Welcome To The Neighborhood, HQ2

Crystal City

I remember being horrified when some of the buildings in our neighborhood started getting covered with this weird, quasi-artistic fabric.  I assumed Crystal City was trying to turn eyesores into art but couldn’t figure out why they were broadcasting just how many buildings in our neighborhood were sitting empty!  And then I learned it was all connected to Amazon’s search for a second headquarters.  Crystal City was putting together what a lot of people saw as a long shot bid to bring HQ2 to our little part of the world.  Turns out it wasn’t such a crazy idea after all and Amazon’s moving into the neighborhood!

This is a really big deal for our city, our neighborhood, and for us at Restoration City Church.  Only time will tell exactly how this will impact our church but as one of a very small number of churches that gather in the Crystal City/Pentagon City area, it’s going to have a big impact on us.  No doubt we’ll face some challenges (I suspect our rent is going up!) but HQ2 also presents us with tremendous opportunities.

At the very least, Jeff Bezos picking Crystal City should impact how we think about our neighborhood and city.  It’s no secret that Crystal City has had a bit of a self esteem problem for a long time – it’s hard not to when your claim to fame is an underground shopping mall!  Not only have we not been the trendiest neighborhood in DC but DC in general doesn’t always have the best reputation as a place to live.  People come here for their careers but it often seems like they’re counting the days until they leave from the moment they arrive.  Sometimes that’s just a function of being stationed at the Pentagon, which always comes with an end date.  Cost of living is a big and understandable part of it.  Kids frequently take the blame for it, “Yeah, this place is great for now but when we have kids we’re out of here.”

In all honesty, it’s been a long time since this felt like a place where people are excited to live.  I know I’ve felt that as a church planter – people are happy to have found a good place to go to church while they’re in DC but, man, they can’t wait to go back home.  So, it’s a massive boost to our collective psyche to have Amazon pick this place!  Truth be told, DC really is a great place to call home and Crystal City is worth getting excited about – our church loves gathering here and  Laura and I love raising our family inside the beltway.  It just feels really good to see other people getting excited about a place I really love.

HQ2 also means there are going to be a tremendous number of people moving into the neighborhood.  We’ve always cared about serving our community and loving our neighbors – this just means there are going to be so many more to serve!  We’ll be talking more about this on Sunday but God has given us the privilege and the responsibility of being Christ’s ambassadors in this neighborhood.  He put us here in Crystal City just over 4 years ago at a time when no one really cared about Crystal City.  In fact, there were plenty of well intentioned people who told me we were making a mistake meeting here.  But God has always had a purpose for us in this neighborhood.  I sure didn’t know HQ2 was part of it, but He did.  There’s not a chance in the world we’re going to watch this pitch go by, Restoration City.  We need to recommit ourselves to loving our community, having an undeniably positive impact on our neighborhood and pointing people to Jesus.  God has us here for a reason!

This is a really big day for our city and it’s a really big day for our church.  Let’s be praying the Lord will give us the grace we need to navigate all of this well in the months and years to come.

Relational Perfectionists

pool party

Being a perfectionist is exhausting.

Trust me, I know.  I’m a recovering one.  I’ve spent more of my life trying to get perfect grades, create the perfect resume, be a perfect leader, and preach perfect sermons than I care to admit.  Even now, there’s a part of me that wants to write the perfect blog post about how it’s okay not to be perfect…and, no, I’m not kidding when I write that!

For me, the journey out of perfectionism hasn’t been about lowering my standards and embracing mediocrity.  It’s been about developing realistic expectations and, even more importantly, learning to show myself grace when I don’t meet those expectations.  I’m reminding myself of truths I already know:  I will always have room to grow, my value isn’t found in my achievements, and those closest to me don’t love me because of what I accomplish.  So, I’m still aiming high.  I’m just learning how to cope when I fall a little short every now and again.  Pretty simple stuff.

It just seems to be particularly hard for me to apply in the area of relationships.  No where have I found perfectionism more damaging and harder to overcome than in relationships.  I was reminded of that all over again in preparing for this past Sunday’s sermon at Restoration City.  In that sermon, I shared a well-known quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic book about community, Life Together, The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” In other words, relational perfectionists kill community.  It’s true in marriage.  In dating.  In friendship.  In families.  Really, in any relational system.

I’ve had to embrace the hard truth that one of the greatest obstacles to improving my relationships is my frustration with the fact that my relationships need improvement.  I know how crazy that sounds but that’s how relational perfectionism works.  I develop and fall in love with an idyllic picture of marriage, friendship, church, or work.  It’s a gorgeous vision of relational perfection – everyone is getting along perfectly, everything is in its place, there’s good food, and everyone is saying and doing all the right things.  It’s incredible.  No filter required – it’s perfect all by itself.  But, the real world never lives up to that vision.  Laura and I have a good marriage but it isn’t perfect.  I have three really great kids who often don’t act so great.  I don’t get to see my friends as often as I would like and people move out of DC way more than I want.  In other words, relationships aren’t perfect.

A lot of our relational fulfillment depends on how we handle those imperfections.  Relational perfectionists are tempted to withdraw into a cave of frustration, despair, anger, and discouragement.  We tend to blame ourselves and wonder why we can’t even get relationships right.  We love to use comparison to beat ourselves up even more – look at everyone else, their relationships look so perfect on Instagram.

Here’s the problem and it should be obvious: it’s hard to build good relationships in the cave of frustration.  Despair, anger, and withdrawal never improves our marriages, friendships, or parenting.  It only makes things worse.

If we’re going to live in community, it’s crucial to develop realistic expectations for relationships and show everyone grace when life doesn’t live up to those expectations.  I still have a long way to go but I’m trying to live in the second half of Bonhoeffer’s quote – just love the people around you.  Stop being disappointed that our marriage isn’t perfect and just love Laura in the midst of the imperfect.  Stop being sad that our family dinners aren’t exactly the thing of HGTV splendor and love my kids in the midst of the chaos.

Don’t let your vision of community suffocate the people around you.  Stop being a relational perfectionist and dive into the mess of community.  It’s isn’t perfect but it’s where life happens and where we meet God.

 

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

Community & Friendship

friends

Community is both one of the most powerful and painful forces in our lives.  There are few things as exhilarating as being fully known and still fully loved.  Yet there are few things more damaging than being rejected by people we thought we trusted.

The Scriptures are clear that we’re made in the image of a relational God and are designed for community.  The local church is anchored in the belief that God uses others to make us more like Jesus.  Experience tells us that we can’t be fully human apart from relationships.

At the same time, we also know the hurt, disappointment and disillusionment that often comes with community.  Sin is the explanation for most of that.  We’re all messy, broken people.  Community simply multiplies the mess.

But sin alone doesn’t explain our struggle with community.  Unmet expectations also play a big role.  In his book Life Together, Bonhoeffer says, “Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest and sacrificial.”  That’s a shocking truth – our zeal for community can turn us into unintentional destroyers of community.  But that’s what happens every time we create a utopian picture of community that simply doesn’t exist this side of heaven and then blast every opportunity for community we have because it inevitably fails to meet those expectations.

The more I think about it, the more I realize a lot of our unmet expectations come from confusion regarding the relationship between the words friendship and community.  We commonly use them as synonyms.  But they aren’t.  They mean very different things.

I recently listened to a sermon that Pastor Leonce Crump preached at Renovation Church in Atlanta, GA.  He was preaching about our need for community but also our need to understand that community and friendship are two different things. His point was simple – both community and friendship are essential but they are also distinct.

The whole sermon is worth listening to but here’s his argument in a nutshell: you might become friends with some of the people you are in community with but friendship is not the ultimate expectation of community.  Yes, the church is a family.  But Crump points out that not all family members are friends and reminds everyone that’s okay.  There are some cousins you like to hang out with and some you don’t.  It doesn’t mean you aren’t family or that you’re doing something wrong.  It just means you aren’t friends.

Here’s what all of that means – you aren’t going to be friends with everyone at church.  And that’s okay.  You also aren’t going to be friends with everyone in your Community Group.  And that’s okay.  Yes, we’re a family.  Yes, we’re called to love one another as Christ has loved us.  We are a community.  But we’re not all going to be friends.

If friendship isn’t the ultimate expectation of community, what is?  Pastor Crump defines the ultimate purpose of community as “fellowship, partnership and encouragement to walk faithfully with God.”  I love that because that’s exactly what our Community Groups at Restoration City are designed to do!  We gather together every week to spur one another on, to encourage one another not to be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and to encourage one another to run our race well.  Will friendships develop out of that?  I hope so.  But friendship isn’t the ultimate goal of our Community Groups – mission is!

Crump’s distinction is enormously important for us to process.  If we think the ultimate goal of Community Groups is to help us make friends, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment.  If we come knowing the goal is to make us more like Jesus, we’re setting ourselves up for growth.

Just to be clear, I’m not minimizing the importance of friendships.  They’re vital.  But no church or program can form friendships for us.  Friendships are something we form individually, one person at a time.

I want to keep thinking more about this in my life and in our church.  Would love any thoughts or feedback you have.  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Church: A Community On Mission

Community And Mission

It seems like there’s an increasing trend in the church to place community and mission on opposite ends of a spectrum and then invite individual followers of Jesus and whole churches to decide where they fall on that spectrum.  I know plenty of churches who say they’re all about community – Sunday morning is warm and welcoming, it’s easy to join a community group with plenty of friendly people, and there’s one epic hangout after another to make sure you’ve always got something to do.  I also know plenty of churches who say they’re all about mission – Sunday morning is simple and no frills, it’s easy to start serving with a team of really committed people, and there’s an endless series of opportunities to serve, sacrifice and give.  It’s so convenient – all you have to do is pick the church that’s the best fit for you and have a great time/make your life count.

It’s an attractive but deadly trap.  Community church may be a blast but it never accomplishes anything and ultimately forgets why it exists.  Mission church may do a lot of good but people don’t seem all that healthy and end up feeling like a cog in someone else’s wheel.  At the end of the day, Jesus didn’t die to create a social club or an impersonal organization of exhausted people.

Jesus died to create a community on mission.

Maybe more accurately, Jesus died to pursue His mission through a new community we would call the church.  Jesus didn’t create a mission to keep the church busy.  He created a church to pursue His mission.  Community and mission are so intertwined that any attempt to pursue one without the other leaves us missing both.

Here’s how all of this connects for us at Restoration City – many of our mission problems are really community problems and many of our community problems are really mission problems.  Let me show you what I mean:

  • A lot of us who are struggling to find community aren’t serving.  I’ll often hear people say they want to get the community box checked first and then they’ll start serving.  Wrong!  Start serving and you’ll likely find your community through that team.  When people tell me they’re having trouble connecting at Restoration City, my first question isn’t which Community Group they’re in but where they’re serving.  Want to deepen your community?  Engage with God’s mission.
  • On the other hand, there are some of us with a deep passion for a ministry but we’re frustrated that no one else seems to be jumping in to help.  It’s maddening – God’s broken your heart over something and no one else seems to care.  I’ve come to learn that the answer to that is not an announcement in our gathering on a Sunday morning but to get more engaged with a Community Group.  People want to get to know you before they’ll follow you.  Want to engage others with God’s mission?  Deepen your community.

When we stop seeing community and mission as two ends of a spectrum and start seeing them as two sides of the same coin, it unleashes something powerful in our lives and churches.  Don’t pick between community and mission.  Join a community that’s on mission together.

 

 

Thank You, Restoration City

thanksgiving-2016

Thanksgiving is always a little convicting for me.  But in a really good way.  When I slow down and reflect, I realize just how much I have to be thankful for in life.  My wife, my kids, our families.  Health.  Friends.  God’s provision in our lives.  A job that I love in a city that I love.  So, how in the world do I spend so much of the rest of the year grumbling and complaining?  It seems hard to believe.  And then I add in the blessing of knowing Jesus, the freedom of being forgiven, the certainty of heaven and my ingratitude becomes downright wickedness.

Ingratitude is the fruit of pride – I’ve earned what I have.  It’s the fruit of envy – I think I deserve more.  It’s the fruit of a heart that isn’t abiding in Jesus – if God loved me, He would be doing more for me.  It’s the fruit of a soul that isn’t a rest – as Bono would sing, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.  And it’s the fruit of not pausing to say thank you.

It’s the last one that I want to deal with today.

When I think about Restoration City, I’m overwhelmed by how much I have to be grateful for this year.  I genuinely love (and like!) our staff, elder and leadership teams.  God has done things for and through us as a church in the last 12 months that are extraordinary.   And I can go on and on.  But what’s really on my mind today is the extraordinary kindness so many of you have shown Laura and I in the last month since Emma was born.

In the last four weeks, we’ve had friends drop off meals, take our boys to the park, clean our house, fold laundry, take our boys to church, send notes, drop off incredibly thoughtful gifts for Laura and send a constant flow of encouraging text messages.  I can’t tell you the number of times Laura and I have said, “I can’t imagine having a baby outside of the local church.”  I’m honestly not sure how new parents do it without a strong community around them.

Thank you, Restoration City.

You are such a gift to me and my family.  When Laura and I were dreaming about planting a church, we were dreaming about a community that would love and serve one another the way you have loved and served us this past month.  We dreamed of a community that would make Jesus visible by the way we cared for one another.  I know we still have a long way to go but the glimpses we’ve seen this past month have been even more beautiful than we imagined.

I’m praying 1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 for us as a church, “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more”  It’s a gift to be a part of what God is doing in this little expression of His church.  He’s teaching us to love one another.  Let’s be bold enough to ask Him for the grace to do it “more and more.” Who wouldn’t want to be part of a community that excels at loving one another?

I love you, Restoration City, and am so grateful to have you in my life and for the privilege of being in yours.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Distinct

distinct-coverI can’t wait for the start of our new series, Distinct, this Sunday at Restoration City.  We’re going to devote the next seven weeks to talking about the ways the gospel shapes our relationships with one another as followers of Jesus.  It’s all aimed at leading us to friendships with one another that are totally different than anything else the world offers.  In short, we should be distinct.

Community is such a buzzword in our culture yet so many of us are starving for friendships.  We’re looking online, at the gym, at work, at happy hour, in our apartment communities or in the local coffee shop.  All too often, we’re looking and not finding.  Or if we are finding, we’re settling for relationships that are so shallow that they’re hardly worthy of being called friendships.  And our souls are shriveling.

Sadly, we don’t always find friendships in the church being all that different.  Maybe slightly more sober, with less cussing and a little more Jesus.  But are we really living out Jesus’ commands for our lives?  I’m not sure.  But I can’t wait to spend seven weeks asking God to grow us in this area.

If we’re following Jesus in our friendships, people who don’t know Christ should look into our church and be astonished by how we love one another.  They should look at the depth of our relationships and our joy in one another and be captivated.  There should be people coming to Restoration City simply because they want in on our kind of friendships.  And in the course of their time with us, they should see that our community is shaped by our King.  What makes us distinct isn’t that we’re nicer people, it’s that we’re being transformed by the Spirit and conformed to the gospel.

I’m praying these will be seven culture shaping weeks for us at Restoration City.  I’m not after head knowledge about community and friendship.  I’m asking God to deepen our relationships and conform them to the truths of the gospel.  I’m ready for this series.  I need this series.  I can’t wait to see what God does with it.

Church: A Community On Mission

I’m still having a hard time wrapping my mind around everything God did this weekend. That’s probably because He did so much – our first ever leadership retreat, saying goodbye to Blake as a worship leader at Restoration City, and a Sunday morning gathering focused on the refugee crisis unfolding in the Middle East.  So many different emotions in such a short period of time!  But all of it was a reminder to me that the church is meant to be a community on mission.  When we get that right, everything else seems to fall into place.

I love our leadership team at Restoration City!  They’re an incredible group of leaders, Jesus followers and friends.  I’ve loved watching God build this team over the last two years – we’ve grown in number, in maturity and in respect for one another.  All of that was so evident as we carved out a few hours on Saturday morning to process where we’re headed as a church for the rest of 2016 and into 2017.  I loved listening to our team debate, challenge one another, affirm one another and get to a better place than we ever could without broad input.  I’m grateful for a culture where we see leadership as a team sport.

Saying goodbye to Blake was a bittersweet reminder of what a joy it is to lead and serve in community.  In case you weren’t able to join us on Sunday, we honored Blake as he and Tally get ready to move to Chapel Hill so he can pursue his MBA at UNC.  As excited as we are for them, I’m sure going to miss him!  It was a great reminder coming out of the leadership retreat not to take any of this for granted.  We all need to lean in and enjoy the time the Lord gives us to serve together.

Community is a really big deal for us at Restoration City.  But we’re asking God to create a distinct kind of community – one on mission.  That’s why I loved having Maggie Konstanski from World Relief with us yesterday.  She did such an amazing job of helping us understand the current refugee crisis and think biblically about it.  I loved the reminder that our community doesn’t exist to serve ourselves.  We exist for the good of our city and our world.  We exist to serve and lift others to a new and eternal life in Jesus.

At the end of it all, my heart is full.  I love our church.  I love the community God is building.  And I love the mission He’s given us.  So, let’s keep pressing forward!

Best Sunday Yet!

Apartment Life

It’s hard to compare but I think yesterday was probably my favorite Sunday so far at Restoration City.  If you had been with me when I talked to our guest from Apartment Life, I think you would agree with me.  He was ecstatic at the end of the day!

He was totally blown away by the number of you that came up to talk with him at the end of the gathering.  He met a guy who works in the apartment industry and collected well over a dozen names of people interested in Apartment Life.  I really wasn’t fishing for a compliment when I asked, “oh, is that good?”.  He told me he considers it a win if he gets one or two names.  So, he was one happy apartment dweller on his way home!

Guys, that’s what we’re about.  We want to be a church willing to leverage all of our lives for the mission of God.  Nothing makes me happier than thinking of our community learning how to intentionally live on mission in whatever community we live in.  This is the work of restoration – moving into whatever sphere of influence God gives us and shining the light of Jesus.  If we’re known for anything in this city, this needs to be it – we will sacrifice, pray, move and pour ourselves out for the sake of the lost and the glory of Jesus.  Let that be the word on the street about us!

I love that all of this coincided with a Sunday when we’re talking about generosity.  I was filled with so much hope that we really are becoming a generous church – not just with our money but with our whole lives!  Praise God!

By the way, if you still want to learn more about Apartment Life, check out their website.  But for today, I just wanted you to know I’ve never been more excited about where God is leading us as a church or more honored to be your pastor.  I love you guys and I love where God is leading us!!

The Mess of Community

community

For a few years after college, I lived alone.  No wife, no kids, no roommates.  Just me.  At times I was lonely but, to be completely honest, I didn’t mind it that much.  In fact, I kind of liked it.  The place was always clean (I’m a little compulsive about that), I went to bed when I wanted, got up when I wanted and pretty much did what I wanted.  I never had to wait to do laundry and had very few interruptions when I was working.

Now my life looks considerably different.  I’m married and have two kids.  We’re part of a great church and love having people over for coffee, dinner or whatever.  The only time the house is perfectly clean is after the kids have gone to bed (and even then, it’s questionable).  Life is filled with interruptions, tears, laughs and a lot of chaos.

Here’s my point: community is messy.

I’m not against living alone but I am deeply concerned that so many in our culture have learned to live alone emotionally.  Just to be clear, you can live in a house full of people and still live alone emotionally.  Living alone emotionally is about building up walls where we never allow others to get to know the real us.  It’s about keeping our relationships superficial enough where we have plenty of people to go to a movie with but no one we’re really committed to or investing in.

Pressing into relationships, whether it’s at work, school, home or church, is inviting a mess into your pristine isolation.  If you let people in, they’ll bring their best and their worst. The more you get to know people, the more you realize they aren’t quite as perfect as they pretend.  Sin, brokenness and hurt that can be hidden at a distance becomes unavoidable up close.  Even worse, they’ll start to figure out all of your broken places as well.

I always want to pull back from community when it gets hard.  When the relationship requires work, I want to give up.  When things are awkward, I want to withdraw.  But I know that is I do that, I miss out on a chance to grow.

I’ve come to learn that messiness is one of the surest signs that community is actually working.  Neat and clean exists only in the world of shallow and superficial.  Messy is reserved for the deep and vulnerable.

So, when community gets hard, keep pressing in.  You’re finally getting somewhere!