What I’ve Loved About Planting City Church in Long Beach – Jason Brown

OK, before I reveal the Top 10 list, a bit of honesty.

Here's the whole group of us on the retreat

Here’s the City Church Crew on our 2015 All-Church Retreat

The journey of being a pastor has been a pretty good gig for me. There are moments, though, where I have wondered if I should be doing this job.  As you can imagine, those moments coincide with difficult season of ministry and/or life – either feeling overwhelmed by the decisions that have to be made and the thought that I could make a bad choice which would negatively affect lots of people or relationships that just don’t seem to be working.

I don’t think that this is unique to being a pastor. My guess is that most of you can relate and that most of you who have been working awhile – even at jobs you really like – have considered leaving to do something else. So, just know that there have been a few of these moments over the three and half years of pastoring City Church.

With that being said . . . this is a blog about what I’ve loved!

The top 10 list:

  1. Planting a church with one of my best friends. Those of you who know Bill know that awkward is his middle name. But, he loves Jesus and is content to pastor with me. I know it’s cliché to say, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” But, it’s absolutely true. I never would have done it without this particular co-pastor. And, I think who Bill is has been a great complement to who I am. I hope most of the folks at City Church (and around Long Beach we’ve met) feel the same way. One of the things that has made this so great is that I’ve gotten to do it with Bill.
  2. The chance to shape a congregation around the person of Jesus. It’s strange. We didn’t set out to plant a church, so much as we set out to help people get connected to and grow with Jesus. That has made me happy.
  3. The unexpected gifts of people along the way. I didn’t know so many of the people I spend time with on a daily basis when we started City Church. It’s kind of that field-of-dreams reality of, “If you build it, they will come.” Folks just showed up at worship or at Open Houses or in coffee shops or baseball fields – and suddenly they get involved. And then a month later they’re leading something and we’re hanging out and we’re being the church together and I’m even getting my hair cut by one of them. And I think, “How did this happen?!” It’s incredible.
  4. Creating a community I was glad to invite all my non-churchy friends to be part of.
  5. I have loved the focus on baptism and communion at City Church. This has changed the way I think about what it means to be Christian. More and more, I think our unity is sacramental. By this, I mean that I view anyone who is baptized and takes communion as a brother or sister in Christ. We might see a ton of things differently, but neither one of us gets to play the bouncer in of the community. Also, I just find myself looking forward to communion every week and the concreteness of experiencing the love and grace of Jesus in the bread and the juice.
  6. The community of pastors and church-planters in Long Beach.  We are for each other.  Obviously, this is the way it should be with Christians and churches – but, sadly, it’s so often NOT the case. More often than not, churches and pastors are competing with each other. My experience in Long Beach has been so different. Bill and I have suggested to new people showing up that they check out other churches who might be closer to where they live. So many of the other pastors have done the same with City Church.  I know I’m gonna sound uber-cheesy, but there’s a lot of love between the pastors and leaders I’ve met in Long Beach. I think a ton of this is do to the work of PlantLB who brings us together every month to share a meal, listen to people who have interesting things to say and pray for each other.
  7. Beyond the community of churches are all the non-profits and community-minded folks and organizations in Long Beach. Wow. There is so much good stuff going on in Long Beach. I’ve had the privilege of getting connected to organizations like Precious Lamb and the Long Beach Rescue Mission and Northeast of the Well and We Love LB and New Hope Grief Support and His Little Feet and Beacon for Him and the amazing faculty and Principal at Lafayette Elementary. It has been my honor to get connected to these people and groups (and I apologize to those of you I’ve spent time with who I’ve failed to mention!) who are doing such a good job of loving the people in this city.
  8. The chance to try and fail. We’ve tried lots of things at City Church – some of them have worked and some of them haven’t.  So, we’ve just kept doing our best to pay attention to what the Spirit is saying and respond with courage and hope.
  9. The chance to lead a church in a way that honors my stage of life with my family. So many of our nights have been busy getting kids to and from stuff at school and sports. I’ve been able to coach baseball and soccer. And the lay leadership at City Church has not only been respectful of this but encouraging. Frankly, the baseball field and soccer pitch are pretty good spots for me to meet new friends and, just in being myself, help them take a step or two in getting connected to Jesus.
  10. The width and breadth of the people at City Church and in Long Beach. I suppose the traditional word for this is diversity. I have loved going to my “office” at Fox Coffee House and Starbucks on Willow and meeting people whose stories are so different from my own. I’ve loved watching the community at City Church grow and become a home for people of all colors and spiritual backgrounds. I can’t pinpoint all the reasons why the diversity of City Church and Long Beach is so meaningful. It just is. There’s something about it that feels right in the economy of the Kingdom of God. And, it’s something I will really miss.

A Goodbye – Jason Brown

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Easter 2016

I’m headed to Iowa.

Not for vacation (Secretly, very secretly, all of you have dreamed about vacationing in Iowa), but for a new job. And, it’s really not an “I” thing. Emilie, Joe, Jack and Pearl will be going. So, we’re headed to Iowa.

The biggest reason for the move is that Em and I wanted to be a bit closer to our family. I suppose it has to do with the stage of life we’re in – wanting the kind of support/camaraderie that comes from a relatively healthy family as your kids are making their way through school.  That sounds like a nice thing to us right now. And, fortunately, we have a family that’s not only willing, but glad to be part of our lives. They’ve missed us the last 10 years.

For me, too, there’s always been this interest in business. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I grew up wrapping coins in my grandpa’s bank on Saturday mornings. Since college, I’ve been curious about the intersection between faith and business. And, having mostly pastored people who have a “normal” job, there’s this lingering question, “What’s it like to follow Jesus in their world every day?” Well, now I get the chance to explore that question.  And now I get the chance to find out who I am when I don’t wear the title, “Pastor.”

Oh, I forgot to mention I’ll be working at a wealth management firm. Believe me, you don’t want me managing any of your wealth right now! I might be kind and honest, but it’s gonna take a few years for me to learn the ins and outs of the business – and fortunately the place I’m going is A)really glad I’ve been a pastor and B)committed to developing me so that I know what the heck I’m doing.  It’s a firm that stresses generosity and that wealth is a tool, not the goal.

While there’s some hope and excitement related to the move, there’s also plenty of sadness. One way to describe what you’re doing when you plant a church is this: you create the type of church you’d like to be part of – and hope lots of other people find a home there as well. I think that’s been the case at City Church. We are leaving a place that is home . . . where we’ve been loved, where we’ve dreamed and prayed with others and where we’ve learned to follow Jesus a bit better (hopefully!).

I suppose the thing I grieve most is the loss of relationships – the sense of knowing and being known. I think most of you “know” me – at least I feel that way. I think I know many of you. And, its just so good to have that deep sense of being known.  It comes with time: meals, laughter, tears, conversations, baseball, praying, texts, coffee, singing. And in the doing of these things you create a future. You don’t know you’re creating it, you just are. And, then that future is . . . well, different. And, that’s sad.

I’m going to write another blog about the things I’ve loved about City Church and being a pastor in Long Beach. But, this one’s already getting long.

Three Conversations in Two Days – Jason Brown

Conversation #1Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 9.08.43 AM
Last night, a friend of mine said, “I had to delete the Zillow app on my phone.” She said she had been obsessing over buying a new home and had come to a couple of realizations. The first was that when she did this, she was living in the future rather than the present and that, among other things, this created a sense of anxiety and discontentment. The second is that she really couldn’t stop visiting the Zillow app. Whenever she had free time, she would pull out her phone and look to see what had changed – had a house gone on the market? Had one of the houses she loved been sold?

My friend told me the official diagnosis for something like this: a “process addiction.”

So, she deleted it. (Then re-downloaded it and deleted it twice more.)

Conversation #2
Yesterday, another friend said she was taking two of her son’s classmates home from a school event. My friend was asking these kids questions she typically asked her own children.

Suddenly one of the classmates said, “Is this the way you talk to your son?”

My friend said, “What do you mean?”

The classmate said, “I mean, do you normally ask your son these questions?”

My friend said, “Yes.”

The classmate said, “My mom never asks me these questions. She is always on the phone. And my dad is always on his computer playing games.”

At that point, the other friend chimed in, “My mom is always on her phone or computer for her job. She only tells me what to do. She never just talks to me. And my dad is constantly on his phone or watching TV.”

Conversation #3
This morning another friend told me about this moment of clarity she had sometime last year. She said she was on her commute home from her job and doing what she was always doing – looking at her phone, opening apps to check to see what was new, then closing them. What she realized in that moment is:

a) This was a sort-of defense mechanism or distraction from paying attention to the things going on in her heart (soul?) that were causing her stress.

b) It was actually doing nothing to help her alleviate the stress.

P.S. Here’s an interesting VIDEO a friend sent me yesterday that speaks to the issues above.

What Kind of People Are Welcome Here – Bill White

At 7:04 am this morning a text message showed up from Maria. Maria is one txtof the new leaders at City Church, and she’s coming from a world where a lot of her  friends have suffered at the hands of Christians. Maria sent along the end of the conversation she’d just had with a friend after inviting her to church and to meet me and Jason:

Friend: what if I meet your pastor and I like him but I don’t trust him?

Maria: Well that’s probably gonna happen. How can you expect to trust anybody especially a pastor after what you have been through?

Friend: Hmmm… I guess you are right.

Maria: you absolutely have every right to be unsure. But I am glad you are thinking about it. That’s extremely courageous. My pastors are not assholes.

There are a few things that made me glad when I read this text:

  1. That God is still at work in this woman whose been hurt by the church, that she’s still asking spiritual questions and is still seeking something more.
  2. That there’s a Christian out there who is sensitive to the pain of others, who can affirm that they aren’t crazy for distrusting the church, and who sees the courage it takes to step into a spiritual community.
  3. That at least one person doesn’t think I’m an asshole

I’m reminded of how gentle Jesus was with those like this woman.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Jesus, from Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message

 

This Is a LONG Blog – Jason Brown

Screen Shot 2016-01-12 at 2.30.18 PMThere’s a little phrase at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount that seems completely benign – hardly worth noticing. Matthew writes, “Jesus went up the mountainside and sat down.” OK, so what?! Let’s move onto the Sermon! But, to those with a keen sense of Jewish history, this would have been like a pulsating neon sign: The New Moses is here!!!

What’s the big deal about the arrival of the New Moses? Well, Moses was the most important figure in the Old Testament. Why? Because he was at the center of the two most important “events” in Israel’s history. First, he was the one who received the law on Mt. Sinai – and this is what we’re reminded of in the verbal clue Matthew gives at the beginning of chapter 5. The phrase found in Exodus 19 and in Matthew 5 is exactly the same: “Moses/Jesus went up on the mountainside.” So, Matthew is saying (and I believe Jesus would agree) that the New Moses is here and he is about to give the New Law.

The second big thing Moses was part of is the Exodus. Moses led the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, through the Red Sea and into the promised land. The exodus was the defining moment in Jewish history. So, again, what Matthew practically screams is, “The New Moses is here and the New Exodus is about to happen!” It’s HUGE.

The phrase that opens the Sermon on the Mount is anything but benign. It is show-stopping, attention-grabbing, life-impacting news.

So, let’s think about the New Law and it’s relationship to Old Law. The new law is the teaching of Jesus – which he will lay out clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. One way of describing the relationship of the New Law to the Old Law is in this phrase that Jesus introduced, “You have heard it said ______, BUT I say to you ________.” Another way of describing the relationship is that the New Law is the fulfillment of the Old Law – it’s the thing the Old Law was pointing towards, moving towards, but never was. And it’s better.

One more quick story to illustrate the relationship of the Old and New law. When Jesus went up the mountain to be transfigured (another allusion to Moses), there were two other figures present with him – Moses and Elijah. Moses represents the Law and Elijah represents the Prophets. Peter, like a good Jew, says, “Let’s build three shelters – one for each of you.” In this sense, Peter seems to be putting Jesus on par with these two great figures in Israel’s history.

But, the voice of God intercedes, “This (Jesus) IS MY SON — listen TO HIM.” In my imagination, Peter looks at Moses and Elijah to see if he heard correctly and both Moses and Elijah are pointing to Jesus and mouthing silently, “Yep, listen to him — not us.” So, we prioritize the person and teaching of Jesus over everything else. The Bible is not at the center of our faith, Jesus is. 

Now, some thoughts on the New Exodus. When the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt they began to cry out to God for deliverance. God heard their prayers and rescued them. The Israelites were in roughly the same position when Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount as their ancestors were over a thousand years ago — under the thumb of an empire, heavily taxed, utterly non-self-governed (which was always particularly humiliating for the people of God). They were crying out for deliverance and they had the prophetic history which told them one even greater than Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) was going to come. This seemed like the perfect time for God to raise up the New Moses who would bring the New Exodus.

The New Moses did arrive . . . but he did not answer their prayers for deliverance. Jesus did not provide an exodus like that of Moses. The Romans weren’t displaced. So, what is the exodus Jesus provides? Well, it doesn’t seem to be primarily an exodus from others, but an exodus from the self. While our prayers are, “God, get me out of here!” and, “God, make them change!” (which are actually very good, reasonable prayers that God, in his love for us, does answer), the exodus Jesus brings in the Sermon on the Mount is in answer to a prayer I rarely have the courage to pray, “God, change me.” 

Matthew writes, “His disciples came to him and he began to teach them.” Could we do this? Travel up the mountain with Jesus and a few others, let him give us the New Law and follow him as he take us through the New Exodus. That’s the invitation we are issued at the start of the Sermon on the Mount.

The Gift of Disappointment – Bill White

This is probably not the blog you were hoping for this Christmas season. Sorry to disappoint you.

barren-treeBelow is one of the readings we did at the worship service this past Sunday. Each of the lines is adapted from the bible. These are the sorts of lines that make us squirm so we tend to skip over them, but Sunday we put them up on the screen for all to see.

We put them up there because maybe they are in the bible for a reason. Just perhaps you, like the rest of us, have a little disappointment in your own life. Or maybe a lot.

How long, O Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Why do you seem to permit darkness?

How long, O Lord, must we wait?

Am I born to die? Why is light given to those in misery, and life to our bitter souls? Must we live on sighs as well as food until our allotted months come to an end? Why is the grave or crematorium our only certainty? If there is more, why is it hidden?

How long, O Lord, must we wait?

My Lord, my Lord, why have you abandoned me? Why are you silent when I weep in the dark? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and have sorrow in heart? Are your promises hollow words? Where are your comforts? Did you forget me? Will you forget me forever?

How long, O Lord, must we wait?

My lungs gasp from all the breath I’ve wasted on prayer. Look at my weak and fragile body and answer, O Lord, my God. Rip out the rot in my heart and graft me to the tree of life. Give light to my eyes or I will sleep in death. Do not be far from me, for I feel the panting breath of darkness upon the back of my neck, and there is no one to help.

How long, O Lord, must we wait?

I wonder if there’s a strange gift in looking at our disappointment: the gift of realizing you’re not alone. Others – even (or especially?) the saints and greats of the bible – have walked this road before you. So you are not alone.

And it’s not just them. It’s also the Savior himself who cried out in disappointment.

What if, contrary to what so much organized religion says, the disappointment isn’t bad and it doesn’t need to be suppressed, exorcised, or even feared. What if we looked at it honestly, openly, and together – both with each other and with Jesus? We might actually find ourselves more whole and healthy this season. And more ready to receive our Savior.