Neighborhoods. Not Small Groups

The church I attend is attractional.  It is consumer. Finally, it is Mega.  They don’t seem to bham commbe satisfied with those limitations. That is one of the reasons that it is the church I attend. They aren’t satisfied.

Even if they aren’t satisfied, most of the decisions, effort and money go into perpetuating the attractional model.  It works and people get saved and some of them grow into functioning Christians who reproduce, usually after the atractional model.

We are really big on the small group thing.  Good idea, in my opinion.  One of the leadership types said, “We don’t want to be a church with small groups. We want to be a church of small groups!”  Props and kudos on all of that.  Still, it is based upon the attractional model which, like I said, is not bad and it works.

We hired a small group pastor. Some churches have a couple of full time, a few part time, and a few volunteers who try to recruit, train, equip and empower small groups to start.  The common model is to identify leaders inside the church, develop the concept of that  small group  to appeal to those inside the church, and then present the group to the church for attendance.  Again, this is all working.

I like the attractional model of church. I like going there and I like being there.  My church, like many others, have cool teachers who are exceptionally well equipped for teaching.  The music is great and the coffee is good. My kids love being in the well done kids programs.  Do you get it? I like attractional churches. I am a consumer at that level.

I also like the whole Jesus story a lot too.  I like it even more than I like church. I loved the way The Message has the phrase, “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”  That is what Jesus did. He became a flesh and blood man and moved into the neighborhood. That is what my attractional church is wanting to do too, but mostly they aren’t.  They hope that the small group model will do that, but mostly they don’t.  They want to move into the neighborhood but it eludes them. There is some success, some impact. They have enough success to feel like they are making progress but the overall impact on the neighborhood is minimal.  Of course they can’t do everything, but to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results is the definition of insanity. OK, that is way cliche and I apologize.

I don’t have the answer, or at least an answer that I have tried and proven.  Actually I have some grass roots success at being in and part of a neighborhood, but I already wrote that  blog. I am not talking about me, but I think that there are a lot of me out there who could be more if there was a different way to thinking about how we get into the neighborhood and what success in ministry means.  Read my blog, Unintentional Discipleship or The Community Phenomena if you want.  No worries. I am amazed that someone even read this one. Before I forget; thank you!

I have a suggestion that I would like to drop into the ears of a few of the movers and shakers that I know that lead from clear hearts and conscienceless from inside the attractional church.  I do so from time to time when they lend me their ears as well as their hair in a fifteen minute segment or two.  I ask, “Why don’t we make the next couple of pastoral hires into neighborhood pastors?”  Each church that attracts is made up of people from multiple neighborhoods and the only way for our pastors to make a difference in our current model is for them to come to us.  Why not draw up a plan, scheme plot and pray, develop a job description and a hiring criteria that would send a pastor into the neighborhood. The rubric of success would be impact in that geographical community.  Perhaps rather than convening small groups from inside the church to draw people inside the church, this staffer could draw people inside the church into the community in which they live.  Perhaps they would spread community, Christ community, into a place where there has been a void, and find that small group attending the big church for the great things that it has to offer. Small groups of neighbors, who would walk to each others house to get together rather than drive across town or across counties.   Get neighbors together who live inside the dynamics of a neighborhood.

I really don’t have an answer, but I do wonder about this.  Our city of Bellingham has several identifiable communities who actually self identify as well. They have names like the Lettered Streets, The Colombia Neighborhood and so on.  Perhaps instead of a small group pastor we could hire a Lettered Streets pastor.  The resources of the attractional church would be an incredible asset to an old fashioned, parish minded individual.  I think that the capitol C church would grow. I think the neighborhood church would grow, and I am certain that the attractional church would grow.  All their work would be done within walking distance.

This isn’t all my idea. There are others who are very local ministry, parish ministry minded. They usually seem to be at odds with the attractional church.  They don’t enjoy it like I do.  They only see what they see as bad in that model, not the good and even great value there. I would like to see a combination of the two ideas.  The influence of the church is waning.  That is because with too many people there is only a superficial relationship.  Rather than hiring the best and brightest to stand in the picture window of our church and beckon, “Come hither.” we could go there and point the way. If we want to invest in community then our traditional view of small groups is not the answer.  Neighborhoods are.  Just my opinion/


Community or Competition

vintage-photo-of-minneapolis-farmers-marketI did one of those Facebook games that revealed your most used words on Facebook. Fortunately for my wife, who is also a friend on Facebook, her name was one of the top used words, as was the word love and the names of my children. Whew, I was sweating that one!

Another word that was used a lot is the word community.  I have a lot of investment into the idea of community. It can be micro defined to indicate smaller subsections.  I want to use it in macro, to describe an entire way of thinking, of letting the thought of community influence and even dictate an approach to every day life.

On the other side of the spectrum is the word competition.  It didn’t show up at all on the Facebook game I played.  It can have several meanings, but the one I am looking at is the market way of thinking. Marketing, acquisition, competition!  Marketing operates under the assumption that there is a limited amount of resource available.  It assumes scarcity and uses fear of privation* to manipulate acquisition. Ruled by the marketing mindset one must compete, do whatever one is capable of to gather and store up this finite resource for yourself otherwise you will not have enough.  My abilities to gather and store make me better than someone who is not able to do the same. It takes no mind of what it takes away, only that it is yours by way of possession. It means that if I do not win then I lose, but for me to win then you must lose.

In a community mindset the assumption is that there is an abundance. There is enough to go around. Rather than scrambling to gather all that you can for yourself you are more inclined to share, help others gather, make sure that everyone has what they need.  Its OK, tomorrow there will be more. In the community way of thinking life slows down a bit. There seems to be more time to smell, to taste, and to savor living.  Our existence is no longer a race to some unseen finish line, but a tasty, meandering journey to be enjoyed for what it is.

Trying to live community in a market world takes work, intentionality, and determination.  A community minded person cannot force the market minded world to LOGO_BUYNOW_BLACKchange. They can only change their little corner of influence.  Sometimes community will be directly opposed by market, and often times market will win the battle, but the overall victor is still undecided.

I run my life internally under the principles of community.  My family and I invest ourselves into hospitality, extending the walls of our home out into the world, opening our lives to others.  We try to be generous givers, both of love and of substance.  We want to be even more generous. I understand that doing business in the market place has with it the inevitable contractual obligation.  It is what I have to do to pay my bills and enjoy the services of heat, lights, and others.

I run my business internally under the principles of community.  Rather than contracts, which state specific actions and restricts actions, we work under the idea of covenant.  Covenant is freedom and commitment all rolled into one big burrito!  As a community we covenant to work toward the good of the whole community. We share the resources rather than hoard them.  We do what we do to gather and know that there will always be enough and that there will be more tomorrow.

It isn’t that hard to do once there is some buy into the idea.  After all, that is what we all want. That is the kind of life Christ and the Apostles pointed to when they spoke of Kingdom.  It is hard to resist the temptation to assume scarcity.  It takes trust to believe that there will always be enough.  It makes us vulnerable. It takes a little while to begin to see that the heart really does resonate with being in and a part of a real community.

It is never easy, but sometimes people who buy into scarcity will attempt to take away from those who buy into abundance.  When that happens the temptation is to let them convince you that there really is a scarcity. Fear of loss can drive us away from love and community. That is why Jesus said to give to those who ask and not withhold.  His goal wasn’t to take away what we have,  but to show that your Heavenly Father cares and provides. All we have to do is believe enough to go and gather.

If you are able, we welcome you to explore living in community, both macro and micro, along side of us.  It is an experiment in being vulnerable and loving lavishly.  It is a reflection of what Kingdom living and Christ Following is all about.  It is also a great deal of fun, otherwise I probably wouldn’t be doing it.


noun: privation; plural noun: privations
  1. a state in which things that are essential for human well-being such as food and warmth are scarce or lacking.
    “years of rationing and privation”
    synonyms: deprivation, hardship, destitution, impoverishment, want, need, neediness, austerity

    “years of rationing and privation”
    antonyms: plenty, luxury
    • formal
      the loss or absence of a quality or attribute that is normally present.
      “cold is the privation of heat”

What is a Barbershop?

barber pole ferndaleWhat is a barbershop? Mind you, I am not referring to the little unisex hair place that hung a barber pole outside its door hoping to lure in a few men to round out their daily payroll, or a local salon.  I am talking about a barbershop. I am talking about the kind of place your grandpa went.  Hopefully your dad was lucky enough to spend time there as well. What is it that makes it that place special. What makes it a barbershop?

As intangible as it might seem there are qualities that make up a barbershop. For those who’s senses are attuned authenticity can be apparent in an instant.  You can often tell the moment you walk inside and are greeted by the smell of bay rum aftershave, barbicide and talc. Pause a moment , let your senses drink in the sound of conversations, some whispered some loud, and even some laughter. Clippers buzz, shears snip with their gentle click clicking and the pop of the drape shaken out as a new guest ascends the manly throne of tonsorial supremacy.

Each barbershop is different. While there may be replication there is always revelation. A barbershop, a real barbershop, cannot be duplicated. It is as different as  many children of the same parents. They may look similar, but each is a treasure chest of personality, special ability, strengths and weaknesses. They may sound similar, smell similar and look similar, but like snowflakes and faces, no two are exactly alike.

There are those who have tried, but once exact duplication takes place the intangible magic that is the barbershop disappears, the salon slowly creeps in. It covers, smothers, and takes over its host. What started as a living breathing example of classic Americana is quickly transformed into a franchises. No heart. No soul. Simply a gathering of automatons cutting off men’s hair to the end of payment, driven by volume, preying upon the next pour soul who is doomed to this purgatory or even hell only because no one has told them the good news;  man-topia is real, accessible, and they are welcome there.

What is a barbershop? It is like the old Celtic Monasteries. It is people gathered around mission. It is a reflection of the community around and in, presided over by a loving Abbot and cared for by tonsiary monks, apprentices and masters.  It is a gathering of all the folk from as far as the news will spread. It is nobleman and proletarian equal, as the floor is always level in the barbershop.  It is at its core hospitality, a depository of thought, and a dispensary of good will as well as good looks. What a barbershop really is, is community.

What is a barbershop? It is you. It is the sum total of all those who come in. Some  may take away more than they leave, and others may deposit extravagantly, but it is a mixture of all the men who come and engage, granting others a fifteen minute audience of their own unique value, allowing that to be blended into the pot of humanity that is The Barbershop.

What Makes it a Missional Outpost

Our little corner of the world, Yondersea Men’s Grooming and our cozy little apartment above we call the Sea Loft are more than just spaces for living and working.  To us they are an expression of our faith as Christ Followers and extensions of our desire to live life ‘on mission.’  We call them Missional Outposts.  I sort of stole the term and modified it from denominational history.  ;;

Since I hung that title and displayed it for everyone who cares to look, I thought I should explain what I think a missional outpost is or should be.  I am not an authority and this isn’t the ultimate truth. This is just what we experience.  The one thing I have to make perfectly clear; I did not plan this out.  It happened.  Maybe more believer stuff should just happen. Maybe it does.  That is the sort of stuff I like to be around.  Its cozy, warm, and human.  I have tried to do stuff in the past.  Good stuff motivated by good intentions.  Never really worked for me, so this organic, home grown type of believer stuff will have to do anyway.

To Be Missional meant we had to have a mission

Well duh?  OK, ours started out with a personal mission of being fiercely committed to loving God and loving folks (Mark 12:30-31) Believing that I was disqualified from ever serving in “a ministry” I was still committed to granting God full access to my life to use “in ministering” however He would choose.  Since recent events had eliminated all distractions like a house, a car, or a job, it was easy to change things up.  I chose to align my work life in such a way as it would allow maximum availability.  I chose a career path that was accessible, scalable, and portable. The training and licensing requirements were accessible.  It was something that I reasonable thought that I could do, and there was a universal demand for those services.

To be missional meant we needed to position ourselves on the frontier

One thing I struggled with for years is the thought that the best place for me to exercise my ministry gifts is inside the church, both the organization and the building.  Since that no longer seemed a possibility I took my gifts to the edge of the world of unbelief.  I applied my trade and allowed my gifts to flow through that to the people that trade brought into my presence.  I like the mission statement of Christ The King Community Church; To create an authentic Christian community that effectively reaches out to unchurched people with love, acceptance and forgiveness so that they may experience the joy of salvation and a purposeful life of discipleship.  They do that by attracting the unchurched to their place of doing ministry, and it is working.  We do that by going out into the marketplace and going to them and that seems to be working as well.

To be missional meant we needed to be self sustaining

Our mission is not something done in addition to our trade, our mission is the reason behind it.  No one was particularly interested in hiring a failed and divorced pastor to work in their church, nor was there any great clamor to throw money at the idea of being a missionary to America.  Not that I asked, I just assumed. Still, it worked out just fine being self supporting.  The results often take a long time to bring about.  All the while we still want to continue eating semi regular meals and sleeping indoors.    Our trade supports those habits and allows us to continue using our lives in service to Christ and leaves us to try whatever means we come up with to accomplish mission.

To be missional means we keep everything on the ground level.

Even in the most welcoming of churches there is a visible hierarchy.  Even the unchurched can see that pastors seem to occupy the higher seats, progressing down through the various servants, the regular to casual members, with the unchurched visitor being on the bottom.  Some churches do such a great job of hospitality and negate the negative perception of the hierarchy, but it is still there and obvious.  I think being missional takes away the hierarchy. Everyone who enters our missional outpost is on equal footing with those of us who provide our services. It feels safer that way.

Being missional means being committed to community.

Community is both relational as well as geographical.  Community consists of people in relationship, doing life together.  Being missional requires relationship.  It is not optional.  Access to lives is not assumed, it is earned.  Relationship grants us access to speak into hearts when the time is right.  We don;;t ever feel like we have to check off the “witnessing” box.  Relationship allows the time for hearts to open and allows events to unfold to speak Spirit words into.

Being missional, living life on mission and surrendering your life completely to mission is a hard choice in most cases. Like I  said, I had nothing left to loose.  It took that much for me to give myself over to this thing.  Like the Children of Israel in the wilderness we looked to God’s pillar of fire or smoke to lead us and we looked outside our tent and gathered enough manna just for the day. The flaps of our tents are open and welcoming to the wanderer. Our model is hospitality and our guiding principles are loving God and loving people.  It is working.

Simple Celt

kellsI am of Celtic stock. Both grandparents on my maternal side claim roots in Ireland. My father, who I never knew, was reportedly of Irish descent as well. I accept that I am, though generations removed from the emerald shores, Irish through and through.

While living well inside the boundaries of the United States, all things Irish are of interest to me. I like Smithwick’s, especially on tap. I enjoy Celtic music, dance, and dress. I even lapse, from time to time, into an authentically fake Irish brogue when talking about all things Irish.

It should then, come as no surprise that I became engaged and fascinated with the thought of Celtic Christianity. When I first heard the phrase used it sparked my imagination. It invoked green hued images of community and laughter, worship and celebration of both life and the Life Giver.  Here, knotted together with ornate twists and braids of gold, was the combination of two things I highly value, my Irish heritage and my Christian one as well.
As I began to research and delve into what others called Celtic Christianity I became disappointed.  More often than not I found that the term “Celtic Christianity” had been co-opted by many groups seeking to lend a sense of legitimacy to their particular bend in the Christian theme.  Some who wore the title used twisted genealogies of Papal succession to try to prove their primacy over the Church in Ireland or elsewhere.  It was also used as a Christian cloak to mask other intentions, sometimes fleshly and hedonistic, or at other times activistic, both the beneficial type as well as the other kind.

Still, there is a part of me that has clung to the image that I first had in my head of what Celtic Christianity should be.  Of course I have no rightful claim to the phrase, but one thing that my online research lead me discover was that there really is not a standard rubric for measuring what Celtic Christianity is or is not.  There were some reoccurring themes that seemed to ring true, or at least that I personally resonated with.  Some of these themes included a connection to stewarding of nature, a strong sense of community, the presence of Christ in the mundane living of life, and the celebration of all good things.  The early Christian Celts seemed to have a prayer for every activity, from washing cloths to worshiping together.  To them Christ seemed to be everywhere.  I liked that so I hung on to that.

About 12 years ago I was in a church planting class with Doug Murren. He was talking about the local parish. Parish wasn’t a term that he used, but it was something that he alluded to while he told us all of the model of Saint Patrick of Ireland.  I won’t bore you with my own retelling of the story of St. Patrick, there are many well written stories of Patrick’s capture, enslavement, conversion and deliverance on the web.  What I will share is the way Doug explained that Patrick did ministry.

When Patrick received permission from Rome for his mission to Ireland, he chose and personally trained a team of missionaries.  The previous model of missionary outreach was to follow the expansion of the Roman Empire.  The Romans would take over an area and begin to Romanize the people.  Once a people group or society had been sufficiently civilized through education by the Roman occupying force the church would send in missionaries to establish churches and teach Christianity.

Instead of doing ministry the tried and effective way it had always been done, Patrick, chose to stand that particular model on its ears and approach evangelism from a different sort of model, a parish model.  Ireland had not been conquered and “civilized” by the Roman Legion.  There was little to no infrastructure. The land was governed by tribal chiefs and warlords.  The language was difficult and somewhat guttural.   The isolated villages of the Irish countryside were rife with disease and subject to regular privation because of droughts, crop failures, and depleted soils.

Patrick instructed his missionaries to go into the villages.  They were to work on teaching modern farming techniques and improving sanitation.  They were to work on roads and commerce, animal husbandry.  They were instructed to earn their way in the community while improving the economy and lifestyle of their “parish” by improving trade and commerce.

It was only after three years of community involvement that the priests were allowed to finally build a church.  This effectively worked to evangelize the entire Island, ushering thousands of souls into the life saving experience of knowing Jesus.

Today it seems that we specialize in the Roman approach to planting churches.  We send in people with the intention of growing a church hoping the byproduct of that would be that we grow The Church.  We always seem to start with the gathering. Once we have enough people attending we begin to focus on the facility.  We move around and reorganize the church building blocks of formats, music, and program in order to reach the community hoping to influence life in that community from within the cloistered monastic walls, both physical and psychological, of the construct of church.

The Roman way of planting churches has worked for years, even centuries.  In the United States, countless thousands of souls have been saved because of the obedience of those who spread the church that way.  Now, 500 years after Europeans first landed in this country, our nation has changed.  It has become skeptical, and rightly so, of the imperialistic Roman model of bringing church and Christianity to the unchurched.  It worked so well for so long that it is hard to let go of.  I have seen it work and have had friends in ministry do well walking out their vision in the Roman way, but it makes me uneasy.  Perhaps I am a rebel, or a freak, or somewhat out of my time, but I long for something sustainable, that doesn’t look corporate or imperialistic.

Everything that has been invested in me over nearly 40 years of trying to be a Christ Follower has pointed me toward community.  I became a Christian co-living in a Christian community with others.  My heart and my mind always looks for and longs for that kind of connection.  I call it the Celtic Evangelism simply because I like it.  It resonates with me.  Some call it the New Parish.  I like that too.  The point is that it isn’t a way to grow a church, but it is the best way I can think of to grow The Church.  It will not likely become really popular because it is almost invisible from the outside. There are no big campaigns or buildings, no huge numbers to quantify success.  You cannot build an impressive resume by serving the community you live in.  You cannot make a comfortable salary as a paid minister in the Celtic way.  You might not ever have a “church” building in which to meet.  All these things may be missing, but the warmth of community, the satisfaction of shared vision and love for Jesus, and the victory of impacting people in a positive way for Christ will far outweigh all of the things lost by leaving the imperialistic mode in the dust of your bare feet as you walk steadily toward the cross, your neighbor by your side.