golden hill

Pastoring in the New Parish

IMG_3448The longer we live in our neighborhood and enter into deeper relationships with a handful of the 13,000 people who live within the 10 X 7 blocks of Golden Hill, the more we become aware of the importance of the faithfulness of our little faith community in this place. We are discovering that the majority of our neighbors would never consider attending a traditional church (for a variety of reasons) and many others who have attended churches in the past have been deeply hurt, disillusioned or disconnected from the church communities of their past.

So is that it? Game over?

No, far from it. As we find ourselves invited (and inviting) deeper into the lives of our neighbors we are discovering it is just the beginning. Whether walking with women through pregnancy and supporting them in the intimacy of child birth or officiating weddings of those who wouldn’t otherwise have a “pastor” in their life or sitting on our patio with the war veteran enduring PTSD or checking in on the elderly man next door or sharing a meal with a friend in the park who doesn’t have a home or simply offering a warm greeting to those on our sidewalks, we are embracing the fact that our neighborhood is our parish and we are its pastors.

So, if we believe Jesus is the hope of the world and that the Church plays a role in God’s mission of reconciliation, then how might the Church express itself in a neighborhood like ours?

There must be a movement of us that rise up not to impose our beliefs on our neighbors, but to simply walk with them, care for them, encourage them in the realities of everyday life and empower them to live more fully into who they were created to be.

Doubts.

Loss.

Career transition.

Children.

Marriage.

Play.

Those who embrace this pastorate can’t reduce our congregants to those who come in our buildings once or twice a week. No, our congregants are the people we share life with everyday. There is a building movement of those who are retracing our pastoral roles back to the ancient idea of parish. The neighborhood (the physical place where we live, work and play) is the new parish and we are its pastors.

We have meals in our homes. We take care of each other’s children. We offer marriage support and counseling when they’re in need. When our neighbors are the most vulnerable, we hold space for them to experience the gift of simply being present. In those spaces, both the presence of Jesus and the presence of the Jesus Community is made real.

Further, in this pastorate of everyday relationship, we open ourselves up to be pastored by our neighbors. Genuine relationship doesn’t run one direction, it is an act of mutual submission that frees us to fully share and receive love…even if from the most unexpected people and places.

This isn’t a walking away from formal leadership in the Church, it’s our faithful act to fully embrace the pastoral vocation we have been called to live out each and everyday. 

It’s hard. It’s ambiguous. The metrics are difficult to calculate at times. The pain often outweighs the hope. We don’t get a platform or a microphone. Instead, we are given the gift of genuine relationship. Relationship where we are as formed as those we form.

In this pastorate, there will be no title that assumes leadership or authority. No, our only authority comes when we have fully submitted ourselves to our neighborhoods and lead with tangible acts of humble presence and long-term commitment.

I’m not saying the role of pastor in a “traditional” sense is bad or wrong or unnecessary. It is surely needed! What I am saying is that it’s time we expand our definition of pastor and begin to create tangible pathways for those of us called to this form of pastoring to be mobilized, equipped and sent to participate with God in the people and places far off the beaten path of most churches influence.  

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NOTE:

1. Our Thresholds Missional Community Cohort -- of which I’m on the leadership team -- is committed to the coaching, training and mobilizing of this very kind of pastor. A pastor who is leading embedded communities of faith and reconciliation.

2. My dear friends of the Parish Collective recently wrote a book that fills out the theological, historical and practical implications of taking seriously this form of pastorate. It is called The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community.

Owning Our Role in Gentrification & the Bible

IMG_7340What is the role of a community of faith in a gentrified or gentrifying neighborhood? Is what we see as good actually good for the whole population of a neighborhood? How do we become aware of those issues? How do we promote a common good of both the haves and have not’s?

In developing a biblical framework for the reality of gentrification, there are two themes that we see helpful in highlighting.  First, how we enter a place is as significant as how we end up living in it.  In other words, we can move into a neighborhood or city in the posture of the colonizing hero or we can enter it with humility and a willingness to embrace the already established ethos.  Second, and requiring we hold the first theme in radical tension, we are to live in neighborhoods as advocates of the Kingdom of God and with the hope of God’s reign being made manifest in this place.  

So how do we enter a place with humility as a learner, while still advocating for a hope found in the reality of the Kingdom of God that was inaugurated in Jesus?  

As the physical place where all three monotheistic religions share a common history, Hebron is one of the most volatile cities in the Middle East today.  Home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, Jews, Christians and Muslims are able to trace their roots back to their father, Abraham.  Today, there is a daily struggle for the acquisition of more land and better access to the cities’ religious sites to the point that land is being stolen from one another.  Rather than working with one another in common respect for the land, there is a posture of domination and acquisition that trumps their ability to celebrate a common bloodline.  

The irony of today’s struggle is that their father, Abraham, gives us one of the most important insights into how we are to enter into a neighborhood that is already inhabited.  After his wife Sarah died at the beginning of Genesis 23, Abraham enters a time of mourning and preparation for her burial in Hebron, which at the time was inhabited by the Hittites.  Having a significant reputation among the people, Abraham could have easily taken land for Sarah’s burial or assumed that it would be given to him.  Instead, he says, “I am a foreigner and stranger among you. Sell me some property for a burial site here so I can bury my dead” (23:4). Over the course of the narrative, he is offered the land multiple times for free, but Abraham insists on honoring the inhabitants by paying a fair price for the land.  

At a later point in Israel’s story, God’s people find themselves in exile under the heavy hand of Babylon.  They no longer inhabit their neighborhood and their understanding of a rightly ordered world is a distant dream.  Yet, despite it all, the prophet Jeremiah shares the word of Yahweh to his people in exile;

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” -- Jeremiah 29:5-7

It is here that we get a picture affirming our second theme that we are to be advocates and participants in the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom in the places we inhabit.  No matter how we land in our neighborhood, city or suburb, we are to seek the good of our place.  We are to embody and advocate for the reality of God’s reign because the good of our place will equal the good of our family.   

After hundreds of years, exile had become Israel’s primary reality when Jesus, their deliverer, finally arrives.   For Israel, the Messiah was to bring about three realities: 1. Restoration of the Davidic throne through military conquest, 2. Rebuilding of the Temple and 3. Reoccupation of the Holy Land.  While Jesus comes bringing a message of hope in announcing the reality of the Kingdom of God, such hope wasn’t always realized in the way they would have anticipated.  In fact, because Jesus didn’t bring about any of these three realities in the way Israel expected, the majority of God’s people considered Jesus a failed Messiah.  He had moved into the neighborhood of humanity with the hope of the Kingdom of God, but rather than establishing God’s reign through military conquest, he established it through suffering and selfless sacrifice.  For Jesus, the common good of the human neighborhood required that he make himself last in order for others to be first.  

While Jesus was viewed as a failed Messiah by the standards of the Jewish community of his day, we know that his upside down approach was actually the means through which the Kingdom was made manifest.  Jesus did have some “short term” wins throughout his ministry, but there was a longer-term impact he came to bring about that wasn’t as easy to see or measure. 

As we faithfully inhabit our neighborhoods with the hope of the Kingdom of God inaugurated in Jesus, maybe our goal isn’t to fix everything right now, but to seek a longer-term good.  In fact, what might look like failure in the short term could be the sowing of seeds that lead toward a long term good.  Maybe just being with the people in a neighborhood can offer a long-term good that transcends some of the short-term realities of gentrification.  Maybe moving towards a common good with our neighbors out of the tangible hope of God’s Kingdom reign will redeem some of our apparent short term “failures.”

If there is anything we have learned, it is that transformation is slow and often comes about in ways we would never have expected.  Such is the life of Jesus and such is life as a follower of Jesus.  While committing to find our hope in Jesus’ enthronement as King of the Kingdom, we live, love and lead in our neighborhoods with curiosity, humility and a listening ear that leads us towards a common heart and life with our neighbors. 

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NOTE: This is an excerpt from a chapter I contributed to a book published by The Urban Loft called Vespas, Cafes, Singlespeed Bikes and Urban Hipsters: Gentrification, Urban Mission, and Church Planting. 

When Immigration Takes a Human Face

goldenhillcafe1-300x199I recently looked out my front door and saw a woman sitting on the stairs of my patio. She was out of breath, sweaty and had a large basket next to her full of cans and plastic bottles to be recycled. She looked desperately in need of some rest and refreshment. I’m pretty good at ignoring people in need (sadly), but when they come to your physical doorstep, I couldn’t imagine not stepping outside to check on this woman. 

Opening our front door, she looked up at me with a bit of concern on her face thinking I might ask her to get off my patio. To calm her nerves, I simply sat down on the steps next to her and we exchanged warm smiles. Because she offered me a greeting in Spanish, I quickly realized she didn’t speak much English and I gave my best shot at speaking in Spanish. Over the next 10 minutes, we simply sat on my patio overlooking the main street of our neighborhood that runs in front of my house. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we just sat in comfortable silence. Her name was Conchetta. Finally, I asked if I could get her some food and a cold drink and she quickly said, “yes.” 

After taking in some needed nourishment, Conchetta, offered me a warm smile filled with the richness of humanity and gratitude, and leisurely went back to work assembling the best of our neighborhoods “trash” so she could bring some life to her family. 

Our faith community has spent a lot of time over the years becoming students of our neighborhood. As a result, we discovered that roughly 60% of our neighborhoods’ residents are Latino (most are Mexican because of our proximity to the border) and a high percentage of those are undocumented. In fact, it’s a safe assumption that my new friend, Conchetta, is undocumented.  

As the “immigration issue” continues to be discussed in our country, for me, it is becoming much less of a political talking point and much more about genuine, human relationship. They are my friends. They are my neighbors. They are humans beings who live with the same needs, desires and aspirations as the rest of us. They have kids, grandkids, parents, brothers and sisters. They are children of a God who reigns over a global kingdom. A kingdom that was inaugurated in a Jesus who spent his life crossing borders to tangibly love the outsider and remind them of their sacred identity as sons and daughters of the Father and citizens of his kingdom. In the context of relationship, like I now have with Conchetta, “they” become “us.” 

Obeying the greatest commandments of loving God and neighbor leaves my faith community and me with no choice but to pursue this issue with radical love and moral obligation. This isn’t yet another political debate to be waged in such a way that widens the partisan divide. It is a human reality with human implications that the Jesus Community must be waging peace right in the middle of.

May we walk with our friends -- whether immigrants, ex-convicts, orphans, etc. -- out of the shadows and into our homes, around our tables and begin co-creating a better future in the neighborhoods, cities and world in which we have each been entrusted.  

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NOTE: After reading this, I have had multiple people inquire about what they can do. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Build friendships. Friendship not only humanizes issues, it moves us to action.

2. The Evangelical Immigration Table is a great organization that offers resources, spiritual disciplines and tangible actions around a biblical view of immigration. 

3. Walk with your immigrant friends towards citizenship. There are courses we can take (offered by World Relief) that give us the credentials to offer immigration counseling that is desperately needed by those seeking citizenship.

Missional Community Cohort: Creating and Leading Embedded Communities of Faith and Reconciliation

ThresholdsCohortAs part of my new staff role with Thresholds, I’m thrilled to join a team of practitioners and teachers -- who have been living into their call to lead missional communities for decades -- in co-leading a brand new initiative to come alongside leaders all over the country who are forming/leading missional communities in a diverse set of contexts. 

We’ve found that the “missional movement” is growing rapidly, but there are very few opportunities to receive coaching and support from people that have actually “been in the game” for awhile. Spear-headed by my friend, mentor and co-author of Thin Places, Rob Yackley, and co-lead by a handful of us player-coaches, this will be a dynamic context for shared life, vocational partnership and tangible coaching. 

This will be a cohort format (10-15 people) based right in our homes here in Golden Hill. We will launch with our first intensive (2.5 days) on May 1st, so consider this your invitation! We are looking to finalize our cohort participants by mid-March.

GO HERE for all the info, but here are some details as a bit of a teaser… 

WHAT IS IT CALLED?

Missional Community Cohort: Creating and Leading Embedded Communities of Faith and Reconciliation

WHAT IS IT?

The Thresholds Missional Community Cohort is a 18-month collaborative journey created specifically to provide insight and direction for those who have just launched or who would like to launch a missional community.

WHY ARE WE OFFERING THIS?

The missional community movement is characterized by radical incarnation, deep neighborhood transformation, and the life-giving integration of our lives and faith.

The movement is growing rapidly around the world and more and more people are asking questions and exploring what it might mean in their own lives. But they are often without peers, a learning community, or experienced guides.

At Thresholds, we have been gifted with 12 years of experience creating and leading missional communities and we feel compelled to share that gift. Through experienced facilitators, tested teachings, personal coaching, on-going encouragement  new mental maps, sharpened missional skills and sustained spiritual practices, you will be equipped to create and live out a new way of being Church.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

• We will gather five times over 18 months on the ground in a host neighborhood.

• Each gathering will be two and a half days (Thursday evening to Saturday evening)

• At least one gathering per year will be in an off-site context (within the same region) with the other gatherings taking place in the host neighborhood.

• Each gathering will have a unique focus but also re-enforce each of the other essential elements.

• Between each gathering we will offer 1 all-cohort conference call and 1 personal coaching call.

• Cost: $1,800 (not including travel, lodging, or meals). Participants will be encouraged to contribute one-third of the cost, to ask their faith community to contribute one-third, and to ask someone who believes in them and their vision to contribute one-third.

• There will be readings and assigned tasks between each gather-ing designed to implement our learnings.

• Cohorts will be limited to 10-15 participants to enhance interaction and learning.

WHY A COHORT?

There are several reasons why we believe this is a transformative approach to forming communities:

• We can’t create community alone. We need a community to help us form a community.

• A cohort offers relational continuity, encouragement, and an opportunity to tackle the task holistically.

• The cohort offers targeted instruction that is both affordable and accessible. 

• We are inspired and richly informed through books, seminars, and conferences, but most of us need the sustained presence of experienced guides and a learning community to create a clear, comprehensive, actionable pathway forward.

STUDY CONTENT 

Each of our five face-to-face gatherings will engage the concepts and practices we’ve found to be critical in forming and stewarding a missional community. We will engage these topics academically, conversationally, and experientially in the context of homes and a neighborhood. And we will tackle them in a sequence that addresses the challenges that naturally unfold in this pursuit.

Five Sessions: 1. Becoming Sacrament, 2. Gathering Sojourners, 3. Life Together, 4. Inhabiting Place, 5. Sustaining Practices.

We are launching our first cohort in May and are inviting a handful for practitioners to join us for the ride. We are thinking it will be especially helpful for those either starting a missional community or those seeking to transition from a congregational model of church to a more neighborhood model.

Contact, Rob Yackley, at robertyackley@gmail.com if you’re interested!

 

Transition, Sending and the Eucharist

NCSendingIt was a bit of an emotional day for Janny and I yesterday as our dear friends, community mates and fellow NieuCommunities staff put together a “sending/blessing” time for us. If you haven’t yet heard, we are NOT moving out of our neighborhood and we are STILL leading our missional community (gathering regularly in our home), but with the increasing momentum of The Global Immersion Project and the invitation to come on staff with mentors and dear friends, Rob and Laurie Yackley (who now lead Thresholds), to coach missional leaders in our city and across the country, there is a necessary organizational transition under way. To learn more, go here

We sat with this handful of friends, mentors and colleagues who have given themselves fully to the work God has set before them in our neighborhood and in coaching developing leaders who have gone through our Apprenticeship. They have been our tribe. When we are with these people, we know they “get” us as they not only share the same deep commitments to King and Kingdom, but inspire us to go even deeper. 
 
We will continue to share a neighborhood, raise our children together, creatively navigate the material simplicity of the life we have all chosen and move together on mission. While we are so thankful for all of that, we will still mourn the days we aren’t sitting around the table with them as colleagues. Things won’t be bad, but they will be a bit different. 
 
Janny and I are moving forward with as much confidence and conviction as ever before in our lives and we are thrilled at the road that has been put before us, but we must allow the grieving to run its course. It is necessary, healthy and leaves us much to celebrate. 
 
As we shared a big breakfast together, each person shared silly stories and offered affirmations of what they have seen in us over the past 4(ish) years. Listening intently, it became clear that these have been the most formative years of our lives. It has been in this context and environment that we have most clearly discovered who we are and what we will contribute long term. It has challenged us, shaped us and refined us, but we have come alive and been given the gift of moving confidently into God’s call on our lives. 
 
Our organizational ethos doesn’t see an organizational move like ours as us “leaving,” but as us being faithful to be sent into what God has for us. While there is mourning, there is far more celebration. 
 
Having already been choked up numerous times, each of our colleagues read blessings over us they had written down. We then circled up, they laid hands on us and we shared Eucharist together rightly placing the crucified and risen Jesus at the center of the season that is to come. 
 
What a gift it has been. One of the blessings ended with these words from a liturgy we often use as a community:
 
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: Wherever he may send you;
 
May he guide you through the wilderness: Protect you through the storm:
 
May he bring you home rejoicing: At the wonders he has shown you:
 
May he bring home rejoicing: Once again into our doors.
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