If you ever visit the apostolic edge of Circle of Hope, you might need a discerning set of eyes and a some gracious reactions for those you meet.
An apostle (like the Apostle Paul) is someone called and gifted to carry the news and life of Jesus into places it is not known. The apostolic edge is the boundary between known and unknown, present and next, content and compelled. We have people among us who are apostles. As a church, we have, as a whole, the gift and calling to keep pressing outward to meet the next generation of Jesus followers amassed on the edge of our cultivated spiritual territory. We even have a leadership team (the Church Planting Core Team) to keep us on that edge.
Our “apostolic edge” is the invisible boundary over which our community of love in Jesus crosses to enter the next place we are being led: the territories of unbelieving people, the places where our compassion is needed, the next era of thinking that needs our Truth. From our side looking out, that edge is soft, even inviting. But from the other side looking in it might feel sharp or frightening, even taboo — many people looking over it from the outside might see things that feel very distant from everything that seems normal to them.
For instance, Ben recently wrote the to the Covenant List and enthusiastically reiterated the Leadership Team’s list of things that make Circle of Hope unique — things they thought would make many people glad to connect, just like they feel. It is hard to see, from the inside looking out, why anyone would not cherish the things on their list, we are such a great thing God has made! — but it happens.
I don’t think they were just being self-congratulating when they came up with their list, just happy. You decide. Here’s what he shared:
“At the leadership Team Training last night I was so encouraged by all the things people were saying I whipped out my phone and furiously started thumb typing them. We were on a roll answering Nate Hulfish’s question: As far as your experience goes, what makes Circle of Hope unique compared to other churches and organizations? Here are as many responses as I could write down:
- Nate Hulfish. (We laughed, but it’s true!)
- There is a willingness to be vulnerable. (We are safe.)
- Everyone wants each other’s wholeness. (There is genuine concern and mutuality.)
- We are honest and not transactional. (We have a purpose and it is not my ego.)
- There is an uncanny lack of self interest.
- We are encouraged to live a life of worship. The rhythm of my day and the focus of my thoughts are in sync. It’s almost monastic.
- We receive transparency from our leaders.
- There is flexibility — not just wanting to do what’s next with the Spirit but relying on the Spirit for what will happen.
- I can have a knit together life. We have broken out of capitalist compartmentalizations.
- We trust that people will have a face to face conflict — not online, not behind my back.
- We are a real place of belonging — more home than what other home I’ve experienced.
- There is more grace than I know what to do with sometimes.
- I sense the purpose and joy of Jesus — a purity of heart that is not weird. I have a people to be that devoted with.
- The leaders are followable. (They are not too lofty — no inflated sense of importance at “the top”)
- There are so many leaders, along with a constant expectation of deploying the next leader.
- We have a rare sense of tribe with Jesus leading us. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves.
- We have the freedom to fail.
- Circle of Hope is what I was always looking for but never thought I’d find.”
I thank God for the great blessing of being part of an authentic, growing, expressive church!
A few days later, Megan and I were talking in the surreal, sunny-February atmosphere of Miel. Pleasant, Frenchified music played in the background as we wondered about what is happening on the apostolic edge of our mission. (Yes, that’s exactly what we talk about over little sandwiches).
We could think of many reasons why Trumped-down people would want to meet Jesus and his people (as in the great list above!). But we could also imagine a few good reasons why people would avoid us without more than a glance. If I could hear the script playing in those people’s minds, I think there would be several themes in what was being said about us:
- This feels way too close.
- Oh my, this is demanding. Not only am I singing, they expect me to feel things.
- These people are very ambitious. What a lot of work!
- I’ve got a feeling they expect me to be reading this blog post. They will probably be upset if I don’t read their email. Way too personal.
- I have heard three people tell a personal story. I hope they don’t call on me.
- Did they just say I should get therapy?
- Uh oh. Here comes the part about money.
- I’ve got a feeling they are going to sign me up any minute.
- Can everyone articulate exactly what they believe?
it goes on.
I am not trying to make the alt-list to the one the Leadership Team made. I just want to have sympathy for people who would read (or intuit) such a list and feel like they were running into it, like it was the edge of something, something to cross over. When it comes to faith, people stand at the door a long time, some of them, and inch their way over the threshold if they move at all, if they ever notice the threshold! Very few people hear a compelling speech or meet a compelling person and automatically change their direction. I do psychotherapy, so I know firsthand how incrementally people change when they feel desperate for change, and are paying good money to change! Our apostolic edge is crowded with people who are more ambivalent or paralyzed than antagonistic or indifferent. We should be patient, confident in what we have been given, but aware that people on the other side might not be aware of those gifts, yet — or even the possibility of them. We can make them aware, but we can’t rush their response. We need to remain confident, knowing that Jesus is knocking on their door, not just us. We can wait — he is.
One time a woman was honest enough to say to me, “I just want to go to church. You guys are just too much.” So she went to church. That’s going to happen and that is OK. That doesn’t mean we aren’t God’s gift to the Philadelphia region or we can’t be pleased with exactly who we have become. But that memory reminds me to be discerning and patient before I think people don’t like me because I follow Jesus, before I think they have rejected me because they don’t want to come to my meeting. Jesus loves them right where they are, and he is with them, helping them over the threshold into all the graces we are receiving, and maybe even into some meeting that will feel life-giving and not so uncomfortable in a year or so.