We announced, today, that The Branch will be on the move at the turn of the new year. Due to circumstances out of our control, the school we’re currently meeting at for our Sunday Gatherings isn’t extending our facility permit into 2015.
I truly believe , without going into lengthy details, it’s a move that God has ordained. And I truly believe it’s a move that God is using to keep us on our toes and to help us not grow complacent. I never wanted to be married to the Sunday service and I can’t see this any other way than God keeping us in line with the mission He has called us to.
The following is a verbal snapshot of God’s vision that was a laid out before we planted and may it be a reminder to all of us as to who we are and why we are The Branch. And, if you’re on the outside looking in, I invite you to join us in our journey to discover the heart of God for Long Beach.
The MISSION of The Branch is three fold:
* To LOVE God and to love others.
* To LEARN the ways of Jesus and to learn our culture and community.
* To LIVE out what we’re learning, while living with the community we’re a part of.
Our VISION is to cultivate multiple environments where the intersecting stories of Jesus and humanity can be discovered and explored, so to make way for a challenging move
toward living a more godly life.
This outline contains a strategy developed from demographic information, community surveys, interviews with local pastors, personal knowledge of the needs in the area, and other available information. This strategy is simply a projected plan for the next twenty-four months and will remain flexible to accommodate any changes in the circumstances surrounding the church plant.
Long Beach is considered the most diverse city in our nation. From race to socioeconomic status and from religion to sexual preference, the city of Long Beach is a beautiful blend of cultures. And as different as people are—in preference, theology, socioeconomic status, etc.—everyone is still searching for family, comfort, and answers to some of life’s toughest questions. The interesting reality is, those inside the “church” and those outside said community both struggle with the same things—divorce, addiction, emotional pain, etc. That’s where missional/incarnational communities come in. It’s not a “build it and they will come” way of thinking. It’s a way of living where we “move into the neighborhood” and live life for God while inviting others to do the same. As a church plant, we have the amazing opportunity to begin our journey in this reality. And, rather than sift through already established church traditions to better fit the community we’ll be planted in, we get to begin building the life of our church with this dynamic in mind.
The Branch looks to focus on building the body through small communities that use Sunday mornings as a celebration of what’s going on throughout the week. If we put all of our energy, focus, and resources primarily toward creating a nice and polished Sunday morning experience, then we’ve failed. We’ve failed God and we’ve failed our community. Rather, a lot of our energy, focus, and resources will focus on what goes on throughout the week. And it’s not about working to do some type of community service or build a bunch of small groups and leave it at that. It’s about developing smaller pockets of faith communities throughout the city that does life together to simply figure out what it means to live life for God and do it. Out of that context, community needs will be highlighted that we can respond to, questions of who God is will surface that we can explore together, and a curiosity of how Jesus lived and what He called His followers to will be discovered. As a result, we can intentionally fulfill His Great Commission. What that does is establish a rhythm of life that doesn’t close the doors on non-believers. It creates an environment where exploration of God’s truth is more welcoming. It creates an environment where all of God’s children, not just Christians, are journeying together to discover Jesus and what the Kingdom, here and now, looks like.
Throughout the Gospels, we see a diverse blend of folks attracted to Jesus. They flocked to Him and they rushed to Him whenever He was in town. Why? Why were they so drawn to Him and, at the same time, why were the religious elite so repulsed by Him? The commoners weren’t necessarily attracted to what He said, but to what He did. He fed them. He healed them. He released demons from their presence. He entered their world and did the most loving of things. And, it’s in that context, that Jesus was able to share the truth of who He was. Ironically, it’s because He did these things that the religious elite were so turned off by Him. In a religious culture where rules were set up to keep people away from God, Jesus steps in and shows a new culture where people could actually enter the Kingdom now. As a community of faith, this is the posture we should have. Instead of visiting the neighborhood from time to time, or Sunday to Sunday, we need to move in and actually be a part of the community. And, in following Jesus’ lead, we ought to feed people. We should be healing them. We, as James puts it, should be caring for “orphans and widows.” We need to breathe the same air as those looking for hope. We need to swim in the same waters as they do. We need to eat at the same tables. We need to commune with them. And, it’s in this context, where the examples of Christ flowing through us, that others can get a glimpse of what it means to truly live for God, rather than for a religious establishment.