This was really the first year we considered ourselves “doing” simple church, and it has been full of winnowing away, learning what really matters, and growing in love. We have been stretched in every way and are much better for it!
As the year started, we were several months in to our decision to stop attending Sunday morning worship services at a local church. We felt called to be more directly involved in our local community, and had started attending this local church as part of that leading, but after only a few months we sensed the Lord had other plans. So we learned to enjoy sleeping in on Sunday mornings and to focus on nurturing our relationship with the Lord more directly and personally, without any sort of “pastor” as a mediator and without being “spoon-fed” a sermon each week. These months were something of a wilderness period, where we felt disconnected from most other believers.
After a couple months of this, I grew restless and wanted very much to “do” something. I felt that there must be something I could do in the Lord that would be of greater benefit to myself and others than just sitting around. We had been called to this local community, had we not? However, I also knew that to do anything in my own strength would only be to perpetuate the same sorts of human systems that we had grown disillusioned with and been called out of. About this time I ran across Neil Cole’s “Life Transformation Group” framework. I suggested this plan to a friend of mine, and we started meeting right away. What a joy it was to bathe in Scripture! However, our focus remained pretty squarely on the two of us, as we completely forsook the “strategic prayer focus” (for the lost), and our times together quietly waned into just “hanging out”.
About this time, I went through a job transition. After 20+ years in IT, the Lord called me away from a desk and out into the world of plumbing! This is a story in itself, but suffice it to say that the Lord had a lot to teach me about taking seriously His call to the lost, and throwing me into a crew of rough, worldly trades guys was part of the plan! One other benefit from this job change, among many, is that our family started to “look” more like the community where we live, which is mostly blue collar. Socioeconomic barriers that I had not even realized were in place fell away, and I found myself better able to relate to those that the Lord had called us to share His life and love with.
Also around this same time, Darah and I were approached by a local pastor to consider starting a church plant that would be an initial foray into “house church”. He asked that we pray about this opportunity, as it would be a learning experience for both of us, as we learned how we could support one another. We saw in this an affirmation from the Lord that we were on the right track, even if we weren’t sure exactly what our simple church would “look like”.
Somewhere in the midst of all this, we started meeting fairly regularly on Sunday afternoons with my parents and one other family from Falmouth. Our intent was just to meet to encourage one another in the Lord. I wrestled for many weeks with what our group should do when we met, lest we also devolve into mere “hanging out”. I wrestled with the idea of “leading” this group, which did not necessarily want anyone, other than the Lord, to lead. As I tend to do, I read voraciously everything I could get my hands on related to these topics, much like I did over a year ago when we first started asking questions about “organized religion” and transitioning out of those largely human traditions. I processed through many ideas, tried out some of them in the group, discarded most of them as “not for us”. I wanted something from the Lord, not from me, but struggled with how to get somewhere without taking a step.
And in spite of my hesitations and missteps and deep inadequacy, the Lord showed up as we met faithfully in His Name — even though for the most part we didn’t really know what we even meant by that. Personal stories were shared, personality differences were sloughed aside, and the bonds between us grew. We discovered that His Love is sufficient to meet our every need. We’re still maturing in Christ; we’re still fumbling through some of our times together (some of which are just “hanging out”, and that’s okay!); we’re each inadequate in our own way for the task set before us — and in faith we are the church, an unstoppable force made complete in Christ and equipped for every good work.
The conference in September was a true delight for Darah and me, and a time we’ll look back on with fondness for many years to come. The seed to “up the ante” with regard to the Apostolic Mission part of “DNA” (see Neil Cole’s book “Organic Church” for more on that) was planted in my heart that weekend. After returning home, I contacted my pastor friend who had challenged us to plant a “house” church and asked him if he would be interested in meeting in an LTG. We have been doing so for a couple months at this point, and the benefit of this practice is nothing short of miraculous. There really is new life for us every day, if we will only abide in Him. We’re both praying for opportunities to see more LTGs start in the new year and for our own group to multiply as we see those we’re praying for come to the Lord.
As I read back over this very brief summary of some of what has occurred this past year, I can’t help but smile (and wince) as I see how much of it has had to do with “me”. As disconnected as I had become from the Head, I have been full of myself and focused on my own personal growth and development to the exclusion of all else. This year has been one where I’ve been lessened so that He might be magnified in me. In many ways, 2013 is the year when Jeff Herron was most vigorously put to death so that Jesus Christ in me might more fully live. It is my prayer that my 2014 update will feature far fewer first person pronouns — and instead magnify Him and all He is doing.
To that end, we have plans to start intentional outreach to our local community in 2014. Our feet are planted firmly on the foundation of Christ and His love, and from this platform we can extend a hand of rescue to those who are still being tossed about by the waves.
– I’ll be writing a letter to one of my co-workers that sums up the conversations we’ve had about Christ this year. He is “hard soil”, but I pray this letter will find purchase and take root.
– We’ll be running an ad in a local paper to let the community know about our gathering. The focus of this outreach will be to believers who have become disillusioned with human traditions and may have stopped attending a worship service. Our message to them is that we don’t go to church, we ARE the church, and that we are a family to one another as we are on mission together in this community.
– We’ll be working with local pastors to envision them to see “church” outside the four walls of their buildings and outside the boundaries of their own programs. As these pastors catch this vision, they’ll be equipped to pass it along to their congregations. The focus of this outreach will be to believers who are inside the traditional church and who might have misplaced some of their devotion to Christ onto the man-made “church” instead. Our message to them is that you ARE the church and there is much more to church than worship services and programs.
– We’ll be starting a men’s Bible study, probably at the local library. The focus of this outreach will be to any men interested to know more about God and living life His way. Our message to them is the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
– We’ll be looking for specific opportunities to sow the seed in fertile soil. We are currently working to identify the communities of hurt and need where we can go and serve and share the Gospel. The focus of this outreach will be to all. Our message to them is the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
Please pray for us as we strive to see Christ proclaimed to every person in Pendleton county. This is difficult because so many here think that they know the Good News, when in fact they merely know about it. May all other kings and kingdoms be crushed, so that only Christ remains. (Daniel 2:44)
Blessings on all who read this letter. Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ.
– Jeff Herron, Pendleton County, KY