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?

I’ll Bet You Won’t Guess #1 Way to Build Immune System


Dear friends with Ruby before her surgery

As the flu season approaches, we are going to hear a slough of ways we can avoid getting sick.  Use hand sanitizer…ALWAYS.  Sneeze the opposite direction of the crowds…got it.  Don’t lick the inside of a hotel bedspread…tempting, but I’ll resist.  It goes on and on and on. 

But today I stumbled onto an article a friend posted from that upended my sarcasm towards the sure-fire strategies of avoiding the flu.  I was upended because it was so true of the life I currently live.  

They argue that the #1 way to build your immune system is to be present in COMMUNITY. Here is what they say:

Research shows that the fewer human connections we have at home, at work, and in the community, the likelier we are to get sick, flood our brains with anxiety-causing chemicals, and live shorter lives than our more sociable peers. In one study, researchers who monitored 276 people between the ages of 18 and 55 found that those who had 6 or more connections were 4 times better at fighting off the viruses that cause colds than those with fewer friends.

What to do: Don’t let a jam-packed workday or hectic schedule get in the way of your friendships. Stop by a co-worker’s office for a quick Monday morning catch-up, or e-mail/text your friends at night to stay in touch when you’re too busy for phone calls.


Reflecting on our experience in Covenant Community (with NieuCommunities), I recently wrote this in our book Thin Places:

“God created men and women as communal creatures. In addition to being ontologically designed to be in union with the Creator, we were designed to be in communion with fellow humans and to the rest of the created order.” 

We are hardwired for community.  We can’t fully be human outside of it.  And when we are outside of it, we not only expose ourselves to physical illness, we expose ourselves to the illness of disconnection with God, others and creation. 

Let’s spend more time around the water cooler.  

Introducing “The Global Immersion Project”

Our Friends Milad, Manar and Neshan who live/serve in the West Bank

Answering our (Jan and I) calling to give a voice to those that don’t have one in Israel & Palestine and our vocation of developing leaders for mission, we are thrilled to announce the launch of The Global Immersion Project.  I co-founded the organization with my good friend and fellow Kingdom cultivator, Jer Swigart.  Our first Learning Community has completed 3+ months of preparation and are prepared to leave for Israel/Palestine later today!  Here is the snap shot intro (or you can just check out our website).

Purpose Statement

Cultivating difference-makers through immersion in global narratives

Mission Statement

Through diverse, global friendship-making, storytelling, and real-time living, the work of The Global Immersion Project is to develop difference-makers into people who tangibly live, love, and lead like Jesus.  We believe in the just impact, locally and globally, that USAmericans can make if we learn to live in the posture of a learner with God, ourselves, each other, and those who inhabit our global village.

What It Looks Like

We aren’t offering a Holy Land tour or even a short term missions trip.  Adopting the posture of the learner, we are offering a four month learning experience that shapes us into people who promote the Just Heart of God in the Way of Jesus.  The first three and half months deep dive us into the historical, theological and modern narratives that allow us to enter the narratives of our friends in Israel & Palestine as intelligent travelers who embody the narrative of Jesus.  Participants commit to navigating the experience in Learning Communities that are facilitated by Jon and Jer both in person and available through an online platform.  Our cultivation takes place in three phases: (1) understanding; (2) exposure & deeper understanding; and (3) resourced integration that is shaped around extenstive reading, documentary viewing, Scriptural exploration and the art of friendship-making.  Our goal is to develop practicing theologians who better engage their local and global village as one’s who live, love and lead like Jesus.  Go to our website for the detailed description, curriculum & theological affirmations that shape this experience.  

How To Participate 

To apply for the experience or to follow along in the real time stories, pictures and video’s from our time navigating the complex realities of Israel/Palestine, jump on board these platforms:




Following Jesus Calls For Much More Than Going to Church

I recently sat with a pastor friend of mine in the Bay Area who is seeking to radically reorient the life of his faith community away from viewing the church as merely a weekly gathering and towards daily life in neighborhood.  Strikingly insightful, he said, “I have found that we can live in our neighborhoods without ever actually living life within them.” 

There is much conversation swirling around the attractional versus missional church models. In short (and in what is inevitably an overgeneralization), attractional models pour their time and resources into worship services so as to create a place that non-believers will want to come and be exposed to the reality of Jesus. The church campus and/or gathering is the central place or hub to where others are drawn. In contrast, the missional church embraces the mission of God and God’s extension into humanity by moving outside the traditional church walls and into the lives of individual non-believers with the hope of introducing them to Jesus in their local context. As such, the focus is not on a central worship gathering, but on equipping believers who are sent to be good news to their neighbors, coworkers, and families.

For the sake of this conversation, we prefer the word extractional over the word attractional when speaking of the traditional (at least in reference to the last 100 years), worship-service-centered church structures. First, a missional community is also going to be attractional (albeit in ways much different from that of the former definition) as people are inherently wired for community and are enlivened by shared practices. Second, and most importantly, the traditional church is extractional in the sense that it extracts people from their local contexts to attend a church service and inadvertently teaches us that church is something you go to rather than someone you are in the places you inhabit. Many of these people have been taught that attending a church service and serving in it is the central act of our Christian vocation.

Not only is there potential for the extractional church to sell people short in their understanding of Christian vocation, but it also pulls them out of the contexts in which they live and often disconnects their contribution from their everyday context. Rather than extracting its participants from a place, a missional community is designed to equip its people within a context to enter the stories of those we live alongside. In doing so, we are able to meet people where they are and begin to create a viral movement of embedded followers of Christ who are transforming individuals, communities, neighborhoods, and cities through the power of Jesus.

Living out the submerging posture is the antithesis of the extractional model. When we submerge rather than trying to find ways to draw people into another world, we take it upon ourselves to draw close to our neighbors in contexts that are normative to them. The gospel as Jesus proclaimed it transcends our expectations for where it should be extended and has the potential to come to life in the mundane or unexpected realities of everyday life.

When we submerge, we resist the temptation to drive by the ugly or unglamorous realities of our local context. Instead, led by the power of the Spirit, we pour our time, energy, and heart into the often forgotten places and people with the hopes that the gospel of Jesus might be made real by transforming the realities that envelop us.

What would your church community look like if it poured more of its energy into submerging into the narratives of neighborhood than into programs that extract your community from life in their neighborhood(s)?  How might that free up the People of God to be Good News in their local contexts? 

Want to put flesh and blood to this idea?  Check out our Submerging video from the Thin Places Small Group Edition

Note: Much of this post is content from my book (with Rob Yackley) Thin Places published by The House Studio


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