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A Baptism Into Courage

Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering

It’s easy for your faith to become just another obligation, a set of rules to fulfill and a standard that you struggle to live up to. But every once in a while, you catch glimpses of what it could feel like to be part of a community where heaven and earth come together, when everyday life becomes saturated with meaning and authenticity. In such times, the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Life takes on a whole new smell, because you are living it on purpose.

In moments like these, you know who you are. You know where you belong.

This weekend has been one such moment for me, a time of power, presence, and life. I’ve been at the annual Fall Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, held this year in Lebanon, New Jersey. Our theme this weekend has been Fully Human, focused on the ways that we can live into the love-saturated life and power that Jesus promises us in the Holy Spirit.

Together, we’ve been experiencing the living presence of Jesus. We’ve been hearing his invitation to truly abundant life. What he offers us has more depth and reality than the false promises and illusions of the dominant culture: consumerism, materialism, and the soul-numbing myth of the autonomous individual.

We were made for more. We can feel it our bones.

Every gathering of God’s people has its own flavor. Some are raucous affairs, whipped hard by the winds of the Holy Spirit. At this gathering, though, we’ve experienced a sweet spirit of reassurance and gentle challenge. We’re being invited to take a realistic look at our lives, and to consider how we can take the next steps into deeper discipleship with Jesus.

This weekend has been a baptism into a deep reservoir of courage. It’s the kind of bravery that can only be lived into over a period of months, years, decades. It’s not the thrill of the quick decision or the decisive battle. We’re being called into the gentle, relentless faithfulness of water – slowly wearing down the path that God desires to walk in us.

There is a stream of living water that is flowing through our lives as friends of Jesus. We’re encountering an invitation to turn away from the many ways that we burden ourselves. The Spirit is calling to us, inviting us to take up the easy yoke of Jesus. Together.

It’s not clear what the next steps will be, though we’ve gotten some hints. It’s going to involve slowing down and really being present with one another. It’ll mean taking big risks over long periods of time, preparing ourselves for those kairos moments when God will use us to take powerful and transformative action, in ways both seen and unseen by the world.

The path we are being called into calls for patience, discipline, and steadfast love. There will be few quick victories, no easy answers. Nevertheless, Jesus has promised to walk with us along the way, and we already experience his child-like joy accompanying us. We are learning to trust him, and to take him at his word. He is faithful.

I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next.

Related Posts:

We’re Gathering Momentum – Are You In?

The Spicy, Subversive Kingdom of God

Is It Time to Get Rid of Yearly Meetings?

Is It Time to Get Rid of Yearly Meetings?

I’ve been deeply embedded in the Quaker Industrial Complex for a long time. I’ve been one of those professional Quakers. I first became a Christian while studying at a Quaker seminary, and subsequently worked for years in official Quaker circles – at Earlham School of Religion, and later at Friends United Meeting. I’ve lived, breathed, and dreamed Quakerism.

During this time, I’ve spent lots of time visiting local Quaker congregations, gatherings, and regional bodies. Often during these visits, Quaker leaders would tell me what they were most worried about. Some of these concerns were very specific to a particular group or situation, but others were more universal.

This Is My Concern, Dude

One of the most regular and consistent laments that I’ve heard from Quaker leaders is that the rank and file in their congregations don’t see the purpose of the yearly meeting* structures. They say things like this:

We can’t figure out how to help our people understand how important the Yearly Meeting really is. People ask us, What does the Yearly Meeting do for me?, but they’re missing the entire point! The Yearly Meeting is about being body. It’s not about what the Yearly Meeting provides for the local churches; it’s how we’re called together as a people, the shared experience we have of God when we’re together. After all, how are we supposed to do the work of the church if we don’t gather and support one another?

I’ve heard words like these so many times I’ve lost count. What’s more, I’ve said words like these on numerous occasions. As a person so dedicated to institutional Quakerism, the idea that many of our members no longer find the Yearly Meeting necessary was really threatening to me. After all, what is the Quaker community without our wider fellowship? How can we even exist without the Yearly Meeting?

Another Way?

Despite my misgivings, I’ve recently begun to wonder whether those naysayers might actually be right. Is there something fundamentally unhelpful about the Yearly Meeting system as it presently exists? What if the best thing that could happen would be for us to release our institutional structures altogether, opening ourselves to a more organic, responsive way of being Christ’s body?

In order to really consider these questions, it’s been helpful to take a step back from the Quaker bubble for a little bit. For the past couple of years, I haven’t been actively participating in a traditional Yearly Meeting. Instead, I’ve been part of a new, missional Quaker network called the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.

At first, we thought of ourselves as a sort of proto-Yearly-Meeting. We figured that our local missional communities were essentially Monthly Meetings, and that our Fall and Spring gatherings were more or less our Yearly Meeting (bi)annual sessions.

But as time has gone on, it’s become clear that we’re not a Yearly Meeting, and probably never will be. Instead, we’re finding something new and different, something born into the challenges that the church is facing in our present world.

As members and leaders in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, we take seriously the question, How does our community sustain and propel us in the mission where Christ has called us? Our fellowship does not exist for its own sake, but for the purpose of making disciples and demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ for our neighbors. The structures of the Fellowship are exist for this purpose, and they evolve as the Spirit leads us.

A New Kind of Community

This openness to Christ’s ongoing direction is creating a network of disciples that looks quite different than what we had experienced before. Here are some key characteristics we’re finding that make the Friends of Jesus Fellowship a truly vibrant community:

1. We empower individual leaders to operate in their gifts and unlock their potential as apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. By emphasizing the giftedness and unique calling of each person, we come together as a body with all parts working together in harmony.

2. The Friends of Jesus Fellowship is rooted in spiritual affinity and shared calling by Christ. The Fellowship is most strongly based in the eastern half of the United States, but we are not necessarily limited by geography. We have friends and co-workers scattered from Berkeley to Baltimore, from Madrid to Moscow.

3. Our membership is based on shared commitment and mutual accountability. We are members of one another because we have come together as disciples, followers of Jesus who are engaged together in learning from Jesus himself. Becoming a Friend of Jesus isn’t a matter of clearness committees and paperwork. We’re not a club to be joined primarily for a sense of identity and belonging. It’s about doing the work, showing ourselves to be friends of Jesus by our love for one another.

4. Rather than preserving an institution, we are focused on igniting a movement. In place of nostalgia for the past – even the admittedly glorious past of the early Quaker movement – we are inspired by a vision for the new things that God wants to do right here, right now.

It’s not that we don’t need institutions. We definitely do, and we are actively developing appropriate structures under the guidance of the Spirit. Still, we know that our institutions are means, not ends. No matter how efficient our structures and procedures are, their purpose is always to move us forward together in the dynamic mission of Jesus and his reign.

Freedom from the Quaker Law

As a recovering Quaker process junkie, this is all very new, disturbing, and refreshing! I have some sense of how Paul must have felt when he was released from the deadening straight jacket of the Law. This is what gospel freedom feels like: It’s the end of all the shoulds of religious observance, an invitation to a life of deep relationship with Jesus and his friends.

As part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, God is introducing me to a whole new way of being a follower of Jesus. Rather than seeking to defend the Quaker tradition and my insider bona fides, I am discovering a way of ministry that goes far beyond anything that Quaker tribalism could offer.

For all my friends who remain faithfully serving within a traditional Quaker context, I know this essay might feel like an attack. I hope you’ll believe me when I say it’s not. I have been among the fiercest Quaker loyalists, defending tooth and nail what I considered a traditional Quaker vision of gospel order. I still value this tradition, even as I join with a community that is radically re-mixing it in order to be faithful to where the Spirit is leading us today.

Whether you’re a Quaker insider or have never heard of a Yearly Meeting before reading this post, I want to invite you into something bigger. Something deeper. Something more beautiful than any human structure.

What would it look like for us to let go of the traditional Yearly Meeting altogether? What discoveries might we make if we started fresh, rooting community in our 21st-century context? What kind of power could we unlock?

I think we’re in for some beautiful surprises.

*For my non-Quaker readers: A Yearly Meeting is a regionally and theologically defined association of local congregations. It is the highest decision-making body that Quakers have, and is roughly equivalent to a diocese, district, or conference in other denominations.

Related Posts:

Get Your Hand Out of that Pickle Jar!

Burn Down the Meeting House

It’s the End of Church (As We Know It)

So we’re in this situation:

For hundreds of years, the Christian community has gathered together on Sunday mornings. Bright and early, we come together for service at a designated building. We hear a sermon. We sing songs. We show up to be seen, to connect.

These days, though, fewer and fewer of us are showing up.

I’ll spare you the statistics. You’ve heard them before. More importantly,  you’ve witnessed the change yourself. In the last fifty years, most of our congregations have hollowed out.

Maybe you’ve become a statistic yourself. At a certain point, coming to a building on Sunday morning no longer felt like an authentic, sustaining ritual for you. The draw of the community was overwhelmed by the demands of the week – of family and friends and work. Choosing between another weekend activity and a chance to rest, you chose sanity.

Or perhaps it was worse than that. Rather than withdrawing out of exhaustion, maybe you felt pushed out. Church politics and infighting added nothing to your life, just bitterness. The church’s rejection of gays, its embrace of nationalism and war, the suppression of women, and our apparent concern for individual prosperity over care for the poor. Stuff like that adds up.

There have been so many reasons to check out. So many reasons to find something better to do on Sunday mornings, even if it’s just to rest up for another work week.

Maybe you’re one of those who have been left sitting in the pews. So many others have dropped out, one by one, but you’ve hung in there. Sure, the church has its problems, but you still believe. You’re still committed to this group of people. You hold out hope that the Holy Spirit can still do something incredible with us, as short-sighted as we can be.

Broken as we are, all things are possible with God.

Still. Something has to change. The church as we’ve known it for the last several hundred years is less relevant every day. The Sunday morning show is dying. A new generation is emerging that demands something deeper. We long for a faith that can speak to the struggles and pain, joy and hope that we find in our everyday lives. We’re waiting, hungry for a Christianity that speaks to the mystery we find in the streets and the schools, the office and the coffee shop.

There is so much yearning in our culture for exactly the life and power that the gospel offers. There is an openness to a movement of the Holy Spirit, the real abundant life that we find in community around the dinner table with Jesus. We can emerge together with power, like those first Christians we read about in the book of Acts.

Or, we can choose to believe that the world is going to hell in a hand basket. 

Many of us are still so identified with the dying forms of the 20th century church that we are convinced that the church is moribund. We fail to see the reality that is right in front of our faces: The harvest is plentiful! We are ready for a re-imagined community, to become friends of Jesus in our post-modern world!

Which story will we choose to live in?

As long as we measure ourselves by 20th-century standards of how the church is supposed to look and behave, our story will be one of defensiveness and decline. We’ll just keep building our walls higher, digger our trenches deeper, wondering why no one wants to come join our Sunday-morning club. This is a sad, disheartening path, and I’ve walked it far too long. I’m ready for a more life-giving vision of what we could be as followers of Jesus.

It’s risky, of course, to push away from the shores of the known, out into the open waters of possibility. Who knows? Maybe we’ll sail over the edge of the world!

But from where I’m sitting, the risk of discovery seems like a better bet than the sad certainty of decline by attrition. It certainly sounds like more fun!

The call to discipleship is more beautiful than the story of church growth that has so captivated us in recent decades. What is it that really inspires us? Is it growing church membership? Planning the Sunday morning show? Bigger buildings, larger parking lots? Does the 20th-century model of church growth set your heart on fire?

For me and my partners in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, Jesus’ invitation is to something far more meaningful than promoting the Sunday club and building it bigger. What would it look like to respond like the apostles did? What would it be like to truly make disciples in the way of Jesus? How will our lives need to change in order to respond to the radical demands of the in-breaking reign of God?

One thing is for sure: It won’t look like church as usual. 

Related Posts:

How to Survive the Church-pocalypse

Burn Down the Meeting House

What Does it Mean to be Fully Human?

Fully Human

Are you ready for more?

Not more accomplishments to rack up, not more bills to pay and people to impress – but more life, the real life that all of us hunger for but often fail to experience.

Are you ready to live truly, see clearly, and prioritize the things that really matter?

What does it mean to be fully human?

This fall, Friends of Jesus Fellowship invites you to an experience of wholeness, vitality, and deeper life in community.

Be present with us September 4-7 in Lebanon, New Jersey.

Register now and lock in a special low rate (ends June 8th)!

Watch for more details soon.

The Spicy, Subversive Kingdom of God

FOJF Spring Gathering Group Photo

This weekend the Friends of Jesus Fellowship met for our annual Spring Gathering. We came together from across the United States – mostly from the East, but we had a few folks come from as far away as St. Louis, Wichita, and even California! We filled to capacity the space at the little Friends Center in Barnesville, Ohio, and we were grateful for the hospitality of local Quakers who made it possible for us to sleep so many without most of us resorting to tents!

The focus of our gathering was the theme of the mustard seed, which Jesus uses as a metaphor for the kingdom of God. The mustard seed is small, spicy, and hardy. It’s an invasive species that takes over gardens and has to be rooted out with a blowtorch. It’s also a bush where birds can make their nests – a symbol of the alternative social order that God offers those of us who turn away from the broken systems of Empire.

Seeking to be part of this spicy, subversive kingdom, we equipped one another for the work of developing an alternative to the domination system. We explored the spiritual gifts that God has planted in each one of us, which are meant to grow in community. We learned more about how to discern the purpose and mission that the Spirit has for each one of us, and how to put these living commandments into concrete action.

It was a blessing to be co-teaching with Adria Guilzia this weekend. God seems to have given the two of us complementary gifts that allow us to build up the Friends of Jesus community. As Adria and I have said on several occasions, we frustrate each other in exactly the right ways, which provides for good leadership when the two of us are working in harmony.

I was grateful for all the ways I saw leadership being taken and spiritual gifts exercised this weekend. Some took up the task of leading music. Others worked hard at preparing food, doing dishes, cleaning up, and helping us in quiet ways that allowed the weekend to proceed smoothly. Faith, in particular, made it look easy to feed two dozen people three meals a day in a small Midwestern kitchen – a feat that all of us knew was a gift from God.

The Holy Spirit was truly present with us. I felt the power of God in our midst as we sang, prayed, listened, and spoke together. I feel so much gratitude for this spiritual family, and I am reminded of the responsibility that we have to use our gifts to invite others to experience God’s grace and power. 

As the Spring Gathering ended, I got some special help in being faithful to God’s working in my life. I met with my Board of Advisors and support team, who helped me do discernment around how to be faithful to the ministry that God has called me to. In addition to the ongoing work that I am doing with the Friends of Jesus Fellowship both locally and nationally, I am feeling clear to undertake more public speaking and to write a book.

I feel so blessed to be part of a community where I can receive this kind of support in discernment of the work that God is calling me to, and I hope that I can be part of this experience for others. We’re so much more powerful together! As a community rooted in the mustard seed gospel, we can participate in the spicy, subversive kingdom of God that topples empires.

Related Posts:

Sprouting Seeds of the Kingdom

Friends of Jesus in Barnesville

Ready to Explore Your Calling? There’s a Place for You

Have you ever felt alone in your search for depth, meaning, and purpose in life? Do you sense the Spirit calling you to a deeper, more adventurous way of living? Are you seeking a community that supports you in being true to your deepest calling? There’s a place for you here.

Seeds of the Kingdom - Friends of Jesus Fellowship

This March 13-15, the Friends of Jesus Fellowship is gathering in Barnesville, Ohio to explore what it means to allow the kingdom of God to truly come alive among us. How can we uncover what it is the Spirit is asking of us? Where are the tools that God has given us to be faithful? What part does each of us have to play in building up a love-centered community in the midst of Empire?

The seeds of truth, love, power are scattered everywhere. This spring, we’ll discover community and explore how we can support one another. We’ll tend the seeds of life, and learn how to bless our neighborhoods with Christ-like character and love.

Does this sound like the place for you and your tribe? I hope you’ll join us.

There is a Life of Power we can Hardly Imagine

Are you worn out with the Sunday morning routine? Feel like there must be more to the Christian life than committee meetings, worship services, and sitting around in a circle discussing our feelings? Are you hungry for a faith that leads to concrete acts of love? In a culture so hostile to genuine community, what would it mean to be part of an organic whole, a very real and tangible body of Christ?

This March 13-15, we’re going to find out.

Seeds of the Kingdom

Christianity was never meant to be a mindless habit. Jesus’ message wasn’t a set of religious beliefs that we could either accept or reject. The point of our faith isn’t to build a new religion based on Jesus. We are invited into nothing less than a radical, life-altering friendship with Jesus himself.

This is a whole new way to live. The way of Jesus digs down to the heart of our existence and exposes what is really true, authentic, life-giving. It uncovers the dark, hidden parts of our lives, bringing everything into the light.

This new way of living is something that sneaks up on you. It’s easy to miss this quiet revolution amidst the noise of the daily grind. This hidden kingdom has the power to transform our lives forever.

We can experience this sneaky, subversive kingdom together.

The basic building blocks of this new way of living are already present. We don’t have to go looking for some utopia out there. The kingdom of God is within us, among us, present with us when we seek it together. The seeds of the kingdom are already planted; we just have to make space for them to grow.

This spring, we’re welcoming the wild growth that the Holy Spirit has sown in us.

We don’t have to live our lives in maintenance mode. We can let go of the fear and guilt that hold us back from real joy. There is an alternative to the religious wheel-spinning that so many of us are trapped in. Jesus is alive, and he’s ready to unleash a movement the likes of which we’ve never seen before.

Are you ready for this?

Consider yourself invited to the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering. March 13-15, 2015. Barnesville, Ohio. Join us as we explore what it means to lead lives of courageous transformation in community. Discover a movement of the Holy Spirit now, in our day, that promises real change in the midst of stuck-ness, real hope in the midst of despair.

Save the date. Tell your friends. Register now, and let us know you’re coming.

Related Posts:

We’re Gathering Momentum – Are You In?

When we Pray, it Boils