December 10, 2009

got me a new j-o-b

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Over the last couple of years, I've been looking for a new job. The work of leading the Collective was deeply fulfilling. It was awesome to be able to throw myself into projects that really matter to me. But I always knew it was only for a season... and it wasn't a season that was paying our bills. I was fortunate to get a job working with my good friend Cory as (interim) production manager for christianaudio.com. But I knew that probably wasn't going to be a long term gig either. And it appears it isn't.

At the beginning of the 2010, I will go on staff at First Presbyterian Church of San Diego as their new Director of Outreach and Evangelism. First Pres' has a long history in San Diego–it's been here since the city was founded in the 1860's. Today it runs a private school, soup kitchen and retirement community. Yet, it has also been in decline for decades, with most of it's members living outside of the city center. Still, they have a renewed desire to be incarnational Christians in downtown San Diego. My job, in short, is to help First Pres' reconnect with it's neighborhood.

It's a big task, and to be frank, I'm pretty excited about it.

The first response from folks has been one of two:

"This sounds like a perfect job for you!"

Or, "What the?!"

Having established and lead small, missional communities over the last eight years has provided me experience in a much different context than I am about to enter into. But these endeavors were not an effort to abandon the church, rather it was out of a deep love for the church that my family and I strove to find a way for our faith to connect with people seemingly giving up on the idea of Jesus mattering at all to their lives.

This doesn't mean I'm "selling out" or giving up on what we have been up to over the years (though some may think so). The Hawthorn House will continue on and the rag tag collection of individuals and communities that call themselves the Ecclesia Collective will continue to try and work out what it means for us to nurture these grassroots expressions of the Kingdom in our city together.

I didn't intend to continue in church-related work as an occupation. I'd been looking mostly for construction positions, when I was encouraged to apply for this position by an acquaintance. I figured, what the heck?! I needed a job that provided health care for my family and enough income for us to live simply with. I doubted the possibilities. I guess I was wrong!

Part of what excites me about this position is that I've had a growing conviction that the new models of church that are cropping up around the globe need to find ways to work in harmony with the established models. Most communities such as the Hawthorn House will never have staff, a building or budgets of any kind, yet like so many others, we find ourselves in neighborhoods with congregations holding an entire city block in realty, etc. To many, these two faith communities would seem the antithesis of each other. In many ways, they are. And this is one of the reasons why some have been so shocked to hear I am taking this job. But I've never said I hated the established models of church. I am simply convinced that they fall short. But so do all of us tinkering with new ways of being the church. My hope is that I can help find some ways for both forms to become conversant with each other. As Derrek Jensen says, "We need it all."

One of the ways I hope to do that is through my blog. Most of the people reading this know me through the work of the Collective. I hope that my new friends at First Pres' will join us here as well and we can begin to share lessons learned in both contexts.

Another reason why I'm excited, is simply this: they asked me. Here's a long-standing mega, mainline church with a strong Reformed background asking a missional community-tinkering, punk Anabaptist for help. If you know me, I love it when people take a risk on the underdog. In this situation, I happen to be that dog! And I'm honored to be given the opportunity.

And another reason that comes to mind is creativity. This job is brand spanking new. While I have people to report to and a job description to follow, I get to be highly creative in determining how we accomplish our task (and setting the metrics for that task) and if you know me, you know I like this. But I also get to work with a great team of people that are ready for new things and are willing to risk failures in order to succeed. And if you know me, you know I prefer teams over doing something totally alone.

Yet another reason, is, as opposed to just getting by, we'll have enough income for me to go back to Fuller and finish my degree, which was becoming a dying dream. I'm thrilled for this. And rather than spending a majority of my time trying to raise enough funds to live on, as I was before taking the job at christianaudio, I'll now have the ability to invest some time and resources back into my neighborhood, just east of First Presbyterian's.

Lastly, while the challenge is quite large, First Pres' does have a good foundation to begin with. They're a well-educated congregation and quite a theologically-developed, biblically-literate group. And even though suffering serious decline over the years and drastic changes in it's surrounding neighborhood almost every decade, they've continued to feed the hungry, house the elderly and educate children. It's not a bad starting point!

Still, some have pointed out my new title, "Director of Outreach... and Evangelism?!" Evangelism has become a term of pride for some while making others cringe. "Outreach" doesn't seem to be so difficult for most people. "Sure, the church should reach out to it's neighbors." But evangelism often conjures up strange behavior and bad salesmanship techniques in many minds. Mine included. Having been working for a Christian publisher the last few months, I've been brought back into the battle of words within the greater Christian community once again. It's been interesting to see the battles over what "Evangelical" should mean.

Many seem to believe this term mostly defines those who take a conservative, high-view of Scripture. I'm all for putting a high value on the Bible. But I was raised in the Evangelical community, as was my wife, and that was never impressed upon us as what it meant. The words "evangelical" and "evangelism" come from the Greek word for good news, or "gospel." Brooke and I have always believed that if we choose to follow Jesus, than our primary task is to be people of the good news and to share that good news. The manner and way in which we have shared this good news in the past are in many ways broken. But I still believe that Christians have a hope worth sharing. My job at First Pres will be to help a declining church reach out to it's neighborhood and find fresh (and ancient) ways to share the hope they have built their entire history together upon. And I'm looking forward to it.

Questions, comments, rebukes? Fire away!

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