… when you recognize the dive bar in the background image of a slide during the worship service and snicker with your friends at the newfound irony to the words.
Certainly, the Tower Bar is a visual landmark in City Heights. It’s essentially a historic place in the city of San Diego. But it’s also a central meeting spot for folks in our church. We meet there to walk around the corner to Bravo’s Taco Shop. (Best burrito in City Heights) Or maybe to plan a small group outing. Or even to debrief a rough night at youth group.
And the joke is always that if someone has too much to drink they can get a tattoo in the upstair tattoo parlor aptly named, Tower Tattoo Parlor.
The connection between the words from the song and slide being a favorite place we meet was delicious.
I have a feeling that will become the official proper response for a meeting at the Tower from now on.
Where You go, I’ll go Where you stay, I’ll stay Where you move, I’ll move I will follow You
That’s the goal of our high school ministries Winter retreat.
I’m not talking about a cash neutral event to the youth budget. I’m talking about… we’ve got no money so we need to do this retreat for free. We don’t have budget money and our students literally have no cash to offset expenses.
Here’s what we’re trying to do:
Create a memorable, kinetic, outside-of-our-neighborhood, experience with our high school group. We need this retreat. It’ll be good for the students and it’ll be good for the group.
Here’s how we’re going to do it
Beg: I’m not too proud to beg. Especially when it comes to the faith development of the students in our ministry. Fortunately, when it came to location, I didn’t even have to beg. I just asked a Kingdom-minded friend if we could crash his youth building for 30 hours. When I visited Danny Long earlier this fall and saw his facilities (about 30 minutes from City Heights, but far enough into East County to feel completely separate from the urban environment.) I asked if it might be a possibility to use his building for a retreat. Without flinching he was happy to do it.
Next up, Kathy (our youth pastor) asked her cousin to lead worship. Done. Teaching? I’m pretty sure we’ll split those duties. Now we’re out begging for folks to pick up the tab on our Costco run for food for the retreat.
All that’s left is to beg off some programming elements. One of the tricks I learned from retreat-guru Lars Rood [author of an upcoming YS book on doing ministry for cost-neutral or free] was to not skimp on experience. So we are officially on the lookout to bring something to this retreat that our students from City Heights completely unexpected. (Horseback riding, sledding, paintball, or something along those lines.)
Borrow: We’re going to borrow ideas. Darn near all of them. Why spend all the time thinking up stuff when we can take things people are already offering for free and tweak them to work in our ministry/ From activity ideas to theme to kitchen appliances.
Steal: OK, we’re not going to steal anything. But we are stealing victory from the enemy by doing something we can’t afford for free. We might not be a resource rich ministry, but we are a resourceful group who aren’t ashamed to rely on the Kingdom.
Have you ever done a ministry event like this? If so, leave a comment and share your idea. [So I can steal it.]
A couple weeks ago I shared a post about discipleship that raised some questions about how we do things in our student ministry. Most of the comments were affirmative. Some of the more critical questions which arose required some follow-up.
With that in mind, I grabbed a few moments with Chris and Kathy, our staff members who run the New Heights Project to drill down into some of the questions that came up.
What is the New Heights Project internship all about?
Who we are and who we partner with?
Why intentionally hire non-Christian students to do children’s ministry?
What has been the effect of this method in students lives?
One additional thought. The thing that freaked most people out was the concept of intentionally hiring a mix of Christian and non-Christian students as interns. Every church I’ve ever done ministry with had students help in ministry areas who weren’t Christians. Any ministry leader is fully aware of that same fact. The only thing that is different here is that we’ve made it part of our strategy. Typically, ministry leaders know it but don’t acknowledge it because we’re talking about children of church members.
A few weeks ago I mentioned something our youth ministry does over the summer. We hire a group of high school students to run our children’s ministry outreach program. Here’s a highlight video they showed in church at the end of their experience.
I’m so thankful for the impact these students had on our community! Of course, they didn’t do it alone. The whole staff of Harbor was fully engaged as well as a big crew of adults from the church as well as some other missionaries from InterVarsity’s urban project.
It’s idealistic. It’s over-the-top. It’s incomprehensibly arrogant simplicity. It’s stupid fun to be around.
And that’s why I love my church.
This little church in the city truly believes they can be instrumental in seeing a new San Diego rise up to be an amazing place to live.
Right now, we’re in a sermon series on the book of Nehemiah.
As I read the narrative I can’t get past step one.
Step one of rebuilding your city? Chapter 1… lay on your face and be honest in confessing to God.
O LORD, God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses. Nehemiah 1:5-7
What I love about Nehemiah and its message to the church is obvious… it’s not about your church, people. The purpose of the church isn’t to build a little empire. It’s to bring life to a dead and dying city. It’s to see the gospel bring renewal.
When I look out over the landscape of church culture I can’t help but see that we’re missing step one.
We need to deal with our own hearts. And we need to focus on the city and not our fiefdom.
This next passage absolutely wrecked my view of the local church. At the end, when Jesus comes to judge the church, Revelation 2-3 gives us a glimpse of how he judges the church… it should change how you and I do business.
v. 1 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus write”
v. 8 “To the angel of the church in Smyrna write”
v. 12 “To the angel of the church in Pergamum write”
v. 18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write”
3:1 “To the angelof the church in Sardis write”
v. 7 “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write”
v. 14 “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write”
In case you missed it. Jesus isn’t judging the work of a single, local church. He’s judging the work of His body in each city.
This Easter marks roughly two years since I turned in my Pastor Adam card and went from church staff to church attendee.(I was officially done June 1st, but it was during Easter week that the offer to come to YS came, which completely changed everything.)
In so many ways I’ve re-learned what it means to be a member of a church. God has shown me hundreds of ways in which my assumptions and desires for people in the pews were flat out wrong.
But, more importantly, the last two years has solidified a deep love and respect for the church universal as well as the church I’m a part of– Harbor Mid-City.
Here are 5 things I love about my church:
They model their bridge building strategy with their staff. When I look at the make-up of their staff– I giggle. A PCA church plant with staff from a huge spectrum of Protestantism. Liberals. Progressives. Conservatives. I jokingly remind them, “In most communities this group wouldn’t even get together to pray… and you guys are on staff together!” I love that they chose to unite around Christ and major in the majors. Let me tell you, this is rare.
They meet at Hoover High School. I’m a huge fan of our location and all the challenges it brings along. I love that we pay to rent part of a high school. I love that we bring 200 adults to a high school campus they would rather ignore. I love that there is a constant tension in the space we use for kids is also a teachers space. I love that part of our being Good News to the community is showing up and worshipping at a place, Hoover, that is so common.
The production value of the service is awesome. Seriously, one of the things I love about Harbor is just how rough the tech side of things are. You would think that I, Mr. Super Church Tech Dude, would be annoyed that every week the microphones are jacked up, the projector is crooked, and they lovingly rock PowerPoint when Media Shout, Easy Worship, or ProPresenter are so readily available. Nope. Every time something goes array in the service I just lean over to Kristen and go, “That’s awesome. I love it.” Because I know the flip side of those blemished moments is not a persons hours of hard work. I know that no one is going to get an ugly stare back at the booth. And I know it’s not going to be an hours discussion at staff meeting. Ultimately… it’s no big deal and it’s treated as such.
They love kids and show it. Most churches get this right. But I have to say that there are two places where Harbor gets this right-er than anywhere else I’ve been. Here are two things I can point to which illustrate this thought. First, early in the worship service they invite all of the kids to come to the front to join the worship band. So about 20 kids come to the front and bang on percussion instruments and dance for two worship songs before heading to kids church. Some people might think this completely ruins those songs. But I love the lesson we are teaching… these kids are a part of the congregation and we need to allow them to participate in the worship. It’s a visual way to say “children are valuable to God.” Second, I love how they handle infant baptism. (This is a theological issue I have NO IDEA where I stand on.) So, they baptize the baby and the congregation affirms their responsibility. [All very normative.] But Stephen has started this little thing which I hope he continues. He leads the parents to the center of the auditorium and invites the congregation to quietly sing “Jesus Loves Me” as a lullaby to the baby. I doubt it leaves an imprint on the baby but it certainly leaves an effect on the parents and the congregation!
They value all people. I wish this were the case in all congregations but sadly it is not. Two quick ways this plays out on Sunday. First, we are an ethnically mixed congregation. We have a Spanish-speaking pastor and an English speaking pastor. Each language group is given equal value. (Not time) The only thing we separate for is the message. (Because translating that would be exhausting!) But for the majority of the service we have both groups together and it makes for a fun cornucopia. Second, we work hard to put everyone on an equal playing field socio-economically. El Cajon Blvd, where the church meets, is really a dividing line between the have-nots to the south and the have-alots to the north. There is a conscious effort to blur those lines on Sunday morning. I don’t have any idea how they pull it off… but it’s something I love about my church.
Those are some things I love about my congregation. What are things you love about yours?
When Stephen asked us to host a small group at our house, one week after attending Harbor Mid-City for the first time, we begrudgingly agreed. In fact, when he told us that Harbor was a church consisting of a few community groups… we were skeptical.
My faith in small groups had been shaken. I was pretty close to making the statement public that I’d felt for a while… “Small groups don’t work.” Most of my adult life I had either lead a teen small group or adult small group and they had always functioned but never “worked” quite like the books on small groups said they would. We had always met, done some sort of Bible Study, prayed for one another, shared food and some laughs– and that was it. The community thing never happened. The caring for one another or feeling connected… it never happened. Those groups were functional and great, but left me longing for that small group experience everyone talked about in the books.
I wondered if small groups were a myth!
Then I met these people.I don’t know how else to explain it but our group just gelled and it’s been a great group from our first meeting. Here’s a few things that I love about having the group at our house each Monday night:
We keep the agenda in check. The agenda is that we’re in community together. There is likely a church agenda. Probably that we’d talk about the Sunday sermon or that we’d pray for one another. And sometimes those agendas converge while other times they don’t. Our group has done everything from adopting a refuge family to watching Monday Night Football. Most often we get together and talk about the past weeks message and pray for one another. We’ve had incredibly deep conversations and we’ve had a chili cook-off. I actually think the magical component that has made our group work is keeping the community agenda the only important agenda while keeping all the other agendas in check.
We’re game for “one another.“ The core people of this group hasn’t changed that much in the last 12 months. In that time we’ve welcomed probably 25 different people who’ve come and gone. That really is how small groups go. Heck, that’s how churches roll! I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but this group has really taken care of one another.
We don’t take ourselves very seriously. Last Monday, we spent about 10 minutes joking about the name of the restaurant we’re having lunch at on Sunday, Pho King. (Pho is a Vietnamese soup meal, pronounced “fu,” exactly like the first half of the F word.) We talk about serious things. We have serious moments. But laughter and hilarity are always within reach.
Each Monday, on my way home, I think to myself… “I’m glad it’s Monday.” This little group has been a testament that small groups can work.