From Mustard Seeds to Trees… Some Thoughts on Where We’re Going in 2012 at Bloom

Hey Bloom Family –

I wanted to take a few minutes here to both recap our gathering last night (in case you missed it) in which we talked at length about our plans for 2012 as well as offer some more detail and clarifications on things you may have been wondering about.

Jesus tells a fascinating parable in Matthew 13.  We have made reference to it often at Bloom (we find it just SO illuminating and helpful), but it bears repeating:

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches.”

The reign of God, says Jesus, does not begin with an earth-shattering revolution.  Instead, it gets planted in the soil of human society, as the very smallest of all “seeds”.  YET, Jesus says, when it grows, it becomes the largest and most visible of all the plants in the garden.  Indeed, it becomes a tree.  The kind of tree that provides stability for the soil, shade, and a place for the birds of the air to call home.

That parable has proven to be pregnant with wisdom and illuminative power for us, lighting the path when we were unsure where to go.  Bloom, as many of you know, began as a small gathering of folks in a living room trying to figure out what it would look like if God was really manifesting his reign through them to the city of Denver.

A seed of the kingdom was planted… and it has been growing ever since.  Though “planting a church” in the traditional sense was never really the express goal of the early gathering, well, here we are today – a collective of 7 house churches which gather together weekly as one congregation, seeking to make the kingdom of God tangible to the city of Denver as we align our lives with his reign.

The last 6 months in particular have frankly been inspiring.  Our little “gardens of resurrection” are growing, and it is beautiful to behold.  A dream which has been simmering in the hearts of many of us for years… is coming true.  And thanks be to God for that.

There is more for us to do, and to be together, however.  But what?

Our vision, as we’ve said is to cultivate a congregational network of house churches (“gardens of resurrection”) spread throughout the Greater Denver area, infecting it with the life of the kingdom.  It’s a vision that inspires and motivates us to work hard and keep running.

Yet in order to accomplish this vision, we’ll need to be careful and thorough in our planning, lest the vision implode all around us.  And one of the things that we feel in a unique way right now is that God is leading us into a season as a congregation of moving intentionally towards enduring stability, depth, and faithful presence.

What does that mean concretely?  Let me break each item down for you:

  • Enduring stability.  Jeremiah exhorted the Jewish exiles who had been deported to Babylon to “Build houses and settle down” (Jer 29:5).  What an astounding statement.  They were not to spend their time wishing for a speedy return to Jerusalem.  Rather, they were to put roots down in that pagan city.  And why?  Because God intended to use them to make his “shalom”, his peace, palpable to those around them.

In the same way, we sense God calling us to make a deliberate move towards long-term stability in this city.  So as part of our budget this year, we’re going to start stashing money ($1,000 per month) away for a permanent facility.  We think that planting our flag in the soil of Denver matters for how we understand our mission to the city, so that’s what we’re going to do.

I would hasten to add here that as our sense of congregational identity is coming increasingly into focus, it is becoming more and more apparent that we are a church for the city.  That means that when we start looking for a permanent facility, we’ll be looking in or near downtown.  Our dream is to be, to use Paul’s words, a “colony of heaven”, right smack in the middle of the city.

  • Depth.  We believe that the family of God, by its very nature, is an organism that, when growing in a healthy way, does so both in breadth and in depth.  We don’t want to sacrifice one on the altar of the other.  But holding the two in balance, letting them tug on each other in appropriate ways… well that is easier said than done.

Simply put, we need to work to round out our pastoral team.  As most of you know, Bloom has been able to grow to the point it has (7 house churches, 150+ at our Sunday evening gathering) operating with basically 1.5ish pastors and a whole mess of volunteers.  To that extent, we have done VERY well.  But to continue to  grow in the way we envision, adding depth and substance to what we do and building systems and structures that multiply culture and leadership… we need help.

The addition of Denver Seminary student Rusty Gates to our team last year has been an immense blessing to us.  This year we’re excited to announce a new couple joining our team: Jamie and Bre Mertens.  The Mertenses have been friends with the Arndt and Gungor family for years now and have recently wrapped up a five year tenure at a church in Boulder where they served mostly as youth pastors, with a variety of family ministry responsibilities salt and peppered in there.

Many of you will no doubt recognize Jamie from his work in recent months with us as our setup and hospitality coordinator, and you’ll likely recognize Bre’s face from the times she’s helped out with our worship teams.  Now that their time in Boulder is complete, you’ll be seeing their faces a LOT more.

And for that, we’re really grateful.  These two have wonderful hearts and a pile of gifts that are going to be a HUGE asset to Bloom in both the short and long term, and the truth is that Jamie’s actually been helping out behind the scenes on a whole bunch of strategic issues since late last summer (he’s a fantastic strategic and organizational thinker).

Now before you start fretting that a new “pastor” is being thrust on you, let me tell you how this is going to go down:

– First, we want to be really sensitive to this couple’s need to debrief and relax a bit after a really strenuous five years.  So in the next few months, “status quo” is the word – they’ll continue to help in the capacities they have over the past few months as they rest and recuperate and get their feet set for the next season of their lives.

– Second, slowly but surely we want to work Jamie into public visibility at Bloom, which will probably mean doing announcements here and there and preaching every so often (just like Rusty).

– Third, they’ll be starting a new house church up in Superior (10 minutes south of Boulder) sometime around spring break.

– Fourth, as the resources become available and their gifts are both tested and finding integration in the Bloom community, we’ll start pushing more pastoral tasks their way.

Think of their path as being exactly what Rusty’s path is – we see pastoral gifts, we test pastoral gifts and watch them bear fruit in our context, and one day we simply acknowledge what is already apparent: this person is a pastor.

We think that it’s unfair to simply unfurl a new “pastor” at you, especially with our community being the size it is.  So we’re eager to make sure the communal reality (the pastor-congregation relationship) precedes any title we give out.  Paul says “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands” (1 Tim 5:22).  We think that’s great advice.  So we’re following it.

  • Faithful presence.  I stole this term from James Davison Hunter in his book “To Change the World“.   In it, Hunter argues for a vision of congregational life in which the church neither tries to dominate the culture nor withdraws from the culture, but instead exists as a counter-society of the kingdom WITHIN culture, being “faithfully present” in a way that brings life and health and hope to the culture that it finds itself within.  Or to use Eugene Peterson’s words, it is a vision of congregational life in which “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

To put it another way, if Bloom as a congregation disappeared tomorrow, would Denver mourn?

That is a startling, jolting, “take a tall, stiff drink of THAT” kind of question.  But like a splash of cold water on the face, it is surprisingly clarifying and refreshing.

“Faithful presence” for us means that as the strength of this community rises, so also does the amount of tangible “shalom” in the city of Denver.  Interestingly, in that same passage out of Jeremiah, where the prophet exhorts the exiles to settle down, he also says:

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. (29:7)

How fascinating.  The shalom of the city and the shalom of the people of God were somehow bound up with one another.  They were not allowed to seek their own flourishing in isolation.  Seek the flourishing of pagan Babylon, Jeremiah says, and you will flourish also.

So what are we going to do about that?  Two things:

  1. First, we’re committing to a budget in which 20% of our income goes to ministries of mercy and church planting, both locally and abroad.  We want more people in Denver to eat and find shelter and medical care because we exist.  Moreover, we want to invest in seeing OTHER “gardens of resurrection” – churches – sprout up in this area and abroad.
  2. Secondly (and this I did not mention last night), we’re encouraging our house churches to work through a deliberate process of discerning who’s “feet” in the city of Denver they are called to wash, and how they will wash them.  We want our house churches to make a concrete impact for shalom in this city.

And so… enduring stability, depth, and faithful presence.  That’s what we’re gunning for.

As we’ve worked through the numbers on this, we think that we can pull it all off on a monthly budget of around $12,500.  Now, just to give you an idea of where we’ve been, during the last quarter or so of last year, we ran our ENTIRE operation for about $6,700 per month.

That’s $6,700 for…

  • 1.5 staff salaries
  • A facility
  • Charitable donations
  • Administrative costs
  • Supplies, etc., for Sunday nights
  • And a handful of miscellaneous expenses

You may not know a lot about church finances, but let me assure you, $6,700 for a church of our size is a bit like “And he took the loaves, gave thanks, broke them, and distributed them to the people… and there were about 5,000 of them present”… It’s kind of crazy that we’ve been able to do so much with so little.

And of course you might be thinking, “Geez, so you’re going to ADD $6,000 per month to a budget that was already crazy bear-bones?

Yes.

But it’s really doable, guys.  Let’s say that we have a monthly target budget of $12,500, and there are 150 or so people who call Bloom their home.  That works out to a monthly average of $83 per person.

$83.  $83 to start stashing money away for a permanent facility, round out the pastoral staff so that we can continue to multiply and deepen ministry, and begin blessing the city and the world with shalom.  $83.

We can do this.  I am sure that we can.

The question is whether or not we WANT to.  And that comes down, I think, to questions like, “So what exactly are we made of?”

Edwin Friedman, in his extraordinary book “A Failure of Nerve” wrote this:

We are on our way to becoming a nation of “skimmers”, living off the risks of previous generations and constantly taking from the top without adding significantly to its essence.  Everything we enjoy as part of our advanced civilization…came about because previous generations made adventure more important than safety.  (P. 83)

The hard truth here is that my crowd – the under 35 crowd – tends not to be a generation of builders.  Our parents were builders.  They perceived that the world was theirs for the shaping, and so they did.  Not us.  We largely whine and complain about how things are, the world our parents left for us, without having the character to bleed and sacrifice for the kind of world we believe in.

We are long on criticism, and short on character.  We skim from the top, and rarely if ever add to the essence of anything.

I refuse to participate in that, and I hope that you refuse also, FOR IT IS BENEATH YOUR DIGNITY AS PERSONS MADE IN THE IMAGE AND LIKENESS OF THE CREATOR, WHO BUILT AND CONTINUES TO BUILD HIS WORLD WITH CARE.

So our challenge to you this year Bloom, is this: come build with us.  There is a bright future ahead.  Let’s go get it together.

With respect to all this budgeting talk, we also plan on publishing quarterly reports this year – which will show in essence “budget vs actual” income and expenses, so we’re all dialed in to how we’re doing.  We need to own this together.

If you have any questions about any of this, or would like further clarification, as always, don’t hesitate to ask.

With great love and a heart full of hope for the future,

Andrew

5 thoughts on “From Mustard Seeds to Trees… Some Thoughts on Where We’re Going in 2012 at Bloom

  1. Pingback: The Mertens Periodical « Breanne Marie

  2. Pingback: Bloom Church: Actual Innovation! | Plainsong Farm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s