missional

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!

 

When Good News Looks Like Something: 5 Ways to Engage Your Neighborhood

StreetFair3I love my neighborhood. It’s not that it is all that glamorous or cool or “safe” or whatever. It’s that it is full of people who actually want to experience some kind of community together. There is a building sense that we all have some skin in the game and that our thriving is somehow connected to the thriving of our neighbor. Whether talking with fellow parents at the park, young students at the dive bar or our friends in the local Mexican bakery, words like community, neighborhood and integration seem to be finding their way into our everyday vocabulary of conversation.

It’s not always been this way in Golden Hill.

It wasn’t too long ago that our neighborhood was known as “Heroin Hill” because of the drug presence and violent activities that regularly surrounded it.

Before that, it was known as the “Garbage Dump” because our numerous recovery homes would house societies “garbage.”

Well, there is a new narrative bubbling to the surface on our streets, storefronts and in our homes. It is a narrative of new life, renewed hope and a common vision for a shared future. 

Just two weeks ago, we had our second annual Golden Hill Street Fair. The same streets that have endured years of crime, segregation and hopelessness began to spring to life. This early Sunday morning, like a garden showing its first signs of germination, 25th street (which is right outside our front door) started sprouting to life as tent after tent took their place. Stages were being set up and the smell of a dozen different ethnic foods began to fill the air. The beer garden was taking shape as three local breweries brought out their finest, and resident volunteers were running a million miles a minute, the majority of whom had huge smiles on their faces.

The anticipation was palpable.

And then people started streaming in. By noon, there had probably already been about 5,000 people that had come through and by the end of the day, close to 20,000.

20,000 people. That’s more than our neighborhood’s total population.

IMG_6317I volunteered to work the event (with my 3 year old by my side watching Dora the Explorer and dancing to the mariachi bands) selling customized Golden Hill t-shirts. As the line grew with each passing hour, I realized something about my neighbors and the neighborhood we share. Golden Hill was receiving a new identity. No longer a place to be ashamed of or viewed only as a holding area until we could afford to live some place better, our neighbors were proud of our neighborhood. Not because our real estate values went up or because our crime levels had dropped, but because we were sensing the type of community humanity is designed for.

We were moving towards a common good together and that made the impossible seem possible. These types of spaces encourage the lonely widow to experience the joy of new life. They allow the single mother to realize they aren’t alone. They create space for isolated families to engage with one another and dream about shared life.  

For a number of years now, I have been apart of a community of about 30 people who all live in Golden Hill seeking to stumble towards Jesus together. We don’t have it all figured out, but we deeply care for our neighbors and our neighborhood in general. Between all of us, we have established hundreds of relationships within these 7 X 10 blocks. Over the course of the day, I saw nearly every person we have experienced life with over the years. From a distant acquaintance to a dear friend. From the liquor storeowner to my community league basketball buddy. From my farmer’s market colleagues, to local pastor friends.

Within each interaction, there was a common spark in our eyes. A spark of celebration of what has been unfolding and anticipation for what is to come. 

Having helped start our neighborhood Farmer’s Market a few years ago and now finishing my first full year on the board of our Neighborhood Council, my perspective on what is unfolding in my neighborhood is much different than at any other time in my life. These kinds of Kingdom moments don’t just happen randomly. They are not moments we can simply sit back and hope create themselves. No, these are sacred moments the Community of God is called to be right in the middle of.

Here are some ways we can begin to engage our neighborhoods redemptively and link arms with others for the common good:

1. Stop spending so much time at church

Before you walk me down the Plank ‘O Heresy, here me out. I’m not saying we stop gathering as the Church. No, no, no. What I am saying is that, 1. It is easy for Christians to think the best ministry happens at a church building. As a result, we get so busy going to a building (that usually is not in our neighborhood) to do ministry, that we don’t have any time to share life with those right outside our front door. In the words of my friend, Jer Swigart, “We can live in our neighborhoods without actually ever living life within it.” 2. See your neighborhood as your local parish. These are the people you have been called to live, love and lead alongside. Having hosted many formal church sponsored events in my day, I can’t tell you how freeing and transformative it was to help host an event that wasn’t put on by a church, but could be intimately engaged by the Church. People don’t know me as “Jon the Pastor,” but as Jon the dude who plays basketball in the rec center or Jon the guy who works at the farmers market or Jon on the Neighborhood Council. We don’t have to have a “Christian” title to do ministry. In fact, those titles can often be the greatest hindrance.

2. Identify the assets in your neighborhood

What does your neighborhood already have to offer that you can simply come alongside and support? We don’t need to start our own “Christian” version of things, we simply need to follow Jesus into the places he already is at work and join him there. What are the public spaces where your neighbors already gather? Join your local sports leagues, take your kids to the same park everyday, shop at the same businesses, build relationships at the local pub/bar/coffee shop, support the local church in your neighborhood (even if you don’t like the preaching or music or whatever), etc…

3. Connect with influencers in your neighborhood

Whether they are long time residents, business leaders, local politicians or artist, there are people who carry a lot of influence in your neighborhood. Seek them out and take them to coffee. You will be surprised at how thrilled they will be to hear of your common heart for your neighborhood and begin to form a collaborative relationship. They will give you access to people and systems that would take you years on your own.

4. Immerse yourself in the areas of brokenness

We are taught to only see either what is right in front of us or what is pleasing to the eye. If we are to follow Jesus into our neighborhoods, we must be agents of reconciliation. This means we have to intentionally walk off the beaten paths and see what is happening below the surface that is in need of healing. This may be a hidden population in your neighborhood who is either being oppressed/forgotten (whether intentionally or not), a political or economic injustice or a sociological reality like isolation, depression or workaholism. These must take a human face. Immersing isn’t simply identifying a problem, but entering into it redemptively (think Incarnation).

5. Contend for the broken to the point of restoration. 

Jesus followers are to live in the reality of Resurrection. Even though things may look impossible and the hope of New Creation far off, we must remain in the game even when things get tough. While things will not always end how we’d hope, we are to walk with people and systems with a vision for restoration. The Good Samaritan didn’t put a Band-Aid on the broken down pilgrim and walk away. No, he walked him, sacrificing his own good to the point of restoring the pilgrim back to community. This is where most of us want to jump ship, but this is where the world needs us most.

In the late 1800’s a poet had a vision for my neighborhood beyond what most could see at that time. It is a picture that lifts our site line from a broken past and gives us a glimpse of a hopeful future.

As the sun rolls down and is lost to sight,

Tinting the scene with its golden light,

The Islands dim and the fading shore,

The ebbing tide through our harbor door,

The drooping sails of an anchoring fleet,

The shadowy city at our feet,

With the Mountains’ proud peaks so lofty and still,

‘Tis a picture worth seeing, from Golden Hill.

 

Jesus’ Name is Alecia. Really??

Ruby and I were going for a long stroll as Janny put in one of her last long days of work before going on maternity leave.  Because I know that our time as a family of three is quickly coming to a close, I walked hand in hand with my little gal with a bit more sacredness.  

She stopped regularly to smell flowers, sang songs and was convinced it was Janny’s birthday, so she made sure to pick the perfect bouquet of flowers (most of which were just pretty weeds) to surprise her mom with when we got home. 
 
As we yet again stood on the sidewalk stalled by another “distraction” -- this time it was the plants growing out of the dirt in the cracks of the concrete -- I saw an older woman walking towards us with two shopping carts full of all sorts of useful contents.  Getting closer to us, I noticed that she had to push one about 20 yards and then walk all the way back to the other and pull it up even with the first.  This happened over and over and over.  It was her reality.  There was nothing strange about it to her, it was just one of life’s necessities.  
 
With Ruby still captivated by these mini-gardens sprouting from the concrete road, I said hello and we shared a smile.  Ruby then looked up and said hello as well.  Ruby and I were in no rush (clearly!!), so I asked if I could pull one of her carts for her as she slowly trod to her next destination.  She didn’t hesitate for a second as she nodded her head smiling. 
 
Ruby pushing her stroller, the women pushing a cart and I the other, we slowly moved down the streets of our shared neighborhood.  She didn’t speak English, but quickly asked if I spoke Spanish.  I knew enough tell her that I didn’t know it well, but would love to give it a shot.  As we walked, we stumbled through a conversation that ranged from what I do for work to how old her six kids are and where they live.  Ruby never seemed to flinch at the surprise interaction and remained focused on her newly important responsibility of pushing her stroller.  
 
Pulling in front of one our neighborhood coffee shops, I told the woman that Ruby and I were going to head in and I asked if she’d like a drink.  Extending a beautiful, almost transcendent smile, she shook her head and we began to part ways.  Mustering up my best Spanish skills, I asked her name and formerly introduced myself and Ruby.  Her name is Alecia. 
 
Alecia, Ruby and I all share a neighborhood.  In many ways, we share life together even if we don’t often realize it.  As Ruby and I sat in the coffee shop, I realized the significance of knowing our neighbors names.  For some, it is act of being known.  For others, it is an act of assigning dignity to one that may otherwise not have much offered to them based on their race or socio-economic reality.  It is what it means to see all people through a shared humanity.  A humanity illumined by the image of God resting within each one of us. 
 
It is sacred ground.  It is Kingdom ground.  It is learning the many names of Jesus that we choose to engage or ignore in our everyday coming and going.  
 
I started a note in my phone called “Names to Remember” after our interaction.  Because next time Jesus walks up to me with a one too many carts to push on his own, I want to be able to call him by name and celebrate our time together. 

Community as Sacrament: Part 1

A couple months ago I was sitting in the living room of one of the families apart of NieuCommunities here in Golden Hill listening to Rob Yackley describe the three values that shape much of the life and mission we seek to live into each day: Communion, Community and Commissioned.  Using the three circles to illustrate the way these values tangibly play out, Rob shared that communion with God informs the life of our community and community fuels our mission of being commissioned as Kingdom players in the everyday realities of our neighbors, city and world.  
 
Seeking also to resource missional leaders outside of our neighborhood, every few months we open up these “key conversations” to leaders across the country.  This was one such conversation and as Rob described the community circle, a dynamic leader within the Anglican tradition turned to me and whispered, “He is defining community as a sacrament.”  I have been wrestling with the implications of that statement ever since. 
 
Why does it matter?
 
Sacrament literally means “sign.”  In the context of Church history, sacraments are external signs of something sacred.  They are signs that point to God through the mediating presence of Jesus.  They are those traditions/experiences that continually remind us of the living reality of a God that has not abandoned us, but is radically present.  
 
We often hear, “Let’s take the sacraments together,” in reference to the bread and wine of Eucharist (or Communion for us modern Evangelicals).  The breaking of the bread and the drinking of the wine serve as a sign for what God has done in Jesus and what he will continue to do into the future.  
 
There’s the sacrament of baptism, which is a sign of ones’ alignment (some may say Resurrection) into new life in Jesus.  
 
There’s the sacrament of marriage, which is a sign of God’s covenant relationship with the People of God.  
 
But community; how does the sacrament of community play itself out?
 
Let’s go back to the circle diagram.  At every point on the outer edge of the community circle, the life of the community is exposed to their neighbors.  If the Body of Christ (given the name “Church” over the course of Christian tradition) is embodied in our faith communities, then they are to be a sign of what God has in mind for the world.  They are to be living reflections of restored and reconciled relationships and the embodiment of Good News in the world.  At its best, Christian community is a sacrament (sign) of God’s dream and at its worst, it is a hurdle to a world in need of the hope, restoration and reconciliation found in Jesus.
 
What Does That Look Like in Our Neighborhoods?
 
I recently got a phone call late on a Friday night from a neighbor of ours who is a recovering addict and was forced to move out of the neighborhood for a time.  He said, “I need to move back into the neighborhood.  It is my family.”  He went on to say, “I don’t fully understand it, but the life you guys live as a community had inspired me to follow Jesus again.  I can now see that I’ve been isolated and alone and if I’m going to turn back to Jesus then I need people like you in my life.”  
 
I was blown away.  It wasn’t one experience or event that our community put together that led him to this place, it was the ongoing presence of love and hospitality in the mundane of everyday life that brought this about.  Further, we would argue it was nothing we did that brought about this hope in our neighborhood.  Instead, it was our community being a sacrament (sign) to our neighbors of what the living Jesus is up to in the world.  
 
The flip side is that our communities have an equally powerful platform to show characteristics and signs that are anti-Jesus.  When we divide, become self-serving, fail to be present in the forgotten places or speak more than we listen, we can become a hinderance to how our neighbors see Jesus through the sacrament of community.  As a collective of broken, imperfect human beings, we will never get it right. But we can trust that as we submit to God, to one another and to our neighbors, the sign of the living Jesus will be revealed through Christ’s Body. 
 
Some questions
 
If my faith community were to cease to exists today, would my neighbors even notice?  If so, would they care? 
 

Are Christ’s characteristics and heart for the world reflected in the way we live as a community?  Do we love selflessly?  Do we care for the underserved?  Do we steward the land out of reverence for God’s Creation?   

Whether we like it or not, our faith communities offer some kind of sign to those who inhabit the contexts around us.  What does that sign look like?  It is a sign of God’s redemption and reconciliation or a sign of something quite the opposite?

May it be the former.  

There are few that have described what the Sacrament of Christian Community can look like better than German theologian, Jurgen Moltmann.  In the hopes of catalyzing a movement of Sacramental faith communities, I will turn to his insights in Part 2.  

Sometimes Good News Looks, Um…Weird.

This past week, one of the guys in our community noticed there was a San Diego wide Turkey Trot going down on Thanksgiving morning. It was then that he rallied our community in instigating our own neighborhood Turkey Trot clad in ridiculous outfits, homemade numbers and tons of laughs. Overnight we had 20 people participate and each person we jogged by on the streets of Golden Hill smiled and wanted to know more. It was an unexpected and unorthodox expression of good news. 

There is something sacred when people come together to simply be themselves in a neighborhood and begin to invite others into that. New life comes about, friendships deepen and a shared vision begins to come forth

Next year we will be posting flyers in our local coffee shops and markets to announce our 2nd Annual Golden Hill Turkey Trot 5k.  We plan on following the race with a neighborhood breakfast in our backyard. 
What are some ways you can create common spaces and practices for shared life within the natural calendar of events in your neighborhood?
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