A Trip to the Flower Shop – Jason Brown

I was at the flower shop last week.

If I were a better husband, I’d be there more often! Em and I celebrated 15 years of marriage on April 1. It seemed like an occasion worthy of flowers. Em loves peonies. So I made a trip to the flower shop the day before to check if they had any. They didn’t. But the owner said she’d make a special trip to the market the next morning to get some. Neat.

I showed up early on April 1. The power was out at the flower shop. Apparently, the electric company cut something they shouldn’t have. The owner apologized and directed me to the nearest ATM – I didn’t have cash.

I returned. She asked me how many peonies I wanted. “By the way, they’re $7.50 per stem.” I didn’t have time to go back to the ATM!

She was wrapping up the flowers with some . . . I’m not sure what you call it . . . the added stuff that makes it look better. She was maintaining a brave face but confessed that the power being out was a bit of a bummer with it being Easter and all – one of her busiest seasons.

She put the tape on, “And it’s even harder because my business partner can’t help either.” Hmmm.

“Why’s that?”

“Well, my business partner is my husband and he’s got cancer.” Tears.

I walked around the counter and asked what kind. “Liver. Stage 4.”

“Can we pray?” No words, but a nod. I was nervous to pray the right things.

We prayed together for her husband, Paul, and she slipped another peony into the bundle.

The Crazies Are Coming For Dinner – Bill White

About ten weeks ago I wrote a blog about Alpha (a ten week class for people interested in the spiritual journey). Well, let me share some reflections on it.

First off, I feel a bit like an outsider in my own culture. Who in our country has 50 people over to their house for dinner every week? That’s just sort of odd. It takes a bit of set up, it makes a mess, and there’s a lot of screaming kids running around everywhere so it doesn’t feel real churchy (you know, solemn and reverent).

And then there’s the crowd that shows up. These are the crazies. (Hmm, I suppose there’s a reason they feel comfortable coming over to my house). I say crazies because even though most are from my neighborhood, they are from all over the map.

Dinner on Alpha in our home

Dinner on Alpha in our home

First off, virtually every week someone showed up that I’d never met before.   Their ages range from two months to about 70. There are folks who are chronically unemployed, underemployed, blue collar, and white collar. There are folks who are straight, gay, single, living together, married, separated, divorced, and remarried. There are folks with all kinds of national backgrounds – Haitian, Vietnamese, Dominican, Kenyan, Kuwaiti, Canadian, Cambodian, German, Mexican, Filipino, and Chinese, besides just your run of the mill African Americans, European Americans, and Latinos.

And then there’s my favorite form of diversity, the spiritual diversity. That’s the point of Alpha, anyway – to encourage everyone to go on the spiritual journey regardless of where they are at this point. We’ve got agnostics and Christians, the occasional atheist and anarchist, the ‘spiritualist,’ a fundamentalist, and a Southern Baptist woman who breaks out singing old spirituals every now and then over dessert. My Muslim friend keeps showing up and bringing other friends with him. One guy shared on his first night that one grandparent was a Buddhist, one was an atheist, one was a Mormon, and one was a Christian – and, for good reason, he just isn’t sure what he believes.

One of the things I love most about Jesus is that he enjoys hanging out with people like this. Everyone is welcome around him. Everyone gets to ask their questions and go on their own journey. Everyone gets to be loved and listened to. And, if you look at the stories about Jesus, you’ll see that he spends a lot of time eating with people. So I guess that means we’re in good company.

And besides being welcomed, everyone in the company of Jesus gets challenged. We get challenged to take one step closer to being honest about what’s really going on in our hearts and souls, to take one step away from the things that are killing us inside, and to take one step closer to him.

Just to Be Clear, We Haven’t Finally Figured IT Out – Jason Brown

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 2.18.50 PMThis is one of those cases where a picture is worth a thousand words.

“So, this is where our group finally got the Bible right.” Here’s the sad thing: I’ve actually had this thought before. I realize admitting this makes it hard for you to be my friend. It won’t be the last time you’ll have to show me grace.

Anyway, just so that you know, City Church has not cracked the code. We don’t have the Bible figured out. We barely know what it means to follow Jesus. And, even when we’ve understood what Jesus wants us to do, we have a remarkably difficult time doing it.

We do believe our mission is worth pursuing – helping people hear and respond to the voice of Jesus – but we also believe there are several communities (churches) that could help you learn how to do this.

Perhaps even better than us.

What Is My Job? – Bill White

Do you ever wonder what the role of the pastor is supposed to be? I do (maybe that’s just because it’s my job).

I’ve done a lot of schooling for this job, including getting what’s called a Master of Divinity degree, which means I get to tell my kids that I’ve mastered the divine. They laugh at me.

what_is_a_pastorBut my schooling didn’t necessarily help me figure out what I’m supposed to do. I learned some Greek and Hebrew, and how to give a good (hopefully) sermon. I studied a lot of leadership books and systematic theology (as if the study of God could ever really be systematized). These were helpful things, but I no longer think they are the main thing.

And my work in the church hasn’t helped that much. I learned tons about getting things done, gathering people, and running meetings and budgets. Again, really great things. But not the main thing.

And the people of the church don’t always help either. So often they just want me to give them answers. Just yesterday a grandmother texted me about how to respond to her grandson’s tough spiritual question. My response? “Love that question! What are you thinking about answering back?” Her response, “idk, thought I’d ask the expert.” I just don’t think being a religious expert is really what my job is.

But the biggest problem for defining my role as a pastor, isn’t out there. It’s in here. It’s me. I want to rescue, fix, and save. Perhaps some of those impulses in my heart are noble, but we all know that most of them aren’t. So when I define my role as CEO or Messiah, I miss the point again, and usually make a mess of things as well.

Over the past couple of years my approach to my job has changed as I’ve come to understand that my work as a pastor is nothing more than to help people hear and respond to God.

Yep, that’s it.

Eugene Peterson, one of my heroes of the faith because he’s kept the main thing the main thing, recently tweeted this: “[The role of the pastor is] to help people pay attention to God and respond appropriately.”

That’s just so hard. It’s hard because there’s so much pressure in our world to pay attention to everything else. It’s hard because people don’t really want to pay attention to God a lot of the time. It’s hard because I can barely pay attention to God myself, much less for others?

And it’s hard because the last thing anyone wants to do is actually respond appropriately. Now I like the word ‘respond’ because it’s so much more hip than the biblical word ‘obedience,’ but let’s be honest, it’s really obedience that we’re really talking about here. And who wants to obey anyone besides themselves?

And yet.

If you really listen to people, you can hear that hunger deep down, can’t you? It’s in there alright – that longing for closer connection with God, that desire for authentic relationships, that yearning for transformation. As the poet once wrote, “Deep calls to deep” (Ps 42:7). It’s the imago dei, obscured, broken and pushed down, but trying to break free and reconnect with the original Source of its reflection.

Although it’s faulty and fractured and it’s efforts are often weak and meandering, the soul still wants to hear from God. And that’s where the pastor comes in – not to speak for God. No, that’s not it. But to help the soul listen to God and respond. Like a midwife at a birthing, recognizing that the real thing going on here has very little to do with me at all – that’s my role. To hold a hand, to raise awareness of when things are really intensifying, to remind the soul to breath, to help discern when it’s really time to push, and, finally, to present to the weary soul the glorious fruit of her labor which I had no part in producing. So often that’s what hearing from God seems like, like labor. And yet the end result is so glorious. And as the midwife, I get to help from the second chair, watching with amazement every time it happens, every time someone hears and responds to God.

This Blog Might be Taking Up Valuable Space on the Interweb — Jason Brown

What is the church?Screen Shot 2015-02-12 at 10.45.40 AM

I know. It’s kind of a nerdy, definitely-not-interesting-or-worthy-of-the-time-it-takes-to-answer question for most of us. But, I was at a conference last week and the folks leading made us write down our answer and share it with a few others. I knew they were going to tell me I was out of a job once I shared my answer.

As it turns out, all of us struggled to answer the question – and nearly all of us are actually providing some leadership to churches! I suppose that’s scary and refreshing at the same time.

There’s really no place you can go to find the right answer. Jesus doesn’t answer the question. There’s no single verse that adequately functions as a definition of church. Beyond the Bible, lots of people have had lots of things to say about the church in the attempt to describe precisely what the church is. I get a little scared by those who KNOW they have the RIGHT answer.

So, here’s what I wrote down. Thought I’d share it with you.

The Church is the community in whom the Holy Spirit dwells who:

  • Are the caretakers of the true story of reality
  • Consciously apprentice themselves to Jesus
  • And gladly (mostly!) participate with God in the coming of his Kingdom on earth.

I’m pretty sure I’m missing a fair amount, but it’s a start.

What in the World is Alpha? – Bill White

About twenty years ago in England, a barrister (that’s their fancy name for a lawyer) named Nicky Gumble became a Christian and realized that churches were too stuffy and irrelevant for his secular friends that he wanted to invite. So he pulled together a group of non-churchy people and created the Alpha course, which has now run in over a hundred countries, attended by over twenty million people. It’s very simple, having just three components and one vision.

The components are this: First, serve food (everyone can agree that this is a good place to start). Second, present a brief message about the spiritual journey in language that everyone can understand. Third, let people discuss where they are at, their questions, and their perspectives in small groups. Pretty simple, right? And then there’s the overarching vision: to create a safe place where people can explore the Christian faith in a non-pressured, skeptic-friendly, and authentic way and where people can draw their own conclusions at their own pace.

Alpha at City Church runs for ten weeks and starts tonight at 6:15pm (Thursday January 22) in my home (click HERE for a map). After dinner, I’ll be speaking for less than 20 minutes about “How to Go on a Spiritual Journey” and then we’ll talk about it in groups. All kinds of people will be here. A number have already said they can’t make it tonight but will join in next week or the week after, which is fine (Alpha runs for 10 weeks and you can join any time). So if you are ready to go on the spiritual journey, come join us. Don’t hesitate to email me if you have any questions: bill@citychurch.org.  And feel free to check out the Alpha website here.