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.

My 3 Favorite Things about Baptisms – Bill White

City Church baptized 11 people Sunday – and what a great day it was. There’s a lot to celebrate, but here are my top three

Dorothy and Randy baptizing Donta

Dorothy and Randy baptizing Donta

things:

  1. The pastors don’t do all the baptizing. John 4:2 points out that it wasn’t Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. As a pastor, my biggest priority seeing disciples making disciples – and baptism is a picture of that. So yesterday Lucy and Alex baptized their three kids since they are the chief disciplers of their children. It was Donta’s teacher, Dorothy, who baptized him because she invited him to church and her family has invested in Donta week after week.
  2. There is new life for broken people. Nikkie baptized her husband Bobby, and there were lots of tears. That’s because she’s been praying for him for twenty years, and all that time she’s
    Bobby and Nikkie praying afterwards

    Bobby and Nikkie praying afterwards

    been dealing with his alcoholism and his dysfunction. And God is doing a brand new thing in his life. As Bobby went down under the chilly water’s of Mother’s Beach it was like his old self was being buried, and when he came up with a cheer it was like he’d been born into a new life in Christ.

  3. God loves kids. After Wendy baptized her little boy Garrison,he made it very clear that he wanted more of that water. But that’s not proper! is what I was thinking. But, fortunately, my copastor Jason was presiding and he said to Garrison, “That’s OK. Come on over and put your hands in the water – that’s your baptism water and it’s for you.” After a quick splash and Garrison’s huge smile (and a lot of chuckles in the congregation), it dawned on us all that Garrison had it right. He (and we) gets to touch, taste, and swim in the oceans of God’s favor and goodness.
Cheering after Alex baptized his son Nathan

Cheering after Alex baptized his son Nathan

Family Run, Family Fun, Family Mission – Bill White

Sometimes we think of focusing on family OR mission, right? Let’s serve at the rescue mission, but not during family time. We should separate the two out and keep our balance, right?

trot copyThis picture tells a different story. Forty-eight men, women and children from City Church headed to Hunting Beach on Thanksgiving morning to walk, run, and stroll in order to raise money to dig fresh water wells in the developing world.

I wasn’t there, but when I saw the picture later I was so thrilled – especially because of the kids. There’s just something that’s right about including kids on God’s mission. Instead of family OR mission, this is what it looks like to be family ON mission. The kids get included too.

When the kids get included, they start to develop their own giving muscle, they build their own serving muscle. Plus, all sorts of adults are bonding with other people’s kids along the way – it’s like an extended family get together. Which, of course, is exactly what the church has always been. There’s a reason the most common image in the bible for the church is family!

A special thank you to WorldHelp for sponsoring the event and doing great work around the world!!!  If you’d like to join them in their relief efforts, go to WorldHelp.net  (We partnered with them and gave our whole Thanksgiving offering to help Iraqi and Syrian refugees of the ISIS crisis, and we’d love to have you join in as well.)