Last night I looked around the room once again. I’ve been catching myself doing it for over 20 years. Some of the faces have changed, but what I’m about to say never has. We are the motley, clumsy, fragile, occasionally somewhat incompetent ones who’ve been given the sacred responsibility to protect, love, be loved and offer some modicum of shepherding to a particular community of Christ believers…and those who may someday become such.

And like five hundred times before, for a few minutes last evening, I lost touch with whatever we thought was important enough to type onto an agenda. And I just took them in. Slowly I looked at each of them, without their notice.

And once again, it overwhelmed me. We have so danged little in common. I’m pretty certain we each have wildly differing opinions and convictions on political candidates, political deal-breakers, immigration, child raising, spiritual disciplines, worship preference, Calvinism, millennialism, homosexuality, the earth’s age, alcohol, cigar smoking, or the viability of a playoff system for college football. We’d have 8 different views on the books, “Love Wins”, “Erasing Hell” and probably even “The Cure.” Only one or two of them have anything close to the quality of my taste in music. Several don’t have a Facebook account, and one thinks Twitter is something you do with your fingers when you’re bored.

…and none of us seem to care about this at all.

Somehow, for almost 40 years, God has given this community the freedom to not have to care. To not have to take a stand on the latest controversial new take. To not have to separate ourselves from each other, to not have to find something we believe different than the others. To not have an agenda, or a hobby-horse, or a minority report. To not have a superior spiritual insight, or an aloof cynicism that finally gives permission to leave the relationship.

But there are some things on which they are of complete and unbroken, perfect, stubborn unity. It has been true from the very beginning, in each one who has carried the role.

They each doggedly hold to this:

*Jesus is our way home.
*Jesus is the Son of the Living God.
*Jesus paid His life on a cross, for everything we have ever done wrong
*They will live this life by trusting His power, sovereignty and fusion in them and with them
*The giving and receiving of love is their highest value
*They are trusting that behavior change will follow the two points above
*They will draw closer when the other fails
*They will protect the one who is weak
*They will not discard the one who fails
*They will learn to not hide their failures and weaknesses
*They will learn how to forgive, repent, restore and heal
*They will put at risk their career, reputation and lives to ensure that everyone has a chance to be messy in finding their own faith in Jesus
*They will never coerce anyone to believe what they do
*They will guard this place from being defined by positions of any lesser conviction
*They will put everything on the line to have the freedom to deeply enjoy each other
*Safe and knowing laughter will permeate the community
*Deep and tender compassion will permeate the community
*Affirmation will be the language of the community
*Trust will be the currency of the community
*Kindness and love will trump “being right” in the community
*They will give their very lives to create an environment where it is safe to fail, safe to be known, safe to risk, safe to dream.
*They will admit what they do not know, understand or can’t figure out
*And a thousand more freedoms that come out of trusting Jesus in an environment of grace

And that is why this weekend, during our retreat, probably at about 6 pm, I will pour my heart to them. I will tell them the difficulty of the season I am in. I will let them see the worst and weakest of me. I will make myself vulnerable to them. I will not hide. I will let them love, protect and stand with me. This environment that none of them started, but have faithfully promoted, has taught them to live this way. And these days I am more recipient than giver.

I know many people mistrust places where there is any authority, leaders, structure, program or plan. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve been burned by leaders with an agenda, a motive, an egotistic empire. But for 28 years I’ve only known this. It’s a mess. It gets it wrong almost as often as it gets it right. But it is genuine. And so I imagine it can be replicated. In fact, it is being replicated. All over this world. More and more every day. By thousands who can no longer stand the alternative. By those who no longer want to live in isolation, religious arrogance, or cynical anger and wounding. They are finding each other.

There are still not enough places like this. Friends we send out in pursuit of it, often come back angry at us, saying it doesn’t exist for them. Even some who live in the place I’m describing would say it has let them down. But we are all hungering for it. We’re made for it. Maybe not the way it currently looks, but we were created to get to love and be loved by each other in the presence of loving and being loved by Him.

So leaders, young leaders, wake up. Read chapter 6 in “The Cure”. Let that be, more than any lesser position, what you allow your church to be about. You may never become ten thousand, or have a fog machine for Sunday morning, but you will have influence. Beautiful, life-giving influence of Christ. Your children will thank you. Your children’s friends will thank you. People who wander in off the street will thank you. And that, at the end of the day, is not a bad gig at all.

John. One of the Three Amigos, part of the ever-growing tribe of grace