Today, if you hear his voice

Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: church planting

Invitation

 In Circle of Hope we say our vision for fulfilling our mission is this:

“We create an environment where people can connect with God and act for redemption. Responding in love to our thirsty region and fractured society, we are birthing a new generation of the church to resist and restore with those moved by the Holy Spirit”

Here's a PM a while back

Here’s a PM a while back

We are the environment.

We are temples of the holy spirit (1 Corinthians 6).  We designed our Public Meetings to be an expression of the gospel by the community that embodies it.  We are inviting people into a relationship with God expressed among us.  We want to respond to Jesus’ command to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28).

The people we know may notice our good behavior, but our morality little distinguishes us from a secular humanist, a muslim, a sikh, or a jew.  But really, I don’t think they are paying that much attention to you to even notice that you’re good.  If we want to make disciples we are going to need to do more than just be ourselves among them.  We need to create opportunities for those around us to see our faith embodied.  One of the best ways to communicate our faith to them is to invite them into a cell or a PM.  You may have experience with coercive street preachers, or over-zealous youth group leaders in your past but the overwhelming majority of people do not.  Being invited to a meeting is not as weird as you think, and if you can’t be convinced that it isn’t weird, it’s time for some exposure therapy.  The best way to get over your aversion to inviting people to your cell or our public meeting is to invite them to your cell or our public meeting.

What prevents us from invitation and why we need to stop being prevented

We have acquiesced to the cultural rules about politeness and religion.  We believe that people think Christians are pushy and we shouldn’t be like that.  We believe that religion is a private matter that every one discovers on their own, in their own personal way so we should not impose our process onto someone else’s.  We don’t always have a sense of ourselves as the light of the world and the salt of the earth that Jesus told us we are.  We are not always convinced that everyone needs Jesus or that we are probably the best chance they will get to meet Him.  Finding the words, the story, the way to shine your light, Christ’s light, is the point of Circle of Hope’s existence.  Some of those words are “Will you come with me?”

mouth

Personal invitations work best

Charles Arn, a church growth researcher, asked more than 50,000 people why they came to church, and between 75 and 90 percent of respondents say, “I began attending because someone invited me.”  I have spent some of my time as Development Pastor getting the word out in other ways- internet, stickers, posters, flyers.  Maybe I have prepared the way for some, maybe I have wasted a lot of time.  Either way, I am ready to see how many people I can get to come to our Public Meetings in 2014.

I want to create some excitement around our Public Meetings because I think they are really great.  A lot of us put a lot of work into them and I am often very aware of God’s presence among us.  Everyone I know who has become a Christian in Circle of Hope has come around us and been among us for a while before they made an explicit decision to follow Jesus.  I want to invite more people into that process.  Some of us are thick into this struggle and this is not a new challenge.  Others of us could benefit from a reboot or a group of people who are dedicated to this task together.  I thought it would be a good idea to gather a group to pay attention to the PMs.  Are you one of them?  Are you one who wants to join me in the invitation? Call me.  Or are you one who wants to receive this blog post as your invitation?  See you at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington, 1125 S. Broad Street on Sunday at 7pm!

1+1=2…OK, but have you met my friend Math?

I went for a walk yesterday through our neighborhood on South Broad Street.  I wanted to be a good neighbor and actually meet some of the people here.  I was particularly interested in meeting some of the business owners.  It’s the right time to meet them.  I can say “Hi, I’m a new pastor at Circle of Hope, what’s going on?” (I always like to have an excuse to strike up conversation)

The first place I went I met a man who when he learned I was a pastor was very interested in sharing with me about his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness.  I listened politely for a while but grew tired as he continued for, like, half an hour.  Finally I got a word in edgewise and I said, “I’m very impressed with your Bible knowledge.  You have really studied and memorized a lot of scripture–much more than me, but I have to ask-why are you telling me all this?”

His speech was mostly about facts.  It was kind of a demonstration of what he knew about the Bible.  I was impressed but discouraged that he didn’t want to make a relationship.  His response to my question was more about the Bible and not much about him.  I pointed this out to him and described how what we were trying to do at Circle of Hope was different.

My friend said that he had a responsibility to let people know the truth.  He said, and I quote, “You know, 1+1 is 2 and 2+2 is 4.  It’s like that.  People need to know these things otherwise they’re in trouble.”  My response to this oversimplification was, “Well, using your metaphor, I would say,’OK, 1+1 is 2 and 2+2 is 4.  You know that, but do you know my friend Math?  I know him.  I have a relationship with him and he’s changed me.’  I don’t think knowing facts about the Bible is nearly as important as knowing Jesus and I have a responsibility to Jesus and to those who don’t yet know him to help them see him for who he truly is and to make a connection.”

It’s not about the Mathematical facts it’s about Mathematics.  It’s not about Biblical Principles, it’s about relating to God.  But relationships are hard, but not hard like concrete–much to intangible for some.  Memorizing how many verses are in the Bible (as my friend had–7958!) is just so much more concrete.  I think that’s what Jehovah’s Witness’ have going for their movement.  They have a concrete way of being and believing that only requires a “yes” or “no.”  It’s as clear as 1+1=2 and they’re ready to tell you why.  But life is so much more complex and God became a human being in Jesus (a fact the JWs do not believe) to enter into our complexity.

I believe I am sent as a witness to enter into the complexity of this neighborhood and this city and help those who hear his voice, soften their hearts to him and let him in.  They’re letting me in, even in the storefronts on Broad Street, and I pray that’s a good start.

Wiffle Ball, Rainbows, Promise

circleofhopemc

Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent
(In South Jersey)

I went over to Pennsauken last night to be with Circle of Hope Marlton and Crescent.  I was sharing with them some of my experience in finding freedom in being limited.  They’re working through Paul’s letter to the Galatians which is all about freedom.  I brought up these verses from Galatians 6.

“If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else”  The insight I had was that we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to others and we shouldn’t deceive ourselves by comparing ourselves to the image we have of ourselves–which is sort of a composite of comparisons of others (which are odious).  The American definition of freedom is to have our desires unhindered by any impediment.  Sprint is spending millions to convince us that we ought to be unlimited.

I admit, I can be seduced by being unlimited, but then my church planting mission depends on my being supremely capable and so charismatic as to win everyone I meet over to Christ by sheer force of personality.  This isn’t reality and the desire for it to be true actually makes me more limited than I really am.  If I cling to this image of myself, I deceive myself and my experience has been that that deception saps my energy in a cycle of disappointment.  

I’m choosing to receive the freedom that Christ gives me to be my self as I really am–limited me.  This Lent, Circle of Hope’s daily prayer blog was instructing us to  pay attention to our thoughts and feelings in order to get to the heart of who we really are in Christ.  Following the lead of a 4th Century Monk named Evagrius we were rediscovering “an important secret to help us love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. We can only grow to our fullness in Christ if we do the spiritual work of examining our thoughts so that we can know that our thoughts, feelings, and even our behaviors are not the sum of us; they are not our essence.”  I thought this sounded a lot like the testing that Paul is exhorting us too in Galatians 6:4.  

rainbowwiffleballI have been encouraged through this practice to offer myself as I am to the mission, today.  No need to wait until I’ve got it “figured out” or I’ve achieved some semblance of the self I think I ought to be.  I am empowered by the Holy Spirit and what effect my efforts have is dependent on the Holy Spirit’s action.  I am not responsible for how other’s respond to me and my message.  I am responsible as one of Christ’s witnesses to be an opportunity for someone to respond to God in a new way.

The congregation at Marlton and Crescent is trying a new thing that is akin with this sort of freedom.  They’re throwing a party at the 7 pm in hope’s of meeting some new friends.  Last night was wiffle ball and the Sand Lot.  As if to make the blessing explicit, there was a full rainbow for the first pitch.  Here’s a picture of God’s symbol of promise as it faded and the game got going.  Let’s keep leaning into that promise.

Making Friends on Passyunk Avenue

Passyunk and Tasker (a photo I did take)

Passyunk and Tasker
(a photo I did take)

So, I’m discovering the skills I’ve gained as a hospital chaplain over the past few years are really helpful (not surprising but refreshing).  I spent Saturday afternoon on Passyunk Avenue seeing if I could make some friends and I think I did… wow!  It felt a lot like I was on the 3rd floor of the hospital meeting all the new patients and keeping up with those who had been there.  I’ve spent a good chunk of my time striking up conversations with strangers and going deep.  I wasn’t sure if that could work on the street, but essentially, I’m deploying the same strategy.

While I worked at the hospital I developed my thinking about  myself and my work at the hospital.  Clinical Pastoral Education or CPE requires you to do this and I’m glad because the theory is mapping onto my new calling.

I wrote:

“I have developed my own theory of pastoral care, or at least my own image of pastoral care. Robert Dykstra wrote, “Having access to a variety of metaphors for ministry provided a modicum of courage and guidance when … I could not possibly have known what I was doing.” (Dykstra, Images of Pastoral Care, 2005 p.8) To the many of the metaphors he compiles in this book, I have added the image of myself as friend.

I connect it with Jesus’ command to his disciples in John 15. “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:15-17)

I have taken my needed “modicum of courage and guidance” from Jesus himself. This image lines up exactly with my values, basic assumptions and personhood. I value Jesus above all else and I live out of his love to the best of my ability. Psychologically, it seems I am especially wired for relationship and much of my motivation for a lot of what I do stems out of my desire to be accepted and loved by others. I desire to do with those I encounter what I most deeply desire to receive.”

I went out and did this on Saturday afternoon.  Looking for people who wanted someone to listen and offering my love and friendship to them.  There were several who wanted to connect.  The best story was this guy who collects old bottles.  He digs most of them out of the ground and knows tons about Philadelphia history and the history of bottle manufacturing.  We talked for a while and I was completely fascinated.  Eventually I shared that my grandfather owned a bottling company in Southern California called Bireley’s… and then BAM!  Dude pulls out two Bireley’s bottles and straight up gives them to me.  Talk about receiving!  This is the sort of blessing that needs to be told far and wide.  I love this guy now!  I love Passyunk Ave. (such a cool place with lots of cool people)!  I love Philadelphia and all the potential friends she offers me!

“Good Morning” means something… I hope

I stood outside in the rain today for an hour to see who would talk to me.  Between 8 and 9 in the morning, especially when it isn’t raining but even when it is, South Broad Street’s sidewalk is a river of people streaming to work.  This morning, the bells of St. Rita’s started and ended my morning discipline with bright sense of determination that contrasted with the gray day.

I just started my work as the Development Pastor at Circle of Hope Broad and Washington.  I’ve been charged to lead the charge in our next era of church planting.  Circle of Hope is one of the best kept secrets in town.  We need to get out there to find the next 100 people who want to partner with us  and Jesus in our mission.

It was not an ideal day to hit the street, but I had a good umbrella.  I had to use the time I had while I have it.  I stood in front of our building at 1125 S. Broad Street and I said “good morning” to people.  This is already an act of revolution unfortunately, but I wanted to go deeper.  I wanted to see if anyone would actually talk to me.  I wanted to see if any of those 100 partners were walking down Broad Street this morning.  I started out the hour thinking it would be great if people were interested in the flyers I was holding in my hand but by the end it dawned on me that these people would be back on Monday.  I thought, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we created this sort of morning community  right here.  I could be that guy who smiles and says hello.  I might even be more intriguing than my brightly colored flyers, and certainly less disposable.”

This strategy comes from our proverb: “Our deliberate attempts to make disciples are “incarnational,” friend to friend, so we accept that what we do will almost never be instant.” (link)  I’m making friends on South Broad Street.  I pray that Jesus be here with us.