This is an attempt to briefly summarize where I’m at these days in the journey of church life.
Over the last few years I’ve been in a season of reconnecting with parts of myself that seemed to have been lost in prior seasons. Unsurprisingly, a key part of making this happen has been reconnecting with important people in my past. They’ve been like fragrance from God reminding me of treasured places. It feels like God is gathering up the pieces and parts of my life and putting them all together as a single picture.
Some examples of recent times – Last year I wanted to go visit my dad in Phoenix. He’s getting on in years and slowing down, and it seemed like the right thing to do. Combining that with the love of long distance motorcycle rides (my dad got me started riding motorcycles when I was 11), one thing led to another and I took a two week vacation to ride from Seattle down to Phoenix, stopping to see old friends along the way. I ended up spending several days in the So. Cal. area and reconnected with many 35-yr old friendships. I had attended college there and stayed into my early career – a total of 14 years. That’s such a pivotal time in life anyway, and boy was it ever for me. I had kept spotty connections with a few of these folks, but most I had not seen in decades. I’m guessing I connected with about 30-40 different people, some one-on-one, some couples, and some small groups of 5-7. I can’t believe how incredibly meaningful this trip was, I’ll remember it the rest of my life! I journaled my way through it and have photos of these people flipping through my computer screen saver, bringing smiles to my face every day.
Back in the Fall of ’19 I had decided to reconnect with the Vineyard church movement that I had spent so many years with (beginning in So. Cal., then later with my wife in Colorado). The Vineyard closest to me is in Seattle, which I didn’t know well, but it’s been great to make new friends there. Then last Oct’21 my wife and I went to Phx together to attend a national Vineyard conference, and once again I’m running into 35-yr old friendships.
All of this reconnecting has had an amazing restoration effect on my heart. It’s bringing me to some points of clarity on my life purposes with respect to this journey with God and people. Here’s a brief review of my faith journey:
I first came to faith in Jesus as a highschool kid in the context of home gatherings sponsored by a Christian organization called Young Life. On Wednesday nights a bunch of kids from my school, and a few adults, would meet in someone’s house to hear stories from the Bible and have fun with various skits and games. It moved around to different houses over the months. I went off to a weekend camp with a bunch of them and learned how to have an honest conversation with God and give him my heart – I couldn’t believe how available he was! Then, in addition to Wednesday nights there was a smaller Thursday night gang for kids like me just getting started in this new relationship with God. “Older” kids (all of 2 years) farther along in this journey would spend time with the newer folks and help us along. We would also meet up with friends in some of the local traditional “church” settings on Sunday mornings or other times. The main “glue” keeping me on a good path was God using important relationships from the home gatherings, people who knew him better, to draw me into himself. Since the beginning of my journey, being a follower of Jesus means being someone seeking to find him in the everyday circles of life and relationships. And meeting “organically” in small groups, mostly home-based, is a core aspect of church life embedded in my spiritual DNA. I love the large gatherings too, but the connections at “home base” is what keeps it all together.
In the college years I was drawn to a group of fellow believers (another Christian organization now called “Cru”) that also met in homes, dorm rooms, and facilities on campus. There were the occasional large gatherings across multiple colleges and states. And this is when I began to invest in the more traditional church settings. Over the next couple decades I would help to start and grow several traditional churches, continuing to emphasize small/home gatherings. About a dozen of those years were with the Vineyard churches, and some with my wife in the early years of our marriage (which is coming up on 30 years). Over these years there were a couple encounters of great heartache and confusion when aspects of the “business” side of the traditional church were elevated above relationships. People got hurt, sometimes badly, from relational violations. Once such incident happened in the early years of our marriage. It was especially after watching the pain my wife experienced that I realized I needed to take a break from the traditional model and understand why these incidents were happening.
I kinda went back to my roots and over the next two decades we poured ourselves into organic church gatherings outside of the traditional model. About a dozen of these years were in what we called a “house church” with others who were mostly ex-Vineyard folks, thus having similar values. During these years in the home I found myself constantly reaching out to be connected with other house church gatherings in the area, and some folks online, of all types of church bent besides Vineyard. Most of my “church journey” posts here in this blog are from that season. We stepped out of that group about 10 years ago. Having been in the area we live about 15 years at the time, we were networked in pretty well with wonderful connections with fellow believers. To this day we continue with organic gatherings of two or more folks in various contexts – homes, pubs, coffee shops – with no intentional structure or model. These are the essential, life-giving places God uses in our life for spiritual and relational sustenance.
A couple years ago I felt the Lord’s nudge to re-engage with folks in the traditional church model at the Seattle Vineyard. My interest was to make new friendships and to simply help there to be a place in the area that is living out the values I appreciate about the Vineyard. And I sensed that God had some important things to show me regarding his purposes for the next chapter of my journey. This brings my story back to where I started, with the pieces and parts beginning to come together in a cohesive picture.
I’m more convinced than ever that God is not nearly as concerned about the various connecting structures his church deploys (you can find good and bad with all of them) as he is about us simply connecting. Connecting with Jesus, connecting with his followers, and connecting with others who want to do the same. Today I find myself mixing with people in the traditional church model, the house church model, and the “no model” church model. Life begets life, and he is the source of it all, whether it’s with just Jesus and one or two others on the same journey, or with Jesus and many more sojourners than that. I have personally known both ends of the spectrum, each for spans of many years, and all of it wonderfully filled with God’s presence. Together, we are his church, the church that follows Jesus. He promises to shepherd each one of us into more of his life, so we each just need to follow his lead.