Tag Archives: second act

My creative relinquishment — and ours.

Image result for vine and branches art
The true vine and branches. San Clemente — Rome

A week of praying through times of transition at Circle of Hope Daily Prayer :: WATER last week was very good for me. I am in one of those transitions. You might be aware of it, since Circle of Hope sent me into it when they declared a transition of the whole church into our “second act” a couple of years ago. I thought I kind of knew where I was going, but there has been more development and change than I imagined!

The well-watered schedule

As a church we bought a new building, created new businesses, multiplied a new congregation, bid good-bye to significant partners, developed a new kind of pastors team and solidified a mostly-new leadership team. I was in the middle of all those changes. As a result of them, it seems to me, we are pulsing on the edges of our two-handed outreach: compassion and disciple-making. In a societal environment in which Jesus is not too popular right now, it is amazing how many people have made a brand-new relationship with the risen Lord this year!

Personally, I found myself jumping in and out of the problems that development causes. Nobody knows what a “development pastor” really does, since nobody else is one. But I quickly found out as my assignment came into play. I had plenty to do with mentoring, developing our crucial leadership team, helping with the practicalities of businesses, buildings and staff, and working out new teaching and communication (and there is more, I realized as I was making this list). I was supposed to work less hours but that did not immediately pan out.

Now that I am entering the last year of my term, I realize I have also been learning how to get smaller and let go, as I knew was my trajectory from the beginning.

Dead wood

That learning brings me to the Daily Prayer entry that really hit me last week. It was on “creative relinquishment.” I even enjoyed the extension of the Lord’s metaphor about him being the vine and we the branches to include considering what has become dead wood and what is sprouting on our branch. “One of the challenges of living in concert with the creativity of God is how to attend to present passions while releasing those tasks that are completed. How can we honor the past that we carry with us while not letting it define the future? How can we live in a well-ordered psychological house without accumulating too much stuff in the basement?  Life in the Spirit is a flow of engagement and release, of attachment and detachment, of commitment and relinquishment…. As we listen to God’s creative beckoning, we need to ask, ‘What must I release, in order to make way for what is calling now?’”

Unlike many people, I suspect, I actually did the prayer exercises that were suggested. Don’t get me wrong, I often avoid spending my precious time on spiritual exercises and my self-importance often has the same bad effect yours does on you. But I am in a time of life when I need to figure out what is the best next step for me. So I did some exercises. The question that I’ve been pondering ever since is: What is the “dead” wood on my branch of the vine? I was glad to be reminded that, in the Lord’s ecosystem, when a seed falls into the earth and “dies” it rises to new life and bears much fruit (John 12:24). So dead wood is not “bad” wood. I may be getting old, but I am hardly dead yet. Even though people persist in asking  me, “How is retirement?”, that does not mean the Lord has retired me. “Creative relinquishment happens in the context of resurrection and eternal life, not in a realm of scarcity and decline.”

Possible sprouts

As I am looking back on my recent history, I am happy we decided to go the route of “creative relinquishment” of our first act as we patiently and relatively consciously moved into our second. Although our risky behavior and unexpected changes have upended us a bit, lately, I think we are poised for deeper and more effective ministry than ever. I am also happy the church trusted me to be productive through a transition rather than just cutting me loose to see what happened. I expect to keep being helpful. And I have personally been inching toward clarity about where God is leading me next as part of our body.

Here is how clarity happens for me, and maybe for you. Last weekend Gwen and I were with dear friends who are a little older than us. They helped to create an atmosphere where deep thinking is welcomed. I began to see where some activities that have been very dear to me in my life are about done. I am not “dead to them” like I am sick from them or of them, but they are withering. They are decreasing so new things can sprout – sort of like the forest outside my window right now, whose floor is littered with toppled trees feeding the saplings right next to them. We watched a new movie together called  The Wife, with Glenn Close, and it aroused even more of what I had been thinking.  She has such an urge to give her gift of writing. It was interesting to see trees topple in mysterious ways to offer her a new blank page. My blank page is beginning to get a few sentences and that gives me hope for how the Lord is leading each of us, you included, as we keep listening. Let’s pray.

Where are we going? — deeper, sweeter, wider

The direction I am pointing applies to everyone, of course, but I am especially thinking of the dear people of Circle of Hope. By the time Lent is over they will have persevered for 20 years! By the time this post is over, I hope to contribute how we see where we might be in ten more (and you too, reader, wherever you are).

We’ve already taken our first steps into the future. We called it our “second act” when we were hit by the inspiration at the end of 2014. Then we started acting inspired: restructuring, redeploying and redeveloping. I wrote about it here and here and other places, too. It has been a great ride.

So we did that.

Now what? In late spring we will get together and consider where we are going and make a new map. So more will become clear by then. But already the first steps are showing where we are headed. We are an amazing group of people who can absorb change, work hard and imagine big. It is hard to say all that we will be able to do, but I think we are heading this direction: deeper, sweeter and wider.


Our capacity to know God and teach others to follow Jesus is deepening. I think Jesus has spoken to us like he spoke to his first disciples, only metaphorically:

“Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (Luke 5:4).

We are doing that. We are letting our nets down into the deep water of the Spirit. I am especially excited to see the budding fruit of two new developments. First, I hope you have heard about Gifts for Growing. We decided to gather our resources for getting from here to there spiritually and lay them out on a more cohesive track, starting with the first seeds of faith in “earth” and moving toward the deep waters of grace in “water.” The cells and Sunday meetings are still the main places where a person gets what they need to grow, but we are organizing our teachers to give us what they’ve got: exploring money, relationships, the Bible, spiritual disciplines and more.  Second, Circle Counseling is growing. We’ve added five new counselors and a new building at 1226 S. Broad. The counselors will also add gifts to grow on. The Hallowood Institute Gwen is starting will undoubtedly share its wealth with us too.

We have kind of reached a tipping point of giftedness. Our fisherpeople, so to speak, are equipped with boats and nets and they bring up a lot to feed us from the deep water of the Spirit. That capacity is a great treasure to spend over the next ten years.


You can’t really go back and have do-overs on relationships, at least not in real time. The experience of community we have shared is irreplaceable, unrepeatably sweet. But like good long term relationships (like I have been blessed to experience with Gwen) community is sweeter as the years go by. In each other, we have tasted that the Lord is good. Peter tells us to get rid of what could be bitter and honor what is so sweet.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.  As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house (1 Peter 2:1-5).

I don’t know how we did it, for sure, but we ended up with sweet relationships that can span the whole region. The cells and teams are so often sweet places to be. They don’t feel like obligations, they seem like treasures. I am glad for that. The capacity to build and preserve authentic, covenant community is the thing we can lead with (like we said last week) when we present Jesus to the future. I can see us doing it in the quarterly compassion efforts from last year, in the restored covenant that has been proposed, in how the Cell Leader Coordinators take themselves and their cell leaders seriously, in the talk back from last night at South Broad and how we included the new people in the room. We are not sugary, but we are sweet.

Someone told me last week, as people sometimes do, that they forgot what they had in our community until they visited another version of the church (like ones some of the presidential candidates come from). We are blessed. No matter what bitterness the world serves us, we will form an alternative that tastes like Jesus in the next ten years.


This is the most exciting (and most frightening) place the Lord has us going in the next ten years: there may be twice as many of us. We are getting ready for those new people and the gifts they bring to the mix right now. I know God has opened up my heart wide to them. It’s like Paul says his heart was to those entering the first churches,

“As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses…;  known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed;  sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken freely to you, [everyone], and opened wide our hearts to you” (2 Cor 6:4…10).

A lot of churches at twenty years old are committed to preserving the good things they’ve got going. By the time they are forty they are perfecting their spiritual combover. We opted for a makeover. We have changed some element of most things we do — and some things (like Nate, Ben, Rachel and me!) are totally retooled. The pastors are “getting out there” meeting new people in new ways. Likewise, we have new events that give new ways for people to connect. The apprentice pastors agreed on a plan to take our Sunday meetings on the road into new areas of the region, so look for that very soon.

I think we should double our size before ten years is up, maybe long before. That’s not because bigger is better. It is because we have what people need. Our community can embrace them. And the world craves what we have.

I again watched most of the movies that are up for awards this year. I think most of them are some turn, dark or vengeful, on the myth of the hero. The world can’t help looking at itself telling itself stories about itself. Jesus manages to escape his own imprisonment in the monomyth again and again. We tell His older story well. I am delighted to offer a better hope than the tired tale the world keeps producing. It is great to see people come to know God as they meet a missional people – us, and so many other Jesus followers all over the world. They’ll get deeper, sweeter and wider with us.

New development: The practical beginning of the “second act”

Development is hard. For instance: The crew and I, led by the devoted foreman Ben Blei, are in the last throes of finishing the project down the street at 1226 S. Broad. All the details we missed are becoming evident. All the last-minute demands to meet the deadlines are irritating us. Relationships that need to work, but don’t work that well, are becoming obvious. Our limitations are also becoming obvious. There are a lot of problems associated with developing an old abandoned building. There are good reasons people don’t take on big projects like that.

As I was writing that line, someone emailed and told me they were as good as an abandoned building and God started developing them! But they had some good reasons why they did not want to get with that program: details, demands, relationship issues, limitations, etc, etc. It is exciting whenever I hear about someone who is in the throes of developing faith! Because the main development project people resist taking on is themselves.

That kinds of sums up the focus of my new job. I’m now the “development pastor.” It is a big idea for a job description, in that I am going to get practical about how we get from here to there as the whole church, Circle of Hope. But it is also a very small idea, in that I am going to have more time to be devoted to individuals, especially the leaders, as they move into their future in Christ.

I am excited. I even renamed this blog to make that clear!

I need to develop and I want to help others develop

That’s probably the same as you – we’re on the same team after all. I just get to lead in it. We all need to develop — we’re doing it one way of another. I want to follow Christ into my fullness.

To develop in Christ means one has some kind of experiential knowledge of spiritual things that moves them to action — not just book knowledge, or secondhand knowledge or even Circle of Hope knowledge. You know God and that relationship is developing. I first learned this when I finally read the Bible and saw in Romans 8 that people who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. In all our talk about our “second act” we have been devoted to risking that the people of our church will be led by the Spirit: we’re trusting Christ to be at work in all of us; we’re trusting each other to keep developing as people in Christ and to resist settling into some placeholder life.

The last time I spoke in a Sunday meeting I offered three basic things we all need to hold on to if we are going to keep developing as individuals in Christ and keep developing as the Lord’s church. Let me briefly list them again.

  • Take incarnation seriously

The finite manifests the infinite, the physical is the doorway to the spiritual — like Jesus the incarnate Son of God is our way to eternity. This is the way to that. There are not sacred and profane places or moments. There are only sacred and desecrated things, places and moments. Christ in YOU is the hope of glory. Christ in US makes us the incarnation of the Lord in the here and now. To develop, take that honor seriously. You and we are important, no matter what voice inside or big power from outside tells us.

love will always be key to our development

  • Practice remaining in Love

Only love “in here” can enjoy love “out there.” Fear, constriction and resentment make us blind and need to be overcome. People cooperating with their development let their inner darkness and fear rest in Christ. God’s gift of love in Jesus makes that possible. There is no law or moral code that makes you better than remaining in Love. Stay there no matter how many times someone wants you to prove the validity of what you know in your heart by the data, or they try to make you love the empty container of the law without the content of the Creator. “Remain in my love,” the Lord says – then you will develop.

  • Stay close to the cracks in everything

Jesus says, “The last will be first and the first last.” Paul says, “When I am weak I am strong.” It feels upside down. But when we stay close to this seemingly irrational crack in normality, we begin to see Jesus — out there on the edge of what looks like an abyss to us. He is always about to fall over the cliff into what people think is nuts or impossible. We need to stay close to that. This is the hardest for me and most of us because it means we need to stay close to our own suffering. We need to be one of “the poor in spirit” who are blessed. We need to notice our own cracks and not cosmetically alter them. Living with Jesus on the edge, where things are cracked and paying attention to our own cracks in health and relationships is the mother of spiritual development.

development area

We need to develop as a church in mission and I want to help

Our ambitious map for 2015 is full of what’s next. It is so packed, we will probably need to extend it beyond a year! It is a very practical doc but very focused on heaven. We are redesigning ourselves to match what God is telling us and changing to meet people where they are at now. I hope you share my estimation of us: we have what the world needs; we are the next church finding its way in a changing world. As believers with a beachhead in the megalopolis, we are incredibly well-positioned to be used by God — and we are being used.

I have already been at work helping us to refine who we are so we can move into who we are called to be now. We planted new admin at the Hub. We redeployed our pastors to “get out there” and not be a four-headed unit with too much responsibility. We deepened our reformed Leadership Team and turned the Imaginarium into a rolling Council meeting. We are retooling how we use our two corporations: Circle of Hope Inc and Circle Venture to let us relate to the powers in useful ways. We installed Rachel as a new pastor and released me to think bigger and act smaller. We are getting together the masterminds (and we have them) to imagine how we can be large and personal, prophetic and empathetic, active and contemplative, dispersed and focused, attentive and inclusive, communitarian and missional.

All my experience leads me to this moment of development, I think. While it is hard for me to change from being the day-to-day pastor of a congregation, I am excited for this new moment of opportunity. I have some good years of service ahead of me! Even more exciting, I think, is to be a part of Circle of Hope, now — when devoted, reconciling, ambitious brothers and sisters in Christ are moving into their second act and trusting God to do something even greater.

My second act — and a love note to Circle of Hope

Tonight Scott Hatch and I reminisced about when we met. I had called the number I found in his zine, Burnt Toast. It was on the zine rack in Tower Books on South Street where I hung out a lot. He said, “Sure. Come over.” Scott Clinton rumbled down the stairs at some point while I was in their living room and I met him for the first time, too. I was in the middle of a big risk: planting a new church based on a new movement of God’s Spirit in my life. Those guys ended up taking a risk to join in, too, and they are still doing it. (Tonight we also remembered how Scott was responsible for the six cop cars that met me one night on Tenth St. But that’s another story).

I have enjoyed being the pastor for the Brethren in Christ of Philadelphia/Circle of Hope Center City/Broad and Washington/1125 S. Broad so far. There have been a few tough times; but if you ask me how it has felt, I’ll tell you it has been fun. Not all pastors get to say that. Thanks everyone.

I have enjoyed teaching every week, leading a cell, being on a PM Team, beginning and leading mission teams and compassion teams, even finding buildings and rehabbing them. I liked being available for emergencies and counseling, answering the door and the phone for strangers and figuring out where money was going to come from. Being the congregation’s pastor is varied and joyous if that’s what God gives you to do. When I saw the Instagram of Rachel blessing Jeffy and Toni’s new house on Saturday morning, I thought, “Yes! That’s what a pastor gets to do.” I couldn’t go because I was elsewhere, but it felt right to see her there being a blessing like pastors get to be.

I will get further opportunities to do the acts of love and truth that have led me, but not just like I have been doing for so long. Now is the time for a second act. We are taking a new risk together and this month brings it all to a head. Most of the time when a founding pastor makes a move it is “out to pasture!” Or a younger king deposes him. Or, like in some corporate dynasty, he moves into a ceremonial role to preserve his sense of power. We are trying something different. We are more like a tribe that sticks together, and continues to develop. So I am changing. It seems natural.

Late last year we had an inspiration and we have been letting it mature all this year. So far, it looks like our risky Map is going to lead us where we thought it would. As far as our staff goes, we shook things up. We took Nate to lead the new Hub and installed Ben as a new pastor in Pennsauken. I could feel the excitement at the Love Feast in New Jersey last week. And the team in the Hub has already proven indispensable. Now we are going to unleash Rachel as pastor on S. Broad and maybe even see how we are going to multiply that creative, resourceful congregation again.

That means soon I am out of the job I’ve had for nineteen years (well, it is not exactly the same job I had in 1996!). What are we going to do with me? Some people have wondered why I am retiring! Some have wondered why they are ending my job before my term is up. I tell them, “I am not done. I am still part of the team. What I am going to do is what I have been doing more and more. The leaders, are just recognizing what God has done and are moving with it.” The 2015 Map says I “will mentor leaders, speak to vision, generally oversee the Leadership Team, provide spiritual direction, give relevant training and teach among the whole church.” As this year has unfolded and I have begun to take on that new role as Rachel takes on hers, my new/old assignment seems to be more than enough to take up my time and imagination. Some see it as an honor, an elevation into a CEO role. I see it more as one of my favorite spiritual examples, Francis of Assisi, might see it. Like he called his order the “little brothers,” I want to become smaller. Some of that means I want to become more focused, I want to lead more from below, more one on one. That seems right to me.

Someone noticed that Rachel was speaking more often now and wondered when I was going to get to do it! They felt bad for me, since it seemed to them like speaking is what I do. I will be speaking, but that has never been my first calling or my great love. I want to lead people to Jesus and help create an environment where people are safe to become their true selves and members of a living incarnation of Jesus, the church. I am still going to get to do that. I am grateful that I have been called into a unique opportunity to use my gifts and experience, and use them among the people I love in the region to which I am called. It will strain me to change, of course, but I expect the suffering to be sweet.

There is more to all this change than I am jotting down. I am just feeling full and eager, so it is spilling over into print. Circle of Hope is great – not just the idea of it, but the people of it.  I love you. I want to be a part of you as God has developed me. I am glad for the opportunity to help us develop. Thanks for making that possible.

It is the second act — what do we do now?

It is true that Terry Gilliam stole the title “imaginarium” from us and applied it to his devilish movie. The five people who knew about that movie before I just told you may have had trouble taking our “rolling Council” meeting seriously. Nevertheless, the others had a very visionary Imaginarium in February. Recently we have simply answered this question when we meet: “What is God telling us?” What moved the group in February was pondering what it takes to be what we have imagined and what it takes to lead it. We are implementing the vision of our “second act.” Things are loosening up, changing, and growing. What do we do now?

Here are five things that God seems to be saying to us about moving into what is next for Circle of Hope. It is amazing that all this good thinking happened in one hour!

Our “second act” is like when the kids are in high school and we get a miracle baby.

  • It has disturbed the homeostasis. Some of us have to get used to imagining ourselves as parents when we were already settled into our post-reproduction phase.
  • Our system has become pretty secure. It is good to have it disrupted because it needs to be disrupted to expand. Further leaders need to emerge. Pastors need to turn to equipping others and to not being overly in charge.
  • If we follow God’s lead through this change we will win the battle we are in. But there is a remote possibility that we won’t have the faith or follow the vision. We are taking the risk to meet the challenge even though we may prefer avoiding failure rather than risking success.

Many of us are at the tipping point when our attitudes change and we think we can sway something.

  • We have stokeable imaginations. We can get fired up. This is a good trait.
  • What we are talking about becoming in this year’s Map takes prayer. If we are praying all the time, we can see it God’s way and we can be it God’s way.
  • Some of us have felt overwhelmed — like we were foster parents to a giant baby called Circle of Hope. It was like the baby was foisted upon us and we were not exactly ready to parent. We fell in love with the baby and we decided to raise it. Now that we are raising it, it feels like our baby.

One of the main calls to the Leadership Team is to pick up the load. Be responsible.

  • To be responsible probably means a change in how many of us see ourselves. We can’t lead if our faith is locked inside “personal salvation” boundaries — that means faith is something I get for myself and it mainly lives in me. We’re talking about having faith that is about others and about the cause, not locked up in our own survival, preference or good feelings.
  • One of us gave an analogy of this based on how they have changed their gardening practices. In the past their garden was not very thought out. They planted what was given to them or went with half-price plants at the end of the season. This year they have already been germinating seeds under the grow lights in expectation of spring. We need to be the kind of people who foster spiritual seedlings, not just wait for people to find us, not just think of ourselves as afterthoughts or leftovers, and not mess around with “whatever” until the season for planting has passed.
  • To pick up the load means being active as opposed to passive. We can be a movement or a monument (or even a mausoleum if we don’t watch it).

It is tempting to wait and see what is happening, like you’re watching someone else’s show.

  • What? You never saw Disney’s Hercules, either?

    It doesn’t matter if we switch around our leaders and do inventive structural changes if the church is not moved by the Spirit. If there is no movement there is nothing to steer.

  • One of us said. “If I say it, I’m more motivated.” They meant they need to talk about what they are doing because that helps them own it. For instance, people sometimes don’t want to say “I love you.” They don’t want to say it until they absolutely mean it. Some of us, even the leaders, don’t want to say, “I’m going with the ‘second act.'” They are waiting, doubtful.

Our best stuff is in the wings ready to move on stage.

  • We need to stoke what is coming. We have spent three months doing that. We switched our pastors around and founded “the hub” at 13th and Walnut. A new picture is taking shape. We deployed new local site supervisors. We refocused all our pastors more on making deeper and further disciples and less on administration of their locales. We began to refocus Rachel on being the BW Development Pastor. Our Compassion Core Team took up the challenge of getting us ALL out there in compassionate service.
  • We are meeting new people who want to be responsible. They want to build an army for the spiritual battle of our time.
  • A new proverb seems to be developing: The new person is a role you did not know you needed.
  • We even started to catch up with our sharing goals in March.

It is an exciting time to be a circle of hope in Philadelphia. There is certainly no shortage of hopelessness to fill with a bright future! It is exciting to be Circle of Hope, the people of God, too! We are filled with possibilities and we have the vision and leadership to make them happen.