Q&A With Marshall Griffin

MarshallAsk a college pastor for a selfie and this is what you get!  Love Marshall and how he answered these questions:

You’ve done college ministry in Raleigh-Durham and DC.  How are they similar?  Different?
I would say that one of the main differences is that this context lacks the “cultural Christianity” that is prominent on campuses in the Bible Belt. That’s not to say that ministry is “easier” or “harder” in either context. People who grow up in the South need the gospel too! I simply mean that our conversations about Jesus here have a different starting point because a lot of students are coming in with different assumptions about who he is and what it means to follow him.
One of the major similarities is the passion that college students bring to the table when they’re bought into a vision. In my experience, the majority of college students out there are looking for a place to belong and a purpose to live for. When they find those, they set the standard for all of us in energy, faithfulness, and zeal. And there’s nothing greater, more fulfilling, or more worthy of that devotion than Jesus and his church!
When it comes to this fall at GW, what are you most excited about?
Well, it’s hard to narrow it down to one specific thing that makes me most excited. But, if I had to choose, I would say I’m pumped about how many incoming students we’ve already had the opportunity to connect with. This is the first year we’ve gone into the school year having already met some first year students and filled them in on our vision for our community on campus. So I’m excited to welcome them and I’m praying that they’ll be excited about what we’re doing at GW!
You’re a pretty recent seminary grad.  What advice would you give to someone thinking of going to seminary?

Yes! The winding journey of seminary has come to a close for me. I have the sheet of paper to prove it.

Seminary was a key part of my growth over the past few years, both in theological understanding and practical ministry philosophy. My main piece of advice for someone going into or thinking about seminary would be to make participation in a local church a priority. Find a place to serve and a community to be actively involved in during your studies! Seminaries are incredibly valuable for teaching the foundational ideas underneath our ministries, but the local church is where we learn to put those ideas into action for the good of others and the glory of God. Simply put, your education is incomplete if you have the classroom without the local church.

What’s the most impactful mission trip you’ve ever been on and why?

I’m really thankful to have had the opportunity to go on several trips to see how God is building his kingdom in different parts of the world. If I had to pick one of the most impactful, I would pick the trip that I took with some college students to India during my first year of college ministry. We had an amazing time getting to know and serve the team and the local believers, as well as getting to see what life and ministry is like for followers of Jesus in their context.

For me, this was also the first trip where we took a more active role in ministry by getting out and having as many conversations with people about our faith as possible. I shared the gospel more times over those two weeks than I had during my entire life up to that point. That aspect of the trip impacted me in a way that went beyond merely a cultural experience or a glimpse into someone else’s ministry. It challenged and equipped me to bring that kind of intentionality in relationships back into my day-to-day life here in the United States.

What do you do for fun?
My main hobby of choice is basketball. On my ideal off day, you’ll find me playing pick-up at a park or gym nearby (Hit me up if you want to play sometime!). I love catching a good movie too, particularly one that makes me laugh, pulls me in with a compelling story, or gives me a mystery to wrap my mind around. I’m also a big fan of live music, whether that’s in an arena or a coffee shop. I try not to miss my favorite artists in concert when they come through the area.
What podcasts are you listening to these days?
Oh, this is tricky because I’ve been binging a couple different podcasts over the past few months. I’ll share two. First, each week I’ve been listening to the sermons from Renovation Church in Atlanta. Pastor Lèonce Crump and his team do great job preaching God’s Word in a captivating way that helps listeners grow in their understanding of the text and how it applies to our world and our lives here and now.
I’m also a fan of Malcolm Galdwell’s Revisionist History, in which he takes a look at something from the past – an event, a person, an idea – in order to see how it has been overlooked or misunderstood. Gladwell is known for exploring unnoticed or unconventional perspectives, so it’s interesting to hear his thoughts on such a wide range of topics – from how people reading the same intelligence briefings reach radically different conclusions to how the direction of educational philanthropy in America may be misguided to just what makes old school country music songs so sad. I’ve found each episode thought-provoking.
Give us three Scriptures we can be praying for you and your work with college students.

Here are three things I would love prayer for as we enter a new school year of ministry. I’ll also be putting together a 14 Days of Prayer guide as we approach the start of the semester, so feel free to shoot me an email if you would like to pray through that with us.
“And he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’”Matthew 4:19
Pray that we would faithfully follow Jesus as he leads us to connect with, invest in, and care for students. Pray especially for our outreach to the campus during the first two weeks of the semester, which is a crucial time to connect with new students.
“Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5
Pray that we would not seek to do anything by our own ability and wisdom, but fully rely on Jesus for our strength, rest, and hope as we strive to make him known.
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”Matthew 13:44
Pray that students on campuses in DC and Northern Virginia would see Jesus as more valuable than anything else we could ever achieve, pursue, or devote ourselves to. Pray for a movement of students who live with him as their greatest treasure!

 

Q&A With Dan Iten

Dan

Why limit the fun to Jason?  We’re going to do a run through the whole staff team, starting with the original, Dan Iten!

You’re the Director of Operations at Restoration City. What does that mean? What would you say you do?

As the Director of Operations, I’ve got a really fun job that allows me to have my hands in pretty much every area of the church. Not only do I help make sure the church is running smoothly, but I also get to empower our leaders and volunteers. The best part about my job is the opportunity to live out Ephesians 4:12 – “the equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ.” I get to assist our volunteers and leaders in serving according to how God has gifted them and provide coaching and resources for them to continue to develop and grow.

What are you most excited about at Restoration City right now?
I feel like we’re about to enter a really exciting period in our young church’s history where I believe God is going to continue do some amazing things. For the past three years, it seems like we’ve worked really hard to get the church running and put all the necessary structures in place. Now I believe that we’re now entering a new season where we’re ready for the Holy Spirit to move mightily and bring many new people into the faith and into our church community.

What have you learned about yourself through planting RCC that you didn’t know before?
Planting Restoration City has been such a crazy adventure and something I never dreamed about doing earlier in life. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that God will give us the power and capability to do whatever He has called us to do. When you, John, approached me about joining you and Laura in planting this church, I wasn’t sure that I had the necessary skills to help start a church from scratch. I had previously worked at another church in an outreach role, but knew next to nothing on how to legally or financially start a church, yet I felt that God was clearly calling me to this role. He was faithful in helping me grow into this and provided a number of resources and people who helped, advised, and aid me in my calling.

What’s the best book you’ve read this past year?
That’s a really hard question! Instead of the best book, I’m going to say one of the more convicting books I’ve read this summer has been “The Art of Neighboring” by Jay Pathak, Dave Runyon, and Randy Frazee. It talks about the need for believers to be more active in their neighborhoods and build genuine relationships that open up opportunities to be able to share the gospel. This seems to be such a hard concept for us in DC, but its something that both Twila and I want to grow in and work on in our neighborhood this year.

You have unique dietary preferences. What’s the ideal meal in your world?

Twila loves to say that I have the palate of a 4 year old, but that’s probably not even accurate as I know Jack and Aidan eat more adventurous things than I do. However, I prefer to define my dietary preference as being simple. I don’t need a lot of extras, like condiments or sauces, to be happy with a meal. My most ideal meal would be a steak, potatoes, broccoli, and a dessert of any kind!

In a potentially related question, how has marriage changed you over the last 16 months?

Aside from Twila forcing me to eat more healthy meals that include vegetables, I think marriage changed me greatly. After being single for just shy of 34 years, marriage has shown me how good and healthy it is to be completely rely and trust in Twila and not fight to be so independent in life. It’s also shown me where my heart is inclined towards selfishness and control – working through that isn’t necessarily always fun, but it is sanctifying.

You’re preaching on Sunday. What’s your sermon about?
I’m preaching on Acts 12:20-25 which is subtitled “Herod’s Death”. It’s interesting that you’re headed out of town and leave for me this section of Scripture, John! Joking aside, I’m actually really looking forward to preaching this passage it raises an interesting question for us to consider: Are we living for God’s glory or ours? Come on Sunday to hear more!

Q&A With Jason Kobischen

Jason

Jason joined the RCC staff team on July 1st as our Worship Director.  I thought I would ask him a couple of quick questions on your behalf:

1.  So, what made you want to leave Florida and be a part of what’s happening at Restoration City?

Recognizing the undeniable fact that Restoration City Church is full of individuals who are passionate and intentional about reaching the lost for Christ.

2.  So far, what’s the best and the worst part of living in D.C.?

There is so much to do! The unique coffee shops are fantastic: Philz coffee right near Nats Stadium is a must! Granted, it will take you six years to get there due to the traffic.

3.  What’s your favorite band of all time?

It is a tossup between Mainstay and August Burns Red. But I will admit I have quite the eclectic taste in music.

4.  Tell us a little bit of your background before you came to RCC.

I graduated from Liberty University with a degree in Public Health, because why not, right? Not exactly sure what direction I wanted to go I decided to spend a year in Thailand teaching Biblical Studies to a bunch of crazy high-school kids. After that year I came back to Virginia to get my Masters in Theology. During this time God was really working on my heart in the context of using my previous experiences in worship in more concrete way so about two years into my masters I moved down to Florida to join a church as their Worship Arts Director. Fast forward 3.5 years, and I am back in Virginia extremely stoked and excited to be a part of what God has in store for Restoration City Church!

5.  What’s your biggest prayer for the worship ministry at Restoration City?

That we would grow in the knowledge and application of unhindered worship within every context of our lives both individually (as sons and daughters of Christ) and collectively (as the Church).

6.  How’d you get into rock climbing?

I had a few friends that had climbed in high school so we all jumped back into it together when I began seminary. Its an incredible sport that stretches the body and mind all within a rather unique culture. Let me know if you’re up for a climb!
7.  What’s the biggest thing God has taught you in the last year?

That the heartbeat of God is directed towards people. Everything else is contingent upon the degree of our external manifestation of the former.

The Arrogance Of Unforgiveness

Forgiveness.jpg

I grew up in an Irish family where one of our favorite jokes, statements and, I think for a period of time, refrigerator magnets was a quip about Irish Alzheimer’s.  If you haven’t heard it before, Irish Alzheimers is when you forget everything but the grudge.  It always made me laugh and, to be honest, feel a little vindicated.  I struggled with holding grudges for the same reason I struggle with sunburns and dancing…I’m Irish!  It’s incredibly convenient when we give ourselves ethnic exemptions for what the Bible calls sin.

It’s also incredibly destructive.

Unwillingness or inability to forgive turns our hearts into a breading ground for self-righteous anger, bitterness, and resentment.  It’s hard to accomplish anything meaningful in life when all you can think about is how you’ve been wronged and why God isn’t punishing that person the way you think He should.  The old adage really is true, “Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison yourself and waiting for the other person to die.

None of us set out to waste our lives by drinking the poison of unforgiveness.  It just happens because forgiving people is hard, especially when they’ve really hurt us.  But that’s what Jesus calls us to do, “as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)  Notice, “so you also must forgive”.  This isn’t optional.  It’s a command.

Here’s what I’ve learned about actually doing the hard work of forgiveness: My greatest obstacle to forgiveness isn’t my sense of justice.  It’s my pride.  The path to forgiveness is found in allowing the grace of God to melt my pride.  Here’s how it works.

(1)  Our forgiveness of others is rooted in God’s forgiveness of us.  I know just how much God has forgiven me of in my life.  I know that forgiveness was completely undeserved and totally motived by His grace.  I didn’t do anything to earn it nor can I do anything to pay Him back.  So, the forgiveness God calls us to in Colossians 3 is made possible by the forgiveness He offers us in Colossians 2, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14-15)  This is the essence of the gospel – my debts were nailed to a tree in the person of Jesus Christ so that I could be forgiven and made alive.  That’s grace!

(2)  Grace always kills pride.  When it comes to forgiving another Christian, we need to ask ourselves, “If the cross is enough for God to forgive this person, why isn’t it enough for me?”  Why do we feel like we need something more?  God didn’t.  And if the person we’re struggling to forgive isn’t a Christian, we can rest in the promise of Proverbs 11:21, “Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished“.  God deals with all injustice – either on the cross or in hell.

Jesus offers us a forgiveness that is so complete, so undeserved, and so permanent that it will melt the pride of our unforgiveness as we come to understand it.  In Christ, we not only find our forgiveness but also the power to forgive others.  So, lay your cup of poison at the foot of the cross and let grace do it’s transforming work.

RCC Needs More Gray Hair

IMG_5301

Last week I found out that being the speaker at a middle school/high school retreat is an interesting experience when you’re 39.  It starts with the realization that these kids were born after you graduated from college.  From there you discover that a lot of them have parents your age; which is particularly encouraging when you have 3 kids but your oldest won’t start kindergarten for another year!  And it reaches a climax with the music.  I’ll be forever grateful for those two David Crowder songs the band played but, other than that, I hadn’t heard any of them before.  And, maybe for the first time in my life, I found myself wondering why everything was so loud!

What’s happened to me?!?

I was a college pastor for 7 years and led a young adult ministry for another 3.  So much of my Christian life has been shaped by Passion’s music, messages and conferences.  I love Hillsong.  Part of me is still clinging to the vain thought that at least I’m still young enough to get invited to a student camp at 39.  But, trust me, those kids didn’t think I was there because I was cool.  At best, they were grateful that an old guy would come speak into their lives.

But there I was.  Surrounded by people who could be my children.  Totally happy and thrilled to be there.  Why?  Because I was there for the sake of the gospel.  I wasn’t there for the music.  I was there to serve.  I was there to fight for the next generation of the people of God.

And I started to think about Restoration City Church.  I started to think about the college students, 20 somethings, and 30 somethings who call our church home.  And I started thanking God for sacrificial  40 somethings, 50 somethings and 60 somethings who are part of our church even though they may not love the music, aren’t surrounded by a lot of their peers and sometimes feel like the chaperones at a high school dance.  I love these older saints who are willing to define their church experience through the lens of serving the next generation.  They’re some of my heroes!

And we need more of them.  Restoration City needs more gray hair.  Not because we’re trying to Make Choirs Great Again and not because we’re going to be planning senior adult weekends in the Poconos.  We need mature believers to make disciples, to do pre-marital counseling, to mentor young parents, to teach a generation how to live for Jesus in the work place.  We need older saints who will sacrifice their comfort for the advance of the gospel.

If you agree, let me ask you to do three things:

  1.  Pray.  Join me in asking God to bring some winsome, sacrificial, godly older believers to our church.
  2. Recruit.  If you know some older (40+ and that’s negotiable!) believers, forward them this blog and ask them to pray about joining our church.  If they don’t do blogs, call them on their landline and ask them to come to church with you on Sunday!
  3. Bless.  If you have an older believer who is willing to disciple you, look for ways to bless them.  Babysit their kids.  House sit when they’re out of town (ok, that blesses you too).  Help with yard work.  Whatever you can think of!

I believe the vision of an intergenerational church is worth fighting for, sacrificing for and striving for.  The local church is at her best when all of the generations come together under the banner of changing lives and transforming communities.

Tennessee Mornings

Ocoee

It’s pretty easy to spend time with Jesus in the morning when you wake up to this view.  At least that’s what I found last week when I got to spend a few days in East Tennessee speaking at a student summer camp.  I could hardly wait to wake up in the morning, grab a big cup of coffee, sit in a rocking chair on the front porch, take in the majesty of God’s creation, read His Word and spend time with Him in prayer.  To make it even easier, the cabin I was staying in had no phone line, no internet and no cell signal and my nearest neighbor was miles away.  Just to complete the picture, Laura and the kids were at her parents, so there were no little voices asking me for juice or to telling me they had to go potty.

So, I would sit there in silence and solitude. Read a little.  Pray a little.  Talk to myself.  Talk to God.  Reflect.  It was all kind of surreal…kind of like I found my own Walden Pond, in a really good way!

And somewhere along the way, I found myself thinking, “this is the way life should be.” That’s an unsettling thing for a guy living in an apartment in the city with a family of five to be thinking.  But, I suspect all of us city dwellers think similar things when we get out of town for a bit, right?  If we had different jobs, more space, less traffic, and simpler lives we would have better relationships with Jesus.  In short, if we lived elsewhere, we’d be healthier.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s something really good about getting out of our routines.  My friend Mark Batterson says it so clearly, “change of pace + change of place = change of perspective”  He’s totally right and I’m all for vacations, retreats trips out of town and speaking at any church retreat with a good view!

But blaming our spiritual apathy on our surroundings is a cop out.  That was a point the Lord drilled home one morning last week with a simple question in my spirit, “John, which are you enjoying more, me or the view?”  Ouch.  Was I reveling in Jesus or in a novel experience?

When it comes to spending time with God, we all have a tendency to put too much hope in the experience and too little hope in experiencing God.  We spend so much time getting ourselves comfortable and creating an experience that will look amazing on Instagram and so little time enjoying Jesus.  Any time we lose sight of the fact that Jesus is the best part of any experience, we’re headed for trouble.

What mattered last week wasn’t the view.  What mattered is that God was there.  He wanted to speak.  I wanted to hear.  And that’s transportable.  That’s available in DC.  That’s available everywhere.  To every one of us.  Today.  Tomorrow.  And the next morning.

Don’t settle for an experience when God invites us to experience Himself!

 

Shooting In Del Ray

IMG_1527

When Laura and I moved back to D.C. to plant Restoration City Church, we rented a little row house in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria.  It was right down the road from where our church was gathering in Crystal City and we quickly fell in love with the neighborhood.  It felt like a small town right in the middle of a big city, it was walkable and had great restaurants and coffee shops.  The coffee shops were a particularly big deal for me because they doubled as my office.  My favorite is a placed called Swings.  I would walk there almost every day.  It was only a few blocks from our house and I could get there even faster by cutting through a park with a baseball field.  It’s called Simpson Park.

And this morning a Member of Congress, a Hill staffer, a lobbyist and two Capitol Police Officers were shot there.  I know exactly where the 3rd base dugout is; I’ve stopped there to make phone calls on my way home.  When I hear media reports of Members of Congress being escorted to a basketball court, I know which one they’re talking about.  There’s a little park right by the left outfield; that’s where we put Aidan in a swing for the first time. Laura still shops at the Aldi across the street and I still spend a lot of time at Swings.  So, it’s more than a little surreal to think of a shooting happening in the middle of a place we know so well and love so much.

I’ve been distracted all day by the shooting.  I keep thinking about it, wanting more information, wanting it to make sense and knowing it never will.  It makes me sad to know the whole thing will be politicized.  It makes me sad to realize that our national political discourse is so divisive that this kind of violence is tragic but not surprising.  But there are two thoughts that keep coming to mind more than any other.

One, this is why we planted a church that still meets right up the road from Del Ray.  Not this specific incident but the brokenness it flows out of.  Not political brokenness, not even moral brokenness but spiritual brokenness.  The loss of hope that comes from not knowing God, the fear that comes from not trusting His guiding hand and the pain that sin unleashes in our souls.  The church doesn’t exist to make good people better or to keep Christians entertained on a Sunday morning.  The church exists to shine the life and hope of Jesus into our world.

Two, we must do more to love and serve our city.  I’m shaken up because violence has reared its head in my neighborhood.  But for too many in our city and in our world, this is a daily reality.  I’ve always lived in neighborhoods where people say, “things like that don’t happen here.”  But there are plenty of people who live in neighborhoods where people say, “another one?”  Jesus died for the people in those communities as well.  He died to make sure that hope wouldn’t be limited to affluent zip codes.  He died that every soul would have the opportunity to find life in Him.  Every soul.

I love the city I call home.  I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else or lead a church anywhere else.  My prayer is simply that we would be the church – willing to reach out, to care, to love and to serve.  And to pray.  To pray for those shot, for their families, for our city and for our nation.