Tag Archives: cells

Why Five Congregations?: It is more than a strategy

Becoming part of any organization, from a corporation to a little league can be very confusing for a while — a church, especially Circle of Hope,  is not that different. You can walk into all our meeting places, except Ridge Ave, when no one is there and any number of people who come in will ask, “This is a church?” Quite a few have looked at me about the same time and said, “You are a pastor?” If I explain, they say, “Most of you meetings are on Sunday night?” Once the high school kids from Pequea BIC in Lancaster Co. stopped by for a little visit. They predictably said, “You have other sites and pastors?” It can be very confusing.

Here is the main reason we are one church in five congregations: Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6). People need a lot of Jesus doorways in different forms.

  • We are wandering in the dark; we need the light of the world to guide us.
  • We are slaves to our own understanding; we need reconnected to what is beyond us.
  • We are sinful and broken; it is only by the work of Jesus and his merit that we can be forgiven, and restored.

We want to make Jesus accessible like he has made God accessible to us. That’s why we are five congregations in one church.

More directly, we have a great purpose and we are doing the best we can to live up to it. The Bible gives us a mission statement for our family business. It guides us. People call it “the great commission.” It is Jesus’ last words to his disciples.

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

The essence of the Lords’ plan for redeeming and recreating the world is to draw together disciples who make disciples who make further disciples. We have planned our life together to do what we have been given to do, making the most of what we have to make an impact in our time and place.

More practically and specifically we are five congregations because it is an practical, radical, attractive strategy. Some people reading this might bristle as soon as the word “strategy” is used, but it is what it is. Strategy is just about getting from here to there in the best way we can imagine. We’re trying “to get to” making disciples who thrive, who make it to fifty with a vibrant, world-changing faith. It is at least possible that Jesus uses billboards, TV, airplane advertisements flying down the coast, charismatic talking heads on big screens and all that to call together disciples. But his main strategy is you and me and anyone else we can get to follow him telling someone else that he is our way, truth and life, now — and showing that in a way that can touch our hearts and minds, face to face. We might not be as desirous or patient as God, but the Lord has decided to need us, even if we have not decided to need Jesus, yet.

So our strategy is to go with Jesus on this, he is the way. His way is our way. He is the truth and the life; we want people to get to God and their true selves through his work. We also presume that you will hear and feel the great commission and be a follower who connects with others who will eventually follow the Lord you follow. You love God and you love them so you find ways to makes a connection just like God found a way to connect to you. If you don’t care about that, we are mostly out of business, because that is what our family business is.

Here is how we do it.

We make a cell. That is how Circle of Hope started, with the nucleus of one cell. And if you look at Jesus and the twelve disciples, that’s basically what he did, too. So we had one, then we had two and quickly three, and on we have gone over the years, multiplying cells and watching them live or them die on their own spiritual strength. That’s the basic body-life way we operate. The cells get together and form a congregation.

South Broad was the first congregation that formed (at 10th and Locust, then Broad and Washington). It drew from the entire region. We have always had a wide region in which we operate, and we still do. Marlton Pike also has a very wide region — all of South Jersey. North Broad also see themselves as having a wide pull, but mostly they are North Philly. Frankford and Norris draws from all over, but they are mostly Kensington and Fishtown. Our newest congregation on Ridge Ave tries to attend to all the Northwest. We used to have congregations in G’town and Frankford, but they dispersed.

Multiplying congregations is part of our strategy: When the congregations get over the 200 adult mark we start looking to see if they are going to have enough expansiveness to multiply. We think of it as bees in a hive — when the hive gets too big, it “hives off” into another hive. Right now, South Broad has about 130 adults after sending people off to the Northwest last year. If we had 230, we might think about sending off 50 or so to begin a new congregation. Better to have 270 and send 70, but that would be a judgment call we would have to make.

There are a lot of practical reasons for having multiple congregations instead of one big one, but our best reasons are about making disciples. We have a strategy for making authentic disciples of Jesus in the megalopolis. See if you think we are making the right decision.

Being one church in four congregations allows us to be big and small

We are as small as a cell, and as big as the whole church; as face-to-face as a congregation and as unknown as what the Spirit is doing next on the frontier of the constituency.

In terms of congregations, since that is theme of this post, we like the congregations to be relatively small. I say relatively because most churches in the United States are smaller than our typical size. Even though you see all those megachurches on TV, most churches are between 70-100 people. They are a big cell group with a very energetic leader, the pastor. It takes multiple leaders and multiple cells not to be a 100 person church; we think having multiple cells is more expansive. So for us, small means about 200, which is about the number social scientists say an interested member of a social group can hope to connect with in some meaningful way, like remembering names. We like to be face to face. Jesus had twelve, then the 70 and then there were 150 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. It was personal.

But there are also advantages of scale, being five congregations in one church. In larger groups, one person or one clique has a tough time dominating, so there can be multiple centers of leadership and accountability. That’s why we like to have two Sunday meetings, so it is built into us that there are more people than just the ones who are in the room. One of the biggest advantages of scale is sharing resources. Circle of Hope has a common fund, so if one congregation has less money than they need, the others can help. We have one mutuality fund, so we can distribute it where there is most need. We have a common set of compassion teams that we all share. We have the covenant list and share list that are fruitful places to contact a lot of people. We draw from the whole network for our Leadership Team. Our pastors are not singular, but are a team, so they have less psychological issues with isolation and get a lot of stimulation.

Jonny Rashid sent over another image after this was published.

Being five congregations as one church allows us to be complex and simple, old and new

We are as complex as a network of cells, teams, businesses and events that have grown over time and as simple as the next new relationship we make.

On the complex side, it might be quite daunting to think that one congregation could come up with Circle Thrift and other good businesses. I am sure we would still have big ideas, but more complexity takes more time and staff and organization.

At the same time, we are quite simple. Our pastors do not run the one big church all day; they are mainly local pastors. We hope you feel like you can call up and talk to your pastor. I have a new friend with a 2000 person church in Delaware. People are on a three-month waiting list to get on his schedule, and he is their pastor. We want to know and be known, and that includes our leaders.

Being big and small also allows us to be old and new. At a Love Feast several years ago Gwen overheard someone saying, “Welcome to the covenant. I joined in three months ago.” So she chimed in, “Yes, welcome. I joined in 16 years ago.” Hiving off new congregations helps us stay new and attentive. Being a long-lasting network helps us have continuity and stabilizing lore.

Being five congregations as one church allows us to be in a neighborhood and also city/region-wide

We are fully part of our neighborhood and fully part of our whole city and region.

A few years ago we started naming our congregations after their addresses. We’re all identified with neighborhoods; our region likes things local. You may not do this, but quite a few people over the years have signed in on the welcome list as “Tony from 12th and Mifflin,” or some such address. We want to actually live, as congregations, in our neighborhoods. It is true we have cells in all sorts of neighborhoods, but the congregation has a home, too, in its neighborhood, and we like to think we are a vital part of it.

On the other hand, we don’t want to be just our neighborhood, because our region’s neighborhoods see themselves as so distinct they don’t even talk to each other sometimes. Broad St., right outside my door, was a demarcation line for 50-60 years until that began to break down lately. We thought it would be a good representation of Jesus to be in different neighborhoods, but actually be one church. We did not want to give in to the arbitrary dividing lines that keep people apart.  We even decided to cross the river, and that was no small deal. Tons of people work every day in Philly and cross the bridge, but when they think about doing that to be one church and it seems like a big deal. We like to push the boundaries of what seems possible.

It does not make any difference how we are structured if no one cares about the family business. It would break a lot of hearts if we actually did it, but I and the leaders are pretty much content to let the whole thing die if no one applies themselves to working the strategy. I think I should trust your passion to run the business, just like Jesus trusted his first disciples. You have to want the Lord, have the purpose, and do the strategy, or it is all just a lot of talk.

People do not move into eternity with mere talk. They need to make a relationship with God in the person of Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life. For many people, each of us is the only Jesus-is-my-way kind of Christian they have ever met. It is not an easy business to be in, but it is our family business. I am doing my best to tend it with you.

Is the movement finally starting? Keep praying and pushing.

When Donald Trump was elected, I hoped it was the final straw to break the power of delusion choking so many people here in the last days of the Empire. There is some evidence this week that my hope was not in vain. The Spirit of God is moving among us and in our region and people are waking up. Things are happening that remind me of the stories I have heard about Jesus appearing to Muslims in places where it is illegal to even entertain the thought of becoming a Christian. People who can’t trust and are afraid to think are meeting Jesus personally in ways that change them forever.

Movement: the Spirit poured out
Acts 2:17

The movement of the Spirit in our church never really ground to a halt, but it seemed to slow so much, we began to wonder if we were missing something or doing something wrong. Our “flywheel” was slowing down and we realized we had better get behind it and do some pushing so the engine of our mission would get back to speed. We have been doing that and things are changing.

But there is only so much pushing one can do. The movement of the Spirit in a group or society is a mystery that is more about prayer than technique. So I have been praying for us and praying for our region, country and the whole desperate world. And I am not alone. Many of us have been drawn to pray and we have even started groups to do it together.

Evidence keeps popping up that something is starting. I almost don’t want to talk about it, lest I be wrong. But it is hard not to appreciate the possibility.

Cell mates of all kinds

For instance, my pastor, Rachel, could not contain herself last week and had to share the good things happening  in our cells:

  • She visited our Spanish-speaking cell and sensed the presence of God so strongly it made her “choke back tears.” The members were opening up about their lives, sharing real struggles and then praying for each other and reading the Bible together. For some of them, it was all brand new.
  • At her own cell, her host “shared a growing sense that Someone is leading her into a future that she doesn’t know yet, and she is actually excited about that, because she’s discovering that God has better things in store for her than she had for herself. She’s being surprised by hope.”
  • Then on her walk home, she ran into three of Jimmy & Zoe’s cell mates who looked like something good had just happened to them. They had just prayed with two friends who asked to receive Christ right there in their meeting.

A deluded millennial

About the same time, I was looking around YouTube for this video when I ran into this one by Steve Bancarz. I understand about zero why anyone would listen to a YouTube personality or how they get a following. But here is this guy who apparently made a living selling “new age” philosophies through his website. Then he had this remarkable experience with Jesus, gave it all up, and started his new internet business: debunking his old one.

I almost never get through a fifteen minute video, but this one intrigued me. When it was done, I felt it might be a scam. But evangelical outlets like Christian Post and Charisma have been telling the story too. His experience is like ones reported by Muslims, in which Jesus came to him and convinced him to change. I think his fundamentalist connections are serving him well as he gets over his drug use. It should be interesting to see how he moves on. Is this how Jesus is going to penetrate the despairing, enslaved, avoidant and cynical millennials?

A burned out evangelical

Movement from outside and in
Ocean waves and brain waves

Finally, I have been reading an “earth” book I keep recommending to people who don’t have faith, or who are interested in the new atheist arguments: Finding God in the Waves. It is about a Christian who lost his faith but who also had a life changing experience with God at the beach one night. He became “Science Mike” on the podcast from the group known as the  Liturgists  who say, “We create art and experiences for the spiritually homeless and frustrated.” (I have not listened their podcast, I admit).  Gungor is also a “Liturgist;” you can click his name and get a ticket to hear him on August 1 at 1125 S. Broad.

In Finding God in the Waves, Mike describes how science convinced him faith is not only possible, but preferable. Here is a quote about what he found most convincing:

“Trying to describe God is a lot like trying to describe falling in love. And that’s a serious problem for people who doubt that God is real…The unbelieving brain has no God construct, no neurological model for processing spiritual ideas and experiences in a way that feels real. This is why Bible stories and arguments for God’s existence will always sound like nonsense to a skeptic. For the unbeliever, God is truly absent from his or her brain. …

[Unlike how Christians tend to view solutions to doubt] neurotheology treats doubt as a neurological condition and would instead encourage people to imagine any God they can accept, and then pray or meditate on that God, in order to reorient the person’s neurobiological image of God back toward the experiential parts of the brain.…This insight was the most significant turning point in my return to God. I now knew I had to stop trying to perfect my knowledge of God and instead shift toward activities that would help me cultivate a healthy neurological image of God – secure in the knowledge that this network would help me connect with God and live a peaceful, helpful life.” 

It all amazes me. The desperate immigrants and illegals, the millions who are deluded by spirituality without Jesus, the science-laden who think their disciplines exclude the possibility of God, all of them popped up in my own experience with a story about Jesus coming to them in a way they never expected. And now they are joined around our own table in an odd way, celebrating the life, death and resurrection of the Lord.

Pray and push. Move with the movement. I can tell you are doing it, so all I can say is that I am with you as you pray and push. I am with you as we celebrate how Jesus transforms people who never expected to meet Him.

Build community in hard times — it is more than surviving.

I do a lot of talking so I went on retreat—not just to stop listening to myself all day, but to listen to God. Why talk if you’re not talking to God—and listening?

Benedict, scribeIn the course of my retreat, I heard a lot from a book by Esther de Waal. It is a good one I picked up after one of our friends helped us explore it not long ago in Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WATER: Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict. Benedict of Nursia is one of those spiritual ancestors we love. He is one of the most influential Christians you may have never heard of.

I am telling you about him today because we are had an About Making a Covenant meeting and twenty people considered entering our community in a more intentional way. Benedict caused a revolution by considering the same thing in the 600’s. Before Benedict wrote his new rule for the communities of monks he was founding, most radical Christianity was solitary; spiritual athletes were the people who entered it. Benedict was one of those atheletes, but he attracted a bunch of people who were not. He realized that following Jesus is mostly for ordinary people. What’s more, a group of individuals sitting at the feet of a “sage” is not very Biblical. His breakthrough was to emphasize the love among the members of the community as elemental to authentic spiritual life; multiplications of those communities are still shining the light of faith today.

His rule says: “The monks are to bear with patience the weaknesses of others, whether of body or behavior. Let them strive with each other in obedience to each other. Let them not follow their own good, but the good of others. Let them be charitable towards their brothers with pure affection.” (72.5-8).

His communities were all men, but women applied this rule in their houses, as well (thus, his language).

DeWaal says that within a hundred years of Benedict’s death, his rule had provided a collection of communities that wrapped Europe in a cloak of faith. “Whereas in the very earliest days monks had gone out into the desert leaving behind them a comparatively sophisticated life, now that pattern was reversed. In a world in which barbarian invasion, political uncertainty, and the power of the sword seemed the most immediate realities, [sound familiar?] and in a simple agrarian world where parishes were served by priests of humble peasant birth, [sound like many of our neighborhoods?] the monasteries came to stand out as centres of light and learning” (p. 20).

cell vanessa
Who is that person sitting in the cell’s “second row?”

Radicals in covenant are important lights in deteriorating circumstances. They not only take care of one another, they provide opportunities for people to know God, learn love, and create sustainable community. Our cells are like Benedict’s little communities wrapping our region in a cloak of faith. We focus on God in prayer and worship, we study to deepen our faith and life, we work for one another and serve those we can touch. The Benedictines were known as change agents by Cruce, libro et atro—cross, book and plough. We have our surprisingly useful version of that.

It was and is all done in love by normal people. When some of those normal people make a covenant to be Circle of Hope at the end of the month they will deepen our capacity to make a difference in this upended world. I think they will reflect a story Pope Gregory I told in his biography of Benedict.

“A certain hermit named Martin had chained himself to the side of his solitary cave near Monte Cassino. When he heard of it St. Benedict sent him a message: ‘If you are indeed a servant of God, do not chain yourself with chains of iron. But rather, let Christ be the chain that binds you.’”

Like Benedict, we point to Christ. It is as simple as that: in the cell where Jesus is the agenda and in our covenant to live as the Body of Christ. That is where the transformation starts and where it continues to astound me.

[First published at Circle of Hope.net]

You don’t know either: Break your law and forgive someone

The subtitle of Development is “truth without love kills and love without truth lies.” I think we need to do better than “truth is truth” or “all you need is love.” Following that conviction to do more than what amounts to common sense makes living with Jesus harder than entry-level faith, but it also makes us more likely to be the presence of the future.

This week I had two experiences that taught me more about following when it is hard — in these cases when justice is hard to find. Here’s the essence of what I am learning: When we “break the law” (the “truth” we beat people with) and forgive (the love that doesn’t lie about who we are and what has happened), we are learning to walk in His steps. We must get beyond the rules and get to the Ruler.

The automatic cut-off

More than one of my friends is harboring resentment toward another friend for something that person did — several of them are married to each other! You’ll probably relate to this: at one point the resented one did something my friend did not like or thought was wrong — or maybe they did it repeatedly, or maybe they just are it. In the case at hand, that person did something and it rubbed my friend the wrong way. It set off an unexplainable reaction in him. He told the person what he felt and got no satisfaction because they could not change what they did and they didn’t feel it was wrong.

So in some place in his heart, he cut the person off. In a very real way, the person had violated some law by which he ran his life. Just running into them began to feel awkward. They needed to be punished. If they got away with it, he would be giving  up something precious. The way he punished them was to cut them off. As we talked about the impact of this reaction, we found that it had a lot more to do with my friend’s heart than it did with the other person’s actions. (Meditating on the people who bother you the most may be fruitful at times). The resented one tripped off some ancient alarm wire in an area God needs to enter. After a long consideration, he realized that instead of holding on to this sense of injustice he felt, he should just forgive the person – even if they were still bad.

Forgiveness is a starting point, not an aspiration

Forgiveness is the starting point that God gives us. Reconciliation follows. Holiness might be quite a ways down the road, justice even farther. Like God in Jesus, we also need to start with forgiveness, not judgment. Your truth might kill someone. Your “law” might need to be broken. In a cell group, “starting at the starting point” becomes even more important to teach and to learn together. There are so many opportunities to trip over someone’s wire in a small community! People can quickly get the feeling that they need to be very careful, instead of ready to risk love. There is a lot more to a relationship than the starting point with God and others. But we may never start at all we don’t forgive as we have been forgiven.

Father forgive them
Gary Bunt — Some People Following Jesus

The therapist’s ethics can be a law that kills

The other experience is more theoretical because it came up as part of my dissertation presentation. My subject might be too dissertationy to introduce here. But part of it dealt with how psychotherapists apply their ethical standards and follow law.  One of the ethical standards therapists keep is to maintain a professional relationship with clients. It is outside their boundaries to have sex with clients, but also to have business relationships, social relations and other kinds of relationships that muddy up the waters of the alliance they make with a client in service to the client’s health.

We discussed how hard following this law can be in a small community such as Circle of Hope where a therapist might run into a client (for example “At the Love Feast,” someone said). My research showed that most therapists take this ethical principle seriously. Some take it so seriously that it becomes a law they are afraid to break – even when breaking it might be in the best interest of their client. The dialogue reminded me that we are all prone to letting a law do the work of relating for us. We live under the influence of unforgiving powers and it takes some courage to violate their will.

Forgive like the Ruler

At the heart of the world, Jesus is our law; he is the way, the truth and the life. Our characters are containers for his Spirit. Whatever laws and agreements we might make are subject to his rule; they should be containers for his truth and love, too.

I told someone about my experiences and I said, “I want to be ruled, not just follow rules.”

Most of us are going to begin by following rules – the ones installed in our hearts by parents and teachers and the ones put upon us by governments and associations. But, like Paul says, even the Mosaic law was just a tutor to help us learn Christ, the king of the kingdom. Sometimes the rules will reveal our Ruler because of how absent he is from them.

If you are exploring all the rules you live by, how about installing a better one in the heart of your spiritual territory? Let’s try this: When someone is doing something wrong (at least wrong according to your rules you live by), maybe the first rule should be to follow the example of our ruler: forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.

Usually, I don’t fully know what I am doing either! It may seem backward to let ourselves or someone who offends us start off as forgiven and deal with the law later, but I think that is the gift God has given us. We may not get things right, but we can be righted. All those other lawbreakers need the same break as we do. Forgive them.

Why is the cell valuable to you?

handsMy core cell has been together a long time now. We sent off a cohort at one point and we absorbed part of a dispersing cell at another. But the basic core has remained together. While we have not multiplied in the usual sense, we have been a remarkable little factory for spiritual growth. I often look at how individuals have developed over our time together and marvel.

Way back in January, we took a little poll of one another by asking “Why is the cell valuable to you?” We did not do any theologizing to come up with what we “should” say, we just pondered what it was about being part of the cell that makes it meaningful enough to show up to our meetings.

As it turns out, I think we have been doing the word, because what we came up with spontaneously looks like what the Bible teachers wanted us to do. Here is what we listed when asked “Why is the cell valuable to you?”:

I have a sense of belonging.

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:4-5

In it, Jesus is tangible.

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Colossians 3:16

It is a safe place.

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. Romans 15:5-7

If I have a good week someone will have a bad one.

If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 1 Corinthians 12:26

We have good food.

Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 2 Corinthians 9:10

The cell is the church, what more do you need?

To Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home. Philemon 1:2

It stretches me in new directions

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light.  For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:9-14

I observe others and participate in different approaches to life.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.  As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—  you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 2:2-5

I learn by watching people love in ways I don’t.

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:15-17

Why Four Congregations?

Becoming a part of Circle of Hope can be very confusing. I suppose that is true of any church or organization – it is also true of us. I have had any number of people come into our room at Broad and Washington when the people aren’t there and ask, “This is a church?” Quite a few have looked at me and said, “You are a pastor?” If I explain, they say, “Your meetings are on Sunday night?” Actually all this happened when the high school kids from Pequea BIC in Lancaster Co. stopped by for a little visit last summer. They said, “You have other sites and pastors?” It can be very confusing.

Here is the main reason we are one church in four congregations: Jesus said “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6). We are wandering in the dark; we need the light of the world to guide us. We are slaves to our own understanding and we need a reconnection to what is beyond us. We are sinful and broken, and it is only by the work of Jesus and his merit that we can be forgiven, and restored. We want to make Jesus accessible like he has made God accessible to us. That’s why we are four congregations in one church.

More directly, we have the purpose statement for the family business that guides us. They call it “the great commission.” It is Jesus’ last words to his disciples. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).  The essence of the Lords’ strategy for redeeming and recreating the world is to draw together disciples who make disciples who make further disciples. Our structure is a strategy for doing what we have been given to do, making the most of what we have to make an impact in our time and place.

More practically and specifically we are four congregations for the purposes of strategy. Some people reading this might bristle as soon as the word “strategy” is used, but it is what it is. Strategy is just about getting from here to there in the best way. We’re trying to get to making disciples who thrive, who make it to fifty with a vibrant, world-changing faith. I think Jesus might use billboards, TV, airplane advertisements flying down the coast, and all that to call together disciples. But his main means is you and me and anyone else we can get to follow him telling someone else that he is our way, truth and life, now. We might not be as desirous or patient as God, but the Lord has decided to need us, even if we have not decided to need Jesus, yet.

So our strategy is to go with Jesus on this, he is the way. His way is our way. He is the truth and the life; we want people to get to God and their true selves through his work. We also presume that you will hear and feel the great commission and be a follower who connects with others who will eventually follow the Lord you follow. You love God and you love them so you find ways to makes a connection just like God found a way to connect to you. If you don’t care about that, we are mostly out of business, because that is what our family business is.

Here is how we do it.

We make a cell. That is how Circle of Hope started, with the nucleus of one cell. Then we had two and quickly three, and on we have gone over the years, multiplying cells and having them die. That’s the basic body-life way we operate. The cells get together and form a congregation.

Broad and Washington was the first congregation that formed, so we have always had a wide region in which we operate, and we still do. Marlton and Crescent has a very wide, region, too, all of South Jersey. Broad and Dauphin also see themselves as having a wide pull, but mostly they are North Philly. Frankford and Norris draws from all over, but they are mostly Kensington and Fishtown. We used to have congregations in the Northwest and Northeast, but they dispersed.

Multiplying congregations is part of our strategy: When the congregations get over the 200 adult mark we start looking to see if they are going to have enough expansiveness to multiply. We think of it as bees in a hive — when the hive gets too big, it “hives off” into another hive. Right now, Broad and Washington has about 180 adults, in the congregation. If we had 230, we might think about sending off 40 or so to begin a new congregation. Better to have 270 and send 70, but that would be a judgment call we would have to make.

There are a lot of practical reasons for having multiple congregations instead of one big one, but our best reasons are about making disciples. We have a strategy for making authentic disciples of Jesus in the megalopolis. See if you think we are making the right decision.

Being one church in four congregations allows us to be big and small

We are as small as a cell, and as big as the network; as face-to-face as a congregation and as unknown as what the Spirit is doing next on the frontier of the church.

In terms of congregations, since that is the question, we like the congregations to be relatively small. I say relatively because most churches in the United States are smaller than our typical size. Even though you see all those megachurches on TV, most churches are between 70-100 people. They are a big cell group with a very energetic leader, the pastor. It takes multiple leaders and multiple cells not to be a 100 person church; we think having multiple cells is more expansive. So for us, small means about 200, which is about the number social scientists say an interested member of a social group can hope to connect with in some meaningful way, like remembering names. We like to be face to face. Jesus had twelve, then the 70 and then there were 150 in the upper room on the day of Pentecost. It was personal.

But there are advantages of scale, being four congregations in one church. In larger groups, one person or one clique has a tough time dominating, so there can be multiple centers of leadership and accountability. That’s why we like to have two PMs, so it is built into us that there are more people than just the ones who are in the room. One of the biggest advantages of scale is sharing resources. Circle of Hope has a common fund, so if one congregation has less money than they need the others can help. We have one compassion fund, so we can distribute it where there is most need. We have a common set of compassion teams that we all share. We have the dialogue list that is a fruitful place to contact a lot of people. We draw from the whole network for our Leadership Team. Our pastors are not singular, but are a team, so they have less psychological issues with isolation and get a lot of stimulation.

Jonny Rashid sent over another image after this was published.

Being four congregations as one church allows us to be complex and simple, old and new

We are as complex as a network of cells, teams, businesses and events that have grown over time and as simple as the next new relationship we make.

On the complex side, it might be quite daunting to think that one congregation could come up with the Thrift Stores and the Good Business consortium. I am sure we would still have big ideas, but more complexity takes more time and staff and organization.

At the same time, we are quite simple. I am not running the one big church all day, so I am a local pastor. We hope you feel like you can call up and talk to your pastor. I have a new friend with a 2000 person church in Delaware. People are on a three-month waiting list to get on his schedule, and he is their pastor. We want to know and be known, and that includes me.

It also allows us to be old and new. At the Love Feast in July Gwen overheard someone saying “Welcome to the covenant. I joined in three months ago.” So she chimed in, “Yes, welcome. I joined in 16 years ago.” Hiving off new congregations helps us stay new and attentive. Being a long-lasting network helps us have continuity and stabilizing lore.

Being four congregations as one church allows us to be neighborhood and city-wide, region-wide

We are fully part of our neighborhood and fully part of our whole city and region.

A few years ago we started naming our congregations after their corners, Philly style. Philly is a city of neighborhoods; our region likes things local. You may not do this, but quite a few people over the years have signed in on the welcome list as “Tony from 12th and Mifflin,” or some such address. We want to actually live, as congregations, in our neighborhoods. It is true we have cells in all sorts of neighborhoods, but the congregation has a home, too, in its neighborhood, and we like to think we are a vital part of it.

But, on the other hand, we don’t want to be just our neighborhood, especially in Philly. Because Philly neighborhoods see themselves as so distinct; they don’t even talk to each other sometimes. Broad St., right outside out door, was a demarcation line for 50-60 years until that began to break down lately. We thought it would be a good representation of Jesus to be in different neighborhoods, but actually be one church. We did not want to give in to the arbitrary dividing lines that keep people apart.  We even decided to cross the river, and that was no small deal. Tons of people work every day in Philly and cross the bridge, but do that for something like being the church and it seems big. We like to push the boundaries of what seems possible.

It does not make any difference how we are structured if no one cares about the family business. It would break a lot of hearts if we actually did it, but I and the leaders are pretty much content to let the whole thing die if no one applies themselves to working the strategy. I think I should trust your passion to run the business, just like Jesus trusted his first disciples. You have to want the Lord, want the church, want the strategy, or it is all just a lot of talk.

People do not move into eternity with mere talk. They need to make a relationship with God in the person of Jesus, who is the way, the truth and the life. For many people, each of us is the only Jesus-is-my-way kind of Christian they have ever met. It is not an easy business to be in, but it is our family business. I am doing my best to tend it with you.

So the Next Generation Would Know

We’re not keeping this to ourselves,
we’re passing it along to the next generation—
God’s fame and fortune,
the marvelous things he has done.

He planted a witness in Jacob,
set his Word firmly in Israel,
Then commanded our parents
to teach it to their children
So the next generation would know,
and all the generations to come—
Know the truth and tell the stories
so their children can trust in God,

Psalm 78 (The Message paraphrase)

Family businesses tend to crash at the third generation [link to Business Week article]. This is a little unnerving for Circle of Hope. We are a family business devoted to the proposition that the body of Christ multiplies as it grows and the descendants of the original cells or congregations do not diminish in character, but reflect the DNA of their parents. We look for maturation, not deterioration. I suppose I could take heart that we are not a mere “business,” we are an organism. And I do take heart to see how we have matured. But, to be honest, we are something like a business, too. We have plans, structures, meetings, representations like a website, a speech or a mailing, that take the kind of oversight that businesses use to keep their enterprise moving along. The leaders who follow the leaders before them need to be as astute and capable as their mentors. Will we crash someday?

Our first ever congregation “hive-off” called Northwest lasted, fitfully, for seven years (!).

DNA replicating

But it eventfully died. One of the main reasons it died was that it was never a fully-connected part of the network and did not replicate the DNA that made the original viable; until we installed Bryan Robinson, the leadership did not fully “feel” Circle of Hope. Our most recent church planting called 19G is an actual third generation congregation; BW begat FN begat 19G. They don’t seem to be in any danger of crashing, but will they be able to create and adapt, or will the network be able to keep up and adapt to what they bring? Will their new school do in our version of old school?

Similar questions apply to cells. Cell multiplication is all about making it to the third generation and onward. Our whole church is about not diminishing in character as we multiply. We are always going through a process of adapting to our neighborhood changes, adapting to changes in the congregation, adapting to growth in number, and adapting to people coming into their fullness as leaders. We hope to reproduce a good replica of what God hopes as a new cell is born and goes through the process of growing and multiplying. Sometimes our oldest and should-be-wisest leaders stop adapting and just give up. Sometimes our youngest leaders don’t even bother finding out what we already know and invent something that isn’t nearly as brilliant as what we have already proven to be effective. The process can deteriorate.

Last week, I wrote a little “psalm” for the cell leaders based on Psalm 78. It is a psalm that calls us to be a “good business” that beats the odds by being God’s business. So far, we have beaten the odds magnificently. But we are always bumping up against our weaknesses, our lack of imagination and our lethargy. What’s more, the world changes so rapidly it challenges our capacity to meet people where they are at. The Church, in general, seems so messed up (and the BIC is no exception), it is doing more crashing than building, so it doesn’t help much.

I think it is an exciting time. I feel like I was born for it. I think Circle of Hope was made for it; and in our small, unique way, we are meeting the challenges. But we could crash if we don’t pay attention and don’t give our hearts to the cause. I think we could use a little Psalm 78. Here’s an attempt to bring some. Those listening in can apply their own name and listen with us:

Listen Circle of Hope;
listen to your own proverbs
the stories of your past, distant and recent.
We have a wonder to speak.
We have wisdom to relay to the next generation.

God planted a witness in us.
We are charged, like parents loving their children,
to tell the truth we are given
to generation after generation of what God generates,
lest they be left prey to the faithlessness
that surrounds them.

Jesus Has Other People Not of Your Fold

So much to do, so few Memorial Day parties at which to do it! That’s what I’ve come to think after hearing what happened at some of the recent BBQs. Maybe we should skip however else we do things and move exclusively to a couple of BBQs a week as soon as June hits.

At one gathering an unconnected neighbor was questioning how Circle of Hope operates. The host was introducing her neighbor to a couple of ex-cell mates from Circle of Hope. She explained how her cell had recently multiplied and how these people were formerly part of her cell.  The neighbor looked at the former cell mates and said, “Isn’t it painful to break up your small group?” The pair immediately said, in unison, “Yes!” It was like they had some unexpressed emotion that needed to get out and the neighbor had untied their balloon.

The host was still a bit flabbergasted when she was telling me about this. I think she would have told her neighbor, “Get thee behind me Satan!” if she hadn’t thought it would spoil the party. In her multiplication, she had successfully engineered a radical, missional action. She had catalyzed a small expansion of the kingdom, elevated a new leader and increased the amount of entries a person might stumble upon to get into the church. She had resisted the natural inertia of social groups and moved with what the Spirit was doing next. It wasn’t that easy! Now her neighbor was encouraging everything she was trying to overcome!

Her neighbor was unintentionally reinforcing attitudes that work against what Jesus is trying to do. Marketers have been helping to keep people static by customizing their offerings to customers’ individual tastes. For instance, we don’t buy as much yogurt in large containers anymore, as if we were going to be sitting down with someone and sharing. We get an individual serving in the flavor we like best. Appealing to individual preference is not always the best strategy, since people make choices on group preference, as well. But especially in the United States, the marketers push personalization more and more, since it fits the prevailing philosophies. So you can even get your seaweed soup in a packet. I think this mentality gets extended to our cell groups after they have reached some kind of homeostasis. They begin to have a group identity that tends to want its personalized container of yogurt. And they don’t really think of sharing a big container of yogurt with others.

Meanwhile, Jesus is moving on a steady course toward reaching everyone who will listen to his voice and including them in the “fold.” He says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16 TNIV).

My friend the BBQ host was having the regular frustration we have when we follow Jesus. Among other things that are life-changing about knowing Him, we are called to imagine more people in the fold. The marketers will talk us out of being in a fold, at all. The Lord is talking us into being in a fold of all. If we go with Jesus, we end up convincing people to not be singular and to be in a cell. Then we persuade them to multiply the cell and form a congregation. Then we talk them into multiplying the congregation and becoming a network. Then we talk them out of just being an isolated network and being part of a denomination. Then we talk them out of just being their denomination and being part of the church in Philly and around the world. It is all with the goal that “there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

The crucial place of reorientation happens when a person who has been drawn out of their isolation and into a cell can imagine the Lord building another one. Post 9-11 it is even harder for people to imagine being in community — and they certainly don’t want to be talked into anything! The frightening expansion of the corporations and the police state in the last decade have people running for their individualized servings in a vain attempt to not be dominated by big things. The church can get tagged as another one of those big things. Circle of Hope was once merely small. Now that we have flowered into a network, we can get tagged as dominating. The multiplying cell is the constant place where we get a chance to be small and to expand, to go with Jesus

  • for oneness, not singularity,
  • for mutual dependence, not independence,
  • for a vision larger than our own personal needs, not mere consumerism,
  • for a growing organism, not a disposable personal experience.

It is hard to make a new cell when you love the one you have. I hope we never love so weakly that it doesn’t hurt to get bigger and let further people in to disrupt our lovely relationships. To expand the fold with people we love and to be loved by them is a pleasant way we fill up what is lacking in regard to the Good Shepherd’s afflictions (Col. 1:24).

My Week of Seeing Jesus in the Morsels

Lent is coming soon and it will inspire a good fast. That’s good, because I could use one. But until then, I think I am determined to receive whatever I am served at whatever table I am seated to see God revealed. Last week was a feast.

Monday it was linguine, Mexican linguine at Paloma. (I don’t understand them, but it was delicious). My Valentine told me she was going to let the conversation flow wherever it flowed and enjoy it. She gladly wore the bracelet I bought her from the Eyes Gallery, which is always full of Mexican oddities. (Do you detect a south-of-the-border theme?) The blessing was easy to spot in the surprisingly good pasta: many Valentine’s Days and deep, comfortable love. Given where we come from and our native incapabilities, that is no small blessing.

Tuesday it was a quesadilla at ten o’clock after buying a minivan. I have the van sitting in the garage waiting to be driven, waiting for grandchildren to grind chocolate into it, chocolate I probably shouldn’t have given them. The quesadilla asked the question as I impatiently waited for the cheese to melt, “How much are you going to pack into this week?” The voice of Jesus was in the quesadilla.

Wednesday morning it was the granola of brotherhood with the band of cell-leading brothers at Morning Glory. Their partnership seemed like a sudden development. Suddenly everyone loved one another and was committed to the group like it is life-saving. It made my yogurt especially sweet to be with them. In spite of all their professional and family pressures, they want to have a life in Christ that makes a difference.

Wednesday night it was limp pasta at the Gold Standard with my neighbors. We decided to have dinner together rather than just meet for snow shoveling. My one neighbor was ready to tell stories about Vietnam and gang life in North Philly. We were focused on his seventeenth and eighteenth years. They were entertaining years. Jesus was in the entertainment, in seeing people who I don’t normally see just the way they are, in offering understanding, and in waiting for love to do what love does. 

Thursday noon it was spanakopita with the pastors in the Lebanon Farmers Market. (No kidding). I could have had the Kenbrook Camp lunch but we evacuated to visit Jonny’s mother (thus preventing his early demise). She has an Egyptian-food stand in the market and served us what undoubtedly amounted to the entire day’s profits. Delicious. The pastors are deliciously spiritual and committed to one another. The conversation was deliciously spiced with talk about Coptic Christians in the midst of Egyptian upheaval.  Jesus was definitely at the table. Rich fare.

Thursday night it was a horseradish chip at the cell meeting. My cell knows I am repenting of my weird dietary habits this year, but what is a few chips going to hurt? They also know I rarely leave the supermarket without buying something I have never eaten, like horseradish-cheddar potato chips. God was in the being known and still being loved.

Friday it was the family feast for the twins’ birthday — toddlers and babies everywhere, new houses and new developments, faith stories, disappointments, negotiations about how to be a clan. Again, even while washing every dish in the house afterward, it all seemed like a blessing. I am so happy it is all right to come to our table and tell the latest miracle story about how someone bumped into Jesus by bumping into one of us.

Saturday it was overpriced burb food with friends who are worth suffering bad food for. We were shooting for PF Chang’s and ended up at Redstone (don’t bother – but then, I realized I am very spoiled by Philadelphia food). Jesus was especially in the tales of woe that surfaced, and which were received, and which benefited greatly from being told in a place where one is sure to be loved.

Sunday it was a carb-feast with the women of Shalom House and their Guidance Team (I look forward to meeting the men of Shalom House, soon). Jesus was easy to see in the vision of their listening tour, and in the creativity around the table. In the desire to see big things happen, it is often easy to overlook just how big it is to participate in what is happening already!

Then, Sunday night, Josiah made sure I got one of the Tootsie Pops on the snack table. That’s a big deal to me. Papa needs a Pop. Being loved by a child loosens up the hard candy shell around my inner child.

This week, I honestly hope my spiritual food is not accompanied by so many calories. But I am encouraged to consider each morsel as a gift and have a feast of love when the babaganoush and diet cherry Pepsi are passed to me like bread and wine.

I doubt that a secularized cell would help: Living with people who lose faith

Jewish people, at different levels of intensity, are in the middle of the High Holy Days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur. So reporters are scouring the countryside looking for interesting articles to post about interesting Jews. Such people are not hard to find. The Inquirer discovered a group in South Jersey who are consciously working out what I think a lot of Christians are unconsciously working out. So they caught my attention too.

secularized Jews
Religious holidays without God http://www.sjsecularjews.com/index.html

Secular Jews

During the High Holy Days, Jews are religious. They can celebrate Passover, Hanukkah and other feast days without being religious because those days are rooted in historical events (they are like the Fourth of July). But the High Holy Days are about repentance and God. So Arnold Barnett’s wife often went to the religious observances alone because Arnold wasn’t into God, even though he was into Judaism. Now they celebrate with members of the South Jersey Secular Jews – “a group of people who may or may not believe in God, but do believe in caring about the world and one another, respecting and understanding Jewish history, and celebrating a culture that has meaning and emotional pull.” (Inquirer, 9-6-10)

People estimate that 40,000 of the 6 million Jews in the U.S. are “out” as secular (as compared to 44% in Israel – a figure some people say is, for most practical purposes, much higher).  One might even expect the number to be even more, since traditional religions have been experiencing secularization since the Renaissance — once God got removed from the government, people went with secular norms instead of religious ones. Speaking for Jews who have secularized their religion, Cary Hillebrand, of Cherry Hill, says, “We are not in any way antireligious. We hold the belief that we are responsible for what happens to ourselves and to the world. And to us, that’s the essence of what religion is, and should be.”

Translating into a godless framework

I would not want to argue with Cary, since she was probably misinterpreted by the reporter, anyway. But I am reacting to Cary-like people almost every day. They are often listening to my speeches and quietly reading my blog, translating what I say into their God-less philosophical framework – and being very tolerant of me as they do.

I was walking with the grandchildren the other day and a friend who used to be in covenant with me as Circle of Hope stopped the car (and held up the one behind him) to smile out the window and make a pleasant comment. As he sped off I wondered what to do about the loss I felt. I know, in his world view, I had no right to my loss, since he was just being responsible for what happens to himself. But I still felt it.

I have an increasing roster of friends (maybe because I keep collecting them on Facebook, that great illusion of community) who love me, who love the Circle of Hope community, who love that we are trying to be socially responsible but who don’t love Jesus. They don’t really even want to hear about Jesus because it makes them feel guilty and they are done with guilt. They don’t want to hear about meetings and why they should have attended because they are done with those obligations. They tried commitment to something other than their own path and it didn’t work for them – and they don’t want any more convincing. But they still want the love and they still want the parts of the morality they like; they even want the holidays. They just don’t want to be subject to God.

It makes for awkward relationships. I still feel obligated to be nice while my supposed friends gut my faith. I get the cold shoulder when I talk about my soul, while they want the freedom to talk about their “freedom” as if it were not a submission to another god —  since we aren’t allowed to talk about God, not a real one, anyway. They show up at parties, want to be included in the family, want to be included in the cause, but they don’t want to feel responsible for undermining the foundation of it all.

Maybe I shouldn’t have called the relationships awkward and then immediately sounded kind of bitter. It is more than awkward. Being secularized by your loved one is a bitter pill to keep swallowing. I’ve been working at covenantal, selfless love. Being reduced down to “nice” is painful. And I usually don’t think my newly-merely-nice friends are really that nice, anyway. I miss the need for forgiveness.

Would a secularized cell help?

What to do? Maybe we should advocate that former Circle of Hopers who have adopted unbelief should have some secular cells for themselves like the Jews in New Jersey. There are so many pre-believing  people going the opposite direction of them who are in our cells and who are being welcomed into our community every day, it might be better if the pre-believers could identify people going the other way before they run into them at the bridal shower — put them in their own kind of cells rather than keeping their unbelief a secret with them where faith is crucial.

I almost hate to bring this up when Tea Party people are rallying on government steps all over the country, drawing lines, trying to “take the nation back for God” (and white people).  But Jesus says, “[The one] who is not with me is against me, and [the one] who does not gather with me scatters (Matt 12:30).  In the Message paraphrase, Petersen puts the contest for loyalty like this: “This is war, and there is no neutral ground. If you’re not on my side, you’re the enemy; if you’re not helping, you’re making things worse.” I’m not trying to draw lines. But the fact is, a lot of pre-believing people are actually helping Jesus. A lot of people who have lost the faith that did not save them are not. I am at least going to say that.

For the most part, even when the secularizing folks want to divide off and divide up, I am going to let it all play out and trust God to do his work however he can – even using me to help. When frustrated people have spoken to me about the dilemma of the formerly-committed continuing to dwell in the community, I have to offer something else Jesus says:

“Jesus told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’
“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.
“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
(Matthew 13:24-30)

I apologize to anyone who feels insulted by possibly being alluded to as a “tare.” But your lack of helping is making things worse – for me, anyway. I’ll be OK, since I am NOT, ultimately, responsible for what happens to myself and the world, God is – and I’m good with God. If I’m conscious enough when we meet, you won’t get burned by me, even if feel a bit singed myself.

Stop Eating that Damned Apple (Please)

I want you to know…that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any human, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. Galatians 1:11-12

I have been talking to several cell leaders who feel like their cells are drowning in discussion fomented by people who would probably kick people out of their “Bible study” if they said something like Paul said to the Galatians, above. A lot of these dear complainees went to a rationalistic church that started them down the road to seeing their faith as an exercise in thinking the right thoughts and organizing their lives around them.

So what do they want to do in their cell, now that they have moved out of the church of their youth and are thinking their own thoughts in the big city? They come to the cell meeting, the discussion is left open to see what God has been revealing, and what do they do with the kind people who are leaning in to listen? They lead them to continually scratch their heads over some conundrum. They keep coming up against the imponderables that rationalistic Christianity leads to. They keep bumping up against atonement theories that they haven’t thought through. They want to re-discuss the trinity. They love the topic of predestination. If you bring out the Bible they’ll start channeling some professor debunking its historicity or consistency and they’ll want to compare it to the latest Buddhist tidbit their yoga teacher passed on.

Their faith is an argument, not a relationship. And most of the time they didn’t really understand the argument to begin with and never really bought it. I, for one, love all these discussions — when they are open-hearted and part of a real struggle for faith they can be beautiful. But they can be hard on a cell leader. Because when they are just the dark side of someone resisting Jesus, they are tiresome, even dangerous. When they are merely an unconscious, stuck person floundering around in the mire that bad teaching created for them, they can be pitiful and sad.

Paul is speaking out of his experience with God (and I am too), THEN he makes an argument. He is worried that the Galatians will begin with the Spirit and then return to the teachings of mere people. He is afraid that Jesus has not really been born in them and so they are easily duped into returning to mere religion. The cell leaders to which I am referring feel his pain. The prison doors have been opened and certain friends won’t walk out — they rebel against being imprisoned, but they are still discussing the terms of their sentence, post-parole.

Ironically, while pondering the theories of Bible interpretation, many Christians we meet have missed main messages of the Bible. For instance, they eat the apple every day:

Rembrandt Adam and Eve

“You will not surely die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
            When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked… Genesis 3:4-7

When the goal of faith has been reduced to knowing stuff, when faith is about feeling the security and power of knowing the secrets and explaining everything perfectly; it is easy to feel naked all day. People come to our cells from parts of the kingdom of God where folks are trying to stay covered up all day and the main pursuit of fellowship is all about collecting another piece of data to add to their wardrobe. They are always trying to look right. They only trust people who seem to know it all. And they tend to try to be know-it-alls themselves, even though everyone can see that the data is not covering their human parts. Did God tell them they didn’t know enough? I don’t think so.

The Bible repeatedly says that knowing anything begins with knowing God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Eat Jesus, not the apple again. Then we can talk about faith.