Tag Archives: Nate Hulfish

On the apostolic edge: Your grace might feel sharper than you think.

Light Story by Ilya Rashap

If you ever visit the apostolic edge of Circle of Hope, you might need a discerning set of eyes and a some gracious reactions for those you meet.

An apostle (like the Apostle Paul) is someone called and gifted to carry the news and life of Jesus into places it is not known. The apostolic edge is the boundary between known and unknown, present and next, content and compelled. We have people among us who are apostles. As a church, we have, as a whole, the gift and calling to keep pressing outward to meet the next generation of Jesus followers amassed on the edge of our cultivated spiritual territory. We even have a leadership team (the Church Planting Core Team) to keep us on that edge.

Our “apostolic edge” is the invisible boundary over which our community of love in Jesus crosses to enter the next place we are being led: the territories of unbelieving people, the places where our compassion is needed, the next era of thinking that needs our Truth. From our side looking out, that edge is soft, even inviting. But from the other side looking in it might feel sharp or frightening, even taboo — many people looking over it from the outside might see things that feel very distant from everything that seems normal to them.

Our unique edge

For instance, Ben recently wrote the to the Covenant List and enthusiastically reiterated the Leadership Team’s list of things that make Circle of Hope unique — things they thought would make many people glad to connect, just like they feel. It is hard to see, from the inside looking out, why anyone would not cherish the things on their list, we are such a great thing God has made! — but it happens.

I don’t think they were just being self-congratulating when they came up with their list, just happy. You decide. Here’s what he shared:

“At the leadership Team Training last night I was so encouraged by all the things people were saying I whipped out my phone and furiously started thumb typing them. We were on a roll answering Nate Hulfish’s question: As far as your experience goes, what makes Circle of Hope unique compared to other churches and organizations? Here are as many responses as I could write down:

  • Nate Hulfish. (We laughed, but it’s true!)
  • There is a willingness to be vulnerable. (We are safe.)
  • Everyone wants each other’s wholeness. (There is genuine concern and mutuality.)
  • We are honest and not transactional. (We have a purpose and it is not my ego.)
  • There is an uncanny lack of self interest.
  • We are encouraged to live a life of worship. The rhythm of my day and the focus of my thoughts are in sync. It’s almost monastic.
  • We receive transparency from our leaders.
  • There is flexibility — not just wanting to do what’s next with the Spirit  but relying on the Spirit for what will happen.
  • I can have a knit together life. We have broken out of capitalist compartmentalizations.
  • We trust that people will have a face to face conflict — not online, not behind my back.
  • We are a real place of belonging — more home than what other home I’ve experienced.
  • There is more grace than I know what to do with sometimes.
  • I sense the purpose and joy of Jesus — a purity of heart that is not weird. I have a people to be that devoted with.
  • The leaders are followable. (They are not too lofty — no inflated sense of importance at “the top”)
  • There are so many leaders, along with a constant expectation of deploying the next leader.
  • We have a rare sense of tribe with Jesus leading us. We are a part of something bigger than ourselves.
  • We have the freedom to fail.
  • Circle of Hope is what I was always looking for but never thought I’d find.”

I thank God for the great blessing of being part of an authentic, growing, expressive church!

What is happening on our unique apostolic edge?

A few days later, Megan and I were talking in the surreal, sunny-February atmosphere of Miel. Pleasant, Frenchified music played in the background as we wondered about what is happening on the apostolic edge of our mission. (Yes, that’s exactly what we talk about over little sandwiches).

We could think of many reasons why Trumped-down people would want to meet Jesus and his people (as in the great list above!). But we could also imagine a few good reasons why people would avoid us without more than a glance.  If I could hear the script playing in those people’s minds, I think there would be several themes in what was being said about us:

  • This feels way too close.
  • Oh my, this is demanding. Not only am I singing, they expect me to feel things.
  • These people are very ambitious. What a lot of work!
  • I’ve got a feeling they expect me to be reading this blog post. They will probably be upset if I don’t read their email. Way too personal.
  • I have heard three people tell a personal story. I hope they don’t call on me.
  • Did they just say I should get therapy?
  • Uh oh. Here comes the part about money.
  • I’ve got a feeling they are going to sign me up any minute.
  • Can everyone articulate exactly what they believe?

It goes on.

I am not trying to make the alt-list to the one the Leadership Team made. I just want to have sympathy for people who would read (or intuit) such a list and feel like they were running into it, like it was the edge of something, something to cross over. When it comes to faith, people stand at the door a long time, some of them, and inch their way over the threshold if they move at all, if they ever notice the threshold! Very few people hear a compelling speech or meet a compelling person and automatically change their direction. I do psychotherapy, so I know firsthand how incrementally people change when they feel desperate for change, and are paying good money to change! Our apostolic edge is crowded with people who are more ambivalent or paralyzed than antagonistic or indifferent. We should be patient, confident in what we have been given, but aware that people on the other side might not be aware of those gifts, yet — or even the possibility of them. We can make them aware, but we can’t rush their response. We need to remain confident, knowing that Jesus is knocking on their door, not just us. We can wait — he is.

One time a woman was honest enough to say to me, “I just want to go to church. You guys are just too much.” So she went to church. That’s going to happen and that is OK. That doesn’t mean we aren’t God’s gift to the Philadelphia region or we can’t be pleased with exactly who we have become. But that memory reminds me to be discerning and patient before I think people don’t like me because I follow Jesus, before I think they have rejected me because they don’t want to come to my meeting. Jesus loves them right where they are, and he is with them, helping them over the threshold into all the graces we are receiving, and maybe even into some meeting that will feel life-giving and not so uncomfortable in  a year or so.

Paean to partners

Someone sabotaged our computer. We discovered what they did right before we wanted to do a few things for the meeting last night. Three of us were huddled in front of it lamenting, offering ineffectual suggestions and generally having some mutual anxiety — and that just before we were to lead an evening centered on “not worrying!”

Now that everything worked out fine-if-not-perfectly, I look back fondly on the scene – back on how our strange little partnership in the gospel was revealed in that moment. We were anxious about something only Jesus could get us together to be anxious about. Each of us had travelled a long distance geographically and culturally to become important in a new kingdom and tribe. I like it when I notice that blessing.

I’ve been thinking a lot about being partners lately and feeling thankful. I think my feeling is a lot like what Paul felt about the Philippians when he started a letter to them with: “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Philippians 1:4). From the first day of Circle of Hope until now, I have had such amazing partners, beginning with my wife and family and then one person after another who Jesus drew together to form our incendiary community of faith: partners in building community, making disciples, showing compassion, doing business, inventing administration, weathering crises, sharing money and standing together in problems a lot worse than a sabotaged computer! What a blessing!

Continue reading Paean to partners

Lowest Common Denominator Assumptions

I still remember the time, a few years ago, when fifty people came to our meeting about making a covenant.

Joshua Grace and I led most of it. Nate Hulfish got in there, too, even though he came with a fever and could barely talk! It was January, and everyone had to venture out over treacherously icy roads to a church basement in Camden. One intrepid person even found a way to get there by public transpo from Philly — he apologized for being late because he had to wait twenty minutes for one tardy bus in 28 degree weather!

It was heartening. It was encouraging to find out that we were still meeting people who would do unusual things as if they were usual. Ten of our cell leaders were there, bringing cell mates with them – they’d been to the meeting before and they were going to lead other meetings that week, so you might have thought it was “beyond the call of duty” to show up.  One of them said, “The church is not in the meetings, it is a 24/7 reality.” One of them was upstairs caring for her cell mates’ children so they could enjoy the meeting! Like I said, it was pretty amazing.

Lowest Common Denominator -- Jaako Mattila
Lowest Common Denominator — Jaako Mattila

The meeting was even more amazing to me because I compared what my friends were actually like to what some denomination leaders thought they were probably like.  I had just come back from a conference in which I discerned some attitudes in “higher up” church leaders about what people could tolerate when it came to living out a commitment to Jesus. They didn’t expect much. I probably shot my mouth off a bit too much (as I am wont to do), but they were talking about the BIC doctrine about peacemaking, which is so close to my heart. They didn’t expect people to make peace much.

The Brethren in Christ list peacemaking among their collection of ten “core values.” We say we are all about:

Pursuing Peace: We value all human life and promote forgiveness, understanding, reconciliation, and non-violent resolution of conflict.

 That is not a radical statement. But it is right there among our top ten values!

In the Articles of Faith and Doctrine we say:

Christ loved His enemies and He calls us as His disciples to love our enemies. We follow our Lord in being people of peace and reconciliation, called to suffer and not to fight. While respecting those who hold other interpretations, we believe that preparation for or participation in war is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. Similarly, we reject all other acts of violence which devalue human life. Rather, we affirm active peacemaking, sacrificial service to others, as well as the pursuit of justice for the poor and the oppressed in the name of Christ.

That is a straightforward statement.  It is worthy of people who will get out in 28 degree weather to investigate how to form an authentic church! Yet when I called on my leader to promote a “prophetic” expression of our stated doctrine, he publicly worried that others would not take too kindly to such aggressive behavior (whoever these “others” are, I don’t know). It seemed to me that he was managing for the lowest common denominator, or working on a non-violent resolution to conflict by avoiding conflict altogether!

So it was encouraging to meet up with the next set of Circle of Hope (BIC) covenant-makers who are, basically, brave enough to do something that other people might assume is just too much to ask. I will always wonder, I guess, about what the big deal is about following Jesus. If you’re going to do it, do it! Why doctor up his clear teachings and example to fit into the lowest common denominator that can pass for Christianity?

It is such an honor to be sought and called by Jesus! It is not like he is “asking too much of me” when he gives me life and assumes I’d like to live it! I have rarely been disappointed when I was “presumptuous” enough to assume that Jesus has impressed others in exactly the same way. We’re glad to follow Jesus! Put me in coach!

I expect to keep finding those kind of people and doing what I can to form a covenant community with them. After all, thirty more people than one might expect could pile into the basement at any moment.

The ABCs of the E Word — Connect

I love imagining Jesus walking through Jericho and spotting Zacchaeus in the tree. Unlike the popular children’s song, I don’t think the Lord wagged his finger at him and told him to, “Get yourself out of that tree shorty!” I’m not even sure Jesus knew Zacchaeus, personally, yet. But the Lord apparently at least knew his name, because he calls to him and tells him he’ll be at his house shortly!

So why did Zacchaeus immediately get down out of the tree and “receive him gladly” as it says? I suppose we’ll have to ask him in the age to come to know for sure. For now, I imagine it was because Jesus connected with him. 

First, of course, Jesus showed up on the streets of Jericho; he didn’t just connect virtually, like you and I are doing. More importantly, Jesus looked Zacchaeus in the eye and they connected, heart to heart. I think people could tell Jesus loved them just by looking at him — because he did. Jesus was out seeking the lost and he connected with a person who was ready to be found. 

The C of the ABCs of evangelism is Connect. 

Nate had a great time connecting a reporter the other day. Circle of Hope showed up in the county records because we are prospectively showing up on one of the crossroads of South Jersey when we take possession of that former firehouse. Here’s what he said about the interview: 

I spent some significant time with a reporter…this morning. He frequently reads the law notices for the region, and found Pennsauken Twp’s approval of the firehouse for a church last week.  He thought that was a story in and of itself and called me because he’s convinced there’s not another church out there that has ever reclaimed a firehouse…

He just kept saying, “You are so interesting! This is so awesome! I can’t believe you exist!”  I described the ideas of reclamation, restoration, and redemption simply as us doing with a building what Jesus is doing in the world.  He couldn’t get over how loving it was for a church to use what’s there rather than build yet another building.  He couldn’t believe that we’d plant something new rather than outgrowing the firehouse.  He was amazed at the lack of “programs” and the strategy for relating face to face.  His admitted cynicism about the church in general combined with his extensive knowledge of the region were very encouraging.  He assured me of what we have long suspected…that our particular location (on Marlton Pike by the 130 corridor) is perfectly situated for us to be and do what I described to him.  He wasn’t interested in doing it…but he was interested in making us known.

I doubt that the reporter would have been so interested if Nate was not so interesting. More importantly, he wouldn’t have cared so much if Nate had not cared about him. The reporter asked, “Is it OK if we talk about things that have nothing to do with my article?” A fifteen-minute interview turned into over an hour.

To connect, we’ll be going some places where people don’t know us yet. More importantly, once we get there we will openly show whatever truth and love we are carrying and see who is interested. God was disconnected from his beloved creatures. He came as a person to reconnect — and to reconnect us. He walked through Jericho that day and made a person-to-person connection with Zacchaeus. That’s elemental to evangelism. Just like Jesus, we have no lack of opportunity to connect; we run across people every day unless we are hiding out. It is mainly a matter of showing up in love and spotting the people who are up a tree. Sometimes they are stuck, sometimes they are looking for someone; we need to keep the love in our hearts in our eyes so when they see us they connect with who they need.

First step – Go to some “lane” where people don’t know you so well. In our region, that should not be too hard, since there are about six million people nearby. Be there to connect in some way. It is OK to talk to people who are waiting in line with you for coffee. You can go to a block party and introduce yourself to everyone who is there. You can ask someone, “How’s it going?” when you are at the park and mean it. This will take some courage, so take the…

Preliminary step – Connect with God from your own perch up some tree so you have something of the Spirit that can be noticed.  Don’t worry that whatever small love you share with the Lord will be too small or uninformed.  Just let people connect with whatever faith you’ve got. Someone is likely to receive it gladly. I received it gladly when someone showed up and we connected.