Posts Tagged ‘ Church ’

I AM NOT A WRITER

So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything here on The Green Couch. And I think a light bulb just went off that helps me understand why. Ready?

I am not a writer.

I know, I am writing now. There was once a blank space here and now there are words but when I say “I am not a writer” what I mean is that I don’t get this urge deep down to puts things down on paper or save them to my hard disk.

I can write. And a lot of the things I do involve writing. As a pastor, I craft 3000 word messages week after week to share with my community. As a musician, I jot down lyrics that explain an emotion or idea that I want to share in a song. As a game designer, I have to write clear instruction so people I don’t know can figure out how to play my games.

So, I write but I am not a writer. It’s not in my blood in the same way as real writers. You know the kind I am talking about. The ones who would be happy to spend much of their lives in a small, quiet office massaging the keyboard in a way that every word becomes a part of a sentence that forms a paragraph that makes you gasp for air because of the beauty and truth in what is being shared. Yeah, that’s not me. That’s someone else.

Don’t think I am being overly hard on myself. I am okay with this discovery. I am not a writer. I write. And I can even write well if I put my mind to it. There have been many times when I wanted to see myself as a writer because writers are important. And who doesn’t want to feel important?

I’ve noticed that the times I do write are always connected with doing something that connects me to the people around me.

I write a sermon each week to connect with the people of much church. I hope that what I share adds value to their everyday lives and, in the long run, to our community. We have to do something when we get together, right?

I write songs to help me communicate things that are hard to communicate. But I also write songs because I get to record them or play them in front of people. Music is about creating an experience.

And that weird board game thing I’m into? Well, that’s about creating an experience, too; bringing people together in a real life situation, face to face, using their brains, having fun, and making memories.

I don’t write just to write. I write when it leads to bringing something new into the world. I write when I see an opportunity to connect. I write so I can do.

I’m not a writer. And that’s okay. I’ll keep writing because it’s what gets me to the life I want, to the life I feel called to. I’ll keep writing because if I don’t there will be many things I want to see in the world that never come to be. Writing is a tool. Writing is a gift. I am not a writer. Or at least that’s what I tell myself when I don’t feel like writing.

DWELLINGS DAY ONE

Yesterday was the big day! As I said during our first service yesterday, we didn’t become a church yesterday when we held our first public gathering. We became a church back in January when a group of people began to come together to follow God into the unknown to learn to love and serve the people around us in Flint, Michigan. The church is a people after all, right? Well, yesterday was significant because we gathered to enter into a weekly rhythmic of worship. It’s tough to find the words to describe something that is so meaningful. Especially when this something that you are trying to explain has been a dream that has been in the works for nearly 10 years. But I’ll try…

The one word that keeps coming to mind when I think about how our first service went is comfortable. From set up to tear down everything felt very natural. I didn’t feel the need to make anything happen. It didn’t seem hard. There was an excitement in the air because new things are, well, exciting, but I think  comfortable sums it up nicely.

Set Up and Music

When we showed up at 8a.m. in the morning to get everything set up everyone who was there chipped in without a ton of direction and just did what needed to be done. With the help of the Flint Local 432’s regular sound guy, Tim, the band got set up and was ready to go within 20 minutes. We decided last minute to project the words of the songs we were singing for worship (and the PowerPoint that went along with the sermon) on the wall to the left of the stage instead of on the giant screen that would have came down in front of the stage and obscured the players from the shoulders up. It was a last minute decision that didn’t occur to us at rehearsal a couple days earlier but when we showed up in the morning it was pretty obvious that it would be a great solution. I think the result was fantastic. First, it allowed the musicians who wanted to stand to stand without worrying about being cut in half by the screen. Secondly, and I think most importantly, the screen being off to the side changed the focal point of the people in the congregation. Folks looked toward the screen and I think it made it easier to focus on the words in order to collect ourselves in worship.

After we set up the band, we quickly put the chairs and tables in place and did a run through of the set list for the service. This gave our tech person, Sarah, a chance to run the the powerpoint and get her familiar with the songs. After the band wrapped up, another crew of people showed up to get the coffee brewing, set up the kids area, and pass out donuts to the bikers who were in town for the big Bikes on the Bricks festival Downtown.

Coffee

We bought a fancy new airpot brewer to make our coffee so Jay and I had to spend some time making sure we knew how to work  it and where we were going to store it but we managed to get some decent coffee made to offer our people. We have decided to use ceramic mugs and have someone take them home each week to run them through the dishwasher in order to cut down on waste. Lisa and I went to the Salvation Army last week and picked out a bunch of the most random mugs we could find. The mugs were a nice conversation piece for the morning. We joked that instead of having people who come and sit in the same pew week after week we’ll have people that live and die by the coffee mug that they drink from. We’re also working with a local coffee roaster who will be roasting fresh coffee beans for us each week so we will be supporting a local business and have great coffee to share with our people.

Kids

Since the space we are meeting in is essential one big room with a couple restrooms attached we are trying to figure out ways to have kids stay with us in the service that allows the adults to focus and participate in the service without having to worry about their children being a disruption. We decided to set up a table and some floor mats up off to one side of the room to give kids an area where they can draw, play with playdough, or do puzzles. A couple parents and Casey, one of our college student, sat down on the mats to play with the kids throughout the service. A few of the bigger kids passed headphones back and forth while watching a movie on a computer. The kids seemed to really enjoy the atmosphere and made themselves quite at home. During the service, the kids were amazing.  For nearly and hour and a half they hung out with us doing their thing. Hopefully they will enjoy themselves as much next week as we continue to explore different ways to engage them in what we are doing as a church. We’re thinking about getting a bunch of tambourines and shakers so they can dance and jam with us during musical worship. Lisa and I saw this done at TheStory in Sarnia and it was awesome to see the kids involved in worship. Besides we don’t currently have a percussionist, so what the heck, right?

Donuts

Since the big Bikes on the Bricks thing was going on Downtown we decided to find away to engage in what was already happening around us. So we ordered 8 dozen donuts from Donna’s Donuts and gave them away to bikers who were setting up for the day. We didn’t do this as a way to have an opportunity to invite them to church but just to tell them thanks for coming to the city. This seemed very organic. As soon as the donuts showed up, a bunch of our people paired up, grabbed some of the kids and went walking around on Saginaw Street passing out donuts. I think everybody had fun and it was a simple way to connect with our neighbors for the day.

The Service

By 10:20a.m. the rest of the folks who were joining us for the service had arrived. People mingled, drinking coffee and chatting until we got started at 10:30. The service was pretty simple. We started with a song and welcomed people to make themselves comfortable while we sang songs together in order to engage in the same activity together as a community and to quiet our hearts to focus on whatever God might have for us. We sang a couple more songs and Carrie came up to read from the Psalms. We played one more song and then Jay gave some brief announcements before moving into the sermon.

We decided that we wanted to invite people to be an active part of the service by asking some questions and giving some time to reflect by writing in community journals. I asked some simple, straightforward questions throughout the service to give the congregation an opportunity to share ideas out loud as we talked about the idea of “following”. We talked about the different ways of coming to know someone or something, different kinds of things people follow in our culture, and what is required of those who want to follow someone or something. People who wished to share simply chimed in with answers. I think this questioning seemed to help people stay engaged in the message. Then, toward the end of the message, I introduced the idea of the community journals. We bought some simple composition notebooks and pens and passed them out to people around the room. I explained that the idea behind the journals was to give people a way to process and wrestle with what we were talking about in a quiet reflective way. I instructed them to keep their entries anonymous and asked them to leave the books at church so they can grow with the community. Sometimes I’ll give specific prompts for people to respond to during our services but other times I won’t mention them at all. But the plan is to make them available week to week to be used however they help the church process; taking notes, writing prayers, drawing pictures, doodling, asking questions, etc. I gave a few prompts and gave folks a 5-7 minutes of quiet to jot down some thoughts. After the journaling, I gave a few closing remarks and closed the service with a video. After the benediction people sprung into action helping us get the space back into shape for the next punk rock show. Tear down was swift and organized. I think having been a part of the set up and tear down crew at Wildwind, our mother church, for so many years really helped the process to go smoothly.

The buzz in the air was thick, at least it was for me. I know that I’ve given a brief record of concrete details here and while that might give people an idea of what we did, it doesn’t really contain the feeling of the experience. It was a great morning. The people that were with us (which included our initial core team, some friends from Wildwind, and a handful of people who wanted to see what we were all about before deciding how/if they wanted to be involved in a more direct way) seemed to be engaged and I’ve since received a lot of positive feed back in the last 36 hours.

Several new people informed me that they would be back! Another person wrote and thanked me for making the experience comfortable for introverts and extroverts alike. And yet another person made a point to tell me how refreshing the service was and how the content has already provided them with opportunities to share some of the ideas they heard at Dwellings with people at their workplace. Good stuff is happening here. Stuff I couldn’t have planned. We’re just gonna show up and see what happens next, listen for what God is up to in our midst, and then show up again the next week…and the week after that…and the week after that. So good? Maybe you can join us sometime.

If you are interested in hearing my sermon (lo-fi) from Sunday you can do so here: http://www.dwellingsflint.com/sermons/follow-me/

Thanks for sharing in our story. Blessings.

 

DWELLINGS CHURCH @ FLINT LOCAL 432: WHAT IT DOES NOT MEAN

I made an exciting announcement on Facebook and Twitter last week about Dwellings, the church we’re planting, holding it’s services at Flint Local 432, an all ages music venue and art space that has existed in different forms in Downtown Flint for more than 25 years.While our first service doesn’t happen until September, I wanted to share a little bit about what this means for us as a church and also a little bit about what it DOES NOT mean.

Today, let’s talk about what it DOES NOT mean.

1. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 does not mean that Flint Local 432 endorses the worldview of Dwellings Church. Flint Local 432 is not a “Christian” venue. It’s a place that has always been host to a diverse body of people with varying worldviews and ideas.

2. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 does not mean that our church is only for the “young” and “hip”. If you are interested in checking out what we’re up to you are welcome no matter what year you were born or what kind of music your listen to.

3. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 does not represent all of who we are and what we do as a church. The church is a people. Wherever we gather, whether two friends meeting in a coffee shop or home, or serving together in the community, the church is represented by a rhythm of life together. Gathering on Sunday mornings is one of many different expressions of the church.

4. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 does not mean that we think we are “cooler” than other churches, it’s just the way we have decided to begin our journey. We hope that meeting in a non-traditional space for worship will allow us to have some refreshing dialogue about what it means to”be the church” and maybe remove some barriers that keep people away from exploring Christian spirituality.

5. Dwellings Church meeting at Flint Local 432 does not mean that everyone will understand what we are trying to do. We hope to respond with grace and peace to those who have different ideas about what is good and bad; appropriate and inappropriate. We aren’t interested in winning arguments as much as we are interested in having conversations. By the way, we don’t have it all figured out and won’t claim otherwise. We expect to learn a lot along the way, hopefully from unexpected sources!

I’ll be back soon to share a little bit about what makes this opportunity so exciting for our church community. I hope this gives you an idea of the kind of church Dwellings hopes to become. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Post comments and questions below.

LIFE LESSONS: JASON’S GREATEST HITS

As I’m preparing to begin the adventure that is becoming Dwellings Church, a new church community forming in Flint, Michigan, I am wrapping up my work at Wildwind Community Church. This month, I will be teaching the teens at Wildwind for the last time as their youth pastor.

My life with these kids has been so formative for me I wanted to make sure I could say thanks and leave them with a piece of me that will last. The best way I could think to do that was to present them with “Jason’s Greatest Hits”. I decided that for my last month of teaching I would revisit and present some of the biggest lessons I’ve come to learn on my own journey as a way to encourage them in theirs.

 

I thought I’d like to share those lessons here as well, just in a different way. Here are some brief thoughts that I’d to share with you:

1. You are more than what you do.

When meeting new people, the first thing I usually ask is “What do you do?” I think this is the case because our identities are wrapped up in our jobs, our interests, and our various affiliations…this is all stuff we “do”. Beyond the things  that we “do” we find that deep down, at our core, we are more than what we do. We are humans; loving, feeling, being. We are innately valuable with, and even without, all the stuff we usually define ourselves by. If my identity is wrapped up in my job and I fail, I will feel like a loser, or worthless. But if I know I am more than my mistakes and the things I do, I will see an opportunity to grow and learn. In knowing that we are loved by God for who we are, his beloved children, we find that our value isn’t reliant on what we do. Then, we’ll be free to do what we do from the knowledge that we are truly valuable and loved…no matter what.

Psalms 139:13-14 (NIV)
13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

2. Things in this world will try to steal your attention from celebrating the things that really matter. Don’t miss the party!

There is a lot going on in our busy world. And we all have our issues. For some it could be jealousy; for others it may be pride. In general, whenever we are too focused on ourselves we miss opportunities to celebrate the good taking place all around us.  If we learn to look at the world in a different way we’ll be able to see that God’s goodness is everywhere. And maybe when we start to see it “out there” it will be easier to see it “in here”.

John 9:39 (MSG)
39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

3. God is love. But we have our own ideas about what that kind of love looks like.

Out of all of Creation, God chose us as the focus of his love. In a world where statements like “I love Doritos” and “I love my family”  are built around the same key word, it can be easy to misunderstand the “love of God.”  I believe that God’s love is best represented in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. God’s son demonstrates his love through selflessness and sacrifice; presence and persistence. God’s love is a gift; something given, not forced. This gift of love when received calls for a response…my response is to reciprocate love in the best way I can. My truest self, yearns to know and love God, even despite my best efforts to get in my own way. This love is deep and lasting. I’m not always aware of it but I’m reminded often through the goodness surrounding me. I see this love in relationships; in the quiet spaces of life; in the beauty all around me.  I’m grateful to have begun the journey of recognizing this love that is deep and wide.

Ephesians 1:4 (MSG)
4 Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love.

4. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. When you do, you might just find out something about who you are!

I’ve written about this elsewhere but it bears repeating. We have a lot to learn about ourselves from places we might not expect. As John Ortberg says “If you want to walk on water, you’ve got to get out of the boat.” There are adventures to be had! You can handle more than you know! But if you don’t take that first step into the unknown you’ll miss the chance to find out what’s out there for you. I’m learning to trust that I’ll be okay if I just take that first step “out of the boat”. I hope you can learn that, too.

Matthew 14:29 (NIV)
29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

 What lessons have you learned in your life that might help others?

WHY PLANT A NEW CHURCH IN FLINT?

A few people have asked me why I have specifically chosen Flint, Michigan as the location to plant a new expression of church. Here are some cliff’s-notes-style thoughts to begin answering that question:

I live in Flint. It’s where I’ve put my roots down.

God is at work, right here in this place.

In a city, that is being identified by headlines that read “Most Dangerous City in America”, I see potential.

In this city, I see people yearning for something more and getting their hands dirty working towards resurrection and new life.

The people and places of this city have played a part in shaping me to become who I am today. It’s time for me to give of myself in a way that honors these contributions.

ROAD TRIP: THESTORY.CA

My wife and I took a trip to the Great White North (okay, it was really only a little north and a little east) to visit a church community in Sarnia, Ontario called TheStory. TheStory was founded about 6 years by a team of people that wanted to create a different expression of church for people interested in exploring the Gospel of Jesus in new ways. As Lisa and I are moving along in our own journey as church planters we wanted to connect with others who have gone before us.

Our friends and neighbors, Darryl and Laura Silvestri (Darryl founded TheStory along with his old youth pastor, Joe Manafo, and best friend from childhood, Nathan Colquhoun), invited us to their hometown to spend a day experiencing TheStory and talking about church planting with their core team. We had a great day and their rhythm of doing church really resonated with Lisa and I.

Community

TheStory meets in a storefront space in Downtown Sarnia. This area reminded me a bit of what Flint could look like a little further down the road. Their space was surrounded by coffee shops, thrifts stores, retail spaces, and restaurants. There were also a lot of vacant spaces but in general it seemed like they had located themselves in the heart of a community where people live and work all around them.

When approaching the door of the church a sign read “Sacred Space. Community Venue.”  TheStory’s building serves as a place of worship and as a multipurpose space that is made available to the community. Bands use the space for rehearsals. Families rent it out for special gatherings. They regularly host  art exhibitions and  other events as well. Two businesses are also run out of the space during the week; a woman creates specialty baby attire for her Etsy shop, and a print shop and design company called Storyboard Solutions is also housed in the building.

I love that the church space is utilized throughout the week and serves as a connecting point for the community and the church.

Comfort

Once we got passed the door we walked into an open, inviting space filled with thrift store couches and a few tables with chairs around them. The couches and tables focused around a large area rug where stools and instruments were set up along with a small laptop stand in front of a large whiteboard wall.  A kitchen was set up at the back of the room.

It felt more like a cafe or lounge than a typical church. It was very comfortable. My 2 and 1/2 year-old daughter loved the couches and made herself at home trying all of them out before choosing the pink one to plant our family on. My wife and I sat down and took in the room. It felt restful and we commented on the sense of warmth  the environment provided.

Creativity

Another standout at TheStory was the evidence of creativity all around us. From the art hanging on the walls to the choice in songs for worship, we witnessed a fresh expression of the Gospel. It seemed that great care was taken to tell the story of God in a way that connects with the culture. Near the entryway of the space hung three commissioned mixed-medium art pieces representing each of TheStory’s key values; Rooted. Tabled. Risked. Along the edges of the whiteboard wall hung several unique paintings representing the communities rules for group discussion as a reminder of the way they hope to engage with one another as a church body. Even the coat rack was beautiful, an art installation used to help illustrate an earlier teaching given at TheStory. We are a visual people and TheStory is working to connect this concept with the story they are telling.

Participation

We visited on the fourth Sunday of the month which is a day set aside for common prayer and liturgical reading in their rhythm of life together. The readings were lead by a layperson and the service included at least a dozen people up front. A handful of people led worship with music, the prayer leader led the liturgy, several community memebers read scripture, and members of the lead team led a time of prayer for their pastor who is preparing to go on a two-month sabbatical to recharge after 6 years of going strong.

During musical worship the song leader invited the children to come up front and grab the percussion instruments that were placed on the rug and jam along with the band from their seats. My daughter Claire was stoked to get to play with a cool shaker thing. It was a fantastic way to engage the young people in the service without making it a big deal.

Another compelling part of their weekly rhythm is that they have a potluck after every service. The entire community (about 60 people when I visited) has lunch together every week rather than running out to various restaurants! It seemed like people didn’t start to leave until an hour had passed. They obviously loved each other and valued their time together.

TheStory is a beautiful expression of the what God is up to in this world. The leadership has been working to contextualize what it means to follow Christ as a community of people in Sarnia, Ontario.

Spending a day with them was a very restful experience for my family. It is my hope hope that with our church plant project we will be able to continue to learn from TheStory and figure out what a new expression of church should look like in our own community.

 

A YOUNG REBEL JESUS, PART THREE

Click on the picture to listen to audio message.

The following is part three of a message given at Wildwind Community Church on January 29th, 2012.

Over the last couple months, I have been trying to figure out how to articulate the vision for our new church. And even with all of the unknowns involved in taking on an adventure like this, I think I’ve honed in on three things that will help to explain the kind of church we want to be.

But before I begin to explain these three things please know that our goal is not to do church better or more imaginative than Wildwind or other churches out there. A lot of the heart behind our church is to pass on much of “the Wildwind way”. It’s just that we feel called to do that in another context; the place where we live our lives.

Keeping that in mind, I want to share three ideas that will help to focus our efforts. What are those three things? We want to be a missional church, an incarnational church, and a discipling church. Let me unpack these a little.

Being a missional church means that we want to serve those who are not currently served by a church. We don’t simply want to gather a bunch of folks from other churches. We want to build a faith community of people who are not yet connected to a church. To me this is very similar to what Wildwind has done in being a church for people who don’t like church. Of course, we hope to have a core team of people that are passionate and committed to helping bring this expression of church into existence but Lisa and I have been talking a lot about the idea that we want to be missionaries to our own community. To us, this is what it means to be a missional church.

Being an incarnational church comes from the example of how Jesus came to dwell among us, where we live.

John 1:14 (NIV)
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Message translation says, “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” Here the Word refers to Jesus; the already-present-in-this-world, God-with-us Jesus. God moved into the neighborhood.

Being an incarnational church means being present to what God is already doing where we live. It means being a presence in my community. I live near Downtown in the College Cultural Neighborhood where is a renewed sense that the people who live where I live love their city and want to be involved in helping the city to thrive again. I believe that this is God at work. Lisa and I are seeing God at work in our own backyard and we want to be a part of that.

Being an incarnational church also means entering into the culture around us. There is a rich culture of art, music, creativity, and diversity in and around Downtown. It’s this sense of culture springing up in a place considered to be ugly and broken that initially made me fall in love with Flint. But we don’t simply want to consume this culture. We want to help contribute to the culture, creating culture and engaging in meaningful conversations pointing out those things that are good and beautiful and true that we believe ultimately come from God.

Being an incarnational church means listening to others in our neighborhood and helping connect their stories with God’s story. And it’s this connecting to God’s story that leads us to want to be a discipling church.

Being a discipling church is about helping the people we come into contact with to become more like Jesus in every area of their lives. It’s about helping people  learn the rhythms of life that Jesus lived. It’s about practicing a way of life that leads to hope and wholeness and peace and love and security in the arms of God.

There are people out there, who are a lot like the me I used to be, that are unfortunately, never going to walk through the doors of Wildwind Community Church.  I believe there are people out there who have something of their own “A Young Rebel Jesus” popping up in their lives, trying to get their attention, trying to give them a new picture of who Jesus is.

Paula D’Arcy said “God comes to you disguised as your life.” He did for me. He came disguised as a campy velvet-Jesus painting. And in conversations with friends over coffee. And in music. And in a beautiful woman who didn’t give up on me. And in a faithful couple who made some amazing sacrifices to build the kind of church that I’d want to be a part of. And in a community of people who have encouraged me to develop my gifts and gave me their blessing to follow my dream. As God has continued to show up in my life I can see where he wants me to go next and I am starting to see how he wants to use all of the experiences of my past for shaping my future.

But I have been talking a lot about me and my dream for this new church. And if it sounds like something you are interested in hearing more about I’d be glad to talk with you about it more in the coming months. But I don’t want this to be all about me. I hope that my story can help you look back on your own life and help you identify those places where God has been at work.

I hope that in the next few moments in worship, and even in the coming days and weeks, you will ask yourself the question “Based on where I’ve been and how God has been working in my life, where is he leading me next?” What are the key experiences that have shaped your life? How have they held you back? How are they urging you forward? What have these past experiences taught you about who you are? How has God been coming to you disguised as your life? If you don’t know where to look, grab on to whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable and start there. I hope that when you dig around a little, you’ll find that in your own story you can figure out a little bit about what God is up to.

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