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Why sometimes Failure is the greatest Success

Rocket Launch

It was five years ago this month that Faith and I first held a meeting for worship on Capitol Hill. There were four of us, all twenty-somethings, gathered together in the conference room of the William Penn House. In the silence of that time of Quaker worship, I couldn’t imagine the kind of journey I was embarking on. I had no idea how this simple idea of starting a Quaker Meeting would change my life forever.

The last five years have been deeply challenging. There have been many points when I’ve wanted to give up more than anything. We’ve seen this community flicker and almost wink out several times. Yet, through it all, the dogged voice of the Spirit has always been present with us. Like a little terrier that chomps down on your leg and won’t let go no matter what, that still, small voice within has stubbornly refused to release us from the call to this work, this place, our people.

It turns out that the hound of heaven knows what he’s barking about. There’s power in persistence. There’s a quiet dynamism in endurance. Something incredible is unlocked when we commit ourselves unreservedly to the mission Christ gives us – no matter how crazy, unrealistic, humiliating, or even boring it seems.

There is a hidden power that comes to our aid when we patiently endure. This power doesn’t guarantee success; it promises nothing, in fact, but our daily bread and the chance to do it all over again tomorrow. And when the call is unrelenting and success seems far off, that quotidian bargain just has to be enough.

Amazingly, it is. For the past five years, we’ve experienced just-in-time delivery of the spiritual and material support that we’ve needed to sustain this work. There have been so many moments when I’ve felt like I couldn’t go one step further, but when I nevertheless put one foot in front of another, a way appeared out of no-way. The waters part, and I have what Deborah Saunders calls a Red Sea experience.

I recently read an article about a startup computer game company that crashed and burned. The project was a total failure; the product, a flop. The team mostly disbanded, except for a few core folks who sensed that there might still be potential in some of the material they had worked on together.

The game was still definitely dead in the water; they had no hopes about salvaging that project. Yet, there was something of value that remained intriguing for these developers: a tool that they had created to facilitate communication within their team. This tool, called Slack, is now a billion-dollar company that’s re-defining online business communication.

Slack’s story inspires me. It feels like our story, too. In this journey to develop a new kind of Quaker-Christian community, we’ve failed a lot. I’ve personally crashed and burned more times that I’d like to admit. But each time, there has been something worth saving. I’ve learned something very valuable from every challenge.

In five years of repeated disappointments and re-doubled efforts, I’ve acquired a deepened sense of realism, sobriety, and flexibility. I’ve gained a patient endurance I never knew I was capable of.

I’ve also learned to be really dumb! What smart person, after having fifteen rockets blow up on the launch pad, keeps trying to fly to the moon? But that’s just what Friends of Jesus are doing. We just keep designing new rockets to see what will fly. At the end of the day, we may just end up with a more colorful explosion, but we learn a lot in the process.

That’s the exciting part. Just like the makers of Slack, we’re discovering that the next big thing is probably going to be found along the way. The project is not always about what we think it is. The thing is not the thing. At the end of the day, what’s most important is the ethos of dynamic shared learning, collaboration, and off-the-walls innovation that we’re developing together.

We’re assembling the tools that help us do the work. We find ourselves drawn into a network of friends and allies that the Holy Spirit is gathering to accomplish something new. We’re invited into an adventure far greater than anything we ever imagined when we were first starting out.

You are invited. We want you to be part of this learning, growing, crashing-and-burning process. We need your participation, your gifts, your insight and vision. The Friends of Jesus Fellowship is just a little seed beginning to sprout. There’s lots of room for new shoots and branches, audacious little leaves seeking the sun.

We’ll keep failing. Our rockets will continue to explode in mid-air. And we’ll watch it together. We’ll take notes, and next time we’ll blow up differently.

Do you want to be a part of this launch team? Do you want to participate in the dynamic collaboration, shared learning, and experimentation that we share in together?

You are important. Your gifts are important, and they’ve been given to you for a reason. How is the Spirit calling you to use these gifts to create a flourishing community that can grow like mustard seed and bless the world around us? How can we learn and grow together?

Related Posts:

Off the Treadmill, onto the Cross

Marks of the Resurrection

Finding the Balance – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #57

Dear friends,

After what we hope was the last round of sizzling summer weather this week, temperatures and humidity have fallen dramatically here in DC. The crispness in the air and distinctive clarity of daylight tells us that fall has arrived. Faith and I have been excited to put on an extra layer, open the windows and embrace the new season.

This seasonal change is invigorating, and not only in terms of the weather. As we move into fall, the Friends of Jesus community also enters into an exciting new phase of its life. Last week marked the beginning of our first-ever fall cycle. From now until early December, we’re coming together to explore the scriptural focus, “Look, I am making everything new!” We’ll be gathering around good food and deepening friendships, and through Spirit-led worship and exploration of Scripture we’ll seek to open ourselves to the ways that God wants to remake and renew us – and use us as agents of positive change in our city.

This fall cycle is special in many ways. Not only is it our first fall cycle, it is the first time we have organized a cycle around an entire season, rather than just a six-week period. It also marks the first time that we will be holding a cycle in multiple small groups. We have one group meeting out in suburban Maryland, with another gathering in the homes of participants in the District.

Now that we have more than one small group, we’re experimenting with how to be one body with many parts. One way way to accomplish this is having more than one kind of meeting. Starting this month, in addition to our weekly small groups we will also gather monthly to share worship and strengthen connections across our whole community. Our first monthly gathering will be on Sunday, September 29th. Through this rhythm of local weekly small groups and city-wide monthly gatherings, we are developing a model for growing a community that lives out the gospel across the physical geography and human diversity of our city.

Just as this is a time of growth and experimentation for Friends of Jesus as a whole, so it is for me, on a personal level. I have spent a lot of my time this month exploring what it means to be a full-time minister who also raises his own financial support. As a bi-vocational minister, it can be quite a balancing act to feel out how much of my time and energy God is calling me to put into unpaid ministry, and how much focus I should place on work that is paid.

This summer, I have begun apprenticing with a local carpenter named Scott. He’s been doing an amazing job of teaching me the basics of the trade. In the past couple of months, he’s taken me from a state of almost complete ignorance and developed me into a fairly serviceable helper. We’ve done a lot of different projects together, and we are currently in the middle of doing the biggest one so far: gutting and completely remodeling a basement bedroom. Together, we are turning a space that used to be a health hazard into a safe, pleasant living area. And we’re having a blast while we’re at it.

I’ve learned so much working with Scott, and not just about carpentry. He’s helping me to see how much time and effort goes into every room I walk into, every street I drive down, every skyline I observe. As human beings, we are made in the image of God – and I am seeing more clearly than ever that one of those marks is the care and hard work we can put into the world that surrounds us. This new awareness helps me to appreciate how precious our world is, especially when I recognize the work of a craftsman who took the extra time, sweat and energy to make things beautiful.

Working with Scott is also providing a helpful reminder about my own limitations. I have enjoyed this work so much that I have sought out as much of it as I could get. As the summer has gone on, I’ve spent more and more time on the job with Scott, to the point that recently I have effectively been working full time as an apprentice carpenter. This is in addition to my two other paid jobs, unpaid ministry and life with my family and friends. I’ve loved the work – all of it – but it’s been a lot.

I knew it already, but I am experiencing with greater clarity than ever that I am a finite being with very real limits on my time, energy, attention and strength. How can I best steward these resources to strengthen the body of Christ and bless the world? What is the best balance of paid activity, unpaid service, and time spent off the clock with family, friends and neighbors?

I’ve learned one thing for sure this month: It is not sustainable for me to work full time as a carpenter, part time as a web developer, part time as a writer, be responsive to the work God has for me with Friends of Jesus, and be present to my family and friends. As much as I want to do every good thing full time, my human limitations just won’t allow it. Though this can be deeply frustrating for me, I am also learning to see the blessing in it. In my own weakness, I get to witness God’s strength. My frailties and limitations help to focus me on the work that God is most especially calling me to right now.

It takes a lot of humility to let God set my priorities in this way – the kind of humility that is closely related to humiliation! I have to confess, I still find it challenging to trust God to provide for our material needs, but it is absolutely essential if I am to avoid choosing paid work over unpaid work by default. I know that I don’t have this kind of courage or wisdom on my own, but I pray that the Holy Spirit will give me the grounding and guidance I need to live joyfully into whatever labor God has for me.

I am deeply grateful for everyone who holds me, our family and Friends of Jesus up in prayer. I ask that you continue to pray for us, and in particular ask prayers for:

  • The Spirit’s blessing on this new season of Friends of Jesus in the DC Metro Area. May we fully embrace our scriptural focus, finding that God is indeed making everything new – in our lives, and in the life of our city.
  • Courage and guidance for me as I seek a faithful balance of different kinds of work – paid and unpaid.
  • Openings for me, and for all of us in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, to demonstrate the new and abundant life that we have found in Christ Jesus. May God give us strength, wisdom and courage to invite others into the exhilarating and deeply challenging way of Jesus.

Your friend and brother,

Micah Bales

Blessed, And Thankful – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #55

Dear friends,

Here in DC, we’ve entered into the most blisteringly hot days of summer, with daily temperatures in the nineties and our city’s trademark humidity intensifying the effect. Imagine our delight when Faith and I arrived home yesterday afternoon to find our house sickly warm, with the thermostat reading system malfunction! At present, I’m huddling in the basement, where the temperatures are still bearable, and definitely looking forward to a visit from the repairman.

Despite our present discomfort, I’d say that overall the summer is going quite well. Capitol Hill Friends is now half-way through our summer cycle, during which time we’ve been meeting in each other’s homes. This new approach has seemed to facilitate a more laid-back feeling to our meetings, and we’ve made a point to share potluck dinner as part of our time together. In the short time that we have been meeting in homes, it has felt to me that we have drawn closer as a community. There’s something about breaking bread together, seeing one another’s home space, and moving around in the city that helps remind us that we’re in this together.

There’s a good deal of excitement in our community right now. This Sunday, we had the joy of welcoming our friend, Tim, into committed membership. We laid hands on him and gave thanks for his desire to walk together with us in the way of Jesus. We feel grateful for his willingness to make a commitment to become a living member of this little part of Christ’s body. We are blessed by the growth we are experiencing together as God adds to our fellowship, both in numbers and spiritual depth.

We are also excited about the opportunities that are opening for us to have a positive impact other parts of our city. For the last six months, we have been meeting in a single small group on Capitol Hill. As we look towards the fall, we are preparing to multiply this initial small group into two new groups that will serve particular parts of the DC area. One of these will serve Northwest DC and Montgomery County. The other group will be based in the eastern part of DC, positioning us to serve the southern and eastern parts of the metro region.

As we prepare to multiply, our hope is that we can progressively become more specific in our geographical focus. With two small groups, we can give better attention to the unique needs of two of our city’s major regions. We are praying that God will work through this greater specificity to invite those looking for a deeper expression of spiritual community, but who aren’t able to sustain a long-distance commute. We sense that we are just getting started, and that God is guiding us to become a disciple-making community that blesses our city.

For my own part, I am personally being blessed in this process. It has been a real joy this month to work with Bill and Tim, who are apprenticing with me as they prepare to organize a new small group in Montgomery County. Their dedication, intelligence, and joy in serving the Lord are deeply inspiring to me. I’m grateful for the work of the Spirit who is drawing together such an amazing group of people for the mission of Jesus in our region.

I’m profoundly grateful for each individual who is participating in our community. As our life together continues to unfold, I grow ever more aware of how limited each of us is, and how much we depend on one another. No one of us has all the gifts necessary to accomplish the mission that God is drawing us into. We can’t go it alone. But when we all contribute according to our gifts, we discover that we have everything we need.

So, that’s where I’m at. As a friend of mine says whenever he’s asked how he’s doing: I’m blessed, and thankful. There are up days and down days – days when there’s no AC and days when Faith and I get to eat a banana split the size of our heads – but at the end of every day, there is the fact of this amazing community that Jesus is gathering together here in our city. There is the fact of the lives that God is changing through the practice of prayer that we are learning together. There is the fact that the living water of God’s Spirit is being made available to the people of our city. And we are just getting started!

Add to all of that the fact that it is God who is accomplishing all of this, and I’m mighty blessed indeed. If I have learned anything from the last four years of ministry, it is that my own efforts can’t accomplish anything on their own. I can plow and sow and water all day long with little effect, but if God blesses the work, the flowers bloom.

As we continue our work of developing Spirit-led community here in the DC area, please pray for us:

  • That Christ be present to teach us and give us deepened clarity about our mission and vision as a community that blesses our city.
  • That God prepare us for the new challenges of becoming a united community made up of multiple small groups, meeting in a variety of locations throughout the region.
  • That the Holy Spirit fill us with boldness and power to share the good news of Jesus with our friends, neighbors, co-workers and family members.

I am so grateful for your support and encouragement. May the Father of Lights illuminate your heart, and give you strength to live into his mission of love and reconciliation in your local context.

In thanksgiving,

Micah Bales

Unleashing Our Spiritual Gifts – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #54

Dear friends,

This past month has been very full! I’ve visited friends in Philadelphia, and family and friends in Kansas, on top of my usual work routine. I have also felt called into an increasingly intense schedule of visitation with individuals and families here in the DC area. I have often been tired lately, but I feel great joy in the work, and I have a sense that I am generally on the right track.

Early in May, we got a visit from Hoot Williams, a fellow minister who is helping to organize a new community of disciples in Philadelphia, as a part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. I was very glad that Hoot was able to get a first hand look at what we are up to here in DC, and his visit encouraged me to think more about when I might get the chance to visit friends of Jesus in Philadelphia again.

I got my chance later in the month, when I was able to attend an evening worship event held by the emerging group in Philadelphia. I was deeply impressed by the faith and dedication of those who helped to organize the event, and I felt that we in DC had plenty to learn from their efforts. I was particularly pleased with the way that friends there seem to be gathering local leadership that is responsive to the movement of the Holy Spirit. The group in Philadelphia looks somewhat different from Capitol Hill Friends, which I see as an indicator of good health! Different soils are suited to different kinds of growth, and it is a mark of faithfulness when we respond to the possibilities of the soil where we are planted.

Here in DC, things are proceeding along steadily. We are nearing the end of our third six-week cycle, which has been focused on the Gospel of Luke. In particular, we’ve been looking at Jesus’ counter-cultural Jubilee message, which challenges our ordinary relationship with money, status and power. Instead of seeking to be the greatest, the richest, the strongest, we are invited into a life of humble service – even laying down our lives for others! Rather than looking up to those who are considered most successful in our society – presidents, CEOs and billionaires – we are instead directed to focus our attention on the ravens and the lilies, who depend on God for all their needs.

We at Capitol Hill Friends are very much like a wild flower, growing in the diverse field of the Washington metro area. All around us are the weeds of greed, lust for power, distractions and workaholism; nevertheless, as we sink our roots deeper into this good earth, and lift our faces higher towards the sun, Christ is giving us the light we need to grow. We are learning how to develop as his disciples as we keep our focus on him and the blessings he wants to pour out on our city.

This spring, I have been focusing my attention on nurturing relationships, with a particular eye for unlocking the spiritual gifts of each individual. There sure are some magnificent gifts in this group that has begun to gather on Capitol Hill. We have teachers and prayer warriors, evangelists and healers, administrators and prophets. God has poured out the Spirit abundantly on this little band!

Increasingly, I am coming to understand that my role is something like a hybrid between a pastor and a community organizer. Like a pastor, I feel a sense of responsibility for the spiritual health and well-being of this fellowship. I try to make sure that nobody falls through the cracks, and to nurture an environment where everyone can have access to genuine community centered in a living engagement with the risen Jesus.

There is definitely a pastoral aspect to my ministry, but I feel even more affinity with the role of community organizer. I sense that my primary mission is not to be the one leader who does everything; instead, I feel called to play midwife to an expanding team of leaders, all of us operating in our spiritual gifts. I want to see the teachers begin to teach; pastors to nurture; evangelists to spread the word; prophets to unveil the truth; and apostles to break new ground for the gospel! When I look at my brothers and sisters at Capitol Hill Friends, I see people whom God has given a startling array of gifts. I see a community of disciples whom Jesus is inviting into lives of deeper faithfulness, joy and peace.

How can I facilitate the unleashing of these gifts? How can I help to start a chain reaction of disciples who in turn make disciples? Despite spending years in seminary and attending Quaker gatherings of all kinds, I have to confess that the dynamics of leadership and discipleship are still a bit of a mystery to me. What does it take to empower others to step into their spiritual gifts, using them to build up the body of Christ and bless the world?
I know one thing for sure: I don’t have what it takes to do this on my own. The more I observe the gifts that God has poured out on others in our community, the more I realize how limited my own abilities are. There are some things that I’m really good at and passionate about; but most things, I’m not. In my experience, there has been nothing like planting a church to teach me that I am not self-sufficient. I can’t do much of anything alone. If I am unwilling to rely on my friends, I’ll fall flat on my face!

I am grateful to be able to lean on you, my spiritual family, as I seek to be faithful in the work that Christ has given me. Your prayers and support are indispensable! For the coming month, here are a few ways you could focus your prayers:

  • On June 15th, Capitol Hill Friends will be gathering for a day-long retreat to do discernment around our sense of mission and vision. We hope that this retreat will clarify our focus and set our general direction for some time to come. Please pray that God bless our time together, granting us a clear sense of direction and shared purpose together as we look for ways to be his hands and feet in the world.
  • Pray that God would raise up new leaders, according to each one’s particular gifts.
  • Pray that the Holy Spirit open the way for multiplication of new groups meeting in different parts of the city, so that we can grow in numbers and depth, and become more accessible to seekers across the metro area.

In love and friendship,

Micah Bales

A Gospel For Hungry People

This Sunday at Capitol Hill Friends, we looked at Luke 10:1-24, the story of when Jesus sends out 72 of his disciples to go ahead of him into Samaria and share the good news: The kingdom of God has come near to you.

Jesus sends his followers out in utter vulnerability. He instructs them to take nothing with them for the journey – no money, no supplies, not even shoes! We know from the previous chapter that Samaria is not a safe place for the Jewish disciples. Rejection – possibly even violence – is a realistic expectation for these missionaries being sent into cross-cultural ministry. Jesus sends them out in pairs, so at least they have each other, but they’re basically defenseless.

As disciples of Jesus who find ourselves called to live in the midst of Empire, there is a great temptation to look for ways to protect ourselves. We live in a culture that is constantly retelling the story of domination: Money makes the world go ’round. Might makes right. You get what you deserve. It is an enormous challenge to remain open, to see the signs of the kingdom of God in our midst. And even when we can see it, the way of peace that we find ourselves called into by Jesus is so intensely counter-cultural that we have to wonder: Does following Jesus mean becoming a social outcast?

If Luke’s story is any indication, walking with Jesus will not make us popular. Our society’s mainstream is defined by those in the center – those who possess the most money, social influence and intelligence. These are the somebodys who run governments, direct economies, lead educational institutions and program the computers. Most of us want to be these people – to feel important and respected by the culture we live in.

Yet as followers of Jesus, we are called to move away from the shiny, important center and instead to inhabit the margins of our society. Our God scatters the proud and brings down the mighty from their thrones. He fills the poor with good things but sends the rich away empty. We follow the homeless Messiah who was born in a barn with animals and was rejected and murdered by all the important people of his day. We worship the God who pronounces woe to the rich, self-satisfied mockers who live at the center, but who announces blessing on the poor, hungry and those who mourn.

One of us at Capitol Hill Friends recently asked if our community is destined to be a fringe group, or whether there is a way for us to communicate the good news in a manner that appeals to the broader society. I think that this is a very good question, because there is a real tension about this in Scripture.

On the one hand, Jesus says clearly that his way is a narrow path that few will choose to walk in. Jesus models a hard-core prophetic ministry that few of us have the stomach for. On the other hand, Jesus calls us to share the good news with the whole world. He commands us to make disciples of all nations and to invite others to participate in the community that the Holy Spirit gathers in his name. So, which is it? Is the kingdom for a few, or for many?

The upside-down kingdom of Jesus is hard for a lot of folks to accept, especially those of us who who identify more with the prestigious center of our culture. Yet, despite the barriers that hold us back from accepting Jesus’ counter-cultural message, all things are possible with God. Even in the face of our natural tendency to shy away from his disorienting challenge, the Holy Spirit is working on our hearts and changing our lives.

As a community gathered around the radical teaching of Jesus, is Capitol Hill Friends ever going to be mainstream? From the perspective of the prestigious center, the answer is clearly no! As friends of the crucified Messiah, we are called into the margins and abandoned places where Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons and teaches the people. As followers in his way of gospel nonviolence, we are inevitably led to join him outside the gates of the city.

As friends of Jesus, we will necessarily be marginal from the perspective of the big shots in our society. Many respectable, mainstream people will consider us fringe. Yet, that doesn’t mean that we cannot have a big impact. The early Church in Jerusalem was a group on the margins – and it was also a thriving community of many thousands of people!

Then again, numerical growth is out of the question for a radical group like ours if we choose to play into the narrative of the mainstream culture. The good news of Jesus usually doesn’t sound very appealing to those in the center. But, to those on the margins, it is a breath of fresh air! How can we take this message to those who are ready to hear it?

We encounter hungry people everywhere we go. In every neighborhood and workplace, in every classroom and restaurant, there are those who are aching for the love, justice and power that Jesus offers us. Are we awake to it? How can we become more attentive to the signs of spiritual hunger and curiosity in those that we meet? How can we demonstrate the inexplicable love of Jesus to those around us, inviting them to come and see? What would it look like for us to get out of our comfort zone and take the good news to those who are ready to receive it?

 

Growing In Any Weather – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #53

Dear friends,

Spring took its time arriving this month in DC. We experienced several major shifts in weather – from the high eighties several weeks ago, down to the forties more recently. The climate here has shifted back and forth: We have seen hot and cold; muggy and dry; overcast days and others full of light. Sometimes, when things got really cold, misty and gloomy, it was hard to believe that we were in springtime and headed towards summer.

The trees knew, though. Despite all the ups and downs of an increasingly unpredictable weather cycle, the plants knew the signs of the times. Even in the midst of bitter cold, the trees began to bud; flowers bloomed and leaves slowly began to emerge. While I entertained doubts about whether we would ever see spring, the trees lived in hope.

The quiet hope and determination of the trees serve as a sign to me. This is how I am called to live: not being blown about by every change of conditions, but instead rooted in faith that God is sending the rain, sun and temperature I need to grow and thrive, even if I can’t quite imagine it yet.

Just like the trees, Capitol Hill Friends is a living, growing organism. As a community following Jesus, we live in hope. Though the outward conditions of life here often run counter to the loving relationships that we sense God calling us into, we persist in trust that the rain will fall, the sun will shine and the Spirit will blow among us.

Rather than being dismayed by every change in the weather, God is calling our community to steady perseverance – the patient endurance of the saints, as it says in Scripture. We are called to lead lives that are oriented towards the summer that is coming, rather than the winter that we are emerging from.

For my own part, I find it very easy to get bogged down in wintry thinking. I can get stuck in a mindset of scarcity, fear and timidity, thinking more about how to protect myself from failure than about how to prepare myself for success. Like the servant in the parable of the talents – oftentimes, it is tempting to bury my gift in the ground rather than risk losing everything!

But we have received a greater calling than the cautious self-preservation of the status quo. God is inviting us to be more than a leafless tree, forever in a wintertime mode. Instead, we can flower and bear fruit that blesses the world.

This is scary. Flowering means being vulnerable. It means investing a lot of effort and energy into something that, ultimately, might not even work. It means being open to the possibility that we might fail.

Even bearing fruit can seem risky. Will we be bearing apples? Bananas? Kiwis? How will this fruit taste, and will we even like it? Bearing the kind of fruit that John the Baptist talked about involves letting go of our control-freak tendencies and living in the power of God. Bearing fruit means allowing ourselves to be swept into God’s mission rather than dictating our own terms.

Somehow, this whole letter has turned into an extended horticultural metaphor! But that is, I believe, where we are at here in our ministry in Washington, DC: We are gardeners, and we are the tree. We are pruning, and we are blossoming to bear fruit. We are preparing for the harvest that is coming, and there is a lot of growing to do along the way. Pray that the Lord of the garden will call more gardeners!

In the weeks ahead, here are some ways in which you can be praying for us:

– That God would fill us with a spirit of boldness and enthusiasm to share the good news with our friends and neighbors, inviting others into our family in Christ.

– That God would activate and empower the spiritual gifts that are present in our community, raising up leadership, discernment, evangelism, pastoral care and teaching, among other gifts.

– That Christ would reveal to us with ever greater urgency and specificity the fruit that he is preparing us to bear.

We are so grateful for your ongoing prayer support. We could never have come this far without you, and we are counting on you to help us walk the next leg of this journey. Thank you for your faithfulness, friendship and love.

In Jesus,

Micah Bales

My Inner 23-Year-Old – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #52

Dear friends,

God has a way of sneaking up on me. For the last decade or so, a constant theme of my life has been amazement and surprise. Ten years ago, I never could have guessed that not only would I become a Christian, but that I would go to seminary and dedicate myself to a path of ministry. When I first came to live in Washington, I did not imagine that Faith and I would end up settling down and buying a house here. When we started Capitol Hill Friends, we did not suspect that God would call us to a form of community life that is very different from that which we originally envisioned.

In every step along this journey, God surprises me with the way he gentles me, slows me down and humbles me. In a slow process of transformation, the Spirit is mellowing me out. She is balancing me, making me less erratic, less swept up in every high and low of my personal experience. The Spirit is softening me while at the same time deepening my constancy. I am being re-formed into someone who can be relied upon by a local community.

Just a few years ago, my self-image was almost entirely based in moving around – “traveling in the ministry” as it is fashionable to call it. I definitely did some ministry, and I might have even been helpful sometimes, but the traveling part was at least as much about my need to explore and personally develop as anything else. And, at a certain point, it becomes clear that travel can be a way of escaping certain uncomfortable facts: I cannot do everything. Commitment is required (even not committing is ultimately a commitment). People, places and things change – relentlessly. Sooner or later, I am going to die.

Faith and I frequently explain that buying our home in Northeast DC was an act of submission to God. This is strange. To one as ascetically-minded as me, it seems counter-intuitive that acquiring a substantial material asset could be a step forward in spiritual growth. But for us, our house represents a profound commitment to the work that Christ has called us to in our city. It is our pledge that we are here for the long haul, and that we will not leave this city unless and until Christ directs us to do so. It is my submission to particularity, to being bonded to a specific place and accepting that living things are also dying things.

As a result of this commitment, I am doing things I never thought I would do. I am juggling multiple paid jobs, in addition to serving as an organizer for a new Quaker church. I do not bother with the title, but I am essentially doing the job of a pastor – a role that, back when I was in seminary, I was sure I had no interest in. I am learning that just because something makes me uncomfortable does not mean that God is not calling me to it.

These last years have involved a lot of pruning! Yet, at the same time, I am feeling strangely inspired by my younger, less-pruned self. I recently came across a set of photos that I took back during my first weeks at Earlham School of Religion. I took pictures of the rented room where I would spend my first semester studying in the MDiv program. Regarding these photographs takes me way back. I had almost forgotten how materially austere my life had been back then. And I was so bold and passionate! Sure, there were all sorts of rough edges that needed to be sanded down – but such intensity!

As God continues to soften me, I do not want to lose that fire and intensity. I do not want to lose that commitment to truth and holiness. I want to stay true to that inner 23-year-old who hews to radical simplicity, ready to sacrifice anything for the mission that Christ has for him. And I want to infuse this radical, brave heart with a gentle love and humility, an innocence that embraces strength as a way to protect and heal those around me.

I am not sure what this will look like, but I suspect that it will be a lot less grandiose than I have often imagined. We all read stories about heroes, and so I suppose it is natural to imagine oneself in the hero’s role. But I am not called to be a hero in the epic sense. Instead, I am called to the work of a gardener, teacher, street sweeper, community organizer and friend. Here in the city where God has planted us, I am seeking to live into what it means to be a good neighbor, faithful husband, diligent worker and steadfast minister of the gospel.

Faith and I are very blessed by your continuing prayers, support and words of encouragement. Please continue to lift us up before the Lord, and ask that the Holy Spirit would strengthen, deepen and multiply our community here in Washington. Let us be a blessing to our city, a light that pushes back the darkness.

In Christ’s love,

Micah Bales