church journey

Journey Update

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.

church journey

beyond the traditional

It’s always interesting answering questions about my participation in what most people consider the traditional model of church life. I was recently having to fill out a form about this (with very small spaces for answers!), and thought I would post how I answered the requests:

Request: Please provide a few statements regarding your profession of faith, and how you came to faith:

My Answer: I first acknowledged a real relationship with God at the age of 15 through the ministry of Young Life. Since then I have continued on the journey of more fully understanding his love in sending Jesus to earth to die on the cross for our sins, get up from being dead, and ascend into heaven so that his Holy Spirit would come and empower us to follow him.

Request: Please tell us how you are participating in a church and using your gifts:

My Answer: My church journey has taken me through high school and college ministries, evangelism outreach, starting home fellowship networks and worship teams, teaching classes on the gifts, starting traditional churches, and starting home churches. My family and I are active in long-term “churches of 2 or 3” (Matt 18) where support and accountability are best, spontaneous gatherings and hospitality in our home, and occasional meetings and conferences of the traditional church model as the Lord leads.

Request: Please tell us what church you are attending, address, phone, and who your Pastor is:

My Answer: Our church life extends beyond the traditional model or a single location. Pastoral and other gifts occur regularly among us in the interactions with other believers. References are available if desired.

church journey

pressing on

Well, okay then! It’s been a six-year hiatus since my last post, and on the eve of 2019, I’m drawn to articulate thoughts again. I have several threads in my head, not sure where this goes yet, but not wanting that to hinder the restarting.

I’ll pick it up from the dangling thread I left in “fresh starting…” on 2 Dec 2012. Indeed, the last 6 years have been formative. I notice these words in my last post, “…stepping out of the regular gathering that we were part of…” and “There are many types of gatherings in the Puget Sound area, and I’m in touch with several of them.” I would say that one of the biggest adjustments in my thinking about church life is coming to see that the Lord has a lesser focus on group “gatherings” than I previously thought (“thought” because I didn’t know anything different, it’s what we did…) and more on individual relationships themselves. In Matthew 18 we read the familiar words of Jesus, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Without planning it, that’s been the primary church-life focus of these years – regular encounters with one or two others to touch the Lord together. Over a burger, at our house for dinner, dropping by for a quick visit on the way somewhere, a hallway conversation, a phone call, etc. These are precious and life-giving moments for me. Some have been ongoing for almost 20 years, some got started within the last 5 years. And there’s a rekindling of sorts, where we’re finding each other again. Thinking that group meetings are “required” for church life to happen is another reminder that the detox from the traditional model is deeper than I know. I suspect that the group meeting orientation of church life is rooted in the business model – it’s where sermons happen, buildings & equipment get used, the various church-business roles manifest, all of which is important validation for the giving of funds to the enterprise. I guess the unraveling of the church business model in me is still happening, now 22 years since I left it! I have another suspicion – it won’t be so for those who didn’t spend so much time in it. Thank you Lord!

All that aside, I’m encouraged to press on. I find myself so grateful for all that God has been doing in my family, friends, and I. Here’s believing 2019 will be better than expected, in the things that matter most. So, let’s know him. Let’s press on to know the Lord. His going forth is as certain as the dawn (can’t stop that!). And he will come to us like the refreshing rain, like the Spring rain, watering the earth. (Hosea 6:3)

church journey

fresh starting…

I’m at a “fresh start” kind of place in my thinking about church life these days. We’ve made some adjustments some months ago in our regular routine, as far as stepping out of the regular gathering that we were part of for about 12 years. We have some regular patterns of fellow believers that we regularly meet up with, there’s always new connections being formed, and we sense God with us in this journey.

As I think and pray over these things, and discuss it with my wife, I believe that I need to make an effort to articulate where my thoughts have come to as far as what church life is all about. There are many types of gatherings in the Puget Sound area, and I’m in touch with several of them. One of the things that God impressed upon me in the last “chapter” of church life with the “12-year” gathering is how valuable it is to work things out in the context of community. So I welcome the response of others on these matters.

church journey

life begets life…

I had an email exchange with someone who asked:
Hi Page,

Can you tell me about the forms of discipleship that happen in simple church? I am looking for a community of faith that is intentional about discipleship–learning and growing as disciples of Christ and making new disciples…easier said than done.

My response:
Hi Friend,
My observation is that the thinking on discipleship is all over the map in simple/organic/home church groups just like it is in the traditional religious business church model. It’s been a particular interest of mine over the decades, so I can certainly understand your interest. There’s structured to unstructured. I see this as a matter of each of us working out with the Lord, and the body of believers we are with, how he is leading and following him on it (I guess that pretty much applies to any matter).

Someone else once said it, but I like it – there are times when we have a Paul in our life (an older brother, an elder for us), a Timothy (some one we can provide coaching/mentoring to), and a Barnabas (someone who comes along side and encourages). Not that you always have all happening at once, but as the Lord grants them, for he is the one, true, Discipler. I find that most of what happens in simple church life, where the kind of relationships are happening that he desires, is that he uses these relationships to disciple all of us at once, like iron sharpening iron. It’s the intentional living out our callings together over the years, as the body of Christ, where he shapes and molds us, often without us even knowing he’s doing it. And there are regular times of intentionally speaking into the lives of our brothers/sisters, as he gives the words of wisdom, knowledge, prophetic insight, etc. And all of this happens best in the context of the natural flow of trusting relationships. Our experience is that this kind of relationship are much easier to find over time in the context of simple/organic church life than the business model.