Yesterday I took a few minutes to read through Jason Coker’s ongoing series of blog posts on the postmortem of his faith community in San Diego, Ikon. (His blog is here…just start at the top and go back the past few entries). I also read David Fitch’s wonderfully instructive post, where he reflects on Jason’s analysis and makes what I think are five spot-on observations about the realities of planting missional communities.
I made a brief comment on David’s post, but my mind has been churning ever since. Below is sort of an open letter to Jason and whoever else finds themselves in a similar situation:Jason, I echo David’s sentiment that your honesty and candor in these posts is so appreciated. It is not only instructive, but also strangely encouraging.
When I started blogging in 2002, I desperately needed to know I wasn’t crazy with the dreams I felt God had put in my head. It was through the conversations and eventually friendships with fellow bloggers and church planters that got me through those first few years. Now that blogging has been superseded by all the other elements of social media, most of which are much more shallow and temporal, I miss the brotherly / sisterly interaction I experienced and the raw honesty that was so helpful to me. Compared to the banter and boasting that I see daily on the twitter feed, these posts are some of the best and most refreshing words I’ve read online in a long time.
So in light of that honesty, I’ll be willing to throw down some of my own. We moved to South Florida in 2001 with the same dream that you had from God – ” I don’t want you to plant a church, I want you to plant a network.” Same dream, and a similar context.
We live in Jupiter, which is a bedroom community in northern Palm Beach county. My wife’s parents live here and a lot of her family. But other than that, we knew very few people…and even fewer that shared our dream. In 2001, NO ONE was talking about missional communities (or even the emerging church) in our area.
So we labored the first few years with a group of 10-12 people just trying to understand what it meant to be church (Todd Hunter was an early mentor of mine and helped us frame the right questions to ask – very beneficial). In 2003, even though we were scattered as your group was, we had just began to get momentum towards intentional community and seeing our dreams start to take shape. But then, someone had an affair, the relationships got weird, and the trust level in the group was effectively destroyed. We dissolved soon after.
In 2004, even though we were still an “official” Vineyard church plant, we were only meeting with a few friends occasionally for prayer or a meal.At that point, we should have quit. But there were three things that held us here and called us forward. First, even though our dream is transferable, God’s calling to this place is not. He sent us to South Florida, specifically Jupiter and northern Palm Beach county. This is our home and mission field.
When failure happened, we had to trust that the grass would not be greener somewhere else. Second, I had a stable job. I work for my father-in-law as a HVAC engineer, so that paycheck and routine took care of our basic needs (even though I call my friend Marshall every once so we can bitch to each other about having to work ‘regular jobs’). Third, throughout our time here God has always given us at least one faithful couple to partner with us.
Even in the darkest times, their faithfulness and friendship gave us courage.Since 2004, we’ve had three other major restarts of the community. We’ve started offshoots that have lived…and died. Now, we are restarting again. There are definitely more people interested in our dream, but the numbers are still small and the risks are still high. Leadership continues to be a huge issue. Todd Hunter used to say, “The answer to bad leadership isn’t no leadership, it’s good leadership.” Well, defining that for people, eliminating fear, and creating models for healthy leadership is no easy task. We’ve found that we can’t neglect the power of the Holy Spirit along the way to good ecclesiology, mission, and spiritual formation. There is a bunch we can bring to the table with our Vineyard heritage.
We’ve laid down any ill will towards the ‘traditional’ church, including the Vineyard. Recently, we’ve even been finding ways to connect with the wider body of Christ in our town in meaningful ways. Our dream of intentional community still lives. Now, 90% of our community lives within 5 miles of each other. In a few months we’ll be moving into a neighborhood where several others may join us to be within walking distance. All very exciting.
But all of this has also been incredibly hard. No one fully understands what we’ve been through and how we’ve endured here for 10 years. From the outside, we just look like an average family with average goals. But inside we’ve been burning with a dream for a decade that has not been fully realized. We love our community – these people are our family and are so special to us. But we can’t shake the dream of a movement.
In our current restart, we are asking our group to give away who we are and what we’ve learned. It’s very hard…postmodern people (especially Christian people) are so hungry for community that it feels unjust to sacrifice what we have so that others can participate. But that promise of Jesus you quoted in your first post – John 12:24 – is real. Unless what we love dies, we remain alone.I really have nothing to add to the conversation with this post, no instruction or wisdom. There are just two things that have been going around in my brain since reading through everything yesterday. First, I think it’s time for partnership and collaboration to grow in our minds and in practice.
A commenter on David’s post, T, (who not so ironically was, along with his wife Kim, our first “partners” here in 2001 and are still dear friends) makes this point well. If it was so critical for the early church, why don’t we partner more in that way? Church of the Savior in D.C. only releases mission groups after at least two people have solidly partnered under the same calling. I wonder if we should consider the same practice for church planting? No idea how to do this…just throwing it out.
I echo the sentiment of Jamie Arpin-Ricci: “We need a faithful few who are willing to join us- join us in our faith community and in our local neighborhood- and share the joys and burdens of building God’s kingdom here.” That’s gold.The second thing is to say I admire you and am proud of you. I know nothing about you, other than our common Vineyard background (and we do have a mutual friend – Jason Evans – one of my blog comrades from way back). For 10 years I have craved affirmation. Craved it! God has delivered over the years in the most unlikeliest of places, sometimes from complete strangers. Well, as a stranger to you, I want to affirm your decision, but also your call. God did speak to you to start a network. That’s a good dream and you will see if fulfilled.Much peace to you, Jason, and whoever else out there that is attempting this impossible thing.