My wife and I have the privilege of presiding over a wonderful expression of community located in the old downtown area of a mid sized city in the Northwest. It is nearly everything that I ever had a vision for in all the years that I have given myself over to visions. It is rewarding on personal, professional, and spiritual levels. I want to write a book, sell a million copies and spend winters in Hawaii, but I really cannot take credit for any of this. If anyone had given me instructional steps in order to arrive at this destination I would likely have never followed them. I am pretty sure that this wonderful place and community that has risen up has been orchestrated, without much help from me, by the loving and creative hand of the living and loving God.
To start with, my early experiences as a Christ Follower were in and through expressions of community. More specifically, I first became a Christ Follower when I spent time with a group of crazy in love with Jesus types who chose to live in the same place, sharing their lives with each other and the people they came in contact with. They loved me, lived out their faith openly, and eventually invited me to live with them. That is where I accepted Jesus and first learned what it meant to be His disciple. That experience is indelibly etched into every part of my mind.
While community is a major part of my spiritual DNA, I have not always cooperated with it. For years I allowed myself to be controlled by others desires. I wanted approval and acceptance. I had experienced it through community even before I became a part of community and I was hungry for that. Outside of community, and I suppose inside some, acceptance was based upon a level of performance. Rather than being a part of a living and vibrant community I allowed myself to be led through phase after phase of hoop jumping in order to receive what I craved. I had some success but it felt like I was performing rather than living inside the real. I left my barbarian roots and became domesticated, like a tiger trained to perform in the circus.
It has been said that a person cannot consistently behave in a manner inconsistent with who they are. I paced back and forth inside the cage of my domesticated Christian life and longed for the wild. Eventually I blew up my life. Nearly every person close enough to be in the blast zone chose to remove themselves to a safe distance. I stood willingly at ground zero and allowed myself, the person that I had become, to be blown to bits. With no one left to influence I embarked on a season of healing. My own toxicity was exposed and I was slowly being nursed back to health. I made some choices in the early days that were deliberately crafted to allow myself to be fully engaged and fully compliant to whatever God might have in store for my future. I gave up my commercial driving career and trained in the simple craft of cutting hair. After a couple of years of recovery, one in which I stayed mostly hidden from anyone I may have known before, my core DNA, my hunger for community that could only be sated by meaningful connection, began to emerge.
After a bit of time working with other barbers I opened my first barber shop. I opened it inside a sporting goods store appropriately named Mayberry, after the small town in the 60s TV sitcom, The Andy Griffith Show. It was the owner’s desire to create the same small town atmosphere that he grew up with. He sold a variety of goods from clothing to sportswear and from toys to fishing poles. He even had a soda fountain inside with inexpensive old fashioned milkshakes. With the addition of my barber shop his vision was complete. Now all that was needed was the community to begin to show up.
Inside my little corner shop I kept my head low and worked hard at becoming the best barber I could possibly be. Over time my old, affable personality began to surface. People began to come into the shop just to enjoy a visit as well as to get a haircut. My overhead was low, graciously low, so I was able to charge less than most of my competitors. That helped get the word out but there was something more that seemed to be drawing folk in. We were doing well inside the shop, outside, not so much. The store was big and open with high ceilings and a concrete floor. There were other places nearby that sold virtually everything that was offered and because of their longevity were often able to offer them for less money. The soda fountain was intended to be a break even business to draw people inside to shop, as was the barber shop, but people would come to the barber shop or sit at the soda fountain and often times did not purchase any store items. Things were tight for the store owners and their vision wasn’t panning out like they had hoped.
Things were going so well for us that we decided to expand our business. Since the store was unwilling to rent us any more space we ended up signing a five year lease on a 1200 square foot building in an old part of town. We moved in and decorated, added some additional rooms for treatment options and opened up a salon. It was a disastrous move. From the very beginning the people that we hired took advantage of our divided attention between the two business. Our staff began not showing up for appointments, helping themselves to products we purchased and using them to earn money at home, and simply pocketing cash payment and writing those appointment as no shows. It was my first time ever having to fire someone. I didn’t like it. It wasn’t fun, but it was necessary. Now I had a commercial building with a lease and no one to work inside. We closed the doors to the business and contemplated our next steps.
After having the new location closed for over a month I decided to reopen it as a second barber shop. I had a barber that had been working for me since the previous year and my stepson had graduated from beauty school and was working in the shop doing a great job. Since it seemed that everything was in place I did a little bit of redecorating and began to cut hair in the new place.
Things in the new place were painfully slow. I barely made overhead for the first couple of months. I was open four days per week and worked the other three days of the week in the old shop so that I could continue to pay rent and food at home. It was during a lull in the action at the old shop when the owner of the store took me aside. He told me their business was loosing too much money and that they would be closing the doors. I asked how much time did had before they closed the doors and he told me, “Three weeks”. In any other setting that would have been a death sentence for our business. Three weeks was not enough time to even find a suitable location, let alone set up, furnish, and let your clientele know about the move. Providentially we didn’t have to worry about that. What seemed to be an anchor on our moving forward now turned out to be a lifeboat!
Things began to pick up pretty soon after we moved full time into our new location. We had five times the room that we had previously and we moved around and tried different variations. Our goal and vision wasn’t just for a barber shop. That longing for community stuck deep inside my wife’s spirit and mine as well. We talked out and vision cast various ways in which to be missional in our community. We thought of ways to empower small group ministry using our facility. We thought of giving the open space over to youth ministry. We thought about opening a coffee shop and using that to reach out missionally to our community. All the time I was shifting and moving things around trying to find ways to best practices for reaching out and creating community. All the time I was trying to find the right thing to do, God was busy just doing.
Within one year of opening the new shop as a full time barber shop things were starting to pop. We never spent a dime on advertising. We just didn’t have it. Even without a marketing budget or strategy, people began to talk about our shop. People were giving us kind and encouraging reviews on the internet, making us the top reviewed shop on Yelp, Tripadvisor and Google. King 5, a Seattle TV news organization rated us number 5 in all of Western Washington the first year and number 8 the second. That was competing with shops in cities like Seattle, Tacoma, Olympia and Everett. One after another guys would come in to get their haircut for the first time. When asked how they heard about us they would often tell us that a friend, or a room mate, or a coworker had sent them. People talked about us in the community. Guys would notice other guys haircuts and ask where they got theirs done and they would send them our way. Business was growing.
I am not a businessman, I am a doer. My wife and I both love showing hospitality and I also love cutting hair. The craft as well as the interaction fires all the right neurons in my brain making it the most rewarding activity I had ever participated in. I am energized by the conversation and the connection between myself, the barbers that work with me, and the wonderful array of diverse men, and a few gals, who come and sit in our 100 year old barber chairs for some tonsorial ministry. It seems to be working. People come in and more come in each week. Now that talk isn’t just about the quality haircut, it is about the feel, the vibe, the sense of community they feel. Our latest configuration of the shop puts the barbering in a 300 square foot area in the back and makes about 800 square feet available for common areas. It is becoming a place where people like to be, a place where people connect with us and with each other. Somehow, in spite of my best efforts, community began to happen and it happens daily.
Back before I blew up my life, back when I was following what I knew was the call of God to become a pastor, I had a pretty clear vision of what being a pastor meant. It meant that you were the guy that stood in the front of the little box with the cross on top and taught people from the Bible. You met with them, listened to their problems and offered some Jesus ways to health and wholeness. It all looked pretty much like every other pastor I had ever seen. After the “big bang” I felt, and was told, that I was not longer qualified to be a pastor. That was ok with me. I loved Jesus a whole lot, but I was pretty well ticked off at his fiance and didn’t want much to do with her. Barbering was fine with me. The hours were more predictable, the customers much more agreeable, and the pay was better too.
Had you asked me at any given point while I was an official pastor what I wanted to accomplish, I would have given you the following list;
- I wanted to be a friend to sinners, perhaps influencing them to consider Christ for the first time
- I wanted to engage the newly converted, influencing them to become full on, crazy in love disciples of Christ
- I wanted to influence disciples to consider giving their lives over to the mission of Christ outside of the box
- I wanted to be influence by and influence the movers and shakers out doing the work.
During any given week I will spend 15 quality minutes with those who haven’t surrendered to Jesus. We talk about everything under the sun, establishing a base of trust. When the time is right, when the need is there, when the heart is soft, I point them toward Christ. I have prayed for the terminally ill in my barber chair. I held the weeping and grieving as they cried out their despair in that same chair. I have offered advices, direction, and a hundred different stories to the newly converted and seriously committed disciples of Christ. Interns and beginning vocational types have sat in my chair to receive prayer, encouragement, and perhaps an insidious thought or two sparking a hunger to perhaps think outside the box. I also get to spend the time with the leaders of more than a dozen churches ranging from 50 to 5,000 members. I make their hair look great and share what is on my heart. They share back and we are both encouraged or challenged. In all I would have to say that my regular congregation and visitors are so numerous that I have become more of a success as a pastor behind the chair than I ever had behind the pulpit. Church happens, ministry happens, and I don’t have to make it happen. I simply pick up my clippers and my comb and I jump right in to whatever God is doing on a given day. It is an amazing thing to take part in.
I used to tell people that no matter how far you stray, the center of God’s will is one decision away. I think about Israel in the desert. The followed the pillar of smoke or fire that was the Presence of God whenever and wherever it moved. Each and every day they walked outside of their tents and there was enough food for the day. It didn’t matter how much they gathered our how little, it was always enough and it spoiled if you tried to save any for the next day. Each day was a matter of trust. One decision, the decision to follow. I don’t know what the future holds for my family. An old neck injury has caused loss of feeling in my right hand and a great deal of pain on those busy days. My volume is down, but my spirits are up. We may look outside the tent one morning and see that the presence of God is moving. We are committed to follow this adventure until the chapter closes on our individual adventures and opens to the adventures of our children. We have had two precious little boys during our journey into this life we now live. We also have two grown children as well as a number of surrogate children who we offer love and share our lives with. We want to remain passionate about following God wherever He leads and joyful in wherever He stops. There are people out there to love. For now we have a community. It didn’t really seem possible to me at the beginning this is what was going to become, but it is an amazing thing to be a part of. I have great company on this journey. My wife, Angela, is the first one to make me believe I didn’t have to live my life they way others thought I should. She hitched up her wagon for the ride and makes sure that I am always looking beyond what is and into what might become. My boys are full of life and personality. They are both growing up in the barber shop, surrounded by the community of creation that is all around us. I hope that they will become to love God and love the people that God loved so much that He gave His one and only Son. I believe for them to be a gift to their generation. I will keep you posted as the journey continues.