Last month, on January 6, 2015, my dad died peacefully in his sleep after a seven year struggle with dementia. His was a life well lived, in service to the King of Kings and His Kingdom.
This is a blog I first wrote a couple of years ago about my parents. I am re-posting it as my tribute to him and the legacy he leaves behind.
– – – – – – – – – – –
The last several years have been a wonderful journey of seeing folks come to the Lord and fellowships emerge in highly improbable places. In my own life, the roots for this go back to my dad and mom, Bob and Mary Jane Wright.
In the 1970s and 80’s, the Lord used them as pioneers in what we’d now call simple “organic” church – before that term became popular (even though today, unfortunately, it can mean nearly anything).
Forty years ago, they helped birth a regional network of open, participatory fellowships in Maryland, where people could find and express the vibrant life of Christ in dynamic gatherings as everyone ministered one to another – rather than having directed, scripted meetings.
Last evening some elders from among our fellowships took time to share a meal at a local pizza joint and talk – just talk, with no agenda.
Our conversation turned to how the traditional model for church leadership is to inspire folks to “come” and be part of our own gift, calling or motivation – but that we don’t see this in Apostle Paul’s life.
Rather, Paul’s main approach was to unleash Christ within existing communities where God sent him. As Paul would “go”, he was secure enough to then let Christ be expressed through the wonderful diversity of the many unique gifts, callings and motivations He chose to bestow among His people in each church.
Thus, it was never about Paul inspiring people to come gather around his own gift, calling or motivation. Likewise, there is no example in the entire New Testament of any single “pastor”, one-man ministry or other person serving as a primary focal point “over” any local church.
Every once in a while we get to touch the hand of God. When we hold a loved one’s hand there is a connection that transcends more than the mere physical touch. Holding hands unites the emotions with the physical. Touching the hand of God unites creation with the Creator.
This morning God reached His hand down to the Sunday fellowship group that meets in our home. After a short time of sharing we began to pray for each other. Some of the shared needs will require the totally miraculous to happen.
I believe that God is in the business of the miraculous. When we prayed this morning the supernatural presence of God filled the room. Almost everyone had a word, Scripture or a picture from the Lord to share with the person who was receiving the prayer. The sense that the Lord was standing right there in the midst of us was overwhelming.
Yesterday, after a seven month hiatus to care for my dad and deal with some of my own health issues, another local elder and I visited the jail to check on a church I previously had been helping.
The first thing I noticed was around twenty new men were now in that fellowship, with only two of the original brothers still around (the others, as is normal in a jail environment, had been released or transferred).
The church, I was thrilled to see, had not only survived but thrived during my absence – with them showing a wonderful continuity of life from when I last saw them.
As I then listened to them openly share their hopes and struggles in the Lord with each other, and watched them encourage one another to love and good works (Heb. 10), I cried silent tears of joy.
Participatory church? I do that.
I sit and stand when the worship leader tells me to and sometimes even sing along, do the happy clap or raise my arms with my eyes closed when prompted;
I shake hands with the guy in the pew ahead of me when the associate pastor says to greet one another;
On occasion I say “amen” when the senior pastor asks us to say “amen” during his sermon;
I put money in the plate when its passed down my row by the ushers; and
I even bow my head when told to do so during the invitation for folks to raise their hands and receive Jesus.
So yes, I participate when I go to church, thank you very much!
It looks like House2House Ministries and Magazine have closed shop once again.
What an unfortunate, checkered history of organic/simple church failure after failure.
How many times will it take before Felicity Dale and gang finally figure out that you can’t start and sustain healthy local churches – simple, organic or otherwise – by promoting phony self-appointed “apostles”:
– Who ain’t livin’ what their sellin’, with private lives that don’t match up with their finely-honed public persona;
– Who have no consistent history of successfully forming, maintaining or being part of sustainable local churches that look anything like what they promote in their books, blogs and conferences;
– Who deny that the Great Commission has general relevance today;
– Who proclaim that scripture is not the written word of God and that those who affirm scripture are committing “treason against Christ”;
More and more people are legitimately desiring to move towards organic/simple church and away from the institutional church.
Unfortunately, there are major snares for those on that journey. Too often, they fall prey to books and blogs on organic/simple church by those who either reject the plenary authority of scripture or outright deny that the Bible is the written word of God.
Although such authors talk a good talk, they typically have no consistent history of actually finding, creating or sustaining in their own lives the kind of local “organic” or “simple” church they are selling to others.
Increasingly, it seems that those who live it seldom sell it, while those who sell it seldom live it.
This makes it very hard to move forward, because there’s a lot of crazy being peddled to the unwary out there in organic land.
Is your church a non-prophet corporation…
Or a New Testament community of diverse, multi-gifted disciples who assemble to encourage each other and participate together in advancing God’s Kingdom?
Mars Hill, a network of churches in Seattle, is shutting down as more and more accounts keep surfacing of behind-the-scenes abusive behavior by their otherwise publicly charming and inspiring founder, author and senior pastor, Mark Driscoll.
I’ve seen this happen many times over the years as churches and Christian movements of all stripes rise and fall.
When a church or movement organizes around a gifted man and his individual vision or mission, it will grow rapidly at first but then stumble as it eventually hits up against his limits.
This is not how it should be.
This morning, I’m not going to some high-cost building to find a parking space, be greeted by ushers I barely know, sit in a pew, be psyched up by a loud worship band, or inspired by some finely honed monologue sermon from a front podium.
Rather, my wife and I are opening our home to those who want to come and share breakfast at our table as we talk, sing, teach, disciple and encourage one another in the Lord. Our time together is not scripted or directed – except by the Holy Spirit.
Joining us will be folks with graduate degrees and fancy houses, along with folks living in the woods, and just about everything in between. We are very diverse yet know and honor one another – while welcoming others with open hospitality – as we learn to be co-heirs and co-participants together in Christ.
Finally, the truth comes out and justice prevails.
Over the last several years, Marianne and I have ministered through Nathan’s Voice to five families devastated by abusive church leaders at Sovereign Grace Ministries and it’s network of churches – including Covenant Grace.
Now one of the abusers has received a 40 years sentence, after years of denial, cover up and shunning of his victims by the leadership structure at SGM. See Child Sex Abuser from Gaithersburg -area Sentenced to 40 Years in Prison.
Let this be a warning to all who respond to leadership abuse in the Body of Christ with the same kind insular mentality that “circles the wagon” through denials, cover up and attacks to preserve their own power, influence and ministries.
Just like what we saw over the years with SGM, the so-called “apostolic workers” and their “Beyond Cult” over at House2House Ministries (including Felicity Dale, Jon Zens, Milt Rodriquez and Keith Giles) have done the same thing.
Last Friday was a holiday here in the United States, and Marianne and I opened our home, yard and pool for a day of family, friends and fellowship.
Fortunately, following my heart operation and extended hospital stay two weeks ago, several brothers in a couple of fellowships we relate to stepped forward and organized things – including a great cookout.
Afterwards, Marianne and I both said that this was one of the nicest days we’ve had in years – not because the past few years have been bad (they’ve been challenging due to some of my health issues, but not “bad”!), but because we’re seeing solid maturity arise among those we’ve been pouring our lives into.
Although we’ve always loved them deeply, now it’s actually fun to spend time with them!
In addition, we now have the profound pleasure of watching them reproduce their life in Christ among others.
As they step forward and do the work of mission, discipleship and strengthening our various fellowships, it seems more and more that God’s role for Marianne and me is to step back and serve through simple hospitality, unassuming encouragement and quiet mentoring.
Author and “simple church” advocate Felicity Dale over at House2House Ministries is personally charming, and I generally agree with her views regarding simple church and gender equality within the Body of Christ.
But my own experience with her over the last year has been very troubling – especially when it comes to the contradiction between her public positions and private actions.
Felicity Dale is part of the self-appointed accountability team of Frank Viola, who is an author, an itinerant church leader and one of her fellow so-called “apostolic workers”. He also has a troubled history of sexual predation against young women and teenagers.
After Frank Viola rebuffed all efforts to communicate directly with him by those with detailed knowledge of the facts, some of us contacted Felicity Dale last year in an effort to resolve our growing concerns about Frank Viola’s history of abuse.
She also was given a lengthy private statement on behalf of one of Frank Viola’s multiple teenage victims, with details about how he abused that young woman and others.
That victim’s statement fully confirmed the separate warnings issued against Frank Viola by his former church. Among other things, his past church established through multiple witnesses and documents his pattern of predation and abuse – including his long-running exploitation of a teenager in that church who was half his age and a former high school student of his.
This new written statement, however, involved an additional teenage victim.
This afternoon, I’m driving to Richmond, Virginia, to attend the graduation of a young man I first met in jail years ago. He’s receiving his bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, with honors, from Virginia Commonwealth University. From jail to now has been an intense journey as Marianne and I stood with him during the hard times and refused to let him fall through the cracks. Now, we get to rejoice with him as he achieves this major milestone.
Following God’s Presence is something I wrote five years ago about him, and the church he was part of in the jail. In fact, he’s one of the brothers who asked to pray for me, as I recount in that piece.
I’m not going to use his name, because he is very humble and doesn’t like publicity. But you know who you are, and I am so very, very proud of you! Even as I write this, I’m tearing up thinking about the honor it’s been to be part of God’s plan of redemption and restoration in your life.
~ Jim Wright
Genuine Seeker-Friendly Church is Simple (Organic), by Steve Sims
This is a short, wonderful blog by my friend Steve Simms that captures very nicely what real church (regardless of whatever label you want to put on it) is all about.
What I like about Steve is that, unlike so many who pontificate on how to be the church, he’s actually doing it!
Yesterday, like we often do, we had family and friends – some old, some new – over for supper and fellowship. Marianne cooked the main dish, I put on a big pot of coffee, and they brought everything else.
Because it was Easter, we opened our home to folks who didn’t have family in the area and invited them to spend the day with our family. They included guys from several fellowships we’re linked to, and some not in any church.
Several of our fellowships want to open additional recovery homes in the county for those putting their lives back together following abuse, imprisonment, addiction, economic distress or other major disruption. Over the last several years, we have teamed up with another ministry to support this local need, but its focus is only on addiction – which is very much needed. However, we also need similar homes for those dealing with other issues.
Our desire is to create transitional, peer recovery homes where there is functional, Christ-centered community within each house. This would involve mutual support, encouragement and accountability among the residents – with appropriate outside support and oversight.
Our experiences to date have confirmed that such a focus is essential for real change to occur among those in each home. Otherwise, the houses become little more than a warehouse for knuckleheads, and become a detriment rather than an asset for those seeking to put their lives back together.
The next time you are tempted to fall under the influence of some author, blogger or other self-anointed “itinerant” authority on “being the church”, ask first if they have a history of personally being – on a sustained basis – part of the kind of church they promote.
For example, here in the U.S., the number of phonies pontificating on all things organic and missional in various books, blogs, social media posts and conferences is astounding. They talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk.
This is a burning question for the organic church community – as well as other reform movements.
Do we embrace a fabricated Jesus, or the authentic Jesus?
Here’s a montage of my twenty most significant posts on Facebook in 2013.
When Facebook created it, it brought many smiles and a few cringes:
Feel free to take a look.
As this montage shows, it has been a wonderful, yet “interesting”, year.
I think my biggest struggle was seeing the power games, leadership abuses, lies and cover ups in the organic/simple church community at the national level – which far exceed anything I’ve ever witnessed in the traditional, “institutional” church – while still holding firm, despite their hypocrisy, to some related core principles.