The Story Has a Middle

If there’s one book I’ve started and finished more than any other, it’s The Cross and the Switchblade, by David Wilkerson.

I recall the first time clearly; reading about the author’s refuge for troubled teens in the ghettos of Brooklyn, and the times when they had nothing to carry them over from one day to the next.

They gathered in earnest, and prayed simply and boldly that God would bring them food for their next meal. I recall the emotions that were stirred in me to read the experiences of those falling back on God for their moment-by-moment needs. The strength of spirit. The weakness of flesh. The clear view to the face of God.

And I envied it. I knew at the time that it was dangerous, but I didn’t care.

And now I can’t help the feeling that I’ve arrived. No, I’m not begging God for my next meal, but I am begging him not to let us go… not to let the Front Porch fail… not to let us fall into financial ruin. And I don’t know whether to thank him for answering my prayer, or hate him for tormenting me when I’m just trying to do what he asked.

Faith is always suspended above a great chasm, as on a bridge. Most of my life, that bridge has been a cable-stayed, 6-lane suspension superhighway. At this moment it may have more in common with a swinging footbridge. And I can see the river thousands of feet below me when I look past my feet, through the remaining boards.

And as long as I’m looking down, it’s easy to despair. As if this is where it ends. The bridge has brought me this far, just to drop me off. So to speak.

But my eyes don’t belong on my feet. Apparently there’s a genre of punk-rock called “shoegazing” because its performers do just that. And that may be ok for a rock band, but not for this metaphor. Because my eyes belong on the landing ahead of me. The story doesn’t end here… I’m only halfway through.

Have you seen (or read) Lord of the Rings? How did you feel when Gandalf (or Aragorn) fell to his death? Did you storm out of the theater? Did you hop onto the web and write a scathing review of what a disappointment the Fellowship of the Ring turned out to be? Of course not… because you knew there was more. This story isn’t over yet.

This story isn’t over yet. It has a middle, and here we are.

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16 thoughts on “The Story Has a Middle

  1. If 20 people, each making an average of $2,000/mo, would simply give 10% of their income to The Core, you’d have $4000/mo for the FroPo. Maybe instead of begging for donations, you should be exhorting your congregation members to give sacrificially (or perhaps–gasp–tithe). I have no idea how much it costs to run the place, if food & drinks are covered by sales. But it seems like a pretty small faith community could keep the doors open, if they just would. But you gotta ‘let it be known’. You’re the boss. đŸ˜‰

  2. I think the point is that if we just keep our eyes on Christ, everything will turn out, not just fine, but exactly as God wants it to. But I think that’s overly simplistic.If the point is that all the trials you’re facing have simply been given to you by God in order to teach you faith, then I think that’s possible, but not the only possible explanation of your situation. What if you’re banking on God keeping the FP from financial ruin, and he doesn’t do it? Then was it just a big faith test?I guess I just want to jar you into thinking more strategically about what it is you’re trying to accomplish and how you’re going to accomplish it. If what you’re doing is a charity, i.e. a ministry <>to<> financially-strained people, then you need to ‘market’ it as one. But you don’t. You market it as a church, or a social hub/club. These are sustained by certain types of income that come through certain types of constituencies, i.e. people not strapped for cash.To crystallize things a bit, you can’t run a self-sustaining church (with a building) with a congregation of poor people. You’re going to have to join an organizational structure that helps to systematically provide funding from elsewhere.If you’re not simply targeting poor people (college students included, even though they <>will<> give sacrificially to something they believe is truly worth giving to), then you’ve got to rethink (rediscern?) how you’re ‘selling’ (i use that term loosely for obvious reasons) your vision to that other constituency (if, in fact, it is not the vision that needs revising).So basically, I’m saying that you assume way too much (i.e. God has directly revealed to you exactly what he wants you to do, and what he revealed to you is what you’ve done and are doing), and seem to be trying to paint God into a corner.

  3. I don’t want to seem overly touchy, here, but I feel like you’re making a lot of assumptions about what we have and haven’t done.Your first assumption seems to be that we are at fault for our condition, because of our short-sightedness. Please tell me if this is not what you meant to communicate.The fact is (and you allow for this) that we’re NOT simply targeting poor people. They are certainly welcome, but they are not the focus. We want a broad spectrum of humanity to be a part of this community, and if that is something we achieve, then there’s no reason why we can’t be a financially healthy, self-supporting endeavor.We are constantly trying to figure out how to attract and keep stable couples and families to the community. We are actually right in the middle of another specific effort to accomplish this, and I’ll let you know how it goes.But remember, all the strategy in the world doesn’t succeed alone. You can invest in all the right people, and then they move away, or get too busy, or get sick, or flake out, etc, etc. Sometimes things just don’t work like they’re supposed to, no matter how well-planned and well-strategized they are. You know the verse: “The best-laid plans of man…”To be honest, it really hurts to think that I’m writing from my heart, trying to keep faith, and the response I get is that we are not trying hard enough. I don’t think you have any idea.Please tell me this is not what you meant.

  4. It’s not what I meant.I know you’re working very hard—maybe as hard as you possibly can.What I said (but apparently didn’t convey) was that you were <>not<> targeting ‘poor’ people (people not making a living wage), but yet are attracting primarily them. I’m 100% with you on bringing together people of all social strata. Adding to that people of diverse ethnic and racial origin (which I know you prioritize highly), I see this vision as profoundly Scriptural and a necessary aim of every church (relative to demographic composition of the area).The question is, Why have a substantial number of ‘stable’ (i like that term) people and families not signed on?I’m not trying to be critical. I’m really not. I’m just trying to help you to think things through critically. I know you know the difference, and I hope you believe me when I say that I’m not in any way trying to put you down. I love you guys and what you’re trying to accomplish.I know that strategy only goes so far, but so does faith (gasp!). I guess my inkling is that there are some fundamental convictions you hold that are keeping you from engaging ‘stable’ people. Perhaps the very nature of the enterprise of your vision is ‘unstable’, in any number of ways. It seems to me that it takes a person with very extraordinary giftings and skills in order to pull off a “solo job”, i.e. a church plant without institutional (denominational/network) support. It’s been done, but those who have done it have been managerial and marketing geniuses first, and pastors second. I don’t mean to belittle you, only to say that you need institutional collaboration, and not just by way of asking local churches for money. You need to submit to a larger supportive body. I don’t think you will get off the ground without it.But I’ve been wrong before. :) Why don’t you get in touch with some people who are doing similar things as The Core and get some real, practical help working through your struggles? You’ve got a foot in the door with the blog community, but you probably ought to take the next step and establish a relationship with some of the guys who are having success in “seeding missional communities” (to borrow Dave Fitch’s term).

  5. Thank you… now we’re getting somewhere.I can’t disagree with your suggestion to submit to a larger body of some kind. But I’m not going to be like a middle-aged single woman just looking for someone, <>anyone<>, to marry. Of course I don’t have to tell you that.Submission is submission. And yet there are certain things we can’t change about ourselves in order to sign on the dotted line.So I guess that leads to the question: what group do you believe is appropriate for us? Who out there is doing things that are comparable, both in message and method, to The Core?

  6. The Christian and Missionary Alliance, the Evangelical Covenant Church, and the Baptist General Conference are a place to start. The Evangelical Free Church (EFCA), with which Trinity is affiliated, has a LOT less “line” to sign on than the SBC. I’m considering going that route post-seminary. To be honest, bro, I don’t know that anyone in Chicago is doing what you’re doing. Life on the Vine church (lifeonthevine.org), where Dave Fitch pastors, is more emerging, and has been <>talking<> a lot about incarnational church. They’re affiliated with C&MA. If I were you, I’d try to get in touch with Tom Sine from Mustard Seed House (Seattle), Mark VS from Missio Dei (you know him), and/or Shane Claiborne. You probably know more people than I do. Guarantee you could get some good names (and maybe a good word) from Andrew Jones.As far as the ‘courtship’ process goes, I suspect (hope) that whatever affiliating bodies are open to missional-incarnational church planting recognize the sojourning nature of such church planters, i.e. that we aren’t simply following the denominational path we grew up with and so are looking to establish fresh connections.I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that the biggest factor in soliciting the partnership of a (relatively) conservative denomination is going to be the way you articulate your driving convictions. While loving God and loving others are inseparable, locating the latter respective to the former is the only way to keep from being perceived as liberal (i.e. social gospel). My personal opinion is that you seem to have portrayed an image of love for people perhaps greater than zeal for God. Not that that’s necessarily an accurate depiction, but that’s what your “media face” has seemed to convey. If you think about it in terms of “ad space”, how much is devoted to people-love in comparison to explicitly God-love?Again, <>I<> know it’s your love for God that’s motivating your love for others, but to people on whom you’re making first impressions, you have to make it really explicit. To me, the best way to communicate this is by keeping the conversation rooted in the <>missio Dei<>, the Big Story: God pursuing and redeeming a people for himself through Jesus Christ.

  7. Great post. I often do look at how we love stories where the hero is in a seemingly no win situation, the worse off the better. And some how they overcome. Could it be that we are in that same situ.BTW. I had always heard that the movie “The Cross and the Switchblade” was cheesy but maybe I need to look into the book.

  8. I went back and read some of the comments. In education, the Fed gov provides very little funds for a ton of paperwork when compared to any local finacial support. I really like the independant nature of the Core, from what I know of it. It seems like when you attach yourself to some larger denomination or mission organization, you are signing part of your freedom away. Maybe I am wrong. Or do many of them give some sort of grants with no strings attached? Also, Matt seemed to be saying that ministries can’t be planted or grown without some larger organization funding them. Is that really true?

  9. If we were to go for any grant money, it would have to be in the area of serving the poor, or promoting the arts, and probably the latter. I don’t think we would be eligible for anything along educational lines.But I think we’ve proven that you can start a ministry independently, and we honestly could continue to do so if we wanted to. (We may.) We would just have to really play hard to our strengths, build a better support network, and content ourselves with having no paid staff at all for at least another year or two. But it’s completely possible and within reach.On the other hand, there are good reasons for considering affiliation with a group that believes in what we’re already doing, and wouldn’t expect us to make any fundamental changes. I’ve actually already looked into the Christian and Missionary Alliance, as Beloved suggested, and they look very promising for our purposes.

  10. I probably overestimate the amount of financial support most affiliating bodies provide. I know the SBC has the biggest church planting budget of any denomination in the U.S., but that option was ruled out a long time ago. :) The biggest benefit of collaboration is networking and rapport.I forgot to mention one very strategic organization, whom I learned about at last January’s Acts29 bootcamp: GCM (Great Commission Ministries). http://www.gcmweb.org/. They assist in equipping church planters (and other entrepreneurial ministers/missionaries) in fund raising, as well as offer grants. Definitely check ’em out. From what I remember, they talked like it took a planter several months of doing nothing but traveling and fundraising before launching.

  11. Interesting news I should share here: I got in touch with the regional Christian & Missionary Alliance Director, who is in St. Louis for a week or so. He got really excited when he looked at or website and saw all that we were doing. Seems that it is exactly the sort of thing they are trying to pursue, and they’ve had their eye on Springfield for awhile now.He’s going to stop by and join me for lunch on Monday, and we can begin to explore some partnership options at that point. What an amazing thing that you happened to mention them at this time!And as far as finances, I don’t hold out hope for huge amounts of capital. The fact is that we are already mostly solvent. We just have trouble filling in the gaps, and attracting stable families and partnerships who can round things out financially for us. That, plus a few hundred dollars a month (in the meantime) would be more than sufficient to help us make ends meet, in my mind.But in the larger picture, the rapport, experience, wisdom, accountability and counsel are the much more valuable things.

  12. I’m so out of touch (drifting aimlessly) I have nothing to add except, I wish you and Christina the best. I pray for your peace and God’s will to be done in your lives and through your lives.

  13. You know what you’re saying. The test is in believing it.God once gave me a promise, and then he gave me time. How many countless fears arose during this pause? How many undeniable reasons to doubt his promise? I tell you that any “wise” man would have called me a fool for my faith…And yes, I faltered, and THAT was the cause of my fear. It was not the situation itself that caused my panic, it was not the adversary set against me, it was the knowledge that in my weakness my faith was faltering and that no man who falters, who is tossed about like a wave, should expect to receive anything from God.You know this far better than I, and God has set before you the test of application. Are we not told that we will be tried by fire?Have faith that the promise of God is true. Abandon your expectations. Forget the FroPo. Your Faith is more important. Let the building crumble or stand, seek to secure your faith.Your faith isn’t suspended on a bridge, Ryan. It IS the bridge. And it is everything else that is resting on it.

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