We’re weeks away from things that may not happen till who knows when –. …..the coronavirus contributions to life make former anxieties seem odd. Somehow, it seems like it is a new world and all we can do is change – …..like Covid-19 is a means to reorient us like Peter meeting Sapphira: the old order of greed and lies generating control and oppression …..meets the new order of “You all manifestly don’t know what you’re talking about.”
So it seems like a good time to change, …..since that horse has left the barn. Chase it down and ride it.
Seeing a disease as a blessing may not be welcomed without a fight – …..even among you friends who are kindly used to me, and still love me. But somehow we were consigned to a locked room for self examination, …..and I can’t bear the thought of watching the entire Netflix catalogue. Instead, I am face to face with the traits with which I was bored anyway, …..And your voice seems clear, “You manifestly don’t need to be as you were before.”
So it seems like a good time to change …..in ways that did not seem likely. It’s a post-Covid world.
Let there be peace on earth. …..May the disease teach us all the lessons people are learning, like me. But let it begin with me.
It is always risky to look at the past and be inspired to leave it …..because the past contains all those reasons you never change. And it is risky to write a psalm that implies one is changing by the end of it, …..since it could easily idealize a process that is more pea patch than lab.
Yet it seems like a good time to change …..in ways that defy assessment – with you on a wild ride. …..May the disease teach me all the lessons people like me are learning like your Spirit is moving.
Every day, I need evangelized. Like Paul said of Abraham, the faithful friend of God:
“He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God,being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (Romans 4:20-21).
I am also not wavering. But I need to be strengthened. I need to be fully persuaded that God has the power to do what he promises. This strengthening and persuasion happens every day.
To be honest, we, as a church, need to keep the spark of evangelism stoked among us and through us or we might “waver through unbelief” like Paul fears the Romans might waver (or why bring up Abraham, right?). If Paul looked over our church, he might be writing a letter to our leaders and to all of us when he saw the kinds of things we do rather than persuading people that God has the power to do what he promises through Jesus Christ.
Here are three things we tend to do these days that show we need evangelized — no judgment, just things to think and talk about.
We manage lovelessness
This week, all sorts of people are going to bring out the four horsemen in their relationships at home, in your cell and with the leaders. We are going to be tempted to manage the symptoms of their lovelessness rather than teach a better way. Rather than reconcile after our teaching causes conflict, we will be tempted to keep things calm by not confronting the life-sucking lack of love and keeping our mouths shut. We try to manage the lovelessness. This managing rarely succeeds and the territory of the loveless expands rather than stays in the boundaries we set. Basically, we spawn a dysfunctional family like that from which many of us came.
I feel like I have a secret to confess: I am glad to move out of my office.
I will miss my titanic window, for sure, and those great bookshelves my friends built for me (and some of the books I am leaving to Rachel!). But I am glad to move on. True, I don’t get too attached to places (except Philadelphia, apparently), but it’s more. It is time for a second and third act of this great play God is writing with my life. I am looking forward to it.
For some reason, when I say something like that, I feel like a traitor to the good memories that the office holds in my mind and others’. Even though I am excited to move into what is next, there are reasons for feeling a bit guilty:
Tonight Scott Hatch and I reminisced about when we met. I had called the number I found in his zine, Burnt Toast. It was on the zine rack in Tower Books on South Street where I hung out a lot. He said, “Sure. Come over.” Scott Clinton rumbled down the stairs at some point while I was in their living room and I met him for the first time, too. I was in the middle of a big risk: planting a new church based on a new movement of God’s Spirit in my life. Those guys ended up taking a risk to join in, too, and they are still doing it. (Tonight we also remembered how Scott was responsible for the six cop cars that met me one night on Tenth St. But that’s another story).
I have enjoyed being the pastor for the Brethren in Christ of Philadelphia/Circle of Hope Center City/Broad and Washington/1125 S. Broad so far. There have been a few tough times; but if you ask me how it has felt, I’ll tell you it has been fun. Not all pastors get to say that. Thanks everyone.
I have enjoyed teaching every week, leading a cell, being on a PM Team, beginning and leading mission teams and compassion teams, even finding buildings and rehabbing them. I liked being available for emergencies and counseling, answering the door and the phone for strangers and figuring out where money was going to come from. Being the congregation’s pastor is varied and joyous if that’s what God gives you to do. When I saw the Instagram of Rachel blessing Jeffy and Toni’s new house on Saturday morning, I thought, “Yes! That’s what a pastor gets to do.” I couldn’t go because I was elsewhere, but it felt right to see her there being a blessing like pastors get to be.
I will get further opportunities to do the acts of love and truth that have led me, but not just like I have been doing for so long. Now is the time for a second act. We are taking a new risk together and this month brings it all to a head. Most of the time when a founding pastor makes a move it is “out to pasture!” Or a younger king deposes him. Or, like in some corporate dynasty, he moves into a ceremonial role to preserve his sense of power. We are trying something different. We are more like a tribe that sticks together, and continues to develop. So I am changing. It seems natural.
When Ben Rosenbach’s best man got up to offer the traditional toast at his wedding reception the other night, he burst into tears. He had a difficult time becoming composed enough to say anything at all. All his fond memories of his childhood with Ben met with the joy his best friend was experiencing — it was a collision of grief, joy and surprise. His point was that Ben is full of love and truth and his character will be a blessing to Megan. But there were many other things swirling inside him other than his point. He found himself in the middle of a moment of change — for Ben and for him. He was sure Ben would bring all the good things of their past as backyard buddies into the future, but the future was not going to be the same as the past.
As I watched that in the beautified Broad and Washington space, I couldn’t help but think that many people who worship together there are having similar feelings as they watch Circle of Hope move into the future. They have a lot of very fond memories of the church’s childhood and now it is not the same anymore — and it is not going to be the same. They know we are taking all the good things we became in our past into the future. But our future is not going to be the same as our past.
One of the members of my Coordinating Group told the other cell leaders in the group last week that, “Every time I hear Rod talk about ‘what’s next’ I wince” — and I talk about that a lot. It is one of our distinctives as a church to “move with what the Spirit is doing next.” It’s a whole chapter in the book I was assigned to write! I have to admit, that some days I feel so bad about making someone wince that I wince when I talk about what’s next too! It is good news that God has redeemed us and is making us new. But sometimes all that changing feels like bad news.
Designed for change
We made one big decision when we organized as Circle of Hope and we have always reaffirmed it. We decided to be one church in many locations. We are intentionally multi-celled – as a network of cell groups and as collections of cells forming congregations that are joined as a network. This was not too hard to deal with when we were a mother congregation and a flourishing daughter. Now we are four congregations and many years down the road. No one can really know everyone. Most people don’t have a good idea of our history. It is difficult to put one’s mind around everything that happens in a week. As a result, for some people, “It is not the same anymore.” And for the last 100 new people who entered when it was as it is, it never was “the way it used to be.”
I bring this up because I think we are all facing a big challenge right now. I can see it in the discerning process, and I could feel it last year, too. It takes a very mature group of believers to stay engaged with the big possibilities we face. While we will always have the joys of being face-to-face congregations and of personally ministering and receiving care in cells, we are also a substantial network. Everyone needs to love the whole church and the whole region, too, not just their cell or congregation. At the same time, everyone needs to love their cell, congregation and neighborhood and not get lost in the network. This takes a vision of the redemption project that is more like Jesus’ all the time.
Maybe it is not so hard to have a big vision like that, theoretically. We do love Circle of Hope. It is an exciting church doing meaningful things in faith. But being a part of Circle of Hope can also be like going to a friend’s wedding all the time. We grow up and start new things. The love we share in Jesus keeps forming more family! We end up more than we were before, even when we liked what we were before. We end up needing new leaders who can handle the new organism we have become. In the moment, it is easy to feel a little overwhelmed by that, until we get enough composure to toast it!
As a people, we need to struggle with discerning how God wants to use who we are now, rather than perfecting what we used to be. That is tough! We have to apply our proverbs to ourselves in a new way and keep leaving our “precious memories” of Circle of Hope behind so we can take what is best into the future.
We’ll make it through our most recent transition, I think. God will help us. Our engines of change in South Jersey and North Philly will give us reason to keep up. The visionaries who make up our developing Leadership Team and staff will steady the helm. But it really takes a lot of love from everyone; it takes some mature love. It takes things like getting through the toast at the wedding and honoring your buddy’s marriage. We really want to do such things and we really don’t. So we need to be real people of faith. We planned Circle of Hope to require real people of faith to survive. That hasn’t changed.