In 2009 Wendy and I stepped out of traditional church leadership, recruited a small group of like minded people, and began experimenting with what it meant to “be the church.” The group went through several iterations. We closed it in 2013. It was called “The Thingy.”
Blog posts about the group were the first things I ever published online. I wrote them in hopes that others might learn from our successes and failures. The blog I wrote them on is long dead, so I’m going to post them here hopes that someone might be inspired by them and learn from the adventure we had. I’ll post the story of the Thingy in three parts: the birth of the group, a summary two years in the groups life, and a “lessons learned” at the close of the group. I’m going to add some pictures of our family through the posts so you can see time passing.
I remember the group with deep fondness. My experiences with those people shaped Wendy and I into the people we are today.
Please excuse the quality of the writing. As I said, these are unedited (mostly). I’ve learned a lot about writing since 2009.
THE BIRTH OF THE THINGY
The First Meeting – February 3rd, 2009
Last night was a really exciting night for Wendy and me! We got together with a small group of like minded friends that live and work in the area Wendy and I are moving to in the Spring. We ate Wendy’s homemade spaghetti and stuffed mushrooms (which were rock’in awesome!!!) and then had a long chat.
Wendy and I explained to the group our plan to be the church in a different way and then invited them to join us in the planning. There was a lot of wonderful discussion. It was an exciting moment for us.
Because so many of you were praying for us, I wanted to give you a quick glimpse of what we shared with the small group last night. We asked the group to pray about signing the following covenant with us:
“Alongside the others listed below, I commit to redefining what it means to be the church and living out that redefinition for the next five years.”
We then explained:
“Alongside others”…Lives surrendered to Jesus are most beautiful when they are lived in community. We were created to live in love together. Also, we believe the best products are produced by a team of like minded individuals working together as equals…so we need a team.
“Redefining what it means to be the church”…Wendy and I deeply love the church. We believe it is the hope of the world. We have a passion to see it expressed in a new way. We want to find a different way for a group of us to embody Jesus in our world. Discovering this will take clear thinking and disciplined action. The first phase of our journey will be several months of praying, seeking the Spirit, dreaming, planning, debating, and experimenting together.
“Living it out”…we realize that the things we plan at first will almost immediately need to be tweaked and maybe even scrapped. If we truly want to discover something new we must go beyond theoretical planning and put our money where our mouth is. We have to practice it together and be willing to go back to the drawing board when we need to.
“Five years”…this is a random number that came out of a conversation with our good friend Bryan Doyle. Because we are rebuilding something so dear to us, it will not be surprising if debates get a little heated from time to time. If we are going to succeed we all must be “all in.”
After discussing all of that we sent the team home to pray and talk to one another about whether such a crazy venture is something they want to do.
It was an incredible night. I was overwhelmed with respect for everyone that attended. They are amazing people. I am honored and humbled that they would give serious consideration to such a crazy idea. I am so excited about what is coming!
Let our peace be our disquiet; and our disquiet be out peace! (Karl Barth)
The First Gathering – February 10, 2009
So last night was the team’s first planning meeting and it was…AWESOME!
There were seven of us there, sitting around a small kitchen table, sipping coffee, munching on Wendy’s rock’in awesome salsa cream cheese dip and Mike’s world famous pop-corn and M&M combo.
For the first forty five minutes we goofed around. Everyone, myself included, was a little tense because of the five year commitment we had just made. We really needed to laugh together. So laugh we did – hysterical, gut busting, tear jerking, crazy laughing…and about half way through it all it occurred to me, church should be this fun. Why do we take ourselves so seriously?
Finally we calmed down and shared stories. We read the passage in Luke where Jesus said we should be loving God and loving people and then we shared the moments in our lives when we felt we were most sucessful at one of those two missions. It was incredible hearing everyone’s big wins. After that question ran its course we talked about how we routinely connect to God. By the end of the time I felt like we were all getting to know each other fairly well.
We concluded by deciding that next week we will all come with our favorite Jesus stories. We are going to share the stories with one another, brainstorm on how we can act out the heart of each story during the week, and hopeful develop some core principles to live by in the process. Hopefully the principles will help us maintain simplicity in the future.
The team is definitely forming. I already deeply love this crew. I am so excited about what God has in store for such a crazy bunch! Please keep praying for us.
The Second Gathering – February 17, 2009
I’m trying to think of a better word to describe last night and “wow” is all I got. You see…the team…yeah…freak’in WOW!
The team is awesome. We had great discussion last night. Everyone brought truly deep insight. Each comment made challenged me to think more than the last. For those of you praying for us, thank you. Last night the Holy Spirit was there! Here is how it played out:
We started with some hang-out /catch up time. Total blast for me because the group is comprised of people deeply I love. (Mike and Christi brought homemade hummus…dang! I could have drank the bowl.)
Next we shared Jesus moments from the week – times when we really saw Jesus working in our lives. The stories were amazing. Stories about ministering to homeless people on the street, getting to see an agonstic friend accept Jesus as Lord, serving people at work in hard core ways, having their hearts broken for the dark culture of Baltimore city…there were so many.
The funny thing is…I’m the pastor right – the paid, professional minister? I’m the one that should have the powerful Holy-Spirit-moved-this-week-stories. I had nothing compared to what the rest of the team shared. I just sat amazed at how God had worked through them.
Next we jumped into building our core principles. One team member kicked us off by sharing Luke 18:9-14, “the Tax Collector and the Pharisee,” as his favorite Jesus story (see the posts “Planning Meeting #1” and “The Covanent Meeting” if you want to understand why we are sharing Jesus stories). He read it to the team, shared his insight into the story, and then everyone else jumped in sharing what they loved about it.
I had the absolute best seat in the house. I got to stand at a white board and record what everyone else said. It was awesome to watch this amazing group of people process through the story. I honestly had absolutely nothing of value to add.
And again, just to hammer it home, I’m the pro in the room…right? I’m the one that went to Seminary. I’m the one that can read the passage in Greek. I have three commentaries on Luke sitting on my shelf collecting dust…shouldn’t I be the one teaching the class? But that is not how it worked. I was the student and these amazing Spirit empowered theologians were the teachers. They had deeper insight into the passage than any commentator I have ever read; deeper than anything I could have come up with. Rock’in awesome!
Here is a sample of some of the insights they shared (I can’t list them all or this will be a 10 page blog…so here are a few chosen at random):
- “This passage removes all the self-righteous performance out of following Jesus. Living for Christ is simply about humbling myself before God.”
- “The beautiful thing is: the Tax Collector understands that he is broken in need of help. It is the religious one who thinks he has it all together. He is suffering from Super Christian disease.”
- “This attitude causes the religious one to look down on the broken, to hide his own brokenness behind a mask…he thinks he has it all figured out.”
- “There is sincerity in seeking God in secret. Humility is necessary when working out our salvation.”
- “When we are openly broken we see others as equals and this produces an unusual kindness in us. Often this kindness is the only tool we have to impact others.”
- The Pharisee is following all the rules. While the Tax Collector, because he knows he is broken, is seeking God for the right reasons; but he goes to the Temple, the place of rules, to do it. Isn’t it cool how God can take the things we turn into religion and still use them to connect others to Him.”
- “The beauty of brokenness is that, with the Tax Collector, there is nothing left but who he is.”
So then we tried to boil all these thoughts down into a word or two that will direct our actions for the week (and maybe become a founding principle); and a strong, concise, clear definition for that word. What the group produced is the greatest definition of humility I have ever heard.
Humility = transparent, sincere brokenness.
We then brainstormed ways we can live out this humility during the week. Next week we are going to come back with stories of our adventures.
We will repeat the night’s activities each week until everyone has shared all the stories they want to. Then, once we have a bunch of powerful well defined words, we will have the hard task of picking three or four to serv as the foundation for our new thingy.
We ended the night by sharing prayer requests and praying for one another. What an amazing evening! What an incredible group of people God has brought to together! It is humbling to be part of such a Spirit empowered team.
I can’t wait to see what God does next week. Please keep praying for us.
The Third Gathering – February 26, 2009
I was a little worried. The team developed such a rock’in awesome core principle last week, I was scared we would never again match the depth of community and Biblical insight of that first try…fortunately my fears were for not. A group member shared her favorite Jesus story and then rocked us all with awesome insight…crazy insight…insight into the passage I had never seen.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s how it went down.
Last week we looked at Luke 18:9-14 and decided to practice humility (transparent, sincere brokenness); so this week we started by sharing our humility stories: how we had been humbled or seen humility in action. Great stuff was shared. It is truly a blessing to be living this out with such a passionate, honest, broken group of people.
One team member’s experience really touched me. He was in a small prayer circle with ten (or so…I’m guessing) recovering addicts that live in at The Help Up Mission (a wonderful place you should check out if you do not know what it is). They were all sharing how they can be praying for one another during the week when one of the guys confessed that he loved smoking crack; that if it didn’t hurt so many people around him he would still be doing it. Our team member asked the guy, “So what are you going to when that moment comes around when you are facing huge temptation and really want to use?” And with sad, completely broken, honesty the guy replied, “I don’t know.” Our team member was overwhelmed by the guy’s transparent, sincere brokenness.
If only we could all be so honest and aware of our addictions.
After everyone shared their humility stories we moved to developing the next principle. One of the group members was extremely enthusiastic about sharing her story. She wanted to “get it out before someone else steals it.”
Her favorite story was John 8:1-11 – the woman caught in adultery. We read the story together and then the team shared their insights into it. Here is a small sample of what was said:
- Jesus’ response was not disgust or surprise. He was not turned off by her actions. He did not think less of her. This is a wonderful picture of His unconditional love – His love is not affected by what we do.
- While everyone else stands in judgment of her, He quietly writes in the sand waits for the chance to forgive her – and amazing picture of His unconditional forgiveness.
- She is not simply afraid of being stoned. She is full of shame and guilt. There she stands, exposed, in front of the whole town. She feels unforgiven. But Jesus ignores what everyone else focuses on and sees her as a person – another example of His unconditional forgiveness.
- Jesus never leaves her…everyone else leaves her…He could have left her too…but He doesn’t.
- What was it about Jesus that made the self-righteous admit they were sinners? And why did the older ones figure it out first?
- Christ treats the self-righteous the same as the woman. He does not reject them either. He loves them as much as He loves her. (This was a tough one for the group. One we have been struggling with all week because it redefines justice. The Pharisees thought punishing her would bring justice because she broke the law; but Jesus reveals that they are all sinners…so if one is to be punished they all must be punished. Jesus’ justice demands we take the position of the least…hmmm…judge not or we will be judged. That hurts.)
- We separate our hidden sins from the visible sins of others. Because our sins are not out in the open, we sit in judgment of those whose sins are visible. Jesus did not sit in judgment of self-righteous people’s hidden sins or the woman’s visible sins. We need to be able to acknowledge our hidden sins are the same as others outward sins. Just because our outsides our shinny; our insides are no better we are all simply sinners in need of love and forgiveness.
Great stuff! The team tried to narrow these thoughts into one word, but we couldn’t. So we left with a phrase to practice this week instead:
Unconditional Love and Forgiveness
We finished by sharing ideas for how we can practice this and then prayed for one another.
I am so thankful for this group. It is a privilege to be a part of this team!
The Fourth Gathering – March 10th, 2009
I love this group. Each week they totally throw me for a loop with the insight and passion they bring to the table. I’m learning so much from them about my faith, my life, and my God. It’s crazy. Wendy and I knew being a part of this team would be an amazing privilege; but I never in my wildest dreams imagined that our hour and a half weekly discussions would completely reshape how I see the world.
There has been a lot of stuff stirring in me for a while. I have been frustrated with the fact that there is a church on every corner in Baltimore, yet still the city lies in ruins. Prostitution is off the charts. It is easier to get drugs than a good cup of coffee in most parts of the city. Education is a joke; and the traditional family is in rubble. There are more children growing up without a father than with in this city. Yet there are churches everywhere. Seriously, it is hard to drive a few blocks without encountering a cross on a roof or a cheesy sign that reads something like, “Jesus is the mechanic that can fix your life.”
Is this the extent of Christ’s power? Is this what He died for?
“He’s great at building cool looking buildings, He produces some cool music, and man can He put on a weekly show…but bringing true change to a city…no, that is outside His realm of influence. He can’t do that.” I refuse this. No! I banish this thought. It is banished. BANISHED!
Jesus did not take on human form, die on the cross, and rise from the dead so there could be tons of great places to attend worship on Sunday mornings in Baltimore. The Son of God came for more than a weekly show.
I share these feelings because last night I think the team stumbled on a concept that has been missing from many of our previous church experiences:
Service – reckless, messy, love for others simply because, with humility, we see them as wonderful and beautiful children of God.
We had great discussion about practicing Unconditional Forgiveness (non-judgmental love) during the week (the principle we defined at our last meeting); but I will skip over that conversation so this blog doesn’t grow to 50 pages.
One of the group members brought John 13:1-20 (Jesus washing the disciples feet) to the table last night. Here are some insights on that story that the group shared:
- Jesus is the only perfect, holy, righteous one in the room. He, above all others, deserves to be served and have his feet washed; but instead he washes everyone else’s feet. We now have no excuse. We should never enter a situation expecting to be served. Serving others should be the passion of our lives.
- Jesus does not only serve those that will give desired results. It is easy to serve those that will thank you or add to your score card. But Jesus washed Judas’ feet. He served because He loved people. He loved Judas, and we imagine that He was heart broken washing Judas’ feet knowing that Judas was hours away from betraying Him. Even though there would be no return on the investment…Jesus still served Judas. He still washed his feet with love.
- This is so different from how we (the team members) have all done church in the past. We have always expected a return on our efforts. We tweaked and refined our efforts to bring a better results (perfecting our worship services, figuring out the “right way” to share the gospel so someone will except, building ministries to attract people so that we might encounter them with Jesus’ message). But Jesus’ love was reckless. He tossed it out there to everyone not expecting a return.
- This was Jesus’ last big message to His friends – Love People. He did not say, “Get your life fixed.” He did not say, “Above all read this daily and practice this nightly,” or “Go to church every week.” He said, “Love others – find the most down and out person you can and wash their feet.” Following God should not be about rules or programs. It should not be about getting people to pray certain words or go through different rituals. It should be about loving others. We should be people known for how wildly we love those around us.
- This kind of love is out of our control. It is risky. Jesus invested Himself in Judas for three years, and here at the end He is betrayed. This is the risk of wild love. It may not turn out how we hope. But we do not love because we think we will get certain results. We risk it all. Throwing caution to the wind, we risk the pain of disappointment.
- Incredible joy comes from this kind of love. When we truly invest in other people and make ourselves vulnerable to them we are overjoyed when they connect with God.
- This reckless love is also messy and painful. When they don’t succeed and they fail our expectations we will be hurt – but blessed are those that mourn. Mourning requires true deep love! You must love something before you can feel the pain of its loss. This type of love is risky. When you hold nothing back, you risk being hurt.
- The reason we love, if it is not to see a return, is because we see people as better than ourselves. It is our humility (our transparent sincere brokenness) that allows us to see others as wonderful and beautiful! When we see others as amazing children of God, we cannot help but risk everything to love them with all that we have.
Imagine with me for a moment if every follower of Jesus served everyone they encountered by loving them with reckless, messy abandon. Love unleashed, out of control, moving forward regardless of risk, considering everyone to be a beautiful child of God, pouring it all out for their sakes…this is the love that will turn a city upside down. It is through this service that the true power of Jesus will be seen.
This is the kind of love I hope our Thingy is someday known for. I hope people will say, “They don’t do things the traditional way and they make me uncomfortable…but man, they love people with reckless abandon.”
That is the kind of church I want to be a part of! I’m extremely excited about practicing this through the week and I can’t wait to hear the stories the team brings back!
To quote John Perkins – “God has always depended on his people to step onto the battlefield, to assume responsibility, to take the lead, and to make his love visible to an unbelieving, mocking world…without our hands, without our feet, God has no way to touch the world of need.”
Lord, let me be your hands and feet serving others with reckless messy love.
The Fifth Meeting – March 24th, 2009
You see kids…Wendy is exhausted all the time. I mean ALL THE TIME. And yesterday she didn’t get a nap, so by the time we got in the car to go to the team meeting she had that look on her face that college students get when they haven’t slept for a week. Seriously, I haven’t seen her that exhausted in a long time.
And I was a big ball of depression and frustration. I have been looking for a job for four months now, and I got nothing. I feel unemployable, useless, completely devoid of skill. I had spent most the day applying for jobs on Career Builder I am not qualified for, knowing that none of those people were ever, ever, ever, ever, ever going to call me back.
I tell you all that so that you understand what a huge deal it is when I say that the team meeting was awesome last night. It was exactly what Wendy and I needed to get us going again.
We started off talking about the last principle we defined: Service – messy, reckless love (if you don’t know what I am talking about got back to earlier posts with the title “The Thingy”). There were some great sucess stories.
One of our group members cracks me up. She naturally lives out reckless love, effortlessly it would seem. So much so that she doesn’t even realize she is doing it. Her husband must have said to her three times last night, “What about when you…” and she would reply, “Oh yeah; but that doesn’t count because…” The two of them are incredible servants. Their humility blows me away. If I was giving out half the love they were I would be broadcasting to everyone I see.
“Look at me! See how much I look like Jesus! LOOK! OVER HERE! I LOOK LIKE JESUS!!! ME! ME! MEEEEE! YEAH ME!!!”
Any way…the team had a phenomenal discussion about the nature of love. For two weeks we spent time and energy looking for and performing these random acts of service. They cost us very little and did not force us to engage the people we were serving beyond a surface level…but love should always require us to give of ourselves. The team therefore decided to make a distinction between acts of kindness (moments of service that cost of little) and reckless love (moments of service that require us to give of ourselves).
We then jumped into defining a new principle. One of the team members brought Mark 2:14-15 to the table – the story of Levi’s party. Here are some of the comments made about the story:
- The team loved the phrase, “…for there were many that followed him.” We believe this meant that the “sinners and tax collectors” knew Jesus before this party. He had a relationship with them. Even though this group had been cast out of the religious society, they loved being with Jesus because he did not ask them to change who they were.
- It is the broken that follow Jesus. He seems to be more comfortable with them than with the religious folk. Those walking around with Him looked liked “the island of misfit toys.” They were outcasts longing to belong. Jesus loved them how they were and gave them a family to be a part of.
- In church we have all been taught to be “intentional” about sharing Jesus with others; making everyone we hang out with a target or a project. Jesus had no plan of attack in this story. There was no agenda. There was no strategy. He was simply loving those that wanted to hang out with Him.
- One team member recently told a friend of her family about her job at a local restaurant. The friend wanted to know how many of her co-workers she had “led to the Lord.” When she said none, the friend jumped all over her. He chastised her for not seeking out opportunities in “every conversation” to work in the Gospel. He was frustrated with her that she was not “being more intentional.” This made the team really sad.
- People inside the Christian bubble don’t understand those that live outside of it; and they are terrified of what they don’t understand, so they put up walls to protect themselves.
- If the Holy Spirit resides in us than we carry Jesus wherever we go. Our presence therefore is a testimony, because if we are loving then others are encountering Jesus through us. Contemporary evangelism strategies seem to try and take the work away from the Holy Spirit. They don’t trust Him to work in the hearts and minds of those we interact with.
- If the purpose of love is to win something, then you have tainted the love.
- Why did the people follow Him? Because in Him they saw the opportunity for something different; for a different kind of life, for a different way to live, for a different type of belonging. They saw in Him someone who loved them for who they were.
- Loving others should be natural. It should be normal. Jesus’ behavior should be our standard for normal. He is the new normal, the only true normal.
- The church leans toward the healthy. It is a place for the healthy to gather and for the sick to come to if they want to become healthy. But this is not what Jesus did. He was amongst the sick and He lived in a way that made them comfortable to befriend Him.
Finally it came time to summarize all this into a core principle we will live by. That was tough. Here is what we landed on:
Evangelism – simply, naturally being Jesus
There is an objection I most note (for fear that if I don’t group members will hunt me down and do bad things to me). Many of the group members hate the word “evangelism” for the way it has been abused in our culture. They wanted nothing to do with it and only agreed to using it because the team was seeking to redefine it. (Your objection has been noted…do not hurt me.)
All of this took longer than our usual meetings; so by the end of the discussion many of us, especially my wife, had totally lost it and were laughing at any and everything. So we prayed for each other and called it a night.
I left once again thankful that I get to be part of such an awesome group. I don’t know if anyone will ever join us in our attempts to redefine what it means to be the church (I will leave that up to the Spirit). Even if it is just the seven us in five years all the sacrifices will have been worth it.
The Sixth Meeting – April 7th, 2009
I know, I know, I know. I’m a week late with this post. The meeting I’m about to describe to you happened seven days ago; but this has been an emotional week, okay. There has been a lot going on. My last day as a pastor at Streetlite was Thursday. (That’s right, I have been stripped of my super powers. I am now simply normal Jeff. No longer should I be called “the Bishop.”) I had to clean out my office…that sucked…cried a little when I took my quotes off the wall. Not like bawling tears…just a little moisture…a little moist. We had health insurance issues and Wendy had to switch doctors (thank you Dad for being a famous doctor…dropping his name gets rock’in awesome OB/GYN’s at Hopkins to jump in and help out). I applied for at least 50 jobs…none of which called me back.
The list goes on, but I won’t. All that to say…yes, I know that I am a week late. Back off. I’ve got a lot going on alright.
Since this is late I will skip all the personal rigamoroll and just give you the notes from the story.
Queen Wendifa shared her favorite Jesus moment this week – Mary anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume and tears in John 12. Here is a recap of the group discussion:
- We loved the passage because, again, the outcast is seen as the one following Jesus. The girls found it cool that the character affirmed in the story was a female.
- We were struck by the uninhibited nature of her act. Mary was so overwhelmed she could not stop herself from anointing His feet. She didn’t care who saw. She didn’t care who was watching. She held nothing back. It was just her and Jesus. She lost all self-awareness. We mess up worship by worrying about the people around us.
- Judas saw her act as wasteful. We can all relate to that. We have all had that attitude toward others that poured everything out for Jesus. Her act seems irresponsible. But Jesus didn’t see it that way.
- We all saw what she did as an act of worship, but we struggled to explain why. What qualified this act as an act of worship? After discussion we decided what made it “worship” was: 1. She was responding to who Jesus is and 2. She was honoring him; acknowledging Him for who He is.
- She was not well prepared. She wiped his feet with her hair. Not with a rag or a towel. It showed us that she was overcome and acted spontaneously. This is an authentic overflow of her passion for God. We wanted to therefore affirm the spontaneity of her worship because it is so different from where we all come from. The churches we have experience define worship as an hour during the week when we all get together and sing a few songs. Rejecting this tempts us to define all worship as having to be spontaneous. But we realized that worship should not be defined as spontaneous. Worship can also be purposeful. There are times when worship should be very intentional.
- Most of us naturally relate worship with singing; but there is no singing involved here. Worship should be uniquely us. It should bubble over from who we are.
- This is not a joyous occasion. She is anointing Him for death and crying. She is not celebrating. Most of us come from traditions where worship is primarily celebratory. Her worship is an authentic expression of where she is. She does not put on a happy face.
The Core Principle that came out of all this was:
Worship – an authentic uninhibited response to Jesus as Lord.
The Seventh Gathering – April 12th, 2009
You see kids, this group is getting out of control. Not only are they digging deep into Scripture, not only are they redefining for me what it means to follow Jesus, not only are they constantly encouraging me and praying for me…they are changing the way I live. To quote Dawn during the prayer request time, “You know, this stuff we talk about each week really forces me to rethink how I’m living. Even my parenting. Stupid Jesus stuff.”
I feel the same way.
Again this week we started off hanging out a little, then we talked about how we practiced the other five Core Principles. There were several stories of worship moments shared. One group member shared a cool yet frustrating story about helping a heroine addict he knows get a bracelet back the addicted had hocked for drugs – seriously messy reckless love going on there.
Then we moved to planning a new core principle. It was Christy’s turn and she led us in discussing her favorite story – Matthew 17, the Transfiguration. Here is a summary of some of the group’s thoughts on the subject:
- Peter is so excited about the moment with Jesus. He is fired up about seeing God’s glory on display; so he tries to hold onto the moment forever. We respond the same way when we feel God moving. We plan and organize trying to hold onto the moment forever; but we need to be thankful for the moment and slow down. There is no need to set up “crankys” (little piles of stuff in the corner).
- The work is in the valley, that is where we are showing messy love and living like Jesus. We need to enjoy the moment on the mountain, but we shouldn’t try to prolong it and stay there forever.
- There is no need to be afraid on the mountain. Jesus is there. When all the hype is gone, when the wild things end, they see Jesus. We don’t need to feel guilty about enjoying the moment. We don’t need to be afraid of sitting and resting in the Lord when he provides the opportunity.
- Like Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet over Martha making preparations, they were supposed to sit like children and listen. The moment should have been appreciated. When we get to the mountain we need to just shut up and listen. They should have been in awe of the moment, sat and appreciated it.
- It’s easy to get caught up in plans and thoughts…but it is important to remember it is all about Jesus.
- We were curious how they knew it was Moses and Elijah…were they wearing name tags.
- God encourages us for moments. He pulls us from the mess, from the work, from the constant struggle to represent Him…but only for moments. We need to enjoy the moment, knowing our mission is in the valley.
So…at this point the group really did get out of control. We were moving to throwing out words that summarize this passage when someone said something about “putting on a show.” My wife, always quick on her feet, replied by quoting Brian Regan, “Those horses are show horses! They got put on a SHOW!”
This spiraled the group into 20 minutes of Brian Reagan quoting.
“10 and 2.”
“Dumb old donkeys, they don’t apply themselves. Bang. Bang.”
“Tell’em you’ve been shot.”
“How do I get that yummy goodness out of there?!?”
“Back off cran-man.”
“and no more happiness.”
At this point laughter started to slow, quotes stopped for a brief second, and the group almost regained focus. As my wife rose from her seat to get a glass of water, someone called out “crankys” for me to write on the white board as a word that summarized our discussion. Unfortunately I wrote, “crandies.” This sent the group back into the downward spiral of insanity. Wendy actually fell on the floor she was laughing so hard. All she could get out was, “He wrote crandies! He wrote crandies!”
Finally we pulled it together and came up with a definition to practice this week:
Wonder – to chill and appreciate without fear.
We then shared prayer requests and broke up for the night.
We only have one of these meetings left because there is only one more person left to share his favorite Jesus story; then we will move to planning structure. Honestly, I’m excited about putting meat on the bones, but I’m also really sad. I have gotten so much out of what we have been doing. It is going to be hard to move on.
Easter in the Park – April 14, 2009
You see kids, I’ve worked at two different churches now; and at both of them Easter was a huge production. We use to pull out all the stops. Great music, best sermon we could muster, big sets, intel-lights, testimonies, and some kind of dramatic attention getter – something that made people think. Something that moved them. Something that made them want to come back next week…and that was appropriate.
In fact, if your worship service is the central focus of the congregation, a huge Easter production is necessary. To not do one would be irresponsible, because you know people that have never seen the show (your primary vehicle for communicating the love of Jesus) are coming on that Sunday. At Easter and Christmas you must pull out all the stops. You have to hold nothing back. Let it ride. Orchestras, videos, powerful testimonies, moving moments…what ever it takes to get the message across; what ever it take to convince the window shoppers that your show is better and different than any other show they have been a part of. Maybe that’s why this Easter felt so strange.
The day started with us running late. We went to the grocery store to pick up some stuff up before meeting with the team. Wendy went inside and I went to the McDonaldsdrive-thru get her a coke. As Wendy was coming out of the store she ran into her friend Orville. Orville is an old man that lives alone. He wears a red and white striped sweater and a big coat. In the five months that Wendy has been getting to know him, I don’t think he has taken them off. I’m not sure when his last shower was; and I’m fairly certain he has some form of dementia. He lurks in the grocery store parking lot, pacing from one end to the other, hoping someone will give him some food. Whenever Wendy sees him something to eat. Each time she has gotten to speak with him a little more. As she handed him the food, Wendy asked him about his family and how he was doing. Then she asked if he needed anything. Orville said, “Toilet paper.” Imagining this old lonely man without toilet paper and having no means to get any for himself broke my wife’s heart; so back into the store she went to get the man some toilet paper.
After Orville, we headed off to Burdick Park in Hamilton to meet the Thingy planning team (our small group). The amazing Barnetts (Cory, Dawn, and there three high school students) had filled and hidden 60+ eggs in the park for the younger kids to find. And I don’t mean they effortlessly placed them on the ground sitting out in the open. The eggs were burried in leaves, on roof of the slide pavilion, underneath bushes…these were seriously well hidden egg.
So, time out…for a moment here I’m going to brag on the Barnett kids. It takes a special high school student to fill and hide Easter eggs for little kids. That was awesome! It takes an exceptional high school student to then, without being asked, grab a kid by the hand and help them find the eggs…and have fun doing it. WOW! I hope my kids are that rock’in awesome when they are in high school.
The egg hunt went for an hour. Everyone had a blast. Yeah Barnetts!
Then we all sat around some picnic tables. Mike read 1st Corinthians 15 and then the resurrection story to the group, and then we took communion together.
I was looking for some way for the younger kids to participate, so I asked Jackson and Abel to pass around the bread and juice. My five year old son holding the loaf of bread for others to take from is an image I will never forget. It was a very cool moment.
Once communion was over, we had a simple prayer time together. At the end of the prayer time I felt strange. Is that it? No big show? Really, that’s all? But I couldn’t think of anything else we needed to do, so we all went to lunch together.
Now please don’t think I am trying to say that our laid back Easter was better, or more like Jesus, or in any way superior than the ones I have experienced in the past. I’m not saying or even implying that. I’m simply saying that yesterday was really different.
If our team’s measure of success was how many people gave their lives to Jesus, or how many people showed up, or how moving the service was, then we were big fat failures. But if our goal was to spend Easter together as a family, then we were big big winners.
I’m sure the day will come where our team’s goal is to invite friends or create and experience that enhances the move of the Holy Spirit; but I think we are all still detoxing from the institution and this year just needed to be a family.
I will say…of all the big shows I’ve been apart of, I don’t remember one well. I have some brief reflections, but none of them are burned in my brain. I will never forget sitting with that group of people around those tables. That image I will hold forever.
The Eighth Gathering – April 28th, 2009
Okay…so last week was rough: it was my first full week as a shipping clerk (a.k.a. box carrier); I worked ten hours of over time; the family had to adjust to a new schedule; and Wendy started packing up the house for the coming move. I say all this to explain why my update on the planning of our Thingy is a week late…my bad.
Last week we planned out the final core value. I won’t bore you with details (since I am a week behind). I will just give you the scripture, thoughts, and final Core Value.
It was my week to bring a Jesus story. I had the group work through a story that very much defines my faith: Mark 8:27-38.
Here were some of the group’s thoughts on the passage:
- The first step to loving God and others is getting our own selfish ambition out of the way – self-denial.
- Peter pulls Jesus aside? – Peter just recognized him as God’s anointed savior. It would take huge ego to think that you could correct the Son of God.
- This is incredibly hard to live out because we never reach the bottom of it. Every time we think we have arrived, we realize that we never actually did. It is a never ending journey, a progression. We are on a path with God, a journey of getting ride of our own desires and chasing after Him.
- This does not mean we need to reject our relationships and go be a missionary in deep dark Africa. When we die to self we should become a better father, wife, co-worker, or friend because we are putting others ahead of us. Even mission trips to Africa can be selfish endeavors. This is not about your location, but rather your heart where you are.
- With out denying our selfishness pure love for others is not possible.
- Self-denial is like dieting and loving God and others is like exercise. Exercise is great, but without the diet you won’t accomplish anything.
- Peter’s expression, “You are the Christ” should have been the opposite of pride, but there was no self-denial in it. He did not put himself to death by proclaiming “Jesus is Lord,” rather he only affirmed his own pursuit of glory. This is natural. We have motivations, ambitions, and desires and we want to see them fulfilled; but following Christ means fighting our natural tendencies, putting them to death, and instead latching onto Him.
- Self-denial can be a blessing as well. “Oh thank God I don’t have to hang out with me anymore. Thank you I don’t have to keep all these crankies.” It is a relief. It brings freedom.
The final core principle is…
Surrender – daily self-denial
Pray for us over the next few weeks as we talk as a group about how we will be living these things out.
The Ninth Gathering – April 29th, 2009
So this week we began our structural planning. While building Core Principles has been awesome, I am very excited to start putting some meat on the bones.
We started off by editing the Core Principles. It was great to rehash all of them and get them just right.
Then we talked about what assumptions we came into this Thingy with. What were some things we assumed would be part of this when all the planning was done. I won’t bore you with all of these; instead I will simply explain that next week, as we plan the actual structure, these assumptions will serve as river banks the structure will run through. We will check everything we plan against these.
If you are following our progress, please pray for us over the next two weeks as we decide how we will live out these Core Principles.
Through a discussion over the former Core Principle of Evangelism, we decided that the point of the Thingy was to “Share Jesus by loving God and loving others.” We will love by living out the principles. Each principle leads to another.
I made this diagram to illustrate the principles and how they work together.
Here is the crazy thing. We didn’t sit down and plan to have principles that worked together like this. All we did was share our favorite Jesus stories and this is what came out. I can only attribute it to the Holy Spirit.
I’ve been praying through these (asking God to help me live a life of humility, and forgiveness, and service, etc…). They are really challenging. I am blown away how difficult they are to actually live out; but I love how I am changing. I’m pumped about the coming weeks.
The Tenth Gathering – May 18, 2009
You see kids…the planning is done; and I must say, it went better than I could imagine. The last four months have been so much fun I almost want to start over again.
I love this team. I have learned so much about Jesus by walking along side them. When Wendy and I started putting the crew together in November we had no idea how amazing it would be. Every week I feel like I get to encounter the Spirit anew. Amazing.
I’m not going to give you a blow by blow synopsis of the final planning because these meetings were confidential due to the personal nature of what we were sharing; but here is a brief explanation of the steps we took:
- We edited the Core Principles (which I explained in my last Planning the Thingy post).
- Then we asked the question, “When I say the word ‘church’ what assumptions are rolling around in your head?” This question produced a long list of opinions about the church and how we want to see it change.
- We took a week to think the list through and then came back and edited it. This list of assumptions would be the final thing we measured our planning against.
- Next we asked, “What do we need to make these Core Principles part of our lives?” That was a fantastic discussion.
- We followed that question with, “What do we need to be doing together to make this possible?”
- The previous two questions gave us a plan of attack. We then measured that plan of attack against our list of assumptions and BAM! – we now have a planned Thingy.
Here is what the Thingy will look like:
We are going to meet weekly.
Where we meet and the major activity of the evening will vary from week to week. Some weeks we may meet in a restaurant for dinner, other weeks we might meet at someones house for a Bible study, we may gather for worship, we might go bowling, we might play at a park, we might hold a communion service. We like the flexibility and the freedom it brings. The only rule is that we plan what is coming next week before we end our meeting.
Each week, regardless of where we are meeting or what we are doing, we will do five things together:
- We will pray through the Core Principles as a group. (This will keep them fresh each week.)
- We will ask each other, “How did sharing Jesus (living out the Core Principles) go this week?” (This will help us learn and grow from one another.)
- We will ask one another, “What is your plan for this week? Are you going to work on anything specific?” (This will challenge us to action.)
- We will ask each other, “Does any one need help with anything this week?” (This will encourage us to join with one another in sharing Jesus.)
- We will share prayer requests and pray for each other.
Group meetings will be open. Anyone is welcome to attend.
When the group attendance is between 15 and 20 people for three weeks in a row we will multiply into two groups. Keeping the group small will be necessary to maintain the freedom and flexibility of the weekly meeting.
And finally, group leaders will stay connected weekly.
I’m incredibly excited. For the next few weeks we are going to test out the format; then we will hold our first open meeting. We each have a list of 20 people we want to invite.
Pray for us.
Figuring Out the Kids – May 13th, 2009
In the past we have simply dropped them off at Sunday School while we went off to worship with the other adults. There is nothing necessarily wrong with this. It is just that we have done away with the church building and (for the meantime) large cooperate gatherings; thus there is no Sunday School to drop them at.
Wendy or I would also read the kiddos a Bible story before they went to bed at night and pray with them; but I am learning that right before she goes to sleep may not be the best time to engage my four year old in deep theological conversation.
So we began trying to figure out what else we could try. As we looked through Scripture it became fairly clear to us that the people responsible for disciplining our kids was…drum roll…us. I know, CRAP! Right? “Wait a second God. Let’s talk about this. I didn’t sign on for that. I thought people are like gifted and stuff. Couldn’t you haved passed out a ‘disciple the children’ gift or something?” DANG IT!
So Wendy and I thought we would start by experimenting with holding a church service as a family.
The first one was at the beach. We were at Ocean City (thanks Barnetts!). It was early Sunday morning. Wendy brought out a nice blanket and laid it down on the sand. We all sat down on it and faced the ocean. We were the only ones around for as far as we could see.
It had foundation to be an extremely moving and memorable experience.
But it was stink’in cold.
And Logan was very unhappy; afraid, for some reason, that we were going to toss him into the water.
And Julianna wanted to go and run into the ocean because she, evidently, is one third penguin and not bothered by the arctic temperatures.
And we were all tired from a full weekend at the beach.
Yeah…needless to say, the whole experience lasted about ten minutes.
I started off by telling the story of the house on the sand and the house on the rock. I pointed out toward the ocean and asked the kids what happened when we built a sand castle yesterday; and they responded that it was destroy by the waves. I then pointed to the Hotel behind us and said it was built on a rock so the waves can’t destroy it. To which Jackson replied, “No its not Daddy. It’s built on the sand. I don’t see any rocks?”
Then Wendy said, “You want to sing a song?” To which Julianna replied, “NO!” But once Wendy started singing kids really got into it; especially the hand motions. I know…my wife rocks!
Finally we asked, “Who wants to pray and thank God for today?” Logan quickly volunteered. Logan’s prayers involve him folding his little two year old hands, bowing his head, squeezing his eyes shut, whispering to himself, and then pronouncing loudly and decisively to the group, “AMEN.”
All in all, memorable…but not really moving.
I tried again this past Sunday. Wendy was at home reading the final book of the Twilight series (her Mother’s Day Present). So I loaded the kids in the car, we went to breakfast together, and then took off for a park.
There were less distractions this time. We all sat down around a picnic table. Not knowing what Bible story to do, I decided the night before that we would start at the beginning and just work our way through. So we talked about God creating the world. I would tell them what God created on each day and then ask them to point to it. Julianna and Jackson were totally into it.
The Logan Bear, not so much. So at about “Day Four” I released him to run in the grass.
Then we sang the songs Wendy had taught us the week before. Jackson and Julianna actually jumped up on the table and started dancing, which was cool. They danced around and yelled, “My God is so big, so strong, and so mighty; there’s nothing my God can not do. Unh! Unh!”
At one point, Jackson held his hands up and said, “Wait. Wait.” Julianna and I stopped to look at him. Very seriously, with a look of pride on his face, nodding his head, he said, “I have a verse I just wrote. I just wrote it. Can we sing it?”
“Sure,” I said.
“My God holds the world. God answers prayers. God answers prayers, oh yeah! Unh! Unh!” he sang loudly.
Finally, we prayed together and then they took off to play at the playground.
Again, the whole “church service” took about ten minutes; but when we got in the car to go home a few hours later, the kids could still tell me what we had talked about, so I deemed the morning a success.
All in all, it’s not perfect right now. But Wendy and I are learning. I think it will get better as time passes.
A Message to Others – May 18, 2009
Everywhere I go I encounter people that are frustrated with the current state of their church experience. It seems like I can’t go a full 24 hours without someone saying to me, “Jesus is awesome, but I’m frustrated with the church…”
I agree with these people. While I love the church (I have spent my entire life in it…even made it my career to serve it), there is a lot about it that is incredibly unhealthy.
Things have to change.
If you feel this way too, my heart breaks for you. It is a huge temptation to become disinfranchised and simply walk away from community; or even worst, to make church a side note in your life. Something you only participate in once in a blue moon out of some need to fulfill the legalistic ritual burned into your soul.
That is not an answer to your frustrations. God created you to be in community with other believers. We were intended to do this as a team. In the words of Captian Jason Nesmith (from Galaxy Quest), “Never give up! Never surrender!”
Don’t walk away.
Go and rediscover what it means to be the church in your community.
That is why Wendy and I gathered like minded people around us and began planning The Thingy. We knew things couldn’t stay the way they were; but throwing in the towel was not an option. We had to go on this journey of rediscovery. We had to redefine what it means to be the church in Baltimore.
If you don’t know what to do next, we can help. We want to help. Let us encourage you as you grab a group of friends and go on your own journey of discovery. We would love to walk you through what we did.
If you like what you have read and want to start a group like ours, let us know and we will help you get going.
It is time for believers like us that long for the church to be more than it is to put up or shut up. Sitting on the side line as spectators is unacceptable. The church needs us.
Sure, we are going to screw up a lot. People are going to look at us and say, “You’re insane. That’s not church.” But never let it be said that we did not try.
Chase the Spirit.
Dare to hope that things can be different.
The journey will be hard; but it will be beautiful and you will find joy as you go.
Let it be said of us that we sought new ways to love God and love people…and let this be our spiritual act of worship.
Jesus is Lord; tomorrow in Eternity.