The Tablecloths Were a Disaster! (by Jason Brown)

Barragan Boys

Nathan and Brian

So, how do you be a church without owning any property?

I have no idea how I’d do it without coffee shops. I’m pretty sure the start of the recent church-planting movement in the U.S. coincided with the ubiquitizing of coffee shops (and perhaps the advent of the craft-beer brewing explosion). Do any of you want to run a statistical correlation on that?

Anyway, where was I heading with this blog?

Ahh, yes, being the church without buildings. It requires homes. It requires people who are willing to open up their homes. It requires people to play the time-consuming and thankless job of church janitor – without pay!

Tgiving Table 2

The Table Looking South

Opening your home is a big deal. It’s costly. It’s scary. It’s inviting people – sometimes people you don’t know – into your space, your world, your inner-circle. It’s also about the connection between faith and your real life – which is the connection Jesus has always been interested in making.

Last night, Rick and Diana opened their home to 51 of us (33 adults and 18 kids). They’ve been co-hosting our Open House since the beginning of the summer. Sometime last week, Diana had the brilliant idea of having a Thanksgiving Dinner for Open House. So, she got on the horn and called folks to bring pumpkin pie and potatoes and stuffing and canned cranberry blob.

We spilled. We got crumbs all over. The table cloths will need to go to some sort-of therapy for what was done to them. But, towards the end of the main course, all the grown-ups shared something they were thankful for. It was beautiful.

Tgiving Table 1

The Table Looking West

Then, came the pie. I was one of the lucky ones who managed to secure a slice of the chocolate pecan that Kaytie made. Afterwards we chatted in groups of 3’s and 4’s – which was so good because we’re all still getting to know each other.

Is this everything? No. But part of being the church in a culture that makes strangers of us all is learning to be a sort-of surrogate/alternative-family who eats Thanksgiving meals together, who welcomes others into our homes and who normalizes conversation about Jesus around the table.

Candy and Tortilla Soup – Bill White

I think Halloween should be retitled “National Church Planter’s Field Day” and find its way onto the Christian Calendar like Ash Wednesday or Advent. I mean, really, when else do neighbors go out on the street and actually talk to each other? Halloween is a miracle in American culture, and it needs to be celebrated!

The tortilla soup in transit to my house

The tortilla soup in transit to my house

For me personally, Halloween has become a parable of my life as an accidental church planter. Last year on Halloween, my friend Patsy said she was dropping off some soup at my house “for everyone.” When I got home from a meeting, I saw this enormous vat of tortilla soup, and immediately called Patsy to let her know it would take a month for my family to eat it all. “It’s for everyone, Bill,” she said. “You know, for your neighbors.”

“Right,” I mumbled. “Of course.” The thought had never occurred to me.

But what a riot Katy and I had last Halloween, passing out candy and tortilla soup.

Fast forward to last week. Patsy again makes tortilla soup and asks me if she can invite others over to help out. What am I going to say to that? (besides maybe, “the thought had never occurred to me, again,” which is just too embarrassing to admit).

Favorite costume: an Elephant Pirate Robot

Favorite costume: an Elephant Pirate Robot

Friday night, October 31, rolls around and the soup shows up. Then David and Jamie show up with about ten pounds of chips and cheese dip. Then the Garcias show up to help serve, then the Valdez’s show up to greet folks, then the Macias’s

show up with Ceviche, and someone else brings some cookies, and piles of candy show up from somewhere, and there’s Tamara serving up soup and Erykah helping clean up…

 

And that’s not to mention the neighbors who don’t go to City Church. A zillion spider men, cheerleaders, zombies, and robots joined the party – often a crowd of thirty or forty was hanging out on the sidewalk and front yard. A game of chess broke out, a play date got arranged, I think my friend David might have sold some car insurance, and a game of basketball started up. Not to mention a thousand other connections, neighbor to neighbor. Best Halloween ever!

Hanging out in the front yard

Hanging out in the front yard

Our New Youth Pastor – Bill White

We’d like to introduce our new youth pastor. He’s not that young. He’s 46. And he doesn’t have any training as a youth pastor. He’s not hip. He’s not particularly good with kids. He talks too much. He’s not a great listener. He doesn’t Snapchat. He’s made only 4 posts on Instagram and the majority of those were by his son. And he is a dinosaur who still uses email and Facebook.

Yep, it’s me.Youth

But take a look at those amazing teenagers in that picture and you’ll realize why I’m in the picture. These are great human beings, and God is doing an awesome work in each of their lives.

And thank goodness, I’m not the only youth pastor. There are half a dozen other folks who lead our younger kids, and a bunch more who care for our toddlers. It’s really a village mentality here – we’re all in the business of raising kids, whether we have them or not, whether they are ours or not, whether we’re good at it or not. As a church we’ve said, “These are our kids. We will love them.”

 

Is This Heaven? No, It’s Long Beach – Jason Brown

photo (17)

City Church and Northeast of the Well sharing a meal

We believe God wants to bring heaven to earth. In fact, this is what he might be most committed to. Jesus did tell us to ask God for this.

As we’ve gotten to know Long Beach, we’ve met lots of people, churches and organizations that are bringing a little heaven here – some of these people and organizations aren’t Christian (but that’s a statement for another blog!).

Recently, we’ve met a ministry called Northeast of the Well. They’ve been around for a few years but are brand new to Long Beach. Northeast of the Well ministers to men and women who have personally dealt with addiction, chronic abuse, incarceration or sex trafficking. It’s a rather remarkable group of people who lead this rather remarkable organization.

Anyway, last Wednesday, they let us be a part of the group they’re starting at the Little Brown Church in Long Beach. We cooked the meal, ate together, and then got to be a part of the Bible discussion after dinner. What an honor. We’re hoping they’ll continue to let us be a part of their Wednesday nights.

Rather than immediately starting a bunch of new ministries, our gameplan has been to discover the good things already going on in Long Beach and join the people or groups doing this good stuff.

If you’re interested in learning more about some of the organizations we’ve connected with or if you know of someone doing heavenly stuff in Long Beach, feel free to send me (Jason) an email: jason@citychurchlb.org

The Picture in this Blog Says It All (or most of it)

Trevor and Lisa

How could you not want to spend time with Trevor and Lisa?

One of the things we do on a weekly basis at City Church is Open Houses. What’s an Open House – well, we meet in homes to share a meal and have spiritual conversation. So far, it’s been a decent way of getting to know each other and beginning a spiritual journey.

Anyway, Trevor and Lisa started leading an Open House with another couple (Steve and Anita) on Thursday nights. They meet every other week and after the meal they talk about having better marriages. It was about six months ago that Trevor and Lisa first approached me to ask whether they might be able to do an Open House. Bill and I never asked them to lead an Open House, it was just something they wanted to do. “Of course!” I said.

Three weeks ago, they were getting ready for their first Open House. That week, Trevor was in class (he’s currently in college) and the subject turned to marriage. As one of his fellow classmates shared about the issues she was having in her relationship, a tiny thought crossed Trevor’s brain: “Show her the video.” The “video” was a two-minute intro to the marriage curriculum they were going to be using at their Open House. Trevor’s first response to that thought was, “I’m not showing her the video right now! You don’t do that in a class!” But, the thought kept coming.

Eventually, Trevor’s resistance wore thin so he asked the professor if he could show a short video about marriage. The professor said, “Sure.” Trevor pulled out his laptop, got online and showed the intro. Then he let his classmates know they were welcome to come to his house later that week for dinner and conversation about marriage. The woman who was talking about the challenges in her relationship took him up on the offer and came to the first Open House.

So, why share this story? Well, Trevor and Lisa are pretty ordinary folks who are trying to figure out how to give away what they’ve been given. In terms of their marriage, they screw up all the time. They say I’m sorry. They laugh a lot about the stupid things they do. They do a great job of enjoying and appreciating each other. They’ve just been married over a year and while they have a ton to learn, the truth is that they have a really neat relationship. They really do have some wisdom and love to share with others in this area.

Second, I think it’s great that Trevor took the risk of paying attention to that little thought that crossed his mind. He didn’t want to, but he did. In some ways, this is the key to growth and transformation – paying attention to those thoughts (which are often the voice of Jesus) and responding.

Family, on Retreat – Bill White

I’ve been on all kinds of retreats – men’s retreats, couples retreats, youth retreats, pastor retreats, etc. – and all of them have real value. But there’s just something about going on retreat as a family that makes it different. 3 kids with kidsFor one, family retreats are messy. There are screaming kids at meal time (and lots of other times), you’ve got to figure out how to bunk whole families together when there’s only a Men’s Cabin and a Women’s Cabin, and it can feel a bit daunting to have 13 year olds and grandmas in the same small group. And yet the beauty outweighs the chaos for me. Having a group of tweens, locked shoulder-to-shoulder, swaying to the music while teens are raising their hands in praise and a couple of adults are crying, all in the same worship service – that’s a rare sight. Letting the young people see healthy marriages modeled out in front of them, and seeing moms and dads picking up parenting skills from each other, and everyone just enjoying the enthusiasm and wonder of the 4 year olds – what gifts!

Kids in worship (left) and small group time (right)

Kids in worship (left) and small group time (right)

This weekend I found myself thinking often about how messy it must have been around Jesus twenty centuries ago.   People were bringing him babies to bless, and all kinds of folks were gathered around, including the sick and broken and possessed. No doubt, it was a bit like a family retreat.

Family Hike

Family Hike

Would Jesus Play Beer Pong? – Bill White

Take a close look at the picture. I thought of posting it on my FaceBook page and asking for captions, but then thought better of it.beer pong

Maria is a fun-loving, big-personality gal who lives next door to a family from City Church, just a few blocks from me. I had met her once before she texted me last week, saying that her neighbor thought I might have an extra table and some chairs she could use for her birthday party. It was an easy swap to make – church tables for an invite to dinner.

So Sunday night I show up at her house looking forward to the Taco Man, meeting a bunch of strangers, and a quick return home for the evening. So the birthday girl meets me at the side gate and just about falls over herself apologizing.

“O my God, O my God, the pastor is here!” is her opening line, her face a mixture of laughter and horror. “I’m so sorry – we’re using your table for Beer Pong!”

I’ll be honest, it’s been a while since I heard the term “Beer Pong.” My seminary education didn’t help me at that moment. Fortunately, my college education did.

I immediately assessed the situation, gazing across the backyard to where the City Church table was in full use, and I told Maria that our table and chairs are meant to be used by our neighbors and I was thrilled she had them.

As relief washed over her face, she introduced me to a bunch of folks and I was off towards the Taco Man and to eat with Nadia, Lenny, Minerva, Brian, and Astin. I had really interesting conversations, ranging from welding to real estate, from parenting to premarital counseling, from how Buddhist monk’s levitate to why Catholics feel guilty, from the meaning of baptism to whether Jesus would play Beer Pong.

Two hours later I’m headed home, stuffed with tacos and with gratitude for the great people I’ve just met and for a savior who loves parties and is not afraid to turn water into wine.