Contemplatives In Action

Those of you who live in the DC area may be able to figure out where I took this picture. If you go to National Harbor in Maryland, you’ll find a long walking/jogging/biking trail that curves around the waterfront before ultimately extending up and over the Wilson Bridge on the Beltway. When you get to the top of that path, you see this unique juxtaposition of a beautiful river, a bustling commercial center, a gorgeous park, and a massive freeway. It’s honestly one of my favorite places in DC. So, one day last fall when Laura and I were there, I snapped this picture because I was totally captivated by the contrast between the trees in their full fall colors and the rush of the beltway.

As I’ve sat with this picture for a couple of months, I’ve realized how much it embodies the way I want to live my life. During my four years as an undergrad at Georgetown, I picked up a few phrases from the Jesuits (the order of Catholic priests who founded Georgetown) that have become deeply significant in my life. The one that resonates the most with me is the Jesuit ideal of being a contemplative in action.

Being a ‘contemplative in action’ means that your active life feeds your contemplative life and your contemplative life feeds your active life.

Andy Otto

In other words, I need the hustle and bustle of the beltway and the quiet of a park with beautiful trees and a majestic river. It takes both to follow God well and following God well will result in both being present in our lives.

The Contemplative Life

Modern day contemplatives are essentially seeking to bring the ancient riches of Christian mysticism and monasticism into the frenzy of our nonstop, over scheduled, and technology driven 21st century American lives. These modern mystics talk about practices like Sabbath, fixed hour prayer, meditation, rest, simplicity, silence, and solitude. They delight in slowing down to be with God, to be present in the moment, and to hear the still small voice of the Spirit.

It’s a beautiful way to live life.

But ten years ago, I would have told you that a contemplative life is at best an anachronistic thrown back and at worst a bunch of feel-good, new age nonsense for the emotionally needy. Marriage, parenting, planting a church, reading more broadly, and following Jesus more closely has shown me just how wrong I was.

I now realize that the contemplative life is essential to our spiritual formation. Don’t ever let anybody tell you that Christianity is simply an external moral code to be followed in an attempt to please God. It’s not. It’s an invitation to be transformed from the inside out by the grace of a God who did everything necessary for our salvation on the wood of a cross. It’s an invitation to come fully alive, to cultivate intimacy with the Creator of the world, and to enjoy life as a child of God. But here’s the thing: that inner transformation doesn’t happen on the fly. It requires us to open the deepest parts of our soul to God’s healing and restorative work.

To put it as simply as I can: If you want to grow and change, you’ve got to slow down.

The Active Life

As we grow and change, we not only realize the depth of God’s love and concern for the world but also start to embody that love. You can’t have a deep relationship with Jesus and be indifferent to the pain and suffering of the world around you. Christ doesn’t call us to withdraw permanently from the world. Rather, He invites us to join Him in His work of reconciling sinners to God (that’s all of us, by the way) and renewing creation. He invites us to take up a cross, roll up our sleeves, and get to work.

In many ways, this is what comes most naturally to those of us who have spent significant time in the action oriented world of evangelicalism. There’s always an event to attend, a place to serve, a mission trip to take, a need to meet. And none of that is bad. The world desperately needs the hope that we carry in our souls. We are constantly surrounded by brokenness, hostility, incivility, and fear. As followers of Jesus, we are called to go into that world as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God.

The deeper you go with God, the more engaged you will be with what He is doing in the world.

Being A Contemplative In Action

Now you know why that picture means so much to me. We can’t pick either the contemplative life or the active life. Following Jesus requires a hearty yes to both. Action without contemplation leads to burnout, moral failure, legalism, and bitterness. Contemplation without action leads to complacency, self-absorption, and lingering questions of how much you’ve actually encountered the real Jesus. But when we join them together, when we become contemplatives in action, it unleashes something powerful in us and in our world.

That’s my prayer for you today. Don’t allow yourself to settle for a monochromatic relationship with God. Find a quiet parks and dive into the hustle of the city.

Fighting The Summer Slump

There are certain things that everyone in church world knows to be true.  Let me give you a few examples.  Nobody actually reads the bulletin but if you stop printing it, there will be a revolt.  Or, live testimonies before baptisms are awesome, except for when they’re a total train wreck.  Or, churches never grow in the summer.

I want to deal with that last one today.  When you find out our church doesn’t have bulletins and usually does live testimonies, it’ll come as no surprise to you that I’m not a fan of writing off the summer either.  I simply don’t believe the Spirit of God is constrained just because it’s warm outside.

Yes, I know it’s vacation season.  Yes, I know I pastor a church in a town that virtually shuts down in the month of August.  Yes, it’s also wedding season.  Yes, our congregation is young, mobile and has some pretty impressive frequent flyer accounts.  Yes, I know the statistics about summer church growth.  So, maybe you should write this whole post off as the adorable naivete of a first year pastor.

But if you’re part of Restoration City, I hope you’ll fight with me against the summer slump.  Here’s some of what we’re already doing as a church:

  • We’ve started sending direct mail pieces to all new residents in our community because we know there are a ton of people who move TO this city every summer.
  • Our first ever summer intern started this week with the specific mission of reaching out to college students and other summer interns.
  • We’re continuing to add new Community Groups, with the newest one starting in Alexandria in mid-June.
  • Our creative team is working hard to make each of our summer gatherings a powerful encounter with Jesus.
  • We’re moving RCC Kids to better serve families with children.

But our churches’ outreach strategy has always been built on us as individuals living as ambassadors of Christ. (2 Cor. 5:20)  God’s work of restoration flows primarily through us and secondarily through the programatic things we do as a church.  So, I want to encourage us to fight the summer slump personally.  Join me in:

  • Praying the Lord will make us effective in reaching the lost in our communities and open doors for us to develop relationships with people who don’t know Jesus.
  • Initiating spiritual conversations with those we meet (particularly people we’ve been building relationships with or those who are new to the area).
  • Inviting people you meet to join you at Restoration City.

I believe God has a lot He wants to accomplish through us this summer.  So, let’s lean in together and see how He wants to use this season for His glory and the good of our city.

The Marriage Gap

IMG_2526Over the weekend, I had the honor of officiating the wedding of a young couple that Laura and I care about very much.  It was a beautiful day celebrating what God has done in bringing them together and praying for all He will do through their now joined lives.  It’s always fun watching people cross the divide from singleness to marriage.

I just wish the divide wasn’t so wide in the church.

Just to make it personal, the greatest segregation I see at Restoration City is between married couples and single adults.  Sometimes it feels like we live in two different worlds.  Married people hang out with other married people and talk about married people things.  Singles hang out with other single people and talk about single people things.  Just like the rest of the world.  And we all miss out.

What if the church became a place that narrowed the divide, not widened it?  We have so much to learn from each other and so many way to bless and encourage one another.  Consider just a few:

  • Single young adults need to be exposed to healthy, Christ centered marriages and families.  In a culture that increasingly tells young singles to avoid or delay marriage and the resulting loss of freedom, we need to create spaces where people see marriage is actually a good and desirable thing.  Married people, you have the ability to bless and serve singles simply by inviting them over for dinner.  Also, the home cooking will be much appreciated!
  • Married couples with children have a huge need for time together to invest in their marriage.  Singles, you have the ability to bless a young family beyond belief by babysitting for a few hours.  Two hours of your time would pour so much life into young parents.
  • Lifelong singles are able to follow the words of Paul and have an undivided focus on the things of the Lord.  Your singleness isn’t a curse from God.  It may be a blessing that allows you to be on the the greatest contributors to the church. (1 Cor. 7:32)  Speak into the lives of the next generation, shape ministries and know that we are all tremendously grateful to have you in our midst.  You aren’t a second class citizen, you are a vital part of the body of Christ.
  • Married people get trapped in a bubble and think only other married people understand their struggles and temptations.  True, to an extent.  But more than empathy, marriages need biblical truth and singles are certainly able to offer that.  Married people could also use a few friends to remind them that life doesn’t have to shut down at 9PM all the time!
  • Married couples, when you’re real about your journey, your struggles, your joys and your disappointments in marriage, you give singles an accurate picture of marriage rather than the silly nonsense flowing from pop culture.

This is one of the primary reasons we are committed to co-ed, multigenerational community groups.  We want marrieds and singles to interact, to form friendships and to encourage one another and to learn from one another.

Are you living exclusively on one side of the divide?  Then break out, reach out and see how much you could learn from the wonderful people on the other side.

Reimagining Starting Point

Sometimes it feels like the whole process of connecting with a church is more like buying a timeshare than joining a family.  You’re invited to come check out how awesome it is, everyone treats you well and then you’re brought in for a very “low pressure” meeting to close the deal.  If you sign on the dotted line, you’re treated like royalty.  If you don’t, you’re ushered out with respectful pity.  After all, if you really loved your family, you would do whatever it takes to invest in time together and memories that never fade.

Sound familiar?  Hey, come check out our church, we think it’s pretty awesome.  Once you attend for a couple of weeks, we’ll have a meeting to tell you about us, answer your questions and get you bought in.  If this is the church for you, we love you!  If not, well, maybe one day you’ll decide you love Jesus and come join us.

Perhaps that’s a bit of an overstatement.  Or it might hit closer to home than any of us would like to admit.

For the record, I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong or manipulative with that process.  It’s simple, clean, efficient and very logical.  It’s just not the way you welcome new members to a family.  When Aidan was born, we didn’t invite him to a meeting.  We had a party.

When someone is thinking about joining the spiritual family of Restoration City Church, we don’t want to invite them to a meeting.  We want to welcome them with a party.  That’s why we’re reimagining Starting Point.  We’re shifting it from a meeting after our gathering to a dinner at my house.  Yes, we’ll still communicate some basic information about the church and give people the chance to ask questions.  But the real point of the night is to build relationships and acclimate people to our family’s culture.

Ephesians 2:19 tells us, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,”  We really are a spiritual family and Restoration City is one little outpost of God’s household.  We want to welcome people to the household with a party, not a meeting.  Granted, it’s a small shift.  But I think it communicates something important about our culture.  Families have parties.

So, are you new to Restoration City?  Want to meet some of the people you see on Sunday morning?  Want to learn a little bit more of our story and share some of yours?  Then, let’s have dinner!  We’re hosting our first reimagined Starting Point this Sunday from 4.30 – 6.30 at our house (sorry for the early time but we’re working around bedtimes for little kids!).  You can find out more and RSVP here.

Laura and I would love to hang out with you on Sunday!