Wendy and I have a big change coming. To understand the leap we are taking you have to understand where we have been.
Putting Words to Passion
A few nights before the lunch I was laying on my couch reading. It was late, well after midnight. I don’t remember what the book was. I wasn’t really paying attention to it. Every once in a while I would realize I couldn’t remember the last four pages I had just read.
My mind was on “church.”
Wendy and I had talk a lot that night and my head was spinning. We had a ton of thoughts, but they were raw. They all focused on what we didn’t think church should be. We were tearing a lot of stuff down, but we didn’t have anything to replace it with. I felt like I knew what to boo, but not what to cheer for. As I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep, a simple thought ran over and over in my head, “If not that, then what?”
Just as I began sliding away, a far off memory came to focus in my mind. It was from when I was seven years old. I was with my family on a long mission trip to Eku Nigeria. I remember the entire mission compound (the doctors and nurses that ran the mission hospital and their families) had gathered in one living room. It was a weekly ritual. There was lots of laughing, lots of smiles, and lots of exhausted faces. The hospital staff left for the hospital before sunrise each morning and saw patients non-stop until late into the evening. Once everyone had eaten dinner, two of the doctors pulled out guitars and the whole group began to sing together. Every once in a while the singing would pause and someone would pray. Even as a young child I recognized that something special was happening. The group sang and prayed for a long time. At some point I put my head on my Mom’s lap and fell asleep. It was a transformational night for me. My first memorable experience with true community and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Sitting on the couch half asleep it occurred to me, that night in Eku, that is what worship services should be like. No, I don’t mean every worship time should take place in a living room with guitars. I mean worship gatherings should occur when people who have sacrificed everything to love others for Jesus come together and debrief their experiences. That is what was happening in Eku. The warriors of love on the battle field of the world gathered to together once a week to share their common Christ with one another.
I sprung up from the coach and immediately started journaling. Finally I had a picture to work from, something to cheer. It wasn’t much, but it was a start.
A few days later I went to a Baltimore Baptist Association (BBA) luncheon. In the past BBA lunches had been interesting, but not necessarily helpful. Typically Brian Z (the head pastor I worked under) was invited and would ask if I wanted to tag along. This time Brian couldn’t make it so I went on my own. All I knew about the gathering was that a mega-church pastor from McKinney Texas was coming to talk about partnering with Baltimore churches. Usually partnering consisted of them sending us mission teams and us asking for money. It was a good arrangement typically, but we had several partners already. I wasn’t sure we needed another one. Also, with where my head was, I seriously had no interest in talking to a megachurch pastor. But I went because it was a free lunch in the inner harbor.
Wow, was I surprised.
So the speaker, Bryan Doyle, was not from Texas and was the opposite of my bias of a “megachurch pastor.” He spoke with a British accent. He was humble and cautious. He started off the luncheon by explaining that he wasn’t looking for just any partners. He was looking for people that matched his “missional” passion. I had never heard the word missional before, but I liked it. Bryan went on to share his history in church planting and how he came to McKinney. He then talked about Apostalic leadership, being the church not going to it, being defined by love instead of Sunday morning, empowering members to seek God’s vision for their lives instead of delivering vision from the top down, and putting aside the trappings of institution to become a movement again.
I almost started weeping right there at the table. My heart ached. I hung on every word. He was putting words to mine and Wendy’s passion. He had been where we wanted to go.
When the luncheon ended I rushed over to him and introduced myself. He was flooded by people, so I simply told him how perfectly timed his visit was and said him I would email him soon. He thanked me and recommend “Forgotten Ways” by Alan Hirsch.
I thanked God all the way back to my office. Once there I immediately sat down at my computer and began typing. The first draft of my email to Bryan was around fifteen pages long. Thankfully I didn’t hit send. I took a deep breath and decided to sit on my thoughts for a few days rather than vomit them all over this man I had just met. I eventually did send the email.
I also immediately ordered Forgotten Ways. Typically when I’m excited about a book I will devour it in a week; but Hirsh was a three month journey for me and the next major change agent in my thinking.
(Bryan came to visit us twice over the next six months. Each visit was like sitting under a water fall. We were showered with more wisdom and encouragement than we could take in. He is a wonderful mentor and a good friend…although we would love to see him more often. If you read this Bryan, COME TO BALTIMORE!)