Someone asked: “What does it mean to be involved with Circle of Hope — like, what does it require? Am I required to make the community part of my social life? Why is the community so important to you guys? Can’t I just center on God as an individual without centering my life around a community?” Good questions.
In some ways, I think the feeling that “something is required” is like when you go to visit a relative or maybe someone you don’t know very well — but you are going to be in their house for a little while. Unless you know what is required, it is hard to feel comfortable. “Do you expect me to get up and eat breakfast with you? Am I expected to stay up and watch TV with you? Would you like me to pay for some of the food I eat? When you are vacuuming, should I dust?” Good questions.
There are similar questions when one visits Circle of Hope’s extended family. “If I am hanging around Circle of Hope, how long before you expect me to be important? When am I supposed to sign up with Jesus? How long before you start thinking of me like I am a slacker who doesn’t contribute? Since you keep inviting me to things, can I still do what I want instead of coming to all your cell meetings and parties and projects and not be seen as a recluse or a curmudgeon?” Good questions.
Non-coercive is important
First off, let me say, I (and I think we) think everyone is a free, choosing, potentially-honorable human. We would not have the audacity to try to make you do anything. We like to think we are creating a non-coercive atmosphere where you get to become all God wants you to become on your own time schedule. So if the question I am trying to answer is your question, thanks for caring about what we might want.
But we are inevitably intimate
One of our friends was thinking about this a little bit as she pondered her time in Colorado Springs. She went to a big megachurch with her relatives and it felt strange to her. The pastor was on a jumbotron, and that felt distant. But what bothered her the most was that the music was so well produced that she couldn’t hear people sing. She’s been involved with Circle of Hope for a long time and we made sure we would stay small enough so people would be likely to hear one another sing most of the time.
I suppose one of the reasons we are not a big mega church is because we can hear each other sing! We’re kind of intimate right away. Some people don’t like that. At one point during a Riversharks game last year I called my son to find out where he was in the stadium. He finally said, “Can I call you back? I can’t hear you.” The loudspeaker was so intrusive we were not even able to talk! People like that no-talking togetherness, like when you have to shout at a bar. But we are a people. We are an organism. In our public meetings we like to give people space; but it always looks like relating could be imminent. We can hear you. If we were like a store or a sporting event more people might feel comfortable. But we are more like a village. Dialogue is likely.
People sense expectations
So, again, I think these are good questions. Because there is a sense that something is required just by getting to know us. People sense expectations; and they are right. We expect to be friends. We are going to love you, and most people think that loving back is required. We are going to make a connection, and the connection implies that mutuality is required. Not being anonymous or impersonal implies that being known and personal is required, doesn’t it? So that might be a problem for some people.
So let me try to sort this out a bit. Because, being practical, there are levels of relational “requirement.” I don’t think any of the levels are imposed, they are agreements, conscious or otherwise, about how involved you want to be right now. And I think all the levels are OK. I made a chart.
The first level of involvement does not include any agreement. Circle of Hope is a rather large circle. There are a lot of people who are part of us who are not in the room at any given moment. For one thing, there are three other congregations! Plus, only about half the regular attenders of the public meetings are there on a given Sunday. There are people in cells who have never made it to a PM yet and vice versa. We touch people through our thrift stores, counseling offices and other compassion teams who are part of the larger Circle. So the constituency is very large and diverse; we can’t even know everyone. I think it is safe to say that on the broadest level of connection nothing is required. We accept you totally as you are at this moment. I suppose you could say this is a requirement to be yourself. We like the fact that we know and love a lot of people who are still deciding about Jesus and still deciding about relating to us. God is in charge of all that and we are not trying to control it.
Cell and PM regulars
The circle keep getting more intimate as we travel toward the heart of us where we make agreements that require a great deal from one another. I think observing the fact that a lot of people are really connected around here is what the questioner wanted to know about. If you are regularly part of a cell or PM, you are relating closely enough to form the community called the church. People dip in and out of these meetings and that is quite all right. People start being a part years after they first connect, or after they move to Seattle and back. We’re keeping the light on for them. We care. Ultimately, being in the red part of the circle implies that you are knowing people and connecting. I think it could feel like a requirement to love. But we know that we all have different capacity to love and we are in different states of preparedness to care. God is watching over it all and we leave it up to him.
Within all these meeting attenders, somewhere between 100 and 200 people at Broad and Washington right now, over half of the adults, have made a covenant to be the church and to share our mission.The covenant is mainly about responding to what Jesus requires of us — to love one another like he loves us and to be a part of his redemption project. We don’t get much more specific than that because we don’t know how to specifically tell everyone how to live in Jesus. But the fact that we think it is important to make our mutual commitment to a covenant undoubtedly feels like a requirement to reciprocate. Most people who make a covenant are devoted members of the body — and that makes us the strong church we are. But, of course, people go through stuff; they fall out — and in and out; they doubt; they get hurt and leave. Jesus is at the center of any love we have, so we rely on him.
Intentional households and families
I included a few more circles in the middle of the covenant circle. Because at the heart of us there are households of people who keep an even deeper covenant within the covenant — they are families and they are intentional households that live like families. Plus, our Leadership Teams are also groups who live at an even deeper level of commitment. All these people have rather elaborate requirements that they take on. Especially if you are not married — like so many us us aren’t, if you live alone, if you feel like you are passing through, or if you aren’t sure about how you relate to Jesus, these deeply committed people might seem a bit much. Don’t worry, they aren’t the ideal people. It isn’t like one day you are in a meeting and the next day you might be required to lead a cell or create the next radical good business. I don’t think that is the way it is. But there is a deep yellow pool in the middle of us that makes us strong. At the same time there is a large blue “shallow end” that is no less part of the pool. It is OK with me if you are wading in the shallow end right now.
Relationship with Jesus required?
We are really trying not to stack on too many requirements. But they are there in an unstated way. I was talking to a man at a wedding one time and he said he liked Christianity better than all the other religions. But he could never really be a Christian because he could not love his enemies. He knew that was a requirement. But he hates his enemies and right now and he doesn’t see that changing. So he didn’t think he could travel with Jesus. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him more about it because I had to go sing a little duet. But of course you can’t meet the requirements of Jesus if you aren’t travelling with Jesus. He didn’t say those things and leave us alone to follow them. The relationship is required.
If I thought that someone was feeling like they needed to meet whatever requirement they sensed from the church out of their own capacity or imagination, that would be terrible. We can’t make ourselves be good or creative or committed; those character traits are the work of the Holy Spirit in the world. We can’t be demanding enough or controlling enough to make you be in love with Jesus. Your heart has to meet his heart. We are going to create a safe place — and a disciplined, intelligent place, where we all get the best chance to move with the Spirit. But our meetings and disciplines can’t make us anything if Jesus is not drawing you into fullness.
Ultimately, it is about what God requires, isn’t it? If you are running away from God and you want to be on your own, then there is not much we can do to make that better. We would hate to have you doing a bunch of things for us when all along we thought our life together was about worshiping and serving God!
What does God say is required?
Let’s end up practical. What does God say is required to be part of his church — in this case, Circle of Hope? See if you think this is it:
1. Time is required. The question might be, do I have to come to all these meetings?
Of course you don’t have to come to all the meetings and events. The requirement is mainly in you, how many meetings do you need to go to be yourself in relationship to God and his people and mission? How valuable has God made you to us?
2. Talent is required. The question might be, do I have to be on one of the many teams?
Of course you don’t have to be on a team. The requirement is mainly in you. How do you need to be organized to do what God gives you to do? You are not necessary until you think you are, but you might be more important than you think.
3. Treasure is required. The question might be do I have to share money?
Of course you don’t have to share money. Having a common pot of money to do great things is good. But the real treasure is you. Money is just the tool in our hands. Sharing makes us strong.
A final teaching from Jesus
In Luke 12, Jesus told a parable about a wealthy man who was coming home from a wedding feast. He expected his servants to be guarding his house, their lamps lit and all of them ready to open the door when he returned. Even if he came at midnight or three in the morning, he expected them to be alert, with their lamps lit. Jesus said, “If a householder knew when the thief was coming, he would certainly be ready. And I will return like a thief, so you need to be ready all the time.”
Peter immediately asked him if he was talking to everyone, or mainly his followers.
So Jesus continued the metaphor. A servant of a master will be rewarded when he or she is found doing what the master commands when he or she returns. Here is the little moral Jesus added that I think is a good way to end this post. Peter asked him, “Are we all required to be so responsible for your life and work?” Jesus answers: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).
The question I have to ask back at our questioner is, “How much have you been given?” — that’s what will determine how much is required. I have been given much and all the requirements I meet to be a part of Circle of Hope are being a responsible servant. Circle of Hope is like a lamp I keep burning, waiting for the master to return.
The fact that you feel like a lot is required of you may mean that a lot has been given to you. Maybe you are resisting the reality that you are valuable, important, gifted, or necessary. Maybe you think so poorly of yourself that it is a sin to see yourself as useless or irrelevant as you do. Maybe what you have been given is being wasted serving other masters than God. The requirement is in you, in relation to Jesus — what is God calling you to care for until Jesus returns?
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