Archives For June 2008

Neighbors Lunch Update

Charles Kiser —  June 30, 2008 — 3 Comments

Our Neighbors Lunch on Saturday was a tremendous success. Thanks to all of you who sponsored and prayed for our experience. We enjoyed a spaghetti lunch at Spaghetti Warehouse in Downtown and cultivated relationships with our new friends: Wesley, Darrel, Cindy, Lowell, Chad and Marjorie.

After lunch we helped Lowell and Cindy move some of their stuff into storage space near Downtown, and we also assisted Darrel in getting a monthly DART pass for July so that he could get around—he sells papers Downtown. I’m delighted the way our service to them emerged naturally out of mutual friendship.

Chad Matthews said it well in an email to me:

Looking up and down the table this afternoon, I keep thinking how RIGHT everything about the situation felt. “Bingo!” I kept saying to myself…. I believe with all my heart that our meal this afternoon was as close to “church” as I’ve been in a long, long time.

Chad and Marjorie have just left for an 8 month tour of major U.S. cities as a way of exploring what’s being done on behalf of the homeless in our country. I’d encourage you to check out their website: www.ILoveEvelyn.org.

This is just the beginning. We’re continuing to dream of ways we can go deeper into building relationships with our new friends and neighbors. I’d like to see us host a similar event on a much larger scale and partner with other organizations in the area to do it.

We’ve hired Scott Ellis, current President of the Dallas Junior Chamber of Commerce, to do some web design for us. He is responsible for the new DJCC website and we’re excited about working with him. He’ll build the site on a publishing platform called WordPress so that we can maintain it ourselves without having to outsource to someone who knows HTML and all that stuff. (That last sentence may have been more than many of you wanted to know.) Civic organizations are good for networking on many levels.

We should have a site up at http://www.storylinecommunity.com later this month. We’ll keep you posted.

Meet Your Neighbors

Charles Kiser —  June 23, 2008 — 4 Comments

We’ve wrestled for a while to find ways the Storyline Community could take initial steps into the ministry of justice in Dallas. Thanks to the epiphany of a sharp teammate, we found the perfect starting point.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, we’ve learned of the importance of cultivating relationships with our poor and downtrodden neighbors—not treating them as charity cases or objects of evangelism but as friends with dignity and respect. These friendships serve in turn as the foundation of our ability to serve our neighbors in a meaningful way.

After all, how can we know the needs of the poor and needy unless we know the poor and needy?

So we’ve decided to get to know our neighbors. In partnership with Chad and Marjorie Matthews of I Love Evelyn (pictured in the top left and bottom right on the left), we’re hosting a meal at a restaurant in the West End of Downtown. Chad and Marjorie will bring their friends (many of whom are currently on the streets); we’ll bring our Storyline friends. And we’ll all share a meal together and simply get to know each other.

The dynamics of sharing a meal will be significantly different than serving our neighbors a meal—not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m only hoping this meal levels the playing field a bit and helps us to see each other as peers and equals.

Imagine the possibilities of a movement in which people begin to show interest simply in getting to know their poor neighbors.

I’m excited about this event and think it has the potential to keep us moving in the right direction when it comes to justice issues. We’re praying that God will open our eyes to injustice in the midst of conversations with our neighbors.

Non-Church Spaces

Charles Kiser —  June 16, 2008 — 12 Comments

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about connecting to people in our broader community for the sake of God’s mission.

In my reflections, one thing has hit home again and again: the importance of entering into and living within “non-church” spaces.

A common instinct for ministers and churches when seeking to connect to the community is to host some sort of community event and invite community people to it—a marriage seminar; a financial management class; a kids’ camp. Most of the time such events are hosted at church facilities. Sometimes they’re hosted at neutral locations in the community.

The location is less important than who is hosting the event—the church. The event becomes inherently “church space” because the church is hosting it.

What’s the problem with that? There’s no inherent problem with the church hosting events that connect to the community. But there is a potential problem given that more and more non-Christian people distrust, or are at least ambivalent toward, the institution of church such that they’d be more likely to participate in a marriage seminar or financial management class elsewhere.

All this resurfaces the importance of cultivating personal relationships with non-Christian people and building trust with them (so they can see we’re not wacko). And how do you go about doing that?

Enter into relationships with people in “non-church” spaces.

Non-church spaces are places where the church doesn’t set the agenda, plan the party or control the atmosphere. There’s no bible study. No prayer before the meal. No announcement about upcoming worship gatherings.

A significant reason Christianity has struggled in North America is because it has neglected to engage these kinds of non-church spaces. Churches have neglected non-church spaces for the same reason non-Christian people have avoided coming to church spaces: fear.

It’s a scary thing to venture off into territory where we have little control over things, where we’re different and might be the minority. So who should be required to take the initiative, churches or non-Christian people? It’s almost a rhetorical question.

If the church is to connect to its community it must first be part of that community. It must venture out into non-church spaces.

Here are a few non-church spaces in which the Storyline Community has either spent time intends to spend time (many of these are determined by our context and might be different somewhere else; some of these are based on our own passions):

  • Civic organization events
  • Community service organizations
  • Sports leagues (joining other people’s teams)
  • Concerts and plays
  • Fitness clubs
  • Workplaces
  • Apartment communities where we live
  • Restaurants, bars and coffee shops

Our major victories these days are simply 1) having the courage to enter such non-church spaces and 2) the relationships that emerge from them. The hope is that the shape the church takes will consist of and be informed by community relationships such that Storyline becomes a church that grows out of its surrounding culture.

We’re seeing this hope become reality in small ways already…more about that later.

Learn and Share

Charles Kiser —  June 9, 2008 — 2 Comments

This week Mission Alive, our church planting resource organization, is hosting a Strategy Lab for church planters. The lab is the last of three in a process of Mission Alive training modules: the first is the Discovery Lab, for the purpose of assessment; the second is the Theology Lab, for developing theological frameworks for the task of church planting.

The Strategy Lab functions to help planters think through their ministry plan for church planting—cultural analysis, ministry structures, processes of spiritual formation, connecting with non-Christians, etc. At the end of the Lab the planter couple presents their strategy for how the new church will take shape. This strategy becomes the foundation for what will actually happen when the planters hit the ground.

Julie and I first participated in the Strategy Lab in the fall of 2006. We received great training and developed a close bond with our fellow Lab participants (many of whom are now also starting new churches).

The most valuable tools we developed in the Lab were a process of spiritual formation (i.e., steps for facilitating spiritual growth from non-Christian to leader) and a leadership development track. We spent the majority of our apprenticeship period at Christ Journey and Sunrise fleshing out these two tools.

And now I’m headed back to the Strategy Lab to share with other planters what we’ve learned as we’ve applied some of the ideas of the Lab to our church planting context.

I hardly feel qualified for such a role given that we’re still learning so much. At the same time, I love this baton-passing element of Mission Alive. We’re always learning, and the best use of our learning is to share what we’re learning with others.

It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s philosophy of ministry: “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

This rhythm of learning and sharing applies to all of us whether we’re church planters, parents, engineers or accountants. Indeed, the heart of discipleship is learning what it means to follow the way of Jesus and sharing what we’ve learned with others who are seeking to learn.

What are you learning that you can share? Please share it with me!

Have I mentioned that this whole church starting thing is hard work?

The part I’m finding most difficult right now is making initial connections with people—the cold-turkey, how’s it going, who are you, what do you do kinds of conversations.

Sure, I’m a pretty gregarious person, but it takes a little while before that crazy guy can come out of his shell. I was that way in junior high; high school; college; grad school; and what do you know, I’m still that way.

I’m not sure exactly why it’s so hard for me. It’s probably partly because I’m such a people pleaser. I want people to like me. I want to say the right things. I want to be cool. I don’t want people to think I’m a religious salesman.

Perhaps it’s hard because I don’t just want to have conversations with people; I want to have spiritual conversations with people. Spirituality/religion is a particularly private thing in our culture. It’s one of two things you don’t talk about (politics the other) unless you’re prepared to get in a fight.

I’m finding, however, that these kinds of conversations are much less daunting when there’s a more natural reason to have them, outside of the obvious reason of connecting with people along the wavelength of spirituality.

Conversations take place more naturally when I’m on a flag football team with people, or at a civic organization meeting, or at dinner, rather than after someone opens the door when I’ve randomly knocked on it.

Yet it’s still hard in more natural contexts. I’ve found myself sitting on the couch before going to engagements where I would meet new people trying to think of excuses for not going. [I’m laughing at myself as I type this.]

That’s right, I’m a church starter. I’m supposed to have a knack for this kind of thing. Yeah…I feel under-qualified for the job sometimes.

At the end of the day, it’s worth all the inner turmoil. It’s worth the challenge. I get the privilege, after all, to engage people concerning the most important kinds of things in the whole world.

Perhaps you’re like me…why do we have such a hard time with this?