The Well Community Church

The Ember Cast as a whole is a huge fan of the idea that different expressions of church work for different types of people. I’ve got to tell you, if The Well Community Church was closer, it would definitely be a church that works for me. the wellGrowing up in the Orthodox church (I’m Greek, people), it is still sometimes a shocker to me when I see the size of my current mega-church’s congregation. I only know a small portion of the people at my church, and so it must be fundamentally based off of a small group structure. You connect through small groups…which is great.

But at The Well, I was able to experience a sense of intimacy during the service that I have yet to find in any other non-denominational church. The intimacy reminded me of my childhood church. It felt like home. Their theology and philosophy is similar to that of my current church, and so that was familiar too. The church body was diverse in almost every way besides religion, because it was clear that they were of one heart and mind when it came to Christ. It was a striking mix, especially since the church meets in a rented out building. There is no room to get caught up in the motions or get swept up in the glamour of the lights and electric worship band. What you see is what you get.

For some, this church may be too quaint. There might not be enough going on. But it clearly works for the regular attendees of The Well. They had a time during the service dedicated solely to sharing “what God has been doing in your life.” It was beautiful. That’s the only way I know to say it. People were open to sharing, because Pastor Matt Klingler and the other church leaders weren’t intimidating. The whole congregation seemed to know the people who got up and spoke. Communion was enjoyed together. I got to see two baptisms, and two proposals to start “communities,” which are The Well’s version of small groups.

The Well does such a great job of creating that intimacy and feeling of love and discipleship. I felt it, even though it was my first time. I also know for a fact that the leaders at this church have enormous and genuine passion for the Silver Spring and greater DC Metro area. They are reaching out to all people and bringing the truth to them, and they are being the hands and feet of Jesus. I would highly recommend this church to anyone searching for a home on Sunday mornings.

DC Metro Church

Last Sunday, we got the opportunity to visit DC Metro Church in Alexandria, Virginia. This church is, in some ways, very similar to the church that I attend regularly, but in other ways, it is very different. This makes sense though, because these two churches are surrounded by completely different demographics of people. As I’ve done more and more with Ember, I’ve begun to fully embrace the idea that not every church will work for every person. In a world that is extremely diverse–full of people from different backgrounds, cultures, and strengths–we need to begin considering bringing truth to the people. In other words, if the church is a vessel of God’s truth, then we need to bring the church to the people, rather than trying to change the locals to fit the church planters’ mold. DC Metro is a fantastic example of a church that works almost flawlessly with the indigenous community. They brought their church to the people, rather than trying to the people to their church.

There were two things that really stuck out to me, and made me realize why DC Metro is doing so well. We got to talk with some of the leaders of DC Metro’s “DC GO” initiative, and they are truly doing some innovative things that I think other churches can learn from (especially urban churches). Instead of doing the occasional service project, this church takes advantage of their prime location for service. Although they are technically located in Alexandria, DC Metro is basically on the outskirts of DC. They have access to a full city, which is remarkably diverse in almost every way possible. So they broke their service into three major areas: Feed the Need, House the Need, and Supply the Need. They have also recently added on a weekly visit to an elderly home. All of their projects are regular commitments. Church members commit to serving weekly so that they can form relationships. These relationships are ongoing and successful. The DC GO leaders gave us a few examples of people finding Christ through DC Metro Church after being served weekly by a DC GO project. This church works for DC’s people because they have mastered how to serve DC’s people. Bringing church to the people. Oh yeah, and by the way, all of their service/missions efforts are based off of a Toxic Charity philosophy.

The other thing that stuck out to me was the pastor at this church, David Stine. The sermon was on marriage–something that I won’t be able to personally relate to for a very long time. But somehow, I got so much out of the talk. Why? Because this guy quotes scripture like no one I’ve heard before. Not only does he quote it, but he studies it. He gets it. He understands it, and he communicates it extremely well. When someone who clearly knows God and knows about God and is unbelievably humble begins to give a talk about God, it is so powerful. I went home and watched some of his talks that are posted online, and I was just as amazed. The last week and a half, I’ve been diving into the Word more than usual because Pastor David reminded me how powerful it is to know Scripture and live in it. It was amazing to see a church that is so dedicated to community, fellowship, being Bible-based, and just seeking after what God wants for DC. I will definitely be keeping this church on my radar.

Good Ground

church in the makingChurch in the Making by Ben Arment is a book that addresses the subject of church planting in a new way, and I’ve been loving it so far. I just finished the first few chapters, which focus mainly on the idea that “good ground” is needed before a church can be planted. What is good ground when it comes to church planting? Well, just like fertile soil is needed to grow a crop, “fertile” hearts, or hearts that are spiritually receptive, are needed to start and grow a church (Matthew 13:3-9). He suggests that “when a new church struggles year after year to see fruit from its activity, we should assume it’s not quite time to plant. Instead, there is tilling, watering, and cultivating to be done” (pg. 27).

When I think about this idea, I realize that it is extremely Biblical. Jesus based his entire ministry on the spiritual receptivity of people’s hearts. Jesus told his disciples that “if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town” (Matthew 10:14). I don’t think that this idea is widely grasped, accepted, or executed by Christians when they plant churches or evangelize. But it makes a ton of sense. A church cannot and will not grow if prospective new members are not open to the gospel. However, Arment says that it is possible to win disciples. Jesus did it time and time again by living by faith always, loving others, and performing spectacular miracles. But the disciples were won after an open heart was won.

It is the same in this day and age. We must be strategic in our church planting and evangelizing efforts. God does not say, “go and share your faith with every person you ever meet.” But he does say, “go forth and make disciples of all the nations…” These are two very different things. Disciples are followers who obey Jesus’ command to “take up your cross and follow” him. People who have heard a Christian’s account of the gospel and God’s grace may or may not become disciples. A lot of the time, depending on the nature and timing of the gospel presentation, a Christian’s account of the gospel can turn someone further away from Christianity.

This is why we must gauge communities for their good ground, or spiritual receptivity, before we speak to them about what our faith is about. Jesus says himself that if we meet someone who says, “I’m not interested in hearing about Jesus,” we should move on. This changes everything! There is no point system up in heaven, counting how many times we shouted out his name to unwilling strangers. He wants us to help people truly know him. First, we’re going to have to find a way to cultivate the soil we are working with. Depending on the community, it may entail different things. But it always entails being the hands and feet of Christ so that others may see Him in us, before we even open our mouths.

 

 

 

Toxic Charity

toxicMy cool boss, Tony Sheng, who is almost done his Ember sabbatical, recommended a book to me this summer that I’d like to talk about: Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton. Its contents are not widely known in most of the Christian circles that I’m involved in, but I think more people need to give it a read. Lupton makes a lot of points that may make some uncomfortable, but ignorance is not bliss when it comes to missions, service, and volunteer work. If we really want to help people and help our world, there are things that we need to be aware of.

That being said, Lupton’s book is about exactly what the title suggests. It argues that a good percentage of the charity work being done by Americans is actually toxic to those being “assisted,” rather than being legitimately helpful. When I first read this opening argument, I was shocked. “How?” I demanded. “How can you say that charity work is bad?” Lupton explains, saying that charity is “almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise” but its “outcomes are almost entirely unexamined.”

He goes on to tell stories of how short term missions trips can sometimes end up being detrimental to communities. Americans raise thousands of dollars to fly to a foreign country or another state where they do some work that could have been done by the indigenous people. Sometimes, that $40,000 sum would have gone a thousand times further if the short term missions trip had been cancelled, and the money had gone instead towards an indigenous organization. He says that once short term missions teams begin coming to a place and doing the work and then leaving, a sense of dependency is developed among the community being served.

sieraleoneLupton talks about many other things too, and I really could go on forever, but the toxic effect of short term missions is most relevant to me. Toxic Charity isn’t saying that we shouldn’t help people. It suggests that maybe there are better ways to help people. Maybe if we spent more time understanding the places, people, and communities we are trying to serve, we would be able to develop more constructive charity programs. There are some people who already understand this. For example, me, Measu, CB, and all of our friends and family just completed our water well fundraiser for The Water Project. One thing that I admire about the Water Project is the extensive skill training that they do prior to and after building the well. They teach the community how to use the well for more than just fresh water. They are taught that, since they’re in rural areas, they can use the water to begin small agricultural businesses. They are given basic health training. They are taught how to do minor repairs to their well. The indigenous people learn how to help themselves.

This book taught me that I need to be more futuristic in my approach to helping others. This is why standing on street corners and screaming out Bible verses is simply not effective. That may seem like it’s for Jesus’ cause, but really, you are offending pedestrians who walk by, being disrespectful, and turning people away from what you’re trying to get them to understand. I do believe that sometimes, when there is no other option, it is absolutely justified to help someone in need, even if, hypothetically, they could have done it by themselves. On larger scales though, today’s compassion industry can be toxic. It’s important to be educated about that.

Much love,

Hope

Aix-en-Provence Thoughts #3

ICCP

Not only did I get to form relationships with French people in France, but also other people of all nationalities from all over the world. The volunteer team working alongside us was made up of all sorts of different people. Most of them were teenagers, and many were third culture kids. I did not realize before going to France that God had new friendships planned for me that would last beyond the trip, but He did. I have friends from Australia, Canada, Sweden, Germany, California, Texas, England, Ireland, and so many other places. Many of them are from somewhere else but are currently living in Aix. Others are just visiting Aix. Some of them are Christian and some are not. Some of them are a lot like me and some are not. Regardless of their circumstances, getting to know all of these people was absolutely amazing.

But it didn’t stop there. I thought it might. On our last day, there were definitely some tears! I really grew to love that volunteer team. I had gotten to know some of their stories and their testimonies (or lack thereof) and I just didn’t want to leave them now. So that night, I prayed to God that He might allow these friendships to last. I prayed that He would give me opportunities to continue to support my new friends who were leading very hard lives without the comfort of Christ walking beside them. 

The Lord definitely answered my prayers. I talk to all of the friends I’ve made in France regularly thanks to technology. I talk to three of them every single day. God continues to move in Aix, and it was a blessing to have been and maybe continue to be a small part of that.

Aix-en-Provence Thoughts #2

One thing that really struck me about ICCP, the church plant that we were working with, was how outreach focused they were. The people that go to ICCP on Sunday evenings and are active members in the congregation are mostly natives of English speaking countries. So in order to reach out to a mainly French-speaking community, they knew that they had to contextualize their outreach. The summer camp held annually attracted members of the community  who wouldn’t otherwise be interested in church. It was inexpensive, it was fun, it fit the community, and it offered a service (English immersion) that French parents wanted to provide for their kids. All of these factors combined allow a lot of room for God to really work in people’s lives. Kids who had never even heard about the Bible before were suddenly learning about and experiencing a new type of radical love, the love of Jesus Christ.

ICCP demonstrates perfectly how outreach doesn’t always mean just bringing people to your own church. Most of the parents who send their kids to the camp don’t end up becoming members of the ICCP congregation. But that’s okay, because that isn’t the goal of ICCP in the first place. The ultimate goal for outreach should be to plant seeds in people’s hearts, so that the Holy Spirit might create disciples.

It was absolutely amazing to get to work with a church that truly cares about the people in Aix and is dedicated to loving the local lost community.

Aix-en-Provence Thoughts #1

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’m back in the U.S. after being in Aix-en-Provence, France for 10 days with the Ember Cast. I have successfully conquered jetlag once again (if you didn’t know, I am the master of jetlag), and my heart is full with convictions and my mind is full of memories earned during my time in Aix. It is all too much to process and write all at once, so it will take time for me to transfer my journal entries and stories to this blog. I’m just going to go at it a little bit at a time.

I think I’ll start off with one of my favorite memories from the trip. We spent our time both setting up and working at the annual English-immersion Christ-centered camp run by ICCP, a church plant in Aix. During the actual camp week, two little 8-year-0ld girls named Maddie and Amy* immediately latched on to me and I latched on to them. Despite the language barrier (they only spoke French), we laughed and played together all the time. I began teaching them some English and they began teaching me some French, and we became friends. Each day, there were three assemblies where we sang fun songs and watched a drama. It was all very exciting for the kids. After the music and drama, Pastor Tim would get up on stage to deliver a simple message about God to the kids. It was translated in French as well in order to ensure that the children understood the message.

When Pastor Tim first introduced the Bible to the kids, he was talking about it as though it was a foreign concept. He explained that the Bible was a book that told us all about God and how much He loves us. After the message was finished, Maddie began conversing urgently in French with Amy. Then they tried to communicate with me. I had to get a counselor who spoke French to translate. Maddie was asking if the Bible was a secret book that only certain people could have access to. She was confused about this “man of Good News” that Pastor Tim mentioned. In that moment, I realized that Maddie had never in her life heard about our God before.

marieI have learned a lot about the unreached and the unengaged and post-Christianity in Europe from doing this internship through the Ember Cast. But that short minute of confusion that I witnessed first-hand made it all real. Kids in France aren’t learning about God. Kids in France are unreached. And as I sat there in awe I realized that I see traces of this in the U.S. I started remembering friends of mine saying things like, “I’m not going to teach my kids about Jesus because I don’t really believe it” or “I’m not going to raise my kids in the church because I don’t want to be associated with it.” Things are changing, and it was a wake up call to me. My actions need to reflect Christ. I need to allow God to mold me and use me so that people might see Him in me. Because Christianity is declining rapidly in France as well as in my own country but God’s mission is not. He still calls me to share the Good News with others by making my life a testament to the love He has for us.

My heart is full of joy because I can honestly say that I grew to love Maddie and Amy, and they got to hear of God’s boundless love for them this week. That makes my whole trip to France worthwhile.

*Names changed for confidentiality purposes