presbyterian church is. The divergence in theology, piety, and practice is so great that I doubt that many even think about comity any more because they don’t feel any real kinship with the other side. In other words, if people felt as if what they other folks were doing is what they themselves would do, there would be fewer conflicts over comity. So, often (not always), the comity problems are symptoms of deeper issues.

  7. Agreed. There’s a huge difference between:

    1) a five-point Baptist church helping its longtime attending paedobaptists start a PCA or OPC,

    2) a Korean Presbyterian church (usually PCA or KAPC) helping start a new OPC or PCA for their second-generation members or for American husbands of Korean wives,

    3) a group of people starting a hymnsinging OPC or PCA in close proximity to an existing RPCNA with no intention to recruit RPCNA members, or

    4) a bunch of OPC members complain that OPC session is too strict, call up the PCA’s home missions people, and start a new PCA church whose primary outreach is to dissatisfied OPC members.

    Virtually all of us would agree that #1, #2, and #3 are appropriate. I’ve seen all three situations happen in several different communities. Legitimate doctrinal or linguistic differences are at play which probably cannot be overcome, and two churches are clearly needed in most such cases.

    #4, however, has become all too common.

    BTW, before people tell Koreans to get with the picture and start speaking English in America, look at the controversy when a group of second-generation Dutch immigrants in the Christian Reformed Church had to go to classis to sponsor the beginning of the English-speaking LaGrave Avenue CRC in Grand Rapids because not one single CRC consistory in all of Grand Rapids was willing to sponsor an English-speaking work, apparently preferring to let the kids join the RCA rather than starting services in English. All the way back to the time of the Synod of Dort, the Dutch Reformed allowed English-speaking and Wallon (French-speaking) churches not only to have their own churches but also to have their own classical assemblies based on language and ethnicity, not geography.

  8. DTM, RPCATC’s start is alluded to in the post proper. I’ve not much heard of what you describe, though you may be right to some extent. My understanding is that many of the core members did come mainly from the local RCA up there (Faith Reformed Church), which had more or less become an RCA answer to Willow Creek in the 90s, big box evangelicalism, etc. Many had become disillusioned with it all and sought a work more in keeping with Reformation. Others broke off and created more of the same in the area. To my knowledge, RPCATC is the only confessionally Reformed work there.

  9. Brad re. comity:

    Before Ryan MacVicar started the work in Royal Oak he consulted with the OPC brethren and received their blessing. I think the same thing is true about the proposed work in Mid-town.

    Dave Sarafolean, Pastor
    Christ Covenant Church (PCA)
    Midland, Michigan

    • Thank you, Dave. I’m very happy to hear of that!

      It also makes me feel more comfortable referring friends and family to the church plants there.

      “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Ps. 133

  10. Thank you for the information, Rev. Sarafolean. Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen, and I certainly don’t want to imply that the PCA is the only offender in these matters. It would be pretty inconsistent for Calvinists to claim that any person or church is free of guilt in their interactions with others.

  11. FWIW a few years ago we have held a joint presbytery meeting with the Michigan-Ontario Presbytery. We are planning another one some time next year. Getting together for fellowship and business is a great way to build trust.

    • Brothers,

      Just last night I was able to read all the posts. I enjoyed the dialog. I’d like to comment on and add to what’s been said.

      First of all, I want to thank Dr. Clark for allowing a guest post for the Detroit Project. I have to say, until Ryan McVicar asked me to pray about the possibility of joining him I was convinced I would remain in Traverse City until I went home to be with the Lord.

      I wanted to expand on what Dave Sarafolean said about us checking with other works. I have been on MNA for years, and I was asked to be Ryan’s presbytery coach as well as a member of the oversight commission for the Detroit Project.

      As Dave pointed out, one of the first things Ryan did was to contact Jeff Wilson (OPC in Southfield) and Ralph Rebandt (OPC in Farmington Hills), to discuss his plan about a work in Royal Oak. They both gave their wholehearted blessing.

      When I began visiting Detroit to consider starting another congregation in Midtown, I went to visit Dr. Randy Brown from Military Ave. EPC. I know they’re not NAPARC but he has an extraordinary inner city work in Detroit. I received his blessing and encouragement and we are excited to be an encouragement to one another as we will be within a ten minute drive of one another. I then went up to Farmington Hills to see Ralph because I had heard that they were considering starting something in the city. Ralph indicated they were looking at more of a medical type mission to help people who were not getting the help they needed. He was delighted about the possibility of our coming to Detroit and we will certainly be working together on various mission-minded things.

      During my next visit it is my intention to meet the pastors of a very impressive nondenominational work that began not too long ago called Mack Ave. Community Church.

      If anyone else has any further insights about who’s doing what and where in Detroit please let me know. It’s far too needy of a city to get caught up in turf wars.

      Just as an update on the 675K that needs to be raised before the work can began; I am currently at 280K with the expectation that another 100 or so will be coming in soon. That said, if there is anyone you think might be interested in partnering with me on this, please send them my way.

      Also, we are most grateful for all prayers, both for New City and Redeemer. God has blessed us in that we are narrowing in on my replacement in TC–a young man we are very excited about!

      Thank you again and Blessings,
      Dan Millward

  12. Dan and Laura’s devotion to living and teaching the Truth of Scripture and the love of Jesus Christ has been an inspiration and challenge to our lives. We encourage people to join in their work. We are praying for them as they work to establish the church there

    • First I want to thank Pam and William for the kind words. You are a blessing to us! And thank you for being at our last service at Redeemer in TC.

      Since there has been some discussion about our going to Detroit, I thought it might be fitting to give a brief update as to where we are at. Laura and I are now in Detroit full time. Reformation Sunday, was our last Sunday at Redeemer. We have raised nearly all our financial support and are anxious to begin ministry in the Detroit area.

      God is good and we are already seeing ample evidence that the fields are ripe for harvest here in Detroit. Please pray for us for physical safety and fruitful ministry.

      Also, on a very exciting note, Rev. Scott Korljan, one of RSCs students and a graduate of WSC with an MDiv and a Masters in Historical Theology, is replacing me at Redeemer. I invited him to serve with me as a picture of unity and continuity on Reformation Sunday. It was beautiful. He will be officially installed Nov 3 as pastor at Redeemer. David VanDrunen referred him and will be preaching at Scott’s installation.

      Blessings to all of you,
      Dan Millward

      • Hi Dan, my wife, son, and I may be in the Detroit area visiting family on Sunday, December 29th. Will you be conducting worship services by then? If so, we may try to attend!



        • Brad,

          Of course. In fact I’ll be preaching that Sunday and would be delighted to have you and your family in worship. Please make sure you hunt me down after the service and stick around for some fellowship and refreshments.


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