Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Category: circle of hope summer tour

Ambition like Paul’s

Paul says in Romans 15:20 and 21, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.  Rather, as it is written:

“Those who were not told about him will see,
    and those who have not heard will understand.”

Paul sees himself as integral to fulfilling the prophecy from long ago about the many nations who will be touched by the suffering servant in Isaiah 52. He is sent to those who were not told and those who have not heard. He hopes to help them see and understand. He’s got pretty big goals, but they are given to him by God.

Can we see ourselves in the same way that Paul sees himself? Are we not surrounded by a nation that hasn’t been told and hasn’t heard? Maybe they’ve been told a little or heard a little but many have not seen or understood. They haven’t been told enough or heard enough, or they’ve been told and heard too much of the wrong thing. There are many, many people in our area of South Jersey who have not been introduced to the real Jesus in a way that they could see and understand.

The best way we as Circle of Hope tell our story is by including people in it. Our community gives people in our region of South Jersey a unique opportunity to see and hear. We really do believe that in relationships with real Christians, being real with each other, people grow in their faith and come to faith for the first time. Jesus shows up when we show up. He shows up in other ways but we’ve seen him do it enough this way to build our whole strategy around it.

The Circle of Hope Summer Tour is headed to Cinnaminson tonight. There’s a concert in Wood Park. I have not been anywhere in Cinnaminson off of 130. It’s new territory for me. I feel a bit like Paul trying to get to Rome and then to Spain where he can build something on no existing foundation. Circle of Hope doesn’t have any people in Cinnaminson, but Cinnaminson has a bunch of people. We’re going to show up and see if we can’t find a friend or two in the little time we have. I don’t know what God will do but I know that God is doing, and people do want to be a part of that, even if they’re not sure they would say it that way just now. Let’s expand the territory. Let’s test our ambition.

You may not be the type to just show up at a public event and see if you can make a friend. Of course that’s okay. But pray for us who are giving it a shot, and take courage when you find yourself meeting someone who hasn’t been told and hasn’t heard. They could see you. They could understand you. And if they know a real Christian living his or her real life in a real community, they might see and understand Jesus too. I think there’s a pretty good chance in fact.

Getting Out There the Best we Can

Last weekend a few of us got out there.  It was Moorestown Day, a festival on Main Street in Moorestown, and we thought it to be a great opportunity to tell people about Circle of Hope. It was a beautiful day and rain only threatened without delivering. Maybe housands of people showed up and we were there as a conspicuous presence.  we wanted to be known.
The goals were:
1) for people to know that a church called Circle of Hope exists
2) that they know we have a cell in Moorestown
3) make a friend if we can- we’re looking for people who are interested not in forcing our interests on someone
4) we want to do this awkward thing to loosen us up- if I can’t hand out a flyer can I invite a friend to the cell?
flyerI invented a new flyer for the event.  I kind of like it.


You don’t have to get it all together before you can be a part of our church. You don’t even have to be a Christian. We are an opportunity to explore. Expect real people, really trying and really failing, but doing so together and with God. That’s the point– we’ve stopped pretending we can get by on our own.

Giving out this flyer requires me to put my community on the line. I trust them to be the sort of people I describe them to be in this short statement.  I trust God to make us the safe place we claim to be because I love God and I have seen God at work among us. Telling that story, even in a flyer, helps me believe it again too. It’s audacious, but it’s inadequate too.

A friend pointed out the weakness of our strategy from his own perspective:
“Flyer advertising–for churches, for home repairs, for comedy shows–I just don’t like it. If I get a flyer from someone, you can be sure I’ll never do business with them. But there’s lots of advertising that does work for me (man, I love those free samples from Panda Express they give out at the mall.)
Couple that with the connection that I have with the kinds of churches that advertise that way and the whole thing leaves me a little freaked out. I’m sure a church could read encouraging messages of God’s love by using a bullhorn on a street corner, but I suspect most people wouldn’t receive the message that way, regardless of the words being said. Flyers aren’t that, but they are close for me.”
I think my friend is pushing us in the right direction. Flyers are flimsy.  Flyers could turn some people off. Flyers are an easy stop gap- a provisional measure- a cheap response to our desire to get out there- the best we can do with the little time we have yet invested- We need to get more creative.  The message is real, the urgency is real, our community is real, but let’s get real about our story telling to those who are yet to know us.
Of course our most creative and effective avenues into our community are the personal relationships we have already and the open chairs we hold for them in our cells and Public Meetings. These extra measures I am imagining are just that, extra. There are more people out there that we don’t yet know.  i want to meet them. Let’s pray and dream about how to do it well.

Circle of Hope Summer Tour: South Jersey Style 2015

Circle of Hope is going to show up where South Jersey gathers. There are people around who want to know what we are doing and they even want to do it, but they don’t know about us. So we need to get out there and be noticed. The first thing I know to do to get noticed is to hand out flyers.  Luke Bartolomeo designed this funky one for us.  I like. It might catch an eye or two. But really the flyer is best used to start a conversation. I was trying this out at the Camden County Community College Spring Fling yesterday.IMG_5332

One guy considerately gave me back my flyer saying, “I don’t want to just throw your flyer away, maybe someone else wants it.”

I pushed back, “That’s okay maybe someone else you know wants it. You can throw it away though too. It’s all good.”

“No I’m Wiccan. I’m not interested.” He answered.

“Oh, well I’m interested in that! Tell me more.”

After a five minute conversation he decided to keep the flyer. He said most Christians he has known wouldn’t have responded to him the way I did and he might like to check out the church if I was the pastor. He gave me his cell phone number too so we could keep in touch.

That was interesting! How easy is it to make a connection?! How many people are actually interested in a Christian who isn’t going to judge them at the door, or even the handshake. This guy is young and he’s trying to figure life out. He’s finding some truth in Wicca right now, so be it. If he’s friends with me he might find some truth in Christianity that he thought wasn’t there in his previous investigations. The bar is very low it seems for exceeding many people’s expectations of what an actual Christian looks like.

Even if it’s too awkward to have a conversation with people like the one I had, I think it’s still a good idea to show up where a bunch of people are gathered and be a conspicuous presence, even if it’s just with flyers. I think it’s God’s favorite scene to work in obscurity. God’s chosen people are a tiny insignificant nation in the grand scope of civilization’s history. Jesus showed up in a shed on the outskirts of town in a colonial backwater and when he grew up he always begged people to keep a lid on his true identity.  Paul’s disciples in Corinth are ordinary people “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” Circle of Hope may follow in that tradition.  I promise you, I won’t be on TBN, ever. But I also hope that even the flyers we distribute can carry that mantle.

Despite all that obscurity in God’s story, Jesus is known all over the world, including in South Jersey where we find ourselves so many years later. Who knows what some half sheet of paper could do. It could connect a partner that becomes the next pastor of our movement! It could find it’s way into the purse of the sister of someone’s friend who is on a spiritual search and just so happens to know your coworker. Did that even make sense? It might not but we don’ have to make sense of it, we just have to get out there and enjoy our people. Someone might want to be a partner and get to know Jesus too.

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Introducing the Circle of Hope Summer Tour

It’s the Circle of Hope Summer Tour ya’ll!  We’re showing up where Philly gathers.  At the Night Market in Old City last night a few of us showed up with like 10,000 other people.    ben taco night marketI waited in line for 15 minutes to get this taco!  But it was a lot of fun.

The whole point of showing up where Philly gathers is that we are putting ourselves out there because we think that God wants to use us to reach all of philadelphia (and beyond).  When there’s a big group of people gathered it’s an opportunity to influence them for their good.

To do this we have to get over a few things:

1) Our squeamishness about influencing anybody.  We’ve been taught that influence is kin to cultural imperialism and borderline violent.  To influence someone is to trample upon their rights to choose for themselves and create their own ideas and thoughts about the universe or just their own persons.  If God exists he gave each of us the right to decide for ourselves, which God did, but this has come to mean that each individual is supposedly free from influence that might taint their individual process.  Hogwash!  We are all inundated wih influence.  The story of our individually pure volition is a thin veneer over the influence of any number of sources but mostly our families of origin and advertisers.  We are very influenced and if we let those who are unsqueamish about influence (who are primarily interested in getting our money or getting power over us) get all the airplay, then we’re doomed.

flyer nightmarket2) Our fear of being scrutinized.  I put some claims on a flyer that might not hold up under intense scrutiny.  This flyer says: “Cynics and skeptics welcome.  We admit that the last century has made a lot of people skeptical of Christians.  Do you want to try something new with us?”  The skeptical question from anyone who might give this flyer to someone is “Are we really new?  Or are we not that different from whatever burnd people in the past?”  My answer: “We better be!”  Otherwise all is meaningless.  And that is the doubting counterpoint to my entire faith, around which I have organized my life.  The only options are that we are dillusional or that God is indeed making us new.  I’m banking on newness and it keeps proving true even when it isn’t as good as I want it to be.  We’ll have to be good enough with God’s help.

3) Doing something uncomfortable.  I’m a very outgoing guy but I still feel wierd when I’m handing out flyers.  When people say no, or ignore me it gets at me.  When I stop in the middle of the crowd and start doing something that might impose on someone or spoil their good time I’m tempted to feel like a jerk.  When I don’t see francesca and friends at night marketinstant results I wonder why I’m doing it anyway.  It is uncomfortable and I get to pray about that while I’m doing it.  I get loosened up and I get on a roll.  If one person takes it a stream of people behind them take it too.  I don’t know how effective it will be, but last night at least I didn’t see anyone throw it away in the trash can a few yards to my left.  God’s going to have to land that flyer in the exact right hand for the flyer to really make a difference, which is not impossible, but in the meantime Circle of Hope get’s our name out there and maybe more importantly, we get out there and get over this stuff.

Because if we get over this stuff in this fun way with strangers, we might be more ready to do it with our friends.  If we expose ourselves, out ourselves, be ourselves in Christ, we might be more effective in sharing our faith and including people in our community, which is our goal as a people and the work our leader gave us.