What’s a Bloom House Church, Pt 2

Hey Bloomizens –

I wanted to pick up where we left off last week, talking about our philosophy of house church.  If you missed last Sunday’s talk, you can listen to it here, and I’d also encourage you to read this blog post, even though there will be substantial overlap.

A favorite parable of mine:

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” (Matt 13:33)

“Missional” is a word that’s gained some traction in recent years in the evangelical landscape.  It’s rather chic these days to claim that your church or movement or small group or house church is “missional.”  We’re the “missional” Christians, you know, as opposed to those “non-missional” Christians out there…

And yet, there seems to be no consensus as to what the word actually describes.  A particular posture towards the lost?  A particular set of commitments to social justice?  A certain level of engagement with global poverty?  What counts?

Amid the ballyhoo, it seems to me that two curious and highly negative things can and do happen.  One is, “missional” becomes a badge that marks “us” out as separate from “them.”  That church over there CANNOT be missional, because they do smoke and lights and all that stuff…  This is common, and sad.  “Missional” becomes another point of pride, posturing, and division.

Another thing that can happen is that “missional” becomes a burden.  We hear well-intended things like “God is on our side if we are on the side of the oppressed…” and we wonder, “Am I on the side of the oppressed?  And what would that look like?  And when would I know if I am ‘on the side of the oppressed’ enough?  Is there a magical line to be crossed?”  And so the shrill prophetic cries for the church to move beyond itself become heavy and ill-defined yokes, burdens that we bear that squash joy and spontaneity.  We worry whether or not we’ve done ENOUGH to “be missional.”  We fret whether or not we can “be missional” and live outside the urban core of our city.  And on and on it goes.

For my part, I think that all of this is sad and unnecessary.  I think that Jesus and Paul were stern and clear in their positions vis a vis “badges” and “burdens”… or, to use a biblical category, “pride” and “condemnation.”  We need a better way.  One that liberates us for mission with Jesus and helps us steer clear of the twin traps of pride and condemnation.  But where shall we find it?

I have found help in two 20th century figures: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar.

For much of Bonhoeffer’s early scholastic career, he was beset with turmoil over the question, “What is the Church?”  Liberal theology at the time tended to view the Church in merely human terms, while another strand of theology that was becoming increasingly influential (Barthianism) tended to view the Church as something that “blinked” in and out of reality as the she responded to the “Word.”

Bonhoeffer went a different direction altogether.  In his doctoral dissertation “Sanctorum Communio”, Bonhoeffer asserted that the Church was “Christ-existing as Church-community.”  That is, the Church ALREADY WAS the place where the risen Christ lived and occupied space on planet earth.  Her (the Church’s) identity “in Christ” was not in dispute.  It was REAL.  What was in dispute was whether and to what extent the Church saw this and ran with it.  But that she was “in Christ” and that Christ was “in” her ALREADY… this was beyond argument for Bonhoeffer.

In a similar vein, von Balthasar in his work “Engagement with God” wonders just what it is that gives the Church that peculiar quality of being a “leavening agent” in the world.  Drawing on the parable of the yeast (quoted above) von Balthasar sees that the “dough” (the world) and the “yeast” (the people of God) need each other.  The dough will not rise without the yeast.  But neither will the potent power of the yeast be unleashed unless it is “plunged” into the dough.  So where does the “yeastiness” of the yeast come from?

Von Balthasar answers simply that it is grace working on the yeast to refine it, in several stages, so that its pure potent power can be released when it finds itself immersed in the dough of the world.

When I put Bonhoeffer and von Balthasar together, a compelling picture emerges in which “missional” is not fundamentally something “different” from the total work of spiritual formation in which our identity as sons and daughters of God “in Christ” increasingly comes into focus and becomes the foundation out of which our lives are lived.

That is to say, at Bloom, we think that it is fundamentally dangerous and misguided to separate “mission” from “spiritual formation.”  Instead, we think that “what God has joined together, let man not separate.”  As our identity “in Christ” is increasingly discovered and lived into (spiritual formation), “mission” will be the inevitable result.

Now that is NOT to say that we do spiritual formation for ‘x’ amount of years and THEN begin to move out in mission.  They happen together.  There is a circular – or even better, a “spiral shaped” process of engagement with the world in our own lives and deep formation into our identity in Christ.  We are “sent” out into the world and then “drawn” back into the family of faith where our identity continues to be forged and deepened.  We are “scattered” and then we are “gathered.”  Each time around the loop there is a sharpening and a deepening.  The process is crucial.

The logic of House Church for us, then, is the logic of “gathering” whereby we are formed more deeply for obedience-to, conformity-to, and identity-in Jesus Christ, which will have an inevitable impact on our engagement with the world in the particular spaces (work, school, family, friends, neighborhood, etc) that God has called us into.

One of the reasons at Bloom we’ve settled on “house church” as the nomenclature we use to describe our expression of community rather than “missional community” is that, from our perspective, “missional” tends to put too much slant on what we “do” rather than what we “are” ALREADY (think Bonhoeffer) by virtue of our confidence in what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  House Church therefore is therefore a place where what we ALREADY ARE is increasingly unearthed as we do life together with brothers and sisters in the family of faith (think von Balthasar).

And through it, as that identity is forged ever-deeper, we are also “sent” back into our lives to BE WHAT WE ALREADY ARE… salt, light, yeast… even better… ministers, ambassadors, PRIESTS OF THE LIVING GOD, who mediate the presence of God to a hurting world.  We carry Christ with us (for we are “in Him” and He “in us”) into all the places now under the control of darkness, and darkness increasingly loses its grip.

We believe, in very deep and profound ways, that God has not “accidentally” placed any one of us in the lives he’s placed us in.  To put it another way, we are “already” plunged into the dough of the world in very particular and unique ways, in a configuration of relationships and environments, none of which are at-random.  Therefore, “being missional” is not a matter of extracting yourself from one environment and placing yourself in another.  Nor is it a matter of caring more about big clunky humanitarian issues “out there” (though both of those things are good and worthy and may happen as a result of the deepening of our identity).  Instead, it is about being alive to who we ALREADY are… the Christ ALREADY in us… longing to save and bless the world he has placed us in.

That is why at Bloom we do so little rallying to this or that “cause” in our gatherings.  We don’t carry around an anxious pressure that unless we make up stuff for you to care about, “mission” won’t happen.  All to the contrary, we believe that as the horizon of your life is filled with beauty of Christ Jesus, and as that beauty permeates all that you are and do, “mission” will happen as naturally as salt flavors whatever environment it is placed in.  For salt doesn’t have to “try” to be salt.  Instead, as everything that is “not salt” about it is stripped away, it will inevitably be “salty” when plunged into stew or salad.

Several weeks ago I had the good privilege of doing lunch with a guy who had come to a couple of our gatherings.  Casually I asked him his impression.  His response:

What I loved about your gathering was that it had a curious quality to it.  It was good.  And deeply refreshing.  But more than that… when it was all over, I had the distinct feeling of having been ‘sent’.  But not ‘sent’ to DO this or that thing, or to believe in this or that moral or humanitarian cause… just ‘sent’ back into my world, to be what I’ve been called to be.

“That,” I thought, “is paydirt.”  We didn’t give him a badge.  We didn’t give him a burden.  We gave him the gift of knowing who he is more deeply, and thus feeling delivered by God back into his world to BE what he is… salt, light, yeast, blessing.

So if you ask me, “Where’s ‘mission’ in this whole ‘house church’ conversation?”, I will answer simply: “In the refinement of our lives, the purification of our souls, the unearthing of our deep identity in Christ, the chiseling away of all in us that is not ‘salt’ and ‘light’…

House Church is a place for that to happen.

Much love to you, and as I said last week, let us know if we can get you connected with one of these “families of faith”…

Pastor Andrew

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What is a Bloom House Church, Pt 1

(This post is a follow-up post to last week’s State of the Church talk… if you haven’t read that or heard the audio at bloomchurchdenver.com, it might be helpful to do so)

Hey Bloomsters –

So it occurred to me following last week’s “State of the Church” talk that there were perhaps a few… or many… or most… okay, maybe all of you, who walked away from our gathering going, “YES! – Gardens of resurrection, house churches, infecting Denver with the kingdom, etc etc etc…. I can get behind that!” and then had this thought occur to you, “So what the freak is a ‘garden of resurrection‘ ?”

Fair question.

In reflecting on said ambiguity, I thought it would be good to take a couple weekends to dive straight into our philosophy of house church – the what, why, and how – as a way of clearing away the fog and helping you discern where and how you fit in that picture.  Once again, we had some audio issues this past weekend, so, until we get that all worked out, let this blog post suffice… and PLEASE, if Bloom’s your home, be sure to read this.

To retrace our steps ever so briefly – We believe that we are called to build a church in which formational and missional concerns drive the discussion, rather than “How do we put more butts in the seats on Sunday?”  That is not to say that “numbers” do not matter.  It is to say that there are certain kinds of numbers that matter, and some that don’t, and we want to make sure we’re always clear on which is which.

To that end, we could say it like this:

The Vision of Bloom is to become a congregational network of house churches (“gardens of resurrection”) spread throughout the Greater Denver area, infecting it with the Kingdom.

We conceive of a church in which the “gathering” is a result of our commitment to Jesus’ call to make disciples and live in his mission, rather than the other way around.

Our dream is to have the Greater Denver area:

  • Saturated with “gardens of resurrection” (house churches)
  • Which gather regularly and regionally in order to
  • Journey together into their common identity in Christ as the family of faith, cultivating themselves in ever-fresh ways into the work of God in the mission of Jesus, both personally and corporately

Clear?

So then, the question becomes, “What exactly is a house church?”  We define it thus:

House Churches are…

  • Communities of radical formation into the way and life of Jesus (gardens of resurrection life)
  • Which exist to journey together into their common identity in Christ as the family of faith
  • With the goals of:

  1. Being formed both individually and corporately for deeper engagement with God’s mission, and
  2. Multiplying (giving away) what God is working in their midst

That is to say, we see Bloom house churches maybe a little differently than your average church “small group.”  Our house churches really are what they claim to be – living, local expressions of the Body of Christ composed of people who are doing life together in such a way that they really, truly, operate as a “family of faith”, being formed together for the kingdom.  They are places of love, safety, accountability, hospitality, welcome, formation, identity, mutual service, sharing… the list could go on and on, and you get the point.  This is “ekklesia” folks, in as robust a New Testament sense as we can imagine.

So why do we do it this way?  Well, the truth is that whenever a gathering of believers starts to transcend the living room (moving more and more into the arena of “public space”), something is lost.  That’s not to say that “public space” is bad.  Heck, we do a public thing.  IT IS TO SAY THAT THERE ARE CERTAIN KINDS OF FORMATION THAT CANNOT TAKE PLACE EITHER BY ATTENDING OR “SERVING AT” A PUBLIC GATHERING.

Even more, we tend to think that there are certain kinds of formation that can’t even be touched by doing your typical “small group Bible study” or “men’s accountability group.”  Having to be in a “family” does something to you that even being in a “small group” can’t.

NOW THAT IS NOT TO SAY THAT (geez with the caveats here, right?) what we’ve stumbled into at Bloom is the ne plus ultra of how to do spiritual formation in community in 21st century North America… it’s just to say that we’ve tried to follow the Spirit in fleshing out our convictions here at Bloom, and this is what we’ve come up with.

That said, what we love about what the Lord has led us into is how robust it is.  Sometimes, attempts at building community in the local church suffer from being too narrow or reductionistic.  They’re focused ONLY on accountability.  Or ONLY on study.  Or ONLY on fellowship.  Or ONLY on reaching the lost.  Or ONLY on discovering your gifts.  Or ONLY on service.  Need I continue?  What we tend to think is, “Why can’t we have it all?  And wouldn’t it be good for us to belong to a community which embodied all these concerns?”

All right, now I’m rambling… so if you come to a Bloom house church, what actually happens?  Let me break it down for you, piece by piece.

A meal is served.  When the family gets together, we don’t just go from 0 to 60 on dealing with all the deepest, darkest secrets of our lives.  We eat food, debrief on the day, reconnect with each other, and laugh like buffoons.  It’s a time to decompress out of the helter-skelter of the day and into the warm glow of community.

We gather in the living room, welcoming everyone.  Again, there is a gentleness to it all.  We don’t crack open Romans and start throwing punches over “does hilasterion mean propitiate or expiate!?”.  We say hi.  We welcome newcomers.  We breathe.

We give thanks.  We spend time giving anyone and everyone a chance to give thanks for things that have gone well for them of late… we do this because it trains us to “name the goodness” that comes into our lives as a gift straight from the hand of the Creator.  That is to say, nothing good has ever happened to you that God was not totally involved in.  God is never further away from you than your last breath.  That goes a long way towards defusing the despair that so often seeks to engulf us.

We engage the Scriptures.  But we don’t do it in a way that puts us in a position of power over the Scriptures, debating this or that jot and tittle.  Instead, we dim the lights and have someone read the Scripture for the night (often this text has something directly to do with our identity in Christ) over us.  They read it slowly, carefully, meditatively, MINISTERING the text to us.  When they’re finished, we sit quietly and let the “word” of God resound in the chambers of our souls.  We don’t analyze it.  We AWAKEN to it.  And as we awaken to it, we give thanks, or pray, or speak words of encouragement over the group.  God’s word truly becomes “living and active” in this moment.  We read the text one more time to bookend this moment, and then we move on (always resisting the ever-present temptation to linger too long at one station… there’s a self-control that’s demanded here).

We discuss.  But truly, the “discussion” is the smallest piece of our gathering.  And this is VERY “on purpose.”  There are few things that Christians love more than getting together with other Christians to talk about God or the Bible or Theology for several hours and then go home feeling like they’ve done something.  The truth is that they’ve done nothing, or maybe, if they have done something, that something tends to be negative.  From our perspective and in our experience, over-much discussion has the effect of pushing us OUT OF the realm of submission and obedience and INTO… well, into a whole bunch of really negative things, not least our narcissism.  So we limit our discussion time to a very focused topic that engages us for obedience.

We pray… for two things.  FIRST, we pray for whatever needs and concerns may be present (and there are always many).  We pray for grace and help and mercy and healing and discernment.  We take time, if the Holy Spirit prompts, to speak words of hope and encouragement to each other.  We ask for light to break into the darkness.  We pray, with the Psalmist, that in all of it the person would find themselves “taught by God” how to walk and live faithfull.

SECOND, we pray for “persons of peace” – folks outside of Christ who, through our relationship with them, it would seem that the Holy Spirit is working to draw them into the kingdom.  We pray over those folks, for the person in our group who is connected to them, and together we ask the question, “Are we supposed to enter this story, Lord?  And if so, how?”  We’re eager to manifest the kingdom to them, and pray for grace to know how exactly to do that.

We take Communion.  Our gatherings are bookended by our “tables.”  The first table where we encounter each other.  The second table where we encounter the Risen Christ.  We do this because in so doing we’re formed to remember that God’s Gift to us always precedes whatever we think about and do for and offer to him.  We do this because in so doing we learn to refer all of our lives over to God and his work in, through, and for us.  That is to say, we do this because through it we find ourselves “gospeled” over and over again.  This keeps our gatherings from ending in moralism or self-helpism.  We end with God… which is why:

We close with the Doxology.  We bless the One “from whom all blessings flow”, joining with creation in giving praise to the Triune God.  We do this because this is where our Story ends – with COSMIC THANKSGIVING.  We enter the realm of the eschatological… the transcendent… the eternal… by ending our gatherings there.

And so the family gathered… we started in the kitchen… we wound up in the deepest recesses of God’s goodness and love and holy beauty.  And what we have found is that something about doing this together forms us – individually and corporately – in PROFOUND WAYS.  We find ourselves, together and separately, becoming more and more the beloved children of God.

How does that sound to you?  I imagine that it sounds fantastically pedestrian.  We think that’s part of what’s beautiful about it.  No sound and lights.  No gimmicks.  Just God and his people together, in “the beauty of holiness” through which we are formed together for his goodness and love.

So there you have it, Bloomizens… next week we’ll be talking about what makes all of this “missional” and how we understand that word, so you won’t want to miss it.  In the meantime, be reminded that there are FOUR NEW HOUSE CHURCHES STARTING UP, and if you’re not connected to one, we’d be glad to facilitate that process for you.  Just let us know.

As always, much love goobers…

Andrew

Why I love “Ghosts Upon the Earth”

So… there’s a lot of public patting on the back in the world of popular Christianity… you get all your buds together, and whenever any of you does anything, everyone else makes sure to chirp about it.  A bit of a popularity contest, or so it seems.

Whatever the motivation of all of that may be, we don’t do a lot of it around these parts (and by “we” I tend to mean “I” for the most part, with a carryover into Bloomland), preferring instead to let the work stand on its own integrity.  To get straight to the point, Bloom (and Andrew) doesn’t do a ton of chirping about Gungor, and Gungor doesn’t do a ton of chirping about Bloom.  And that’s a good thing.

But, good Lord, after listening to Gungor’s release of “Ghosts Upon the Earth” last night… I absolutely HAVE to say SOMETHING.  So, in a moment of unembarrassed and gushing commendation, let me tell you why I love “Ghosts Upon the Earth”.

First, musically, this album is absolutely exquisite.  It totally blows the category of “Christian music” to bits.  It is expansive.  Rich.  Symphonic.  Diverse.  Gentle.  Explosive.  Eclectic.  All of it.  And the best part is, it is all of these things while being profoundly accessible to the “lay listener.”  I can’t think of an album in the last 10 years that took me as many places emotionally and imaginatively and moved me as deeply as this one.  Quite simply one of the most thrilling listening experiences I’ve ever had.  And I say that without even a trace of hyperbole or exaggeration.

Second, no one – I repeat, NO ONE – captures the richness of the biblical story musically quite like Michael and Lisa… Creation, Fall, Redemption, New Creation… the entire narrative arc of God’s salvation from Genesis to Revelation.  Christian music is so often conceptually shallow, and hence forms us in imaginatively emaciated ways.  This album is the quite rare exception.  It thrusts us into the “big themes” of the Story with an elegance and power that will leave you breathless.  As I listened, my emotions raged between feelings of explosive joy and wonder (“Let there be light!”), incredible sorrow (“you slept with strangers, gave them all you had”) and deep gratitude (“You are the beauty…”).  The generative power for eliciting such emotions comes in part from taking the richness of the Story seriously.  No one does it like these guys.

Thirdly, along with that, I’m not sure that I’ve heard anyone handle the complexity of the Church’s role in this Story as well as Gungor.  Being a total conceptual work that takes us through the entire sweep of the Scriptural narrative, something must be said and sung about God’s people.  “Ghosts” is fully aware of the grandeur and beauty of creation… the goodness of God… and the gracious gift of life… and the will of God to defeat death and liberate the captives… to bring restoration and redemption and fullness to a world scarred by human rebellion and sin… and the fact that God’s people are ever called to be agents of that redemption and healing.

Yet “Ghosts” wonders openly whether the Church sees this.  (I find myself tearing up as I write this… a subject so close to my own heart and ministry.)  This theme was present if understated in Michael and Lisa’s earlier work, yet here it is blown up to prophetic proportions… we are put on trial, and hard questions are asked of us.  Tracks like “Church Bells”, “Wake up O Sleeper”, and (this song crushes me), “Ezekiel” lament loudly the tendency of the people of God to be themselves the deaf and dumb and wicked, even as we accuse the world of so being.  “Ghosts” takes us to some very hard places.  To the profound call of God over his people, and to the turmoil that lies at the heart of the biblical story: will the Bride wake up to who and Whose she is?  Ever that question rings out…

Yet, and fourthly, unlike so many, “Ghosts” does not leave us in despair over this… after dragging us to the depths of our waywardness, Gungor brings us back to the “lub dub” of relentless affection through which God will have his people, one way or another.  The desperate cry of God, “come back”, gives way to moments of our fragile and sometimes hesitating return, “You Are My Heart”, through which we exhale in remembering that the Love that created and redeemed us will ever win our wayward hearts over – “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely” – and then leads us into the explosive and triumphant “This Is Not The End”… a resounding declaration that God will get his way with us and “we will shine like the sun” as we “open our eyes wider” to all that He is.

Finally, I love “Ghosts” because of where it leaves us.  It leaves us with hope and gratitude… gratitude… always gratitude.  But – and here’s the thing – it’s not a cheap gratitude.  This is a hard-earned gratitude… a gratitude that really does come from repentance… a humbling… that we miss it so often… and yet… He is there… always calling us back… delighting to show mercy… and his Love will win us over

And so “Ghosts” soars up out of the canyons of lament and sorrow with unblushing thankfulness for the good things that come straight from the hand of the Creator… for “breath and sex and sight” declaring with EXPLOSIVE JOY that “You are the Beauty”, echoing an earlier song which in the same spirit announced “You are everything good, you are everything beautiful, you are everything, you’re everything…”

And it is from this place that the final song comes – “Every breath, every moment life beats in my chest, springs up from your hand… I will love you with all of my heart, I will love you with all of my mind, I will love you with all of my strength, I will love you with everything.”  Out of the soil of God’s unremitting goodness comes the fruit of our answering devotion.  And oh how sweet it is.

As a pastor and teacher, I’m constantly wondering about how this or that thing is forming us.  My own opinion is that most of what passes as “Christian” in our culture (“Christian music”, “Christian books”, “Christian TV”, etc etc) actually forms us in bad ways.  It forms us for selfishness.  Or self-centeredness.  Or narrow-minded pride.

“Ghosts” is a remarkable exception.  Listen to it.  Savor it.  Let your heart be taken up into the high vault of the heavens, the nearly unbearable pain of our failure, and the joyful hope the Creator will have his way with us, and with all creation.  And through it, may you find yourself formed for Him – all that He is and desires us to be.

Michael and Lisa – friggin proud of you guys.  Love you to pieces.  Thanks for reminding us all to keep opening our eyes… wider… and wider… and wider…

State of the Church :: The Days Ahead in Bloomland

(This post is mainly for Bloom folk, but if anyone else is interested, feel free to read!)

Hey Bloomizens –

As you know, our fall “State of the Church” address was last night… and what a night it was!  For those of you who weren’t there, I wanted to make sure you were in the loop on what’s going on.

Bloom, you may or may not know, began in 2007 with Michael and Lisa Gungor and a handful of people meeting together in a living room asking themselves the question, “What would it look like to be the people of Jesus together in the city of Denver?”  In other words, “How do we foster a Jesus/Kingdom-of-God-centered spirituality in our midst that pushes us out into God’s work in this city?”  The goal was never to “plant a church” in the traditional sense.  The living room group was not a “launch team” that would one day fulfill its purpose in the planting of a mega-awesome church gathering in the suburbs.  It WAS the church.  And from that original group, Bloom “bloomed”… organically, naturally, honestly, authentically; radically oriented away from filling a “church box” up with people and oriented instead towards the shaping of a people for God and his mission.

Mandi and I were not part of that original group.  But God had had us on a similar path for many years leading up to our transition out here.  In particular, we had grown increasingly uncomfortable with the way “church” in North America was done.  It seemed clear to us that Jesus called his original followers on the mountain to “go” and “teach people to obey everything I have told you.”  Not “go” and “work really hard to gather people into a church box.”  That is to say, discipleship and mission are the essence of being the people of God, not the things you worry about after you’ve planted your church.  To me it had become a sign of our fundamental confusion on this matter that in many of our churches, we had staff positions for things like “discipleship”, “spiritual formation”, and “mission.”  “How” I began to wonder, “have we relegated these things to ONE OF MANY things the church is about?  Aren’t those things the essence?”

It was at that time a thought began to dawn on me that the way we were engineering churches in North America was totally backwards, and that if you wanted to, as a matter of principle, you could “reverse-engineer” a community of faith so that formational and missional concerns were the driving impulses of what you did, rather than the thing you worried about after you’d gotten your church going.  That is to say, you might still have a crowd show up in your “church box” when you gathered, but the majority of your pastoral energy wouldn’t be spent on maintenancing that crowd, or doing market research to try to figure out what the mass of spiritual consumers in your area thought they needed so that you could invent programs for them.  The majority of your energy instead would be spent on creating the kind of community architecture that formed people together for life with Jesus in his kingdom… his kingdom NOW, that is.

What made Bloom so compelling for us back in 2009 when we prepared to move here was that those intuitions were ALREADY its guiding principles.  Organize around and towards kingdom, and the rest will follow.  I’ll never forget walking around in the lobby of the Grant Avenue Community Center (where we used to meet) after speaking at Bloom several weeks before we moved and hearing the Holy Spirit say to me, “Your work here will be to plant gardens of healthy, robust Christian spirituality in the middle of a culture of cynicism, rootlessness, despair, and ultimately death.”  Later on, my catchphrase for this became simply, “Gardens of Resurrection.”

That vision has stuck with us profoundly since we moved here two years ago.  It has become a sort of norming ideal that’s guided what we do.  And the beautiful thing, Bloom, is that it’s happening… whether you realize it or not, you are becoming a GARDEN OF RESURRECTION.  In your house churches, at the public gathering, in all the places you “live and move and have your being”, you are becoming this.  You carry the scent of resurrection with you wherever you go… and it is INFECTIOUS and HEALING for people.  Check out the video below for a marvelous testimony from a former Bloomer on this.

Believe me when I say that WE HEAR STORIES LIKE THIS ALL THE TIME.  Resurrection is what you are.  It is what you do.  It is an aura you carry with you that saturates your whole culture.

And it is not accidental.  It is so because we have FOUGHT LIKE MAD to keep this community focused on the right things… to make sure that our culture is pure and good… that the junk that so often spoils church life is kept out of the way so that “kingdom” becomes neither something we merely hope for in the afterlife nor simply an empty symbol that we rally around, but rather is a living reality in our midst.

And that reality must be given away.  For the dream is not simply “A garden”… but “GARDENS” of resurrection.  Our dream is nothing less than to see the greater Denver area SATURATED with house churches – that is, communities of folks living together under the reign of God in Christ and learning to act together as families of faith plunged like yeast, both individually and corporately, into the dough of the world.  Or, to use another Jesus-image, scattered like seed throughout the Front Range… and through them, the kingdom is planted and sprouts and grows, and darkness loses ground.

You see Bloom, when we think about our future… what inspires our hearts more than anything else… what compels us to the point of saying, “Yes, we could give our lives for THAT”, is the dream of seeing Denver transformed through a community architecture that empowers people to live together as signs and foretastes of the kingdom… families of faith… gardens of resurrection.  It is this that fills our souls with energy and motivates us to work hard, and bleed, and spill our guts.

So what does that mean for our immediate future?  What’s coming in the days ahead?

Three things: simple, yet potentially profound in their impact:

1) We’re going to work to shore up our leadership situation.  To this point, Bloom has been mainly governed by the Gungor and Arndt families.  Its worked.  But it’s time to grow up and call more people to shepherd this community with us.

“Shepherd” of course is the key word.  What criteria other churches use to select people into their governing body we do not know, but it seems like a commonsensical position to us to appoint people to positions of community oversight ONLY insofar as (1) they meet the requirements of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 and (2) have ALREADY proven themselves to be shepherds in our midst.  Duh, right?

To that extent, we’ve called our Tuesday night Cap Hill House Church Leaders, David and Elise Overcash to join us in helping to oversee the community for an initial one year term.  Their main responsibilities with us will be to help safeguard and steward the vision, tackle broad-level strategic issues with us, and of course, continue shepherding their little corner of the Bloom community, as they’ve so faithfully done.

In addition, two new additions to the Bloom “staff” include a new Lead Teacher for Bloom Kids, Amy Bangtson (pictured to the right with her man-friend Dane… has anybody noticed how our pictures are all pretty Colorawesome so far?).

Amy is an elementary school teacher within the Denver Public School system, so we’re stoked about what she brings to the table.  Her main responsibilities will be curriculum development and teacher training for Bloom Kids, essentially ensuring that what we do in Bloom Kids fits and flows out of our values and vision congregation-wide.

In addition to Amy, Rusty Gates joins the Bloom staff as a pastoral apprentice.  Rusty is a 2nd year Denver Seminary student who has already served Bloom in a variety of roles and capacities.  (He’s gonna totally love that I used this picture.)  When I approached Rusty this summer about committing the remaining duration of his seminary time (the next two years) to us in the capacity of a pastoral apprentice, he enthusiastically said yes.  Rusty’s gonna be working closely with me on a whole bunch of things, and my goals for him are that (1) Bloom would be blessed and helped and strengthened by his presence in exchange for (2) Rusty’s being sharpened and groomed and developed for all that God’s called him to in his future.  And who knows?  Maybe in two years we’ll have the cash to keep him around 🙂

2) We’re going to become more intentional in embracing a broad strategy for launching new house churches.  If Bloom’s “big thing” is these house churches, then we need to be much more intentional about thinking through how we find and develop leaders and how we launch these things.

Truth is, for the last couple years we’ve really been tinkering with the whole notion of house church.  The pendulum has swung this way and that, but through it all we feel like the Lord has taught us some things that amount to a workable model for doing “life together” in medium-sized communities (+/-25 people).  We’re prepared now to start giving those things and that model away.

Part of the way that we’re going to do that is by embracing a “both/and” strategy for starting new house churches.  Till now, we’ve only launched new house churches out of existing ones.  But it’s becoming increasingly clear to us that the Lord is sending us couples who he’s prepared in other contexts for exactly this work… couples with a robust faith, who love people, who have a desire to build community and the maturity to shepherd well.  The onus is on us to equip and release them in our midst for the work that the Spirit has already equipped them for.

To that end, we’re launching four new house churches this fall.  These house churches will start mainly as dinner, discussion, and prayer groups that will be invested with all of the DNA of a Bloom house church, so that as they grow together relationally, that DNA allows them to morph into full-scale house churches.  They are the “tadpole” to which house churches are the “frog”, and our job will be to coach and mentor them so that they can shepherd their respective communities well.  You’ll get a chance to meet these leaders in person the next two Sundays at Bloom, hear about when and where their groups are meeting, and decide whether and whom you want to join.

3) We’re committing ourselves to cracking the membership “nut.”  Now, I am well aware of the fact that half of you threw up in the back of your mouth when you read the word “membership”, and the other half of you started hyperventilating.  So rest assured… however we do this, we’ll do it BLOOMSTYLE.  Not coercive.  Not institutionally self-serving.  Not policing.  None of that crap.  We’ll do it in a way that reflects the culture and ethos that we’ve developed up to this point.

But we HAVE to do it.  And here’s why: there is a culture of non-commitment that is pervasive among the under-35 crowd and is PRONOUNCED in a city like Denver, where lots of young folks move to hang out and have a good time for a few years before they get on with the “rest of the their lives”, whenever that happens and whatever that means.  In fact, a good deal of the church growth among newer churches in Denver is simply a transient crowd of noncommittal church kids.  It’s bad for churches.  (I told one person this summer that doing church in Denver sometimes feels like building sandcastles on the banks of a raging river.)  But even more, IT’S BAD FOR THEM, because in not committing to anything they also thereby avoid the kinds of responsibilities that promote maturity.  And society is a willing conspirator in keeping 20-somethings perpetually adolescent.

What makes it worse is that churches are ALSO willing conspirators in this.  By not having a clear process of how they call people into the family, a family that shares a set of family values and commitments together, churches encourage the roaming crowd to simply be “friends with benefits” with them for as long as the relationship feels companionable.  In so doing, both parties subvert their growth into maturity.  How can we realistically shepherd people who have not said “I want in” on the family?  And how can we be upset with them for being noncommittal when we’ve given them no way TO commit and nothing to commit TO?

And its not “commitment for commitment’s sake” or “commitment to an institution.”  Rather, it’s belonging to a family that lives in, with, and under a set of commitments which keep it relationally, spiritually, and missionally healthy and faithful.

We MUST do this.  What it looks like – to be perfectly honest with you – we do not right now know.  But we’re committed to figuring it out.  As your pastor, let me ask you to TRUST ME: when we start taking concrete steps in this direction, you can rest assured we’ll do it in a way that is fully respectful of you and deeply faithful to the simple purity of culture that we’ve worked so hard to safeguard up to this point.

So… there’s our immediate future in as much detail as we can give it to you right now.  Some of you will of course want to ask about things like art and outreach and organized social justice events… and perhaps other things as well.  Of course we will always do those things.  Both in the near and longterm future.  But what we FEEL COMPELLED TO FOCUS ON RIGHT NOW, AS CRITICAL TO OUR MISSION, is the things outlined above.  They are fundamental to our doing what we feel called to do.

My challenge to you, Bloom, in the days ahead, is simply this: “Run with us.”  We firmly believe that, like Paul said to the Corinthians, “You do not lack any spiritual gift” (1 Co 1:7) to become all that God desires you to be.  Believe that.  And let’s work hard to see the kingdom realized in our midst so that MORE LIGHT comes to the city of Denver.  MUCH MORE LIGHT.

All kinds of love to you…

Pastor Andrew