(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…