Friday, 21 October 2011
Letter to the Village
I’ve been sitting at my desk for the past hour procrastinating writing this email. Most of you know that I’m not fond of writing. Putting words on paper is not the medium of choice when I want to communicate ideas. I would much rather have a well-prepared talk to present than to have to put forward my ideas in text. If you do receive some well-written e-mail or letter from me, it is because I’ve dictated it to my wife (who is one of the most amazing writers I know). Yesterday I was driving home from a meeting, and I was struck with the fact that I’m almost 40, and I can’t write more than a few ideas down on paper without freaking out. This e-mail is a repentance from that fear. If you didn’t already know, the Village is 10 years old. We started the church in June of 2001 in the back room of a Messianic Jewish church building. In July of that year we moved to Bethel Christian Reformed Church’s fellowship hall. Two years later we moved to the Muse (the old Lose YMCA building off of 4th Ave). A year and half later we would be forced to move again to another “back room.” Our Savior’s Lutheran Church offered us their very blue fellowship hall. We stayed at the Lutheran Church for almost three years before God provided us with the building we now reside in. To say the least, the Village has a nomadic DNA. That nomadic DNA is not just about where we have met over the years, but it also applies to the many people who have come and gone in our community. Our nomadic nature has changed a bit - now we have a place to worship - and many of you took my challenge to get married, buy homes, have babies, and plant gardens (Jeremiah 29). God has matured us as a church. God has matured me as a pastor. Over the past 10 years our community has seen God do a number of amazing things: many people have become followers of Jesus. Many of you are walking the path of healing from sexual abuse, and some of us have found a place to belong for the first time in our lives. As a church we have written over 30 songs to praise God, and created countless pieces of art to help us in our reflect on God. The food we serve after Vespers and at our amazing parties is legendary. In recent years, the focus on the Gospel and prayer has had a huge impact on me. Also, the emphasis on Lent has been instrumental in adding disciplines to my life that have been helpful in my marriage. Last year Sue and I decide to add something to our lives instead of taking something away for Lent. We started praying together every morning. When Lent was over, the discipline stuck, and we continue to pray together almost every morning. In those time of prayer, I have watch God change both of us and have seen countless numbers of answered prayers in other people’s lives. I love the Village. I love you guys, and I want to tell about the next step in our journey. But before I do that, I want to talk to you about the financial state of our community. One of my weaknesses as a leader is my aversion to talking about giving and money. I am keenly aware of the fact that a good chunk of the money given at the Village goes to pay my salary. This makes me a little uneasy to speak about giving, but I realized recently that this has left you un-shepherded when it comes to your finances. It is clear in the Old Testament that we are to give our wealth and the first fruits of what we produce to God (in those days that meant giving to the Tabernacle or Temple. See Lev 23:10-14). In the New Testament, Paul simplifies this message by stating that each week we should put aside whatever money God is asking us to and to do it joyfully. The idea here is simple – by putting aside money each time we are paid we acknowledge that God is our provider. When we give our money first before we spend it on anything else, we are taking a risk. We are acknowledging that we cannot control the future, and our hope is that God will provides for us. Over the 10 years of the Village exsistance, God has provided financially for us in some amazing ways: the CRC gave us $18,000 to get started and pay salaries; we have recieved support form multiple churches in the Phoenix area; a good number of Rod's and my friends have generously given to the Village; we were given $300,000 to buy a building; together we raised $75,000 to remodel that building; and the Village Community itself has continued to give to keep the ministry moving forward. As I write this, I am overwhelmed by how generous God has been to us. Over the past two years we have stressed the importance of financial responsibility as a sign of spiritual maturity. As a whole, we have moved in that direction. Last year the Village gave more than it ever has in its 10-year life span, and we ended the year in the black by $5,000. This year, while we are only $1,000 behind last year's giving as a community, we have run into some major external road blocks. First, Pastor James' support from outside the community dropped off drastically earlier this year. Second, the Village's outside support has also dropped considerably. At this point in time, we are struggling on a monthly basis to pay salaries. I say this not so you will feel compelled to "fix" the situation, but as a reminder that your giving is important. If you have not been giving at the Village or have given only sporadically, please prayerfully consider what God is asking of you in this area. I encourage you to give that amount or percentage on a regular basis before paying other bills and expenses. Trust God with the offering of your first fruits and see how He will provide for all your needs and how He will bless our community as a whole. Last night I dropped off the new Pilgrim Group/Monastic Community Bible Study book at the copy center. I am excited to see what God will do in and around our community as we follow Him into practicing Six Ways of kingdom life together and studying how these rhythms of life occur in the Bible, what they mean on a spiritual level and how they can be inherently missional. Here's what I hope it will look like: Once or twice a month, depending on the group, men, women, and the children connected to them will gather to eat, pray, talk, celebrate, and plan how they can reach their neighborhoods and friends with the gospel. These will be called our Monastic or Missional Communities. Supporting these little communities will be our smaller Pilgrim Groups which will consist of the same men and women meeting separately to be trained in the biblical philosophy of mission and to speak the gospel into each other’s lives. I would like to give you a picture of what might happen in each of these groups so that you know what to expect. First, in a Pilgrim Group, the Bible study that you will do has been designed to train you in the 6 Ways of a missionally monastic lifestyle. You will learn how to tell your own story and the stories of your friends and the culture and the Village. You will practice listening well to other people’s stories. You will pursue a biblical understanding of rest, celebration, eating, and blessing as well as how mission is connected to these natural rhythms of life and relationship. Also in your Pilgrim Group, you will receive further training on what we call the Hot Seat Model, where the group focuses on one person to listen to their struggles, helping them understand what Christ has to say to them, and praying for them. In Monastic Communities where the men, women, and children gather, we will spend time practicing the 6 Ways. In particular, we will spend time talking about the neighborhoods that we are present in as well as their stories. We’ll practice listening to each other and listening to what the Holy Spirit has to say about our particular mission. We’ll throw parties together and learn how to talk to our friends about celebration. We’ll practice what we’ve been learning in Pilgrim Groups and begin to offer it to the world around us. Finally, in both Pilgrim Groups and Monastic Communities, prayer will be a central focus. In particular, we’ll learn to listen to the Holy Spirit regarding what’s happening in our community and in the lives of our friends who don’t yet know Jesus and what He wants us to do. The vision for these Monastic Communities and Pilgrim Groups is that in the next 3-5 years, we would plant one or two new churches from them. If you join a Monastic Community, you need to understand that this won’t be your group forever. We intend to see each Community split into two or three groups after a year’s time because of their growth through transformed lives. Monastic Communities will be open groups. They will be permeable to new people coming in or just visiting. Pilgrim Groups will be open in a more restricted sense, or semi-permeable. They will be open to people who want to jump in and stay committed. My hope is that in five years, we will have planted a new Village on the south side and a new Village close to the U of A and that the Village at Cloverland will be bursting at the seams. I also know, however, that the Village is highly transitional and moves at a turtle’s pace. So please don’t be discouraged if startling things don’t happen overnight. But join me in pointing your turtle nose in the direction of mission and let’s enjoy the journey we are on together.