It’s nice to have a good reputation

There are so many great stories going around about what God is doing this week!! (note double exclamation!!) I look forward to them all being told.

Today, let’s start with one about how our bad reputation got healed. A person came to our new meeting in the Northwest. They thought the children were rather rude and had a “run in” with one of them. They did not know what to do, since they wanted to reprimand the child, but thought it would be a boundary violation to do so. Instead, they skipped the next two meetings. It finally came up in the cell meeting that they had this reason for not worshiping and representing together. The conflict was great to address. It deepened everyone. The person was there last night.

A good reputation is hard for a church to get. There are a lot of moving parts! Some of the parts are four-foot sinners! Some of them are six-feet, but still hurting from whatever did not get healed when they were four-feet.

Most Americans don’t get nearly close enough to Jesus followers to solve any of their problems with them. I think many, if not most, Americans listen to the loudspeakers and ignore the people in front of them. So a minority of Christians tend to sway the public’s opinion of the whole body of Christ, which is huge, diverse, and constantly growing and changing — and which, in specific, rarely reflects the men holding the loudspeakers.

We have painstakingly tried to be ourselves in Christ and let our actions speak even louder than our words so people could get a realistic look at following Jesus. Jesus is best revealed incarnationally.  Like Paul counseled Timothy, a follower of Jesus “must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he/she will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” 1 Timothy 3:7 NIV

We fall into enough traps. But it was encouraging to see what a few people wrote last week when the idea of our “reputation” came up. Jonny Rashid got it going because he wanted to tell a story about our good reputation. He wrote to the covenant listserve which helps knit together our members. I was encouraged so I am replaying the whole thing for you, too. I am taking off the names, since the writers did not think I would do this when they wrote.

Except for Jonny Rashid, that is  (he’s the North Broad pastor), who said:

I felt encouraged to be a part of Circle of Hope in several ways over the last few days, and it’s all because of your great reputation.

  • At my cell, my new 18-year-old friend…said she was so thankful to be a part of an open and loving community like ours. She’s a Temple student. When I was asking people to tell me their story the other day, one student told me a group of freshman were talking about us and wanted to join us.
  • My friend…thought some of us would  be interested in getting an elected school board to run our school district, as opposed to the city- and state-appointed School Reform Commission. I’m not sure about all that, but he thought of Circle of Hope when he thought of people who want to transform the region.
  • Still, Jerome and I have class together at Eastern (Church History); the professor thinks of us as the “cool, hip church” (apparently, in spite of my fanny pack). Two other worship leaders were moved by our vibrant cell system. And still an older woman thought she’d fit nicely among us and wants to visit. [He] told me he wants to bring his whole family.

(from Frankford Ave)

I was recently visiting with my midwife, who is based an hour away in Maryland, and when she asked what kind of postpartum support system we had in place, I mentioned that we had a great church family and I wasn’t at all worried about getting enough support. She asked what church it was, and when I said Circle of Hope, her face lit up and she said she had heard wonderful things about us! The reputation for goodness is more far-reaching than I knew 🙂

(from North Broad)

I was excited to hear about our reputation birthing new connections and relationships in the area. But I also shared with Jonny my personal insecurities about having a place in the body when it grows. I thought I might not be alone in having some of these feelings. Jonny mentioned the importance of retaining intimacy, and reminded me that no matter how many join us, our locations and our cells cap at a certain number, after which we multiply. That way, growth does not sacrifice intimacy.

Jonny suggested I share, and I thought I would, just for anyone else who might feel stress about growth.

(from the new Northwest)

Thanks for sharing.  I had a slightly related thought about our size last Sunday in the NW meeting.  I was sitting behind the drums looking at the rest of the group and realized there were 4 people I didn’t know.  I met 3 of them, the forth was quick to the door.

This is not meant to be a competition, hello introverts along the back wall.  But if you heard it as one then game on.

(from Frankford Ave)

 This week in our cell the go-around question was, “How did you first get connected to Circle of Hope?”

Here were some (not all!) of the stories that were shared:

  1. “I was at Pizza Brain, and I didn’t know they were cash only, so I was standing there not knowing what to do since I didn’t have any money.  Martha, who I didn’t even know, was standing behind me and she said, ‘I got you’ and paid for my slice.  That’s when I knew I wanted to be a part of Circle.”
  2. “I was living in Philly for the summer and didn’t have any friends in they city.  I was super lonely.  I called someone I knew and his roommate picked up, saying he’d leave a message.  But before I got off the phone he said his name was Joshua (Frankford Ave pastor) and would I want to go to his cell that night.  I had never even met him before.  I said yes, and cell became the best part of my life.”
  3. “I went to a PM and Martha was giving the talk.  She shared about her past in such an honest way, and then said she loved biking around the city.  That’s when I first thought, I like this place.”
  4. “I was very reluctant to get involved in anything church-related because I consider evangelism to be a boundary violation.  My skepticism was high, but then I realized that these people just wanted to include me as I am, and have non-coercive, real, thoughtful conversations.  I’ve been coming to cell ever since.”
  5. “I graduated from college and was missing the community I experienced at college and really wanted to get involved in a local church, as I had just moved to the area.  I found a church that interested me, and kept reaching out to them to get connected to a small group.  I sent in two postcards with all my information, and no one contacted me.  I emailed them, no response.  No one said hi to me after a meeting, and so I went up to someone, basically begging to connect me to a small group.  She took all my information, and was super nice, but never contacted me.  I was so discouraged, so I Googled, “Churches in Fishtown” and Circle of Hope came up.  I emailed the coordinators, and within one hour I got an email from Martha, listing multiple cells I could get connected to.  Within a few hours I got an email from Sarah, inviting me to hers.  When I went to my firstSunday meeting, a woman came straight up to me to introduce herself, since I was new, and it was Martha!  And now I’m here!”

(from Marlton Pike)

Sooooooo, what you’re really saying is Martha is beyond enough describable words beautiful in every single way? 😉

I want to be Martha Grace when I grow up.

(from South Broad, a person commenting on a blog post)

The experience of Christian community afforded us as we were a part of COH in our two stints in Philly were not only transformative, but formative. Put another way, we may have been “ruined” for any other church. This is why it was helpful to read your words today: “The big threat of our era is the inability to be who we are where we are instead of always standing outside of ourselves taking a picture or imagining some other experience instead of the one we are having.”

It’s been hard for us to simply be who we are, let alone do the hard work of doing so where we are. I’ve been trusted by various pastors to start something like cell groups several times. In most cases, predictably, they didn’t work. In one case it actually did work fairly well for a while, and one group had become three before we moved out of town. I’m only partially digressing. I mention it because I remain convinced, largely by virtue of my own experience, that cell groups are the best, most effective way (again, at least in my experience) to do the hard work of reproducing disciples and with them, the church. I know that following Jesus cannot be done alone, and I continue to yearn for right relationships with a community of like-Spirited and, by virtue of that same Spirit, like minded others who will help me to live into the kingdom life that I’m called to. The point is that we’ve searched for community in something like a cell group, going to the trouble to try to create them if they didn’t exist, in most places we’ve been since leaving Philly/COH (both times).

None of us (besides Martha, I guess) is good enough to deserve a spotless reputation. We all know that Jesus makes us who we are. But we are trying to cooperate. And we know that our cooperation often makes Jesus who He is for others.

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