Episode 3 - JR Woodward
Nick: Hey. This is Nick from the Start In LA podcast. Here are a couple of announcements for you.
The annual Start In LA conference will be held on, drum roll please, dates are in, October 26th and 27th. So please block that in your calendar. This will be getting diverse church planters together, and church plant regional leaders, to have mutual conversation about what's working and what's not working in church starting across Los Angeles.
To receive our newsletter from Start In LA, please go to the Start In LA website at startinla.com.
With regard to Cyclical LA, the monthly discerners dinner for those interested in thinking about starting a new church will be held on the third Wednesday of every month, including this month, at 5:30 at Little Beast Restaurant in Eagle Rock. And the monthly starters lunch will be the first Wednesday of the month, as it always is, at noon, at Golden Road Brewery. And this is for people who are starting new churches.
JR Woodward has a couple of announcements as well. The annual Praxis Gathering conference will be held September 27th to 29th in Philadelphia. So if you want to hop on a plane and head east, you should go do that with the Praxis Gathering. For more details, head to thepraxisgathering.com
And also JR wanted to invite everyone into a learning cohort through V3. To access information about that, you can go to thev3movement.org and learn all about that cohort.
Thanks again for listening.
Michaela: Okay. So this is the Start In LA podcast, all you listeners out there. Which is a project of Cyclical LA, Fuller Seminary, and Start In LA. What we're doing here is we're talking about starting churches in Los Angeles.
Now, that looks very different for different people and puts us down lots of interesting avenues. But that's kind of the general impetus for why we're here.
I am Michaela. You met me, if you listened to the last episode, you met me. I am an entrepreneur, I own a business. Man, I do lots of things. This is always ... do you know the question?
JR: You just finish a Ph.D.?
Michaela: I just finished a Ph.D., yeah. So my brain is like both relieved and also a little foggy in a good way.
I finished a Ph.D. where I studied like faith in entrepreneurship. Kind of the whole idea that the whole world of work is changing, and more and more people, whether by force or choice, are having to chart their own way. What does it look like to do that well, and what do you need, and what sort of competencies equip people to do that. So I've been studying that.
Just got a grant to start building some of that research into programs at Fuller Seminary's De Pree Center For Leadership. So we'll be doing some of that in the coming year.
That's kind of how I enter into this conversation. Do some coaching. One of my favorite things to do is coach church planters, largely because the line between church planting and entrepreneurship is so blurry to me in a really helpful way.
And today we have JR Woodward here with us. And I'm going to let him introduce himself. He's like Mr. Lots of Things as well. So, JR, tell everybody who you are and what you do, how you entered this conversation of church planting.
JR Woodward: Yeah. So I came to faith in college through my fraternity, of all the different places.
Michaela: Imagine you're a rager, and then like, you know, like salvation messages.
JR: Yeah. I mean, a couple of my fraternity brothers extended some hospitality. I couldn't pay for school, summer school, and the apartment at the same time. So they offered me to stay there for free. I took it.
So that was my introduction to faith. And then four years later I was planting my first church at Virginia Tech, so it was a campus situation. Which probably the first five years maybe just one word describes my experience. Hell. It was very difficult.
But then the next seven years were just amazing. It's like the sweet spot in ministry and all kinds of growth and development. Both personally and within the church.
And then from there we ... I took a couple dozen people out to plant churches in LA. So East Hollywood ...
Michaela: So you went on like a permanent long mission trip to plant churches in LA.
Michaela: East to west coast.
JR: Yeah, yeah. I mean ...
Michaela: How'd you get all those people to come with you? That's ...
JR: Well, you know, it's kind of like they're people who are graduating, they didn't have a whole lot of anchored in a particular space. So I think it was a bit easy in that way.
But ... I wasn't initially thinking about going to California, but as we were thinking about planting and praying and really discerning, one of my friends, Pavi Thomas, who's from India, asked me, "So, have you thought about going to Singapore?" And I'm like, "No, that hadn't really crossed my mind."
But it made me think through like where do we want to go, why do we want to go there. And the West Coast kind of drew us for a lot of different reasons. And then we went up and down the West Coast to the major cities, San Diego, LA, San Jose, and San Francisco, and met with different people to see what's happening there.
Here's kind of what we feel God's put on our hearts. Do you see that as something that's needed for this area? When I did that in North Carolina, the guy said, "We kind of have this area covered, thanks."
Michaela: Oh wow. Interesting.
JR: But here, everybody was like, "Come, we'll help you do this."
Michaela: Get here now, yeah.
JR: So yeah. So then ... yeah. Yeah, that's a little bit of my ... I'm currently working on a Ph.D. at the University of Manchester in UK.
JR: And I'm doing that on how a theology of the powers shapes a leader's approach to power and structure for mission.
Michaela: Oh my gosh, I already want to read it. Where are you at in your process?
JR: I need to finish the first draft by the end of the year.
Michaela: Okay. So you're kind of in the thick of it.
JR: And then I have a writing/editing year.
JR: And then defending. So and then right now ... so after planting in the East Coast and West Coast, through ... there's an interesting story of decisions of discerning what to do in this next move. So I was either going to go to San Francisco and plant, or kind of give myself over to helping church planters.
And through kind of discernment of seven people, I let them kind of discern what I should do. Based on a whole story of God pushing me to do that, as a way to trust him and just like you guys know me well. What do you feel like God would want me to do? Continue to plant in LA, go to San Francisco, or to help planters.
And they all unanimously thought the last one. And so the last ... and then two weeks later I get a call from the Virginia Baptists, which is kind of a moderate Baptist. You got a lot of Baptist. You got Martin Luther King, Junior Baptists.
Michaela: Yeah, there's a range. And you do often have to distinguish where you're at in that range.
JR: And I don't have any background of that, but I really enjoyed their posture toward a lot of different stuff.
But to be honest, for like two months I didn't know if I should. I felt like they were going to offer me. My name was in with like 50 other people, it was down to three. But it was the Baptist name that was hard for me to know if I could do it.
But most Baptist churches probably hide the Baptist name today. But the people and what they have historically stood for, I like, a lot. And so you kind of have to differentiate, but you know, we're in a climate where ...
Michaela: Everything is contextual, messy, up for dialogue, and needs to be.
JR: Yeah. But to their good, they hired me. I ended up taking the role. They gave me a good budget and a whiteboard and just said, "Go at it and do what you want to do."
So it's very rare from what I understand.
Michaela: That like never happens in life. They say come create. Here's money and here's a whiteboard, and funding thing.
JR: Yeah. My initiation is here's some keys, a credit card, and ... keys are card, credit card, and a phone, iPhone. And here's a budget.
So I took 90 days to kind of examine what was happening. And every church planting movement has to do at least five things. Some people use the acronym CARTS. So the C is coaching, the A is assessment, the R is recruiting, the T is training, and the S is supporting.
And so most already will have those things. So for me, what they ... they were currently outsourcing the training, coaching, and all of that. And I felt like the thing that's going to build movement is having some coaching and training.
So we built a two year training program that's week to week through a Zoom call, because we were all over the country. And over the last five years, we've trained over 150 planters around North America.
So that's a little bit of my experience. I'm kind of moved back to the West Coast. So I initially took this role because they're based in Richmond, so they're in DC. I lived in DC during that time, just to kind of start more of a national expression of things.
And then yeah. They kind of sent me out to the West Coast where I told them I'd like to go back to.
Michaela: The two East to West Coast pilgrimages.
JR: That's my life, I guess.
Michaela: Or something. Yeah. That's interesting.
JR: Yeah. My dad was Navy 20 years, so we traveled all around. Japan, Florida, California. So my home is kind of where I happen to be.
So now I live in Seattle for the spring and summer, LA for fall and winter. Just getting back to LA, having been here for the 10 years for my plants.
JR: Thank you.
Michaela: I have one million questions for you based on all that you said. Okay.
Two things I want to start on. When you were telling this initial story, when you first came out to the West Coast, and you talked about maybe a lack of receptivity in one region and then a receptivity over here on the West Coast. Was that contextual with that person? Is there sort of ... what's happening on the West Coast that there was that openness?
JR: I mean, you know, like Charlotte, North Carolina versus LA and other places, I felt like ... I remember in particular being in LA and I think when you live in this city, you're overwhelmed with the needs that are right in your face.
And so I feel like everybody that we connected to felt like they needed more and more allies as opposed to just being territorial. Like maybe it was in Charlotte with that one particular person.
That's what I felt, both kind of in our conversations and even when we shared prayer together. There was like a desperate ... Lord, you know, send them here. I don't know why that climate was, but I kind of took it as a welcome and we can partner together and collaborate for a mission. We don't have to be territorial.
Michaela: That's ... what you're saying, that's really interesting and indicative of the climate that I've experienced as well. And I think it is different. I don't think it's particularly unique to LA, but it is not the same everywhere.
I'm interested, now, like a decade later or however many years later ... when was that? 2000?
JR: I left in 2013 and I'm just coming back.
Michaela: Okay. But you're having those original conversations like 2001, 2002?
JR: Yeah, yeah. That's right, that's right.
Michaela: So like 16-17 years later, as you come back to LA, do you still that kind of receptivity? What's the climate feel like now?
JR: Because I'm not personally planting right now, I don't know. But we have a lot of ... we've trained about 10 planters in the area. I feel like it's still there. I mean, things have changed. Seemed like rent's gone way up.
JR: I feel like I see homelessness a lot more. I mean there's some really visible things that don't take long to kind of see the changes. But and so ... yeah. For me personally, as I've connected with people, there's just still a spirit of collaboration. And maybe these are just friends I made through the years that I'm kind of re-catching up with.
Michaela: Yeah. I think that ... so one of the things that when you think about lots of small churches starting, that's like both ecclesiologically really encouraging and empowering, because it's like all these different manifestations of the spirit at work.
But then structurally sometimes that gets very hard. And so that's where the collaborative spirit is really fascinating to me. It's like okay, where can small manifestations of what the spirit is doing link to each other, rely on each other, be in good spirit, not be territorial, see it sort of as all taking hands in the same overall mission. I think that's encouraging.
The other thing that was really interesting is the story that you were telling when you decided to sort of kind of come up to the assisting church planters level. You talked about a process of discernment.
I think the process of discernment looks different for a lot of different people. But it is sometimes very hard to know how to do. I have some friends right now who are deciding should they move across the country to take some pastoral positions. And they're like, "We want to discern this with community. How do we do that?"
JR: Mine, you know, I would say most of my life I would connect with my community and we would discern together. Even when I came out to LA, our whole ... we started with a couple dozen people, our church grew to about 1200.
And out of that, there's 200 leaders, but 50 leaders of leaders. And so we took a time of three days and fasting and prayer and I just kind of asked everybody to say do you feel like you want to stay or go on the plan?
And I wasn't even sure what I should do, and I asked them if they had any word as it related to me in particular, go ahead and write that in.
So that was like ... I felt like that was very participatory. There was a lot of people who felt like it would be good for me to go, mostly because I like starting things. Some of the other leaders are better at continuing to build things.
So that was kind of a discerning part. Even though my parents had bought me a house in that area and all of that, I just kind of up and left all of that.
This second thing I was trying to discern, I felt like a desire to go and plant in San Francisco. I always liked the walking cities, you know? Obviously LA's a driving city, even though if you find your neighborhood and niche it can become walking.
Michaela: But it's not a walking city, yeah.
JR: Yeah. The car, yeah. Every city after the car looks like LA. Every city before the car is like New York and San Francisco and so forth. And so it's much more ...
Michaela: Yeah, I never thought about it that way.
JR: Yeah. Just one medium changed everything. It makes it very difficult for discipleship and other things. So and just to be ... emphasize place.
But when I went to San Francisco, I went a couple times and I didn't feel a confirmation, just personally. So I decided to take about two weeks, I'm going to meet with about 12 different planters in the area, people that have been there three months to 30 years, from the smallest to the largest church.
And as I was doing all of that in a process of discernment, I realized number one when I was doing that five years ago, so that would've been like 2013, from 2013 ... five years previous, so 2008 to 2013, there was a lot of new church plants in the city.
And so I started to ask, especially the neighborhood that I would've wanted to go in, I felt like that was a huge one, Mission district. And so I thought well, you know, is it needed? Do I need to come here?
Then I started to just think maybe I can be better by helping those who are starting new churches instead of starting something else. Even though maybe our expression will have some unique elements to it.
So I started thinking that, and then I met with Linda Burkquist, who's kind of a church strategist for the San Francisco area, been there 38 years, knows pretty much every new church plant coming in. And I stayed with her and her husband and we're in the kitchen one day.
And she says, "So, JR , what is it you feel like you cannot not do?" And that double negative made me think, I had to retranslate. What does that ... what do I think I need to do in the next season of my life?
And the three things I told her was I wanted to help people live into the first book I wrote, called Creating A Missional Culture. Two, I wanted to do a Ph.D. in what I mentioned I'm doing it in now. And then third, I want to help church planters.
And I felt I had just gotten off a sabbatical, my first sabbatical in 25 years. Very restful, very ... felt like I could honestly kind of share what that was. And I stopped there.
And it was interesting because I didn't feel like I had to plant right then. That was a little bit of an epiphany for me, because I always self-identified as a church planter.
The last conversation with the pastor, he was a very interesting guy. He had ... Bill Brown I believe. So back in the 70's when Dallas Willard was writing The Spiritual Disciplines, he met with this guy and said, "I know this kind of work's for myself. Can you see if it works for whole communities?"
At that time, he had one of the largest churches in San Francisco, about 1000 people. But he was very much into spiritual formation pretty early. So when I met him, he was really not only very present but had a presence about him. And out of all the people I met, he just asked me questions for an hour without saying a word.
Afterwards, he kind of reflected back. "You know, JR , when you said this I could see your facial expressions and how excited you were about that." He would just give me these ... and then he just shared one story that really shaped my discernment process.
Apparently, I never know with St. Francis like what stories are there, but apparently St. Francis was trying to discern should I be an itinerant preacher or just stay in one place. And so as a way to trust God, he went to his trusted friends, asked them to discern on his behalf.
So they prayed and came back and said we think you should be an intenerate preacher. He says, "Thanks be to God." And that's what he did with his life.
JR: And so ...
Michaela: Does that feel vulnerable?
Michaela: This sounds so vulnerable to sort of say why don't you ... I'm going to trust that God's going to speak through all of you to make the decision about how I'm going to spend my life.
JR: Absolutely. Yeah. Well, my problem was I felt like God was speaking through that to me for the next couple weeks. I couldn't get it off my mind.
But God, I make decisions communally. Why do I need to give that away? And then I just, as I wrestled through that, and then I started a practical thing. If I did this, who would be on this discernment committee?
And again, I picked like seven people. One who's always kind of has a difference opinion, you know. The devil's advocate.
Michaela: At the center, yeah.
JR: Yeah. So I figured if they don't all come to a conclusion, I can go back to old methods. But I gave it to them and I said ... they kind of thought about it. We met together, we had prayer, they asked questions. And, again, I kind of gave three options and they could also have their own option if it didn't fit any of these.
But stay in LA and plant, go to San Francisco and plant, or help ... give myself over to helping church planters. But they all thought the last one. And so kind of what I do now is not really in my hands, in a sense of it's not my own discernment.
And it's been a very sweet ministry spot for me, you know. There's tough years and there's sweet years. It's been definitely in those sweet years.
Michaela: Gosh, that's just fascinating. I think that ... I think about somebody who says, like, you know-
Michaela: So, I think about somebody who says, "Church starting," or starting anything really, "is on my heart," and they hear you talk and they're like, "Oh, I want to give that over to people," but maybe I don't have like seven people who are that strong and who I could maybe not just trust sort of personally, but I've seen a pattern of their own ability to discern. How do you get a team like that, like how do you do that?
JR: Yeah, yeah. You know, maybe another approach that you might be familiar with that, I believe, the Quakers utilize, you might be able to help me with the name, but essentially you get five or six people to come around you. They're not there to give you advice, but they're there to just ask you questions so that you can kind of reflect on what you're really, trying to get to your primal, I guess, instincts and urges. That's a whole another approach to discerning, so you may not have to ... I share that example not as like, "This is what everybody should do." I think there is a timeliness where I've had time to develop deep relationships where I could do that.
In my first plant I feel like in a lot of ways I always had ... Probably a month after I became a Christian I saw myself as being a part of planting churches and helping kind of movement. Part of that was kind of the place where I came to faith. It was through a church plant and so I've not known anything other than church planting my whole Christian life.
Michaela: I find that all helpful. Like you said, it's not like "the" model for discernment.
Michaela: But, I meet with so many other students who are church planters, or just people out in the world, that are like grappling for how to discern. In some ways it's like a little bit of a, I don't want to say it's a lost practice, but it's noisy, and so it's hard to cut through that noise.
JR: I think maybe if I had to offer any advice, if I were in a current church I would be starting a discipleship core that build a mid-sized group together and see if you can do that within the context of a current church. In other words, do you have the aptitude to lead some people, to start something, to get moving and be on mission together, build community, kind of some of the essential skills. There's a strong come back to residencies. I think that's a helpful way to discern. Am I cut out for planting? I think the conviction of the call needs to be very strong in the planter. I don't know that anybody would say ... If you don't have the conviction when you hit the first few rough times you may roll out. I think having a good, clear idea what it's about, what planting is about, probably having a residency in a current church, and having a group send you is probably the healthiest way.
I know there's many others reasons why people start churches, but if we could actually start to do it in a healthy way, we may not have to worry about kind of breakups and things happening in an unhealthy way. I think planting ought to be just a natural thing, much like a couple gets married and eventually you expect some kids to come along, unless there's other issues. But, it's just a natural thing. Every church should be a church planting church, I think, and every Christian see themselves somewhat as a person who participates in helping new church plants.
Michaela: So then speaking of that, so I want to know a little bit about how people can engage, or learn, from like the actual ministry that you're leading now, and then I want to ask you a bit about your like study of power.
JR: All right.
Michaela: So, setting that up. So, tell us like practically like, okay, this is interesting, you named like all those different things, the CART which is the first time I've heard that acronym, like how can people be helped by that?
JR: Yeah, yeah, so our training is open for anybody. It doesn't matter like if you have a denomination or not. We have people from Vineyard, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Anglican, you kind of name it, high church, low church, people nondenominational. Our coursing that we do right now is training and it's a two-year training. We work through eight different competencies in four areas. The four areas are like distributing, discipling, designing, and doing. Under distributing there's movement intelligence and polycentric leadership. Polycentric leadership as opposed to higher core or flat.
Michaela: Movement intelligence.
JR: Movement intelligence is kind of like-
Michaela: How do movements happen?
Michaela: How do movements happen, that kind of thing?
JR: Yeah, yeah like what is the anatomy of movement? In other words, we kind of contrast like churches' religious industrial complex versus churches' movement. We see the church through a certain set of eyeglasses, usually based upon our experience. I think that there hasn't really been strong movement in the church, probably since Wesley. Maybe Vineyard would be another movement of sorts that would categorize what most people who study movements would say. There's kind of four generations of church plants would kind of be the start of a movement. This church planting, this church which plants another church and plants another church.
Michaela: Four generations of sort of offspring, if you will.
JR: Yeah, yeah.
Michaela: Is movement.
JR: Would start to be design. Again, that's kind of-
Michaela: One way to frame it.
JR: That's a kind of a commonality of people who study movement. None of this is like, you know you go to the scripture and kind of find it, but like just to try to define something that is ... Then, over half the people that are non-Christians becoming Christians within that, so it's not transfer growth. So, there's some things about movement that we kind of hold to that's kind of common, but we also critique some elements of movement, especially kind of the fascination with speed, and stuff, because I think today we have to be grounded, rooted, and let God determine what the speed looks like. We need to slow down probably more than anything, especially as it relates to really making disciples.
So, movement intelligence, polycentric leadership, and that's kind of as opposed to higher core or flat, in the being disciples and making disciples. In other words, like kind of the first question we have to ask is like, "Do I have a worth imitating?" Do I have a life worth living?
Michaela: Do I have a life worth imitating? Have you heard of Yale stuff, Life Worth Living?
JR: Oh, what is it?
Michaela: They have a whole Miroslav Volf created a whole thing.
JR: No. Oh cool.
Michaela: It's actually really cool. It's called Life Worth Living. They teach it with like undergrad students and the basic questions. They're teaching it more broadly across a variety of like religious experiences, like "What does a life worth living look like? Am I a person who can do that? If so, what's the way to do that?" There's, obviously, a set of very broad questions, but it's maybe-
JR: No, no, Yeah, yeah. I think that's an important one, but we can't really make disciples if we haven't learned to be a disciple. We're always a follower in that sense which, I think, is a healthy framework to have as we lead and stuff. Then, so being a disciple, making disciples. Under designing we talk about missional theology, which is important for-
Michaela: What do you mean by that, just in case somebody doesn't know what missional theology is?
JR: Yeah, yeah. No, I would say there's probably five elements in particular but I'm just gonna give a like ... Maybe in the beginning-
Michaela: You work in like fives. There's like all these fours and fives.
JR: There is. You could say in the beginning was community, the Father, Son, and Spirit and this unending dance. At the center of the Universe is a missionary God, so the Father sending the Son, the Father and Son sending the Spirit, and the triune God sending us. I think when we just even understanding those two elements ... Besides being a sent people, and a holistic gospel, and a missional hermeneutic, those two central things basically create a different posture in planting, which I think is so important. God is at work and how do we enjoin Him? You cannot just go into a place with your own plans and your own agenda and kind of in a colonialist way think you're gonna bring the Kingdom of God there. No, God is already at work, and where is He working, and how is He working, and how do we join different groups, and how does that work out, like connecting with what's existing there, the churches, the associations, the nonprofits? Executing the neighborhood.
The first year we didn't start a public service, or anything. We were just there to listen, to engage, to connect, and build relationships, and discern what God would have us do and what it would be to be the church in this particular neighborhood that God sent us to.
Michaela: Can I ask you a question about that before we go back to the rest of the points? I think one of the things that happens ... Listening, I love listening. It's like one of my mentors will say, "Leadership begins with listening." In my own studies listening comes up as like highest competency of successful people, really, really important. How do you not rush from thinking you've heard it right away, like listening for a year is a long time, right? I would imagine that in that process it would be so possible to sort of say very early on like, "I've heard something that is exciting and/or interesting and see a pattern. We're gonna run with it." How do you back to your like pace thing, how does listening and pace work together, and how do you like kind of keep oneself in check so that you do enough listening? How do you know when you've listened enough?
JR: Those are great questions. I don't know if I've got the answers to that, but I-
Michaela: I want you to try.
JR: No, no, I would say my first plant I probably didn't do enough listening. I kind of run and I'm excited. It's like you have this idea, and this vision and you kind of run with it. The second time around you-
Michaela: It's hard not to, you're so excited.
JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's kind of the tension right?
Michaela: That's not a bad thing.
JR: You have a passion and I think you should be excited, and there is lots of ideas that I have. It's not like I'm nonthinking, and it's not that I don't have a basic framework of some elements that are important to consider. I think there's a lot of that ... There's some things that are very contextual. There's other things that you need to hit regardless of what context you're in. We kind of gave it a year, and within that we started kind of a mid-sized groups. We kind of multiplied those, because that just took not as much of an effort to put like a ...
In fact for us the Sunday gathering isn't the main thing. The main thing, when I think about the four spaces of belonging, like intimate space like three or four people, personal space of like five to 12, social space of like 20 to 50, and public space of 70 or more, I think today typically most people put their marbles in the public space, and everything is serving the public space. I think that the tail's wagging the dog, that the public space ought to be serving the grassroots worker movement which happens in the intimate, personal, and social space. In that space that's where discipleship really happens. That's where mission happens. That's where we're vulnerable with each other, where we can grow.
I think Jesus lived into those four spaces. He kind of confided into three, trained the 12, mobilized the 70s, and spoke riddles to the crowds. I think most would say that he invested most of his energy, time, and devotion to the 12, and the three within that, and that was a bounded set in the sense of like invite only. It was a closed group, but it was not isolated, it was kind of within a centered set of the 70. I think all of that's very important for movement, and I think you can get that started as you're listening, so you're not like, "I'm just kind of twiddling my thumbs," but we're building community. That kind of personal space and mid-sized space can be multiplied quite a lot, and I think what it means to be the church is all within that. To me, if you have communion, community, and commission you have the church. You can't do without any of those three, but if you have those three you have all the essence and function of the church.
Michaela: That's great. Okay, so I think you had two of the four core competencies covered.
JR: Oh yeah, so movement intelligence, polycentric leadership, being disciples, making disciples. That's four. Missional theology and then ecclesial architect, and then doing is community formation and incarnational practices.
Michaela: So, people spend like two years kind of being incubated or sort of being like ... Is this like a ... So, someone's listening right now and they're like, "Oh, he's so interesting. I have to do things with him."
JR: People can kind of go online and register and there's an application process, but we usually start our cohorts mid August. So, the first year we'll go through all eight of those competencies in the first year, and so eight months you could say, two sixteen week semesters. So, we start, one coach will have 6-8 planters, and we do Zoom calls week-to-week. We have a Praxis Gathering. This year it's gonna be in Philadelphia the last weekend of September.
Michaela: Everything's happening in Philadelphia.
JR: I know, what's up with that?
Michaela: It's like the new-
JR: It's a pretty cool city.
Michaela: Yeah, I guess.
JR: You should come out.
Michaela: I've been there, but I'm like, "I need to get back there, because everything's happening in Philly."
JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah so that's kind of our face-to-face time, which kind of makes the Zoom time a little bit better. Yeah, but we have essentially it's two 16-weeks semesters week-to-week coach, essentially one competency each month. The way that ... Someone in order to be a part of it you have to be on location with at least four people on your team. It's really just that small beginning. You're ready, you're on location by the time the training starts.
Michaela: Not as much for pre-discerning or discerning but for people who are starting?
JR: Yeah. Or, if you're a resident within a current church and you want to do it, which I think is even more ideal, because we do kind of some mind-blowing kind of re-imagining of what it means to be the church. I think if you had a year to think about it you can decide whether this seems to fit you or not. Our emphasis is just very different. Yeah, then we end with a retreat in Malibu. Actually that's where I'm going to this week. This week we're kind of going through the Enneagram with A.J. Sherrill.
Michaela: The Enneagram is like-
JR: The new-
Michaela: What is happening? Is it like-
JR: I was into it about 12 years ago.
Michaela: Sparkly and glitter, has like crack attached to it. I love all of that stuff but, again, it's like Philadelphia and the Enneagram. So, you guys are very cool right now.
JR: No, I mean I've been in the Enneagram about 12 years but like-
Michaela: What number are you?
JR: I'm a three with probably like a four wing.
Michaela: I wish I could say, "Oh, that means X, Y, and Z, but I have got to go learn more about the Enneagram.
JR: What are you? What's yours?
Michaela: I am a seven with a wing of eight.
JR: Oh, oh nice. Cool. You like adventure, new things?
JR: Perfect for an entrepreneur?
Michaela: Yes, yes.
JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. What I like about the Enneagram is kind of organized around the seven deadly sins plus fear and deceit, and that kind of goes to the core of our weakness, and I feel like it has a great way of thinking about spiritual formation and stuff like that. But, anyway, we like to expose our planters to that. It's one of the best self-awareness tools I've come across, because it looks at you from the healthiest to the unhealthiest. Apart from the Spirit we're gonna either kill people, be suicidal, catatonic. I mean it takes you to the lowest of what you could become. I just feel like it's very honest in that way.
Michaela: I want to do some things with that. I mentioned at the very beginning of this conversation that I'm gonna be creating some programs at one of Fuller's leadership teams. I want to weave in the Enneagram, so maybe later in a different conversation I'll pick your brain and learn what you've done there. Okay, so then ... It sounds like an amazing program. I hope some people who are listening want to do that. That just sounds helpful and interesting.
JR: People have found it really helpful. There's not a lot out there that has the week-to-week training and coach and availability like that, so I feel like not only ... All of our coaches have started churches and kind of started mid-sized groups and multiplied. They have the core competencies in what they're training other people to do.
Michaela: Real boots on the ground kind of-
JR: I think people have really found it really helpful. I'm trying to pass on like what I would have liked 25 years ago when I was planting my first church.
Michaela: That's the best. You know, here's the things I learned the hard way, and it doesn't mean that you won't have to learn any of these things the hard way, but if we could shortcut some of that learning, now let's talk about like multiplicity of being able to participate in the mission of God. That's really encouraging. I want to know ... So, tell us again what you're studying and sort of why this is what you're studying in relation ... Does it come out of your world as a church starter and someone who equips church starters, or is it separate?
JR: Yeah, no, so I think the big thing is like the first kind of tribe that I was a part of, became a Christian through, had kind of a National organization. The person that headed that up I felt like there was something in the very structure where someone entered particular positions of power, they became less than what they were when they even started.
Michaela: What do you mean less?
JR: Like it somehow corrupted them a bit. Obviously, we know power and absolute power corrupts, but just seeing that pattern of people coming in and leaving. Obviously, you can look around today, especially in the mega churches, it's like every month there's a new element. That's what kind of concretely made me interested in the topic, and I was reading a little bit of Walter Wink at the time that really kind of helped me to, well this really describes things well. I became ...
Michaela: Walter Wink, there's like three books he writes?
JR: The trilogy. Yeah, so he talks about naming, unmasking, and engaging the power.
Michaela: Yeah, it's a pretty provocative series.
JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have three primary dialogue partners. One is William Stringfellow, who was Episcopalian. The powers from an academic standpoint were not addressed probably from the reformation till early 1900s, but maybe Barth was the most significant theologian who started addressing it right during the rise of Hitler, and it was after World War II that there was a scurry of activity around the powers, because how do we explain this type of evil ...
Michaela: Yeah, like what just happened?
JR: ... theologically? That was happening. Stringfellow and Jacques Ellul were kind of middle voices in the 60s and 70s, France and Stringfellow here. Then, really, Walter Wink was encouraged to do it by reading Stringfellow, specifically his third chapter on freedom and obedience is what kind of encouraged him to start this life-long study of the powers. He built a lot of his on Stringfellow. In fact, kind of says in a chapter that he writes about Stringfellow, with a number of other people, "that if I were to have read all of Stringfellow again I probably would have corrected some of my mistakes, and then I probably would have credited him more, because I realize I had digested a lot of his stuff without giving proper credit."
Michaela: Interesting. So, you started the study on power largely because of how you've seen a pattern of people once they're in particular positions that are given-
Michaela: Well, once they're in particular positions that are given really structural and then cultural power, how that's led to not great things.
JR: Even in my own life, in my first plant, as we kind of grew to 500 and then we grew to 1,000, every step of growth, I felt like kind of made me more distant from people because yeah, I just noticed power working in my own life that didn't feel healthy.
Michaela: So you would attribute that distance from people to an unhealthy growth of power within you?
JR: Yeah, yeah. And maybe also, we create structures and structures recreate us in the process.
Michaela: That's really good.
JR: So even though I was moving toward shared leadership, you can't just jump into that with anybody.
JR: So I think both of those, like looking in my own heart and soul and seeing what is happening in other contexts that I'm in and the agony and trying to ... What in the world is happening here? And so I realized I had really not had a strong theological understanding of the principalities and powers and how they work. Stringfellow really gives some nice ... He kind of puts it in today's vernacular by saying the powers are image, ideology, and institution.
Michaela: Image, ideology, and institution.
JR: So the way the image works is kind of like there's each person, there's us as a person and then there's our image. So he kind of uses the example of Marilyn Monroe. There's Maryland Monroe the person and Marilyn Monroe the image.
Michaela: Yeah, or like Instagram.
JR: Yeah. Think about this before the internet.
Michaela: Right, right, yeah. Just think about how it plays out in a microcosm of ways now.
JR: Yeah, but he would talk about how Marilyn Monroe may be, the image of Marilyn Monroe kind of started to possess the person, Marilyn Monroe. So even now the person is dead, the image continues, if not stronger than when she even lived. And so there's the idea that our image seeks to possess us instead of us possess our image.
JR: And you can kind of see this in some leaders where--
Michaela: But not just in leaders, too.
JR: Not just leaders, but in anybody.
Michaela: So I'm thinking about yes, I totally agree with everything you said and thinking about Marilyn Monroe, she's in a period where access to information is still largely through some dominant channels. Now that has been widely flattened and many more people have an image if you will out in the world.
Michaela: So I'm like, are we as a society a people who have way more image leading us-es out there rather than actual ... I just don't know. That's a fascinating thought.
JR: Yeah, so we'll go into that a little deeper, and then ideology, which kind of, you know, all the -isms. Take it in LA, I would say we're a huge image-based place. Even the very Hollywood, what's people's image of Hollywood? And then they come to Hollywood, and they realize, “Oh, the place is significantly different than the image.”
Michaela: Yeah, even that first time people walk down Hollywood Boulevard. I've had so many people come here to either live here or to visit, and they can't wait to get to Hollywood to see it. Where is it? And I'm like, well it's fine, but there's sometimes a lot of trash on the ground, which is okay, but it might not be what you have in your mind.
JR: No, exactly. But that's probably a classic element of a city image and what people expect and what they actually get. Who is Hollywood, and do we possess our image, or does the image possess us? When the image starts to possess us, an image can become an idol, and the idol looks for full devotion to itself. And when we give full devotion to our image, then we ourselves kind of die in the process, and the image fully takes over us.
Michaela: Wow. That's interesting, and when I think about ... So this conversation about power, right? And you're sort of like you came to LA in the early 2000s and do church-planting, did that for a decade, left in 2013, you said. Now you're back five years later. I'm wondering how this has changed both in challenging ways and positive ways in relation to power and starting churches in LA.
JR: So I think one of the things that we're kind of training planters on is the core element is multiplying mid-sized groups with, again, the center having that discipleship core as the center. I think what's important in LA, I feel like, in probably most cities, but I feel like even the nature of the city being a car city, loneliness and lack of deep community is part of the byproduct of the medium of the car. Just the car changed everything.
Maybe not for everybody. I think some people have a little bit more communal element. And then we kind of live in a neighborhood, we work in another neighborhood that's far away, and then the people we work with are even a further distance away.
Michaela: Lots of other places, yeah.
JR: And that, to me, a really big discipleship challenge. Even though we emphasize place when we were here, the challenge of having a place-based church can be difficult, unless, I think if you have a mood/mental approach. In other words, every church has to ask what's the core building block we're multiplying? And I would just suggest instead of it being the public space, we think of it as the mid-sized group with a discipleship core in the center of it. And each of those mid-sized groups are asking the question, “Who has God sent us to? What neighborhood or network?"
Neighborhood is a place that we live physically-knit. Network is where we live socially. But the goal would be, with a little bit more emphasis on the neighborhood in place, and the network would be there as a way to start the next place. But we get a little bit more place-rooted, and I think there's a lot of healthy things being written on the importance of place.
I'll give you kind of an example. There's a church in North Hollywood called NoHo church. They're early on, so they have two mid-sized groups now. It took them ... What we talk about is not just being for the neighborhood and with the neighborhood, but being of and in, so that missional and incarnational journey. Interesting enough, Jesus, before he took on the human body, he ... Time and space were no thing for him, but he took on a body that meant he had to limit himself to a particular time of people and place. He was kinda downgrading and limiting himself, and we live in a place where we're continually extending ourselves. I think that creates a lot of issues for what it means to be human and what it means to be in community.
So this community ... I feel like ever church has to ask themselves, "Are we structured in a way that community is one of the core elements of what people experience when we're with us?" Because you don't have community in a big gathering of a monologue and some singing and other things. You know, communal life and body life best happens in that 20 to 50 space. So if we're multiplying those, I feel like we have the chance of really giving people first a place to belong, because that mid-size group is more of a center-set, so it's more permeable. I think they start to ... if you have that discipleship core that's really living into Jesus, they start to actually imitate that by their own behaviors. And then they start to realize they're believing differently. So instead of saying you must believe and behave before you belong, it's like giving people that space of belonging in a very concrete way and then they start to ... We're imitative beings so people will start-
Michaela: Yeah, you are what you do.
Michaela: Like Jimmy Smits says, "You are what you do and practices shape our longings."
JR: In our ... My third person in my studies is Renee Girard so he talks about mimetic desire, that desire isn't something self-generated. Desire ... We desire the desires of our models or those that we look to imitate.
Michaela: One of the things you said earlier, and I think it was after we hit record, I can't remember, and I think about particularly some of the challenges of doing this very local, embodied community, as within, like naming that as church, I think about what are the challenges church starters are facing there? Yes, you named location as a huge one, and sort of our fragmented way of living life, but besides place, I think about finances and church and how all that works. What are the other challenges here in LA?
JR: Definitely finance is a big thing. I think in this NoHo Church, they have the perfect house that they meet in, but now it's being sold and now that have to do ... Can they find another space ... When you're centering it around your homes that can be a big issue and they had a pretty good deal. Financially, what I like about this potential approach is I feel like a decent amount of our planters are bi-vocational-
Michaela: I was wondering, yeah.
JR: But also, the other option ... I usually ask planters, "Do you see yourself doing this full-time or do you see yourself doing it bi-vocationally." Based on that answer, if they want to do it full-time, I encourage 'em to raise money like a missionary does. So I work ... When I first was out of the campus, I was pretty much had to raise money 'cause I was never gonna be financially sustainable on a campus with college students.
I use Reliant Mission, which is a missionary organization where you can raise funds. So it's not much different than an entrepreneur is trying to get their initial capital. I-
Michaela: Yeah, I saw that return a little bit differently in the church world.
JR: When you do that, I feel like you have the time to have the right pace because current models sometimes will fund you a little bit for one or two, three years, and that's just not financially sustainable.
JR: I don't think ... Unless you're going after Christians who have money and understand giving, if you're going there with a missionary posture in a time where people are ... I think they're critics of power, they're suspicious of money ... You know, when Paul was in the Corinthians, he basically said, "I didn't take a penny from you. I kinda stole from the Macedonia Church to serve you, but I'm never gonna take a penny." They were suspicious of his role. I think if we're in that type of space, it's probably better to get the money coming from outside for a time being until we have enough time to build. If I'm gonna reach non-Christians, they're not gonna be understanding even after however long it takes 'em to become a Christian, and then understand giving and generosity, you're talking about a decent amount of time.
So I feel like it's a ... Probably in the most popular model is really based on people transferring ... Maybe moving from a different city, that's okay, but they're looking for the Christians instead of actually seeking to go for the people who don't know God yet.
Michaela: Yeah, there's still quite an element of transaction in there, too. 'Cause we are saying is that money creates ... I think to ask for money raises suspicion, right?
JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Michaela: It's like, what do you want?
JR: Yeah, yeah.
Michaela: But then I also empathize with the practicality of people paying their rent, right? So it's like, it' not crass ... It's one thing to say, "Oh, we're starting a church, we need to raise seven million dollars to have this amazing campus and all these things." It's another thing to be like, "We need to raise about this much just so somebody's energy and focus can be spent dedicated." So I like what you're offering as an alternative of thinking about it as a missionary role.
JR: Yeah, yeah. And raise money like a missionary. I did that for 25 years-
Michaela: Did it feel weird? I feel like raising money that way ... So I don't know why ... 'Cause when I think about it in a business perspective, I'm like, "Okay, I'm raising money, I'm sort of thinking to myself, whether I'm..." ... It is a transaction on some level, and while there's risk involved, I'm like, "Oh, this is the probable or the potential return you'll see on your investment." How can people get comfortable with raising money if this is the model you're suggesting? I think a lot of people are uncomfortable with that.
JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, it's funny, 'cause it's when I first did this back when my mom was working for the IRS and she was like, "Jared, why are you gonna go begging for money?" I go like, "Well mom, the IRS pretty much demands their money. I'm at least giving people option. I'm kinda saying here's a vision. Here's what God called me to do." And that's an eternal type of investment. I think that someone first has to be convinced it's a ... Fits into the whole scripture like this is just one of the ways that God has chosen to fund churches and planting is through the people of God.
I would say is what helps me to know that where people's heart is, or where their resources their heart is, so every time I'm giving people the opportunity to give to this plant, their heart is being more directed to the kingdom and the things that we're about. And then too, the average Christian is pretty low on how much they give and we live in the richest country in the world since the history of the world, so I feel pretty good about going out and pulling out that money toward -
Michaela: There's like excess here and not necessarily in everybody's life, but that's where I think about power again, then, right? So I think sharing of resources is one way to acknowledge one's own power and to steward that well.
JR: I think it's very possible. In our first church plant we had 40 students that went on to raise their own money to do work in ministry just from one church, so I think it's very possible.
Michaela: That's encouraging. So as we get to the end of our conversation, I'm just wondering if you have any other words for folks in LA? Whether it's like get in touch with you about something, here's something hopeful that you see in the city.
JR: I would say ... Thinking about the church and the movement a way, thinking about the church like when I get ... When I was here in East Hollywood, I was like, "If God's reign were to be more fully realized in this neighborhood, what would it look like?" Then that kinda directed the mission, the overall mission of our church. Being a church for the neighborhood. I actually wrote a chapter in a book that's coming out with Fuller on church planting.
Michaela: Church planting book, yeah.
JR: Probably the beginning of next year. And then our book that Dana just wrote, "The Church's Movement", I think that would be ... That's essentially our first year of training in book form with Inter-varsity Press. I think starting to think about what does it mean to be the church ... We live in LA, a creative city, an artistic city, and yet we're very uncreative when it comes to what it means to be the church.
I think when we understand the essence of the church, when we understand some of these things about the four spaces, when are we gonna have a chance to go into like five equippers, like the Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher, and the role that they play, and we understand these places of witness that ... I just think we would need more planters to think about creatively engaging our city as a place for creatives. And I feel like the artist, there's so many artists here in some form or shape, who have quite different hours than the 9-to-5 that you might find on the East Coast.
So what does it mean for us to be the church in their space, as opposed to them coming to our space? In particular, what are the ... Thinking about the church, not just as meetings, but practices that we engage in communally, what practices and how can we do that together in the context of the people that we're sent to? We have ... I just think we have to rethink what it means to be the church in some of these very creative spaces and even allowing like a much more participatory way of being the church. That's why I think mid-size groups has a lot of advantages to ... I think the public space, I think there's some reimaginings happening there, but to realize that the public space exists for these ... The other spaces is important.
Michaela: Well, thanks JR, it's been really fun to talk with you. To hear your wisdom. It's obvious you've got a lot of frameworks, so I would encourage people actually pick up the books that you've written and to engage the different projects that you've started. But we're just really thankful to have you here. This has been another episode of Start in LA. Yeah, see you next time.