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/


Evolving Missionality

I never really got the whole being “called” thing.  I got the part about the longings and the barberleanings toward vocational ministry, I just never connected preaching the gospel with living the gospel until much later in life.  I had a “called” experience when I was around ten years old.  It was clear, it was supernatural, and it was completely foreign to my life experience.  I had lived my young life neck deep in a typical, non-religious, red neck sort of way which disregarded sin and consequences.  Since it was what I knew it was what I lived.  The church, at least at that time, didn’t communicate well how to embrace the alternative life of living for Jesus, they just said to do it.

Upbringing and wiring sort of worked against me getting the whole thing of living and looking like someone who was called to pastoral ministry.  Still, whenever I was asked anything about what I wanted to do or to be I would usually reply that I wanted to be a pastor.  The response was most often a snicker or two, but that really didn’t matter.  I knew somehow deep inside of me that God had at one point in time communicated directly with my spirit and told me that I was to become a pastor.  When I finally began to connect that the Christian lifestyle was decidedly different from the one that I was leading I began to attempt to live like a Christian was supposed to live. I went to church, wore a tie, spoke more like the King James version of the Bible than some hick from the Colorado high country.  I was successful for extended periods of time, but most often it seemed that living correctly didn’t fit well.   Not only didn’t it fit but it also didn’t feel like the real thing.  From time to time in total frustration I would take off my Jesus suit and kick around in my regular clothes.  After a while I would feel guilt and shame and I would reluctantly put on my Jesus suit again and try to appear, at least from the outside, like someone who belonged in ministry.

A few years back I was looking over my life and was frustrated at the lack of mentorship in my life   No one really wanted to come along side of me and help me find the way.  Most of what I thought was acceptance was generally using me for what I had to offer with the promise of mentorship, but those promises never really materialized.  Once my usefulness was used up or there were other useful options I was discarded.  I resented that until I realized that my Jesus suit never really gave anyone access to the real me.

I finally, painfully, became a church pastor.  I had struck up a truce with my Jesus suit and even though it was obviously not a good fit I still wore it well enough to be accepted, at least in some circles.   I was trying to fit in with the religious crowd.  First and foremost I needed to find acceptance in the higher circles of denominational dominion, then I had to find religious folk who would allow me to be their pastor.  I managed to squeak through after several years of hard work.  My pastoral ministry hardly lasted a decade before I flamed out at high altitude, spinning out of control into the earth.  I shattered my dreams of fulfilling the “call” and effectively burned up my Jesus suit.  Now what to do with the rest of my life.

The religious folk that I had put so much trust in never even showed up at the crash site.  I staggered away and tried to piece together a life.  In that process I took up the simple art of barbering.  That was followed by owning my own shop, expanding into two that finally morphed back down into one.  I managed to do this wearing my own clothes.   I recognized Jesus suits when other people wore them and I kept that whole crew at a distance.  I loved Jesus a whole lot, but I really didn’t care much for His girlfriend.

Early into owning my own barber shop I found out that hurting people actually came to barber shops more than they came to churches.  I found myself just being there for so many broken men.  I comforted some after the loss of a wife, congratulated them on the birth of their babies.  We celebrated holidays while I gave some their very first haircut, and others their very last.  I even started praying from time to time over the men who sat in my 1940s era barber chair.

Life became simpler.  I was fathering a step son who eventually followed me into barbering and raising a toddler who thought (and thinks) his daddy is pretty cool.  I was learning for the first time in my life that I could trust my wife and that I didn’t have to be threatened by her.  I fell in love!  We shared meals with people we met, lifted a pint or two, and we shared how blessed we are to be allowed this life and how Jesus makes it all work for us.  Now my wife and I are awaiting our second child together and our entire goal is to raise that child to love Jesus with a crazy kind of love.

I have been following Chris Morton.  He doesn’t know me, but I read his stuff.  It isn’t polished super blog stuff.  It is gritty and real.  He isn’t a pastor of a big church, at least not the last time I checked.  He is working and living and leading a small group of Christ Followers.  He taught me recently that I have found my call.  I am now “missional”.  I guess what that means is that I live a real life, wear real clothes, am crazy in love with Jesus and I actually do care about the condition of the people around me; people that Christ died to save.  If you had asked me early on if I was “missional” I would have said yes, but my mission was to build church, not be Church.  I now realize that God isn’t looking so much for more super preachers, but is looking for barbers, bartenders, mechanics, roofers, and you, to live life simply with two (actually three) goals in mind;

1.  To love God with everything you’ve got

2. To love yourself

3.  To love your neighbor (think all of humanity) with the same sort of love

I don’t know if a more formal role is in my future.  I want to teach again in some fashion.  I want to help people discover vision, not just give them mine.   Perhaps there will be a congregation or maybe not.  I am sure that whatever I do with my future it will look a lot more casual than it used to.  I sent my Jesus suit out to the cleaners and never went back to pick it up.  I like being me, and I really like being me crazy in love with Jesus.  Yes, I even like being me and loving you like I love me.  It’s hard sometimes, but always worth the effort.