The direction I am pointing applies to everyone, of course, but I am especially thinking of the dear people of Circle of Hope. By the time Lent is over they will have persevered for 20 years! By the time this post is over, I hope to contribute how we see where we might be in ten more (and you too, reader, wherever you are).
We’ve already taken our first steps into the future. We called it our “second act” when we were hit by the inspiration at the end of 2014. Then we started acting inspired: restructuring, redeploying and redeveloping. I wrote about it here and here and other places, too. It has been a great ride.
So we did that.
Now what? In late spring we will get together and consider where we are going and make a new map. So more will become clear by then. But already the first steps are showing where we are headed. We are an amazing group of people who can absorb change, work hard and imagine big. It is hard to say all that we will be able to do, but I think we are heading this direction: deeper, sweeter and wider.
Our capacity to know God and teach others to follow Jesus is deepening. I think Jesus has spoken to us like he spoke to his first disciples, only metaphorically:
“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).
We are doing that. We are letting our nets down into the deep water of the Spirit. I am especially excited to see the budding fruit of two new developments. First, I hope you have heard about Gifts for Growing. We decided to gather our resources for getting from here to there spiritually and lay them out on a more cohesive track, starting with the first seeds of faith in “earth” and moving toward the deep waters of grace in “water.” The cells and Sunday meetings are still the main places where a person gets what they need to grow, but we are organizing our teachers to give us what they’ve got: exploring money, relationships, the Bible, spiritual disciplines and more. Second, Circle Counseling is growing. We’ve added five new counselors and a new building at 1226 S. Broad. The counselors will also add gifts to grow on. The Hallowood Institute Gwen is starting will undoubtedly share its wealth with us too.
We have kind of reached a tipping point of giftedness. Our fisherpeople, so to speak, are equipped with boats and nets and they bring up a lot to feed us from the deep water of the Spirit. That capacity is a great treasure to spend over the next ten years.
You can’t really go back and have do-overs on relationships, at least not in real time. The experience of community we have shared is irreplaceable, unrepeatably sweet. But like good long term relationships (like I have been blessed to experience with Gwen) community is sweeter as the years go by. In each other, we have tasted that the Lord is good. Peter tells us to get rid of what could be bitter and honor what is so sweet.
Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 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 (1 Peter 2:1-5).
I don’t know how we did it, for sure, but we ended up with sweet relationships that can span the whole region. The cells and teams are so often sweet places to be. They don’t feel like obligations, they seem like treasures. I am glad for that. The capacity to build and preserve authentic, covenant community is the thing we can lead with (like we said last week) when we present Jesus to the future. I can see us doing it in the quarterly compassion efforts from last year, in the restored covenant that has been proposed, in how the Cell Leader Coordinators take themselves and their cell leaders seriously, in the talk back from last night at South Broad and how we included the new people in the room. We are not sugary, but we are sweet.
Someone told me last week, as people sometimes do, that they forgot what they had in our community until they visited another version of the church (like ones some of the presidential candidates come from). We are blessed. No matter what bitterness the world serves us, we will form an alternative that tastes like Jesus in the next ten years.
This is the most exciting (and most frightening) place the Lord has us going in the next ten years: there may be twice as many of us. We are getting ready for those new people and the gifts they bring to the mix right now. I know God has opened up my heart wide to them. It’s like Paul says his heart was to those entering the first churches,
“As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses…; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, [everyone], and opened wide our hearts to you” (2 Cor 6:4…10).
A lot of churches at twenty years old are committed to preserving the good things they’ve got going. By the time they are forty they are perfecting their spiritual combover. We opted for a makeover. We have changed some element of most things we do — and some things (like Nate, Ben, Rachel and me!) are totally retooled. The pastors are “getting out there” meeting new people in new ways. Likewise, we have new events that give new ways for people to connect. The apprentice pastors agreed on a plan to take our Sunday meetings on the road into new areas of the region, so look for that very soon.
I think we should double our size before ten years is up, maybe long before. That’s not because bigger is better. It is because we have what people need. Our community can embrace them. And the world craves what we have.
I again watched most of the movies that are up for awards this year. I think most of them are some turn, dark or vengeful, on the myth of the hero. The world can’t help looking at itself telling itself stories about itself. Jesus manages to escape his own imprisonment in the monomyth again and again. We tell His older story well. I am delighted to offer a better hope than the tired tale the world keeps producing. It is great to see people come to know God as they meet a missional people – us, and so many other Jesus followers all over the world. They’ll get deeper, sweeter and wider with us.