We’re in the process of planting the 5th congregation of Circle of Hope! I’m the pastor of our congregation that meets at 1125 S. Broad St., and we’re multiplying: sending a crew of about 70 adults and 40 kids to the Northwest to plant a new congregation there and re-forming down South. It’s exciting movement on a dream we’ve had for many years.
But TBH, multiplying a congregation is a big hassle. All of our charts and schedules about who’s doing what get messed up (if we weren’t so communal about everything this wouldn’t be such a big deal), and we need new leaders to jump in and serve. Our room may be emptier for a while on Sundays and we’ll lose half of our financial sharing. But hardest of all for me is “letting go” of beloved partners to work somewhere else with others.
So why do I want to do it, to the point of selling my lovely house in the Northwest and moving my family back down to South Philly? All of my reasons are as personal as that.
First, I grew up in nature and experienced that multiplication is natural. The corporations can never steal multiplication from me as if it’s like franchising a McDonald’s to make more money. Multiplication is much more elemental to life. Healthy plants and animals multiply. They do not produce clones, they produce unique new life forms, and no two are alike on the planet! They multiply because they are designed to do it, even though the process always involves some sort of “death” or pain, like a seed breaking open. Jesus said, “Unless a seed falls to the ground and dies, it remains a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” God is obviously into this kind of generous recreation. Creation reveals the Creator, so it seems that spiritual multiplication is a natural expression of healthy spiritual life.
Secondly, Jesus generated new life in me. When I became a Christian I was coming to the hard realization that I couldn’t do life real well on my own, in spite of my strengths and gut-it-out instincts. I needed change from the inside out, and I needed others to walk with me and I with them in that change. Basically I needed love. I was stuck in some serious mental isolation and it wasn’t working. The grace of God started to creep into my life through the love of some friends who were part of Circle of Hope. They were like Jesus to me and I started to break open and experience the love of God. I started to shed my hard shell of independence and identify with Jesus who was pouring himself out for me, vulnerable, self-giving. What started to grow inside me and then around me was a multiplication of desire, compassion, and solid relationships. I’m still working with that inner transformation that keeps rippling outward because it can’t fit inside—it is of the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to Spirit, like we’ll talk about this Sunday in our meetings. Transformation is always producing some sort of “baby” if it is happening, and this is not easily controlled and managed, like birth. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
On that note, our people have stuff to give. By stuff, I mean spiritual LIFE in addition to whatever material resources we may have to share. We multiply cell groups with the conviction that there is more than enough love to go around. When I look at our congregation, I know it’s true. Not because we’re perfectly capable and put-together, but because we are trusting in the One who is healing the world through regular people who follow Jesus. Jesus covered the distance to get to us, and I’m pretty sure he’s empowering us to cover the distance for others. People in neighborhoods all over the city need healing, and the love of Christ compels us to give what we’ve got, even though we’re always still a work in progress. We don’t need to wait until we’re all put together to do big things. We need to act on what we’ve been given. Jesus said to his disciples, “You are the light of the world! A city on a hill cannot be hidden.”
So I’m excited to see how Jesus will strengthen and grow his church as we give birth and let it shine around South Philly and up North. We are meeting so many new friends who want to explore faith and do good things. God keeps generating new life in us, making a way for each of us like flowers coming up through the cement in the sidewalk.