Last week I wrote a bit about wanting…actually, needing to focus my little corner of the interwebs a bit more than I have to this point. This space has usually ended up being a stream of consciousness more than anything else. And while I may create a space to do that again at some point, simply because I enjoy writing that kind of stuff…it won’t be right away.
So back to the idea of focus. Three different events helped to bring this idea about.
First off, a couple years ago I heard someone talk about how reducing your scope or your focus actually encourages creativity, rather than limiting it. The example the author used was asking someone to think of, and list 10 things that are the color white. And while people tended to struggle to come up with that list, (quick…list 10 things that are white…) when they asked, think of and list 10 white things in your refrigerator, most people came up with a list much quicker. Clearly, your refrigerator is much smaller than the entire universe, but that reduced scope allowed for a greater clarity and focus. That idea stuck with me.
More recently, I wrote a post about men wearing earrings. Actually the post was about how a key part of my philosophy of teaching was formed. I received more feedback from that post than probably anything I’ve written in a while. And what stuck out to me was that my mom wrote to me complimenting me on it. (Thanks mom!) Here’s the thing…up until that point, I didn’t know my mom read my blog. Because the first thing (at least that I remember) her writing to me about and giving feedback, was when I wrote about something that was core to what I believe and think.
Finally, I decided to start researching how to blog/write more effectively, and more often…and one of the common themes from those who do this well is, focus. Write about what you know. Write about what you think will be helpful to others. The more narrow the focus, the better. So, I’ve decided to start writing about what is in my refrigerator. Wait, wait, don’t leave…I was just kidding.
I have a pretty good grasp on what I’m pretty good at, and what I’m not. (this would be an example of something I’m not good at.) It turns out I’ve started and grown 3 ministries (1 church, 2 campus fellowships), in academic/university settings (also commonly referred to as “secular settings.”) Just as importantly to me, Liz & I have started and grown 3 ethnic and culturally diverse ministries. In fact, when people from other Vineyards visit us, that diversity is one of the things they are most likely to comment on.
More specifically, I’ve been doing this in the Northeast, and not the bible belt. And what would you know, I’m getting ready to start another church in a similar setting. Although this time, rather than in the northeastern US, it’ll be in the northeast of Dublin. At the same time, I haven’t built a mega-church/mega-campus fellowship…on the one hand, we didn’t set out to do that. On the other, Ithaca isn’t known for it’s mega-churches. (In fact, I think there has been perhaps one other church planted in our area since we started 13 years ago). So although church planting has been the thing to do in many evangelical circles over the past several years, Ithaca has been on the top of too many lists of “great places to plant a church.”
I think there are a number reasons we’ve had a good track record here in Ithaca, and in Albany previously. Although neither of us went to grad school, Liz and I are both comfortable in academic settings…actually, more than comfortable, we’ve loved living in a place like Ithaca…we’ve loved the people, and we’ve loved the culture. We really feel at home in settings like this. I left for college at 18, and have been immersed in this world since then. Secondly, we seem to be able to communicate to people who don’t have a lot of practical Christian experience, in a way that encourages them to try Jesus (to taste & see that He really is good). Moving Jesus from someone about whom I think I know things about, to a person I experience in my daily life.
And the thing is, this is what I’m passionate about. This is what gets me up in the morning…This is why we’re selling our stuff and moving to Dublin, in spite of how big and scary this feels.
While I’ll write about much of this in the context of church planting and my experience leading a church, the bigger issues I want to wrestle with are how do we communicate our faith with “secular people?” How do we gather people that are not homogeneous, and form them into communities of faith? How do we encourage people to “try Jesus?”
I don’t pretend to be an expert, or a leading thinker in any of these areas. But over the past 20 years, we’ve seen God consistently work in our lives to build communities of faith in secular setting, with rich diversity, where people who are distant from Jesus experience him in incredible ways. I want to share what we’ve learned.
I hope you’ll find this helpful, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.