A New Logo
Let’s start with the least important thing. There are many “renovation” efforts afoot at Stones River Church. Among the relatively superficial changes in the queue, the first is a new logo.
Our preaching minister, Jon McPeters, and I led the charge on this process. Our feelings about spending time and money on a “look” are ambivalent. Such matters are superficial and, of course, ultimately unimportant. Yet, we agreed that it is worthwhile to take steps toward representing the vibrant life inside the church community through a renewal of our outward-facing symbols. Frankly, I think the new logo is pretty sweet (shout out to designer blakeoliver.co). The church website is next, and other improvements will follow.
Preaching and Teaching
It has been my privilege to share more of the preaching load in recent months. Jon is also a part-time employee of Stones River, and he does a great deal outside the pulpit, not least in disciple-making. So collaborating in this way has allowed him to invest more time in other endeavors while giving me the opportunity to encourage the church on a regular basis. It is a joy to proclaim the word of God, and I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to use my gifts in this way.
Let me also take the opportunity to advocate the “shared pulpit” model. It’s a blast to collaborate on the formation of a sermons series, but more importantly, I think the synergy of different strengths and perspectives is a blessing to the church. Something important happens when we regularly hear multiple voices.
I’ve also restarted Sunday morning Bible class, which had evaporated during the pandemic. For our first study, I’ve been teaching the evangelistic study guide titled Mark as Gospel that I drafted during our years in Peru. I have continued to refine it, and I’m thrilled to share it with the Stones River family. Happily, about a third of the church has shown up for class, and our time together has been a delight. (I plan eventually to publish the study guide, so if your church or Bible class is interested in the curriculum, please let me know.)
Reviving Wednesday Nights
A while back I was reflecting with one of my former grad. school companions, who is now a preaching minister, about the state of the “mid-week” meeting. We recalled feeling, as young ministry students, quite superior in our dismissivness toward the traditional requirement of Sunday and Wednesday evening meetings. For those of us who grew up with a sense that attendance was close to goliness, the critique was necessary. But at this point in our ministries, the deficit of community among most American Christians looms ominously. It’s hard to estimate what we would give for just 45 minutes more with our church family each week.
In the aftermath of Covid19, the feeling of disconnection was significant in our community. At the same time, God began to open doors into missional engagement in our neighborhood, and the need for more time together in prayer and planning became acute. So Megan and I determined to revive the mid-week meeting at Stones River. We began with a slow walk through David Fitch’s Faithful Presence: Seven Disciplines that Shape the Church for Mission.
During the Advent season we’re meditating on The Anticipated Christ: A Journey Through Advent and Christmas by Brian Zahnd.
Attendance has been modest. Once the weekly grind absorbs that time, it’s difficult to free it for something else. But the time together is imeasurably valuable. Going forward, we’ll continue to prioritize reflection on and equipping for participation in God’s mission.
Jon and I have also dedicated a weekly nighttime outing to exploring spaces where people gather for community and conversation, namely, bars. In the days of craft beer’s ascendancy, this often means taprooms and brewhouses. I’m sure this seems suspect to many, but, for us, the critical question is where people actually gather in pursuit of human connection. The fact that craft culture has transformed some scenes into environments we actually enjoy is just a side benefit! We’ve spent a couple of months hopping from spot to spot in Murfreesboro, looking for opportunities and assessing challenges.
The upshot is our conclusion that we need to become “regulars” in a couple of places in order to foster consistent relationships. A plan is in the works, but I’ll leave details for the next update. For now, we ask for prayers as we seek to discover how to witness to the kingdom in places where loneliness and longing reign.
For me and Megan, one of the most vital spiritual practices is the formation of discipleship groups. I learned about discipleship groups from Mission Alive during our years in Pasadena (and recommend their training!). These groups entail a process of intentional formation as a community of missional followers of Jesus. We piloted a DGroup as members of Hollywood Church of Christ, and the experience was transformative. So we started a DGroup at Stones River a little over a year ago, and we’re now getting ready to multiply. That’s the hope anyway; these things are always tenuous.
To be clear, our discipleship group is not a church program. It’s more like an “underground” effort to foster a culture of authentic discipleship within the local congregation. The process involves a significant time commitment, and I find it best to make personal invitations that participants accept only after a forthright description of the cost. As the time frame of more than a year suggests, the journey is slow and demanding. Yet, debriefing conversations indicate that most find it well worth the sacrifice. As far as I can tell, turning the discipleship group into a church program would subvert its power. This percpetion deserves a post of its own, which I hope to write in due course. For now, I note that committing to explore a missional life together, regularly and peristently, produces something imcomparable to classes, small groups, and other such institutionalized efforts at facilitating an inclusive (read: low-commitment) process of spiritual formation. If “exclusivity” seems to be a problem, then recall that the way is narrow, and taking up the cross to follow Jesus is hardly attractive.
Recently, Jon and I began a conversation with a small group of Middle Tennesse State University students about providing discipleship mentoring. Some of these students have begun attending Stones River on Sunday mornings, which has given us an opportunity to form relationships. We’re praying for a deepening of these spiritual friendships that will result in significant witness on campus. The prospect is exciting but uncertain. Our hope is that something substantial will materialize in the coming months. Join us in prayer!
Transitional Ministry, Homeless Ministry, and Other Local Mission
I’ll save the updates on these specific areas of work for dedicated posts. But here’s the link, as I see it, between these and everything above: altogether, we’re in the process of directing our shared life in Christ toward deeper participation in God’s mission. I am convinced that Jesus is leading SRC into the margins of our city where the least and the lost scrape by, into the lives of those for whom sincere friendship offers real hope, and into the places where the seams of community hang together by a few threads. This calling is fearful, and I’m struck again by how desperately we need the faithfulness of God, to whom belong the kingdom and the power and the glory in every age.