In his classic book on community, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer cautioned that, “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”
I’ve been thinking about that idea since this past Sunday’s sermon at Restoration City. We talked about the idea that biblical community is a beautiful destination that requires us to walk a difficult road. We love the idea of living in a community where we are at peace with one another (1 Thessalonians 5:13) and where we are mutually committed to each other’s best interests (1 Thessalonians 5:15). But we forget that this kind of community requires the courage to admonish one another, to comfort one another, to help one another, and to be patient with one another (1 Thessalonians 5:14). We love the dream but are often unwilling to do the work. We think we’re going to stumble into honest conversations, meaningful relationships, and the transforming joy that comes from being fully known and fully loved.
But it just doesn’t work that way.
Community requires work and courage. It requires us to go to the weekly gathering of a church rather than watch online. It requires us to go to community group when we would rather crash on the couch. It requires us to approach others in love and curiosity, not with cynicism and detachment. It requires us to be honest and it requires us to honor the moments when others chose to be honest with us.
Here’s the thing: the messy reality of community is infinitely better than our airbrushed dreams. But we’ve got to work for it. We’ve got to fight for it.
What’s one way you’ve been fighting for community in your life?
This coming Sunday, August 29th, Restoration City Church will return to Gunston Middle School for the first time in a year and half. I honestly can’t wait to be back for our Sunday morning gathering – it’s a beautiful theater with easy parking and all the room we need to offer a proper kids ministry. In a lot of ways, it’s going to feel like one significant part of life is getting back to normal. Except for the fact that we will all be wearing masks.
Now, in case you haven’t noticed, masks have become a little bit of a cultural lightening rod, to say the least. Add church into the mix and you have everything you need for your very own online controversy. So I thought it would be helpful to offer two quick observations as we all grab our masks and head to Gunston on Sunday.
Keep Masks In The Proper Perspective
For us, the decision to wear masks is far more pragmatic than it is theological or philosophical. Yes, we want to be guided by the Spirit, the Word, and the gospel in all things. But that doesn’t mean we turn a blind eye to practical considerations. For example, Gunston is not only our best option for a Sunday morning gathering but it is also an Arlington County Public School and they require us to wear masks if we want to use the space. So, guess what, we wear masks!
That may seem like an obvious point but it’s important because it should defuse a lot of the tension around this issue. It also enables us to be generous in our interactions with other churches that handle the mask question differently. No church has it easy right now and we’re all doing our best in light of the unique constraints and opportunities in front of each one of us. So, let’s not make a big deal out of something that really isn’t. That kind of foolishness plays great on social media but it’s toxic within the body of Christ.
I’m Glad We’re Wearing Masks
Having said all of that, I am glad that we’re wearing masks. Think about Paul’s words to the Corinthians.
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law.
1 Corinthians 9:19-20 (ESV)
I totally get it – Paul isn’t talking about masks. But he is talking about a willingness to meet people where they are and do whatever he can to remove barriers that would prevent people from hearing the gospel. Paul was willing to sacrifice his preferences and comfort in pursuit of a larger and more significant goal. Let’s just be real – there are a lot of people in our city who are appropriately cautious about indoor gatherings due to the delta variant. That’s the cultural landscape of the city God has called us to love and serve. For me, that makes wearing a mask an easy call. If my mask makes it more comfortable for someone to join us, then I’m all for it! It’s a small price to pay for seeing my church family and seeing someone discover the beauty of the gospel.
I hope that we masks not only in terms of our own health but also in terms of aligning with the missional heart of God. That’s what the church and church planting are all about – seeing people come to faith in Jesus. Don’t just bring a mask on Sunday, bring a friend! It’s what we’re here to do. Let’s embrace the mission God has given us.
So, RCC, we’re not totally back to normal yet. But we’ve come a long way and I can’t wait to see you on Sunday!
Perhaps you’ve noticed that my posts to this blog have been a bit, shall we say, “infrequent” as of late? Sporadic or virtually non-existent would also be fair descriptions. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing. It’s actually one of my favorite ways to clarify my own thoughts and serve others interested in faith and life. I’ve just been a little busy with another side hustle – finally finishing my m.Div.
I have a long and painful history with seminary. I first started taking classes in 2003 at Capital Bible Seminary where I finished something like 36 credits before dropping out because I was “too busy.” As a married, 43 year old father of three, I would do anything to go back and slap some sense into my single 27 year old self! But I was convinced that God was doing so much through me that I just couldn’t make space for grad school. I got back on the horse in 2011 because I felt really ashamed and inadequate as a seminary drop out. This time I went to Dallas Theological Seminary and accumulated about 20 credits before once again “taking a break” to move to Raleigh-Durham, do a residency with The Summit Church, and plant Restoration City. So, I was roughly half-way to a Masters in Divinity when I achieved the rare distinction of being a 2 time seminary drop out! All of this would be comical if it wasn’t so sad.
In 2019, I started to feel an increased leading from the Lord to finish my degree. So, I enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary and started chipping away at my remaining requirements. I’m so grateful to our elders at Restoration City for their support and to Laura for all of the sacrifices she has made to help me find time for grad school in the midst of everything else we have going on in life. On a sad note (and, please, someone learn from my mistakes!), I found out that none of my credits from Capital would count towards this degree because the “time limit” had expired. So, it was an even longer road than I initially expected. But, by the grace of God, I will finally be done in December. Hang in there, RCC, I’m almost at the point where I’m actually qualified to be your pastor!!
My purpose in sharing this now is not only to explain infrequent blog posts but to offer two thoughts that might be helpful for all of us.
I literally can’t believe I dropped out of school in my late 20’s because I was too busy. Trust me, my life now is a lot fuller than it was 15 years ago. But there has been something good about forcing myself to do something that has been incredibly challenging. It’s also been really good to have my thinking challenged. That’s why I went to Fuller – it’s a truly interdenominational seminary. It’s made of Calvinists and Arminians, Baptists and Pentecostals, Complementarians and Egalitarians, and so many other groups that rarely talk, yet alone learn together. It’s also a school that does a lot of work at the intersection of theology and psychology (a passion of mine). Finally, it brings together students from so many different racial, ethnic, and national backgrounds. That has been invaluable to me over the last year and a half as our country and church have navigated questions of race, racism, and justice.
It’s good to push yourself and it’s good to allow your thinking to be challenged. It will make you a stronger and better leader.
Vulnerability Is Always Risky
I remember the first time I told RCC that I was a seminary drop out in a sermon. I was terrified that people would leave and I hated confessing what felt like an area of deep inadequacy, failure, and shame. But I got through it and the church was so gracious to me. Yet, I’ve been a little apprehensive about this post and have kept this 3rd round of grad school quiet. Maybe I was afraid I would drop out again. But I also hated the thought of calling attention to my failings one more time.
Here’s the point: vulnerability is not a one time, check the box and move on kind of thing. It’s a daily choice to tell our story honestly and courageously with those around us. It’s a choice I want to continue making.
I’m hoping to post more regularly over the next six months (twice a month is the goal) and then consider something even more regular as we head into 2022. By then, I will finally have that elusive degree.
The closer we get to August 29th, the more excited I am about the new season we are stepping into as a church. Last week, I wrote about what isn’t changing in the new season and why this such a pivotal time for us as a community. If you didn’t catch that post, please check it out so you will have some context for what I want to share today as I describe some of the other changes we envision for the new season.
Empower Lay Leadership
In order for the church to function the way God intended, we need to lean into two foundational texts from the New Testament. Ephesians 2:10 tells us that we are all created by God and that every Christ follower has been given specific work to do to contribute to the advance of the gospel. Moreover, 1 Corinthians 12:7 tells us that every Christ follower has been given a specific gift to be used for “the common good.” That means you are empowered by God to do something in this city and in this church that no one else can do as well as you. And we need you to step into whatever role God is asking you to play in this season.
I find that vision utterly thrilling and deeply challenging because it means the staff has to relinquish control. Nothing will kill God’s vision for His church quite like a staff team that needs to make every decision and micro-manage every detail. So many of you are wired to do so much more than run a play designed by someone else. You have vision, knowledge, ability and gifting. More than anything, I want to release you and empower you to run after the dream God has placed in your heart as we pursue our shared calling as a church.
Allow Pastors to Pastor
In order for this redistribution of leadership to go well, three things need to happen. The fist is very practical: the staff and elders need to ensure that everything we’re doing as a church is aligned with our calling, our strategic distinctives, and our culture. The church can’t become a big ball of tape rolling around and picking up every good idea it bumps into – that’s a recipe for chaos. So, our staff and elders need to reprioritize this aligning work. The next two come straight from the New Testament. So much of a pastor’s job description is contained in Ephesians 4:12 – “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” That means a renewed focus on leadership development, training, and coaching. In other words, pastors and elders are called to help you live out Ephesians 2:10. They are also called to “present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28) Spiritual formation is the foundation of leadership development and the primary calling of every pastor. In other words, would you allow us the privilege of caring for your soul as you pursue the life God has called you to?
Emphasize Formation & Mission
We did not plant Restoration City Church because we thought the Christians of DC needed another option on the Sunday morning worship buffet. We planted Restoration City because the non-Christians of DC need more Christ followers committed to living on mission. Jesus’ plan for the church is clear – make disciples of all nations. (Mt. 28:19) That’s why we exist; to see people cross from death to life.
At the same time, the gospel calls us to so much more than simply receiving forgiveness for our sins. 2 Corinthians 3:18 reminds us that we are being increasingly transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus. That’s the work of spiritual formation and it is essential to our lives as Christ followers.
Formation without mission turns the church into a support group. Mission without formation offers a hallow vision for life. But when mission and formation collide, we feel the full power of the gospel.
Make Space For Relationships
Church isn’t an event you attend, it’s a community you join. We say that all the time at Restoration City. Yet, the pandemic revealed how fragile some of our relationships really were. We were in the same places at the same times but we weren’t really in each other’s lives.
Spiritual formation happens in the context of relationships. That’s why small groups are so important to us. Not because you need something else on your calendar and not to check the “weekly Bible study” box but to create a space that allows for real, deep, authentic relationships. Yes, our groups engage with God’s Word and, yes, they pray. But they are also a place to be known, to be heard, to be loved, to grow with others, to share your story, and to be real.
I truly love where we’re going as a church in this next season and I really want you to be a part of it. I would also love to have you inviting others to be a part of this new season with us. Who could you invite to come with you to RCC this weekend? Who do you know who would love to be a part of a church that’s moving in this direction? Reach out to them, tell them you would like to take this journey with them and then dive in!
Starting on Sunday, August 29th, Restoration City Church will once again meet in Gunston Middle School for our Sunday gatherings. By the time we go back to Gunston, it will have been over 17 months since we were last there on a Sunday morning. Not only is that a stunning amount of time but it is also stunning to think about just how much has changed for all of us since March of 2020. That’s true for me personally and it is certainly true for us as a church – so many have moved out of the DC area, so many have gotten connected to RCC online, we’ve mourned the loss of family members, and we’ve welcomed many babies. So much life has happened.
To capture the significance of this moment, I’m thinking about August 29th as a whole new season for us as a church. We’re asking God for so much more than a return to a familiar venue at the end of the summer. We’re asking Him for a fresh start and a new beginning. Less a resumption and more a relaunch.
As we start to think about a new season as a church, I want to be clear about what is changing and what isn’t changing for us as a church.
What Stays The Same
Our theology and doctrine. I hope we are continually growing in our understanding of the gospel and its implications for every area of life but we haven’t changed our basic theology one bit.
Our mission. Restoration City Church exists to glorify God by making disciples. That’s the mission Jesus gave His church and I don’t see any reason to rethink that one.
Our calling as a church. Restoration City Church exists to glorify God by making disciples who are being restored by Jesus, in community, and for mission. This is where we get a little more specific about why our church exists – a community where people experience not only the redeeming love of God but also the restoring love of God. The God who forgives also makes whole.
Our strategic distinctives. We’re still radically focused on spiritual formation, neighborhood transformation, and developing the next generation.
Our connection with the Summit Collaborative. This is the family of churches we most naturally connect with and our most immediate partner in planting new churches.
Great question. I promise it’s not just a PR stunt to get people to come back to church in person! We’re using this language because it accurately reflects where we are as a church in a number of ways:
Transition. A new season accurately reflects the amount of transition we’ve seen since the start of the pandemic. To be blunt: we’ve lost a lot of people since March of 2020. Most of them have moved out of the area and some have found other churches here in DC but we have said goodbye to a lot of folks. At the same time, God has brought a healthy number of new people to RCC over the course of the pandemic. In order to avoid any sense that there’s an old guard and a new crew, we’re going to create a “we’re all new here” culture over the summer and into the fall.
Leadership. A new season accurately reflects the amount of transition we’ve seen in our elders, staff, small group leaders, and ministry team leaders. Three of our five elders have started serving in this capacity during the pandemic. Other than me, we have a totally different staff team in 2021 than we did in 2020. Our production, kids, and outreach ministries will all have different leaders when we step into this new season. As you can imagine, we’re essentially rebuilding all of our teams right now.
But we also see this as a fantastic moment to clarify and reinvigorate certain aspects of our calling and culture as a church. There’s a lot to say about that so I’m going to devote next week’s blog to those shifts. But, for now, circle August 29th on your calendar. It’s about more than a new location, it’s about a whole new season!
“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak. Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Let’s start with the obvious. There was not a single church leader in America who thought, “Hey, I know how to make Easter especially awesome this year. Let’s just have everyone stay home and worship online!” Nor was there a single family that thought, “Hey, if we could just spend the majority of Lent stuck in the house together, that would make it super special when we spend Easter stuck in the house together.” It just didn’t happen.
Nonetheless, as we head into this weekend, I keep thinking about Paul’s words here in Colossians 4. Even when he’s in jail, Paul is praying for and dreaming about the advance of the gospel. In particular, I keep coming back to that little phrase, “making the best use of the time.” He’s urging the Colossians to take every advantage of every opportunity they have to declare the mystery of Christ.
And I believe we have a tremendous opportunity to do just that this weekend. We find ourselves celebrating Easter at a time when everyone is thinking about their mortality, about what’s really important in life, and about God in some way, shape, or form. We find ourselves walking into a weekend where people simultaneously need the hope of the resurrection more than ever and are more open to it than they’ve been in a really long time.
As a church, we’re doing everything we can to create an online experience that is going to serve you and your friends well. Chris Kim is going to be leading worship, I’m going to be sharing a message called “Alive” and Heather Ross is going to be hosting the entire gathering. But we need to be thinking about more than just how we are going to worship online as a church. We need to be thinking about how God might want to use every single one of us to reach someone this Easter.
Our goal this Easter is not to make the best of a bad situation. Our goal is to make the best of this opportunity. And it’s easier than you might think. I’m asking each of you to join me in a very simple outreach over the next few days: Pray, Text, Talk.
Pray. Ask God to bring specific people to your mind. Ask Him to show you where He’s already working, where He’s already been creating openness, and where He’s already been planting seeds. Please, don’t skip this step or assume you know the answer. Ask. You might be surprised by some of the names He brings to mind.
Text. Reach out to that person with a simple text. Maybe something like: “Hey, I would’ve loved to invite you to go to church with me this Easter but obviously that’s out. Would you be interested in watching my church’s online service? I would love to talk with you about it afterwards.” If you’re feeling really old school, you could call them. Or you could post something on social media. But the key here is to set the stage for the next step.
Talk. It’s one thing to share a link. But take it one step further with another text, “Hey, what did you think about church today? Love to talk more, if you’re interested.” This is where you really open up space for God to work and where you start to make yourself available for God to work through you in starting a great conversation with your family, friends, neighbors, or co-workers.
Restoration City, I’m praying for each of you as we head into this weekend. Let’s not waste this opportunity. Let’s be make the best of it: Pray. Text. Talk.
Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
I have come back to this passage over and over again as we press deeper into this period of social distancing. I keep coming back because I keep seeing so much of Martha in myself. Her issue isn’t that she’s working. That’s not what this passage is about at all. Martha’s problem is that she’s distracted, anxious, and troubled. That’s what Jesus points out. That’s what Jesus wants to lead her out of and it’s what He wants to lead us out of as well. I keep coming back because I need the daily reminder that the one thing we truly need is the one thing that can never be taken from us. I keep coming back to hear the voice of God, the voice that melts anxiety, fear, and distraction.
And I’m not the only one who needs to keep coming back to this truth. We all do. I read an article yesterday that told us that 43% of American adults say their emotional health has gotten worse over the past week. For what it’s worth, I also think that means 57% of survey respondent are either (a) way more spiritually mature than I am or (b) lying. You decide! But I don’t know anyone who isn’t feeling a little distracted these days. It’s where our hearts and minds naturally go during times of uncertainty and upheaval. And, now, we have 24/7 internet access to relentlessly fuel it all.
All of which means we need to cultivate rhythms that enable us to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to His voice, even in the midst of a pandemic. He’s speaking through the miracle of His Word and the presence of His Spirit. He’s inviting us to believe that He’s real, to believe that He’s still good, and to believe that He’s still for us and not against us. He’s inviting us to make King David’s prayer our prayer during this time:
Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever. For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul.
Those rhythms are going to look a little different for each of us but here are a few that I’ve found helpful:
Getting up at the same time I always do to spend time with God in the quiet of the morning.
Only allowing myself to check the news and social media twice a day. For what it’s worth, this is the hardest one for me!
Pausing 2-3 times during the day to be still, to pray, and to read a short passage of Scripture.
“When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place.”
Even though we can’t be together physically this morning, we can come together as a church around a common vision for these days. In this message, I lay out three anchors for us as a community of faith during these days.
Pray that God would give parents an incredible sense of patience as they balance work, homeschooling, closed daycares, and all of the other responsibilities of life. (Colossians 1:9-12)
Pray for the most vulnerable in our communities, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions. Ask the Lord to protect them and empower them to make wise choices during this pandemic. (Psalm 91:1-6)
As Christians, we believe that Jesus has authority over the natural world. Luke 8:22-25 is only one example. Therefore, we should pray boldly, asking Him to slow the spread of this virus.
How have you seen God at work in your life over this past week?
What have you learned about the kind of rhythms you’re going need to stay healthy (physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually) during this time? What worked well for you last week? What didn’t
How worried are you about your job and financial well-being during this time?
Where do you see God opening doors for you to engage with others in sharing the gospel? What do you think your next steps could be?
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.
While God is doing so many incredible things in so many different areas of Restoration City right now, that work is probably most evident in RCC Kids. Both our Parent’s Morning Out and Parent’s Night Out events are near capacity every time we offer them and our twice a month morning playgroup is thriving. On top of that, our Kids team continues to partner with Community Group Leaders in making childcare available for CG’s that need it. And then there’s Sunday morning! We now have 5 classrooms per week that serve a minimum of 30 kids per Sunday, with that number increasing rapidly. It’s honestly amazing to see what God has done through Alex Dibble and our children’s ministry team!
If you’re a member of that RCC Kids team, I want to publicly thank you for all you are doing to serve the parents and kids of our church. You’re making a huge impact on families and the lives of these young kids and you’re sacrificing a lot to do it. We all know you pour a lot of energy, love, and sweat into a Sunday morning! And we all know you’re giving up the chance to be in the main gathering to do it. Your willingness to serve says so much about your heart for Christ, His church, and the next generation. On behalf of every family at Restoration City, I want you to know how grateful we are. It’s no small thing to be raising our kids in a church where they’re excited to go to church and it’s your sacrifice that makes that possible. So, thank you! You’re incredible.
And we need more of you!
The only way to keep serving an increasing number of families and kids is by increasing the number of volunteers. We need 12-15 volunteers per Sunday, plus the volunteers at our additional events. We only ask RCC Kids volunteers to commit to 1-2 Sundays per month so you still are able to be in the main gathering 2-3 times per month. But that means we need a regular volunteer pool of 40-50 in RCC Kids. Right now, that number is closer to 30 regular volunteers. So, you can see the need for more help in response to how abundantly the Lord has and is growing this area of our church!
If you’re willing to commit to 1-2 Sundays per month, we want to get you trained and serving with us. Our need is especially great in the summer since so many of our regular volunteers are traveling. If you can help us love and serve these kids, please shoot Alex an email today. She would love to talk with you!!