The rhythm we hope to establish in our lives, and throughout the X242 network, involves our own daily devotion, weekly worship with our microchurch, monthly meetups with all the microchurches, and then something I haven't really talked about much yet: a quarterly quest.
Our vision is that, every three months, we would all spend a week seeking God in prayer and fasting. Our hope is that through such devotion to prayer and fasting, we would see God move among us in powerful ways, giving clarity and discernment, bringing healing and refining, bringing people to faith, and igniting those already in the faith, renewing our devotion with courage and conviction, and calling people among us to plant new microchurches, and even start new regional networks.
I know we like to prepare emotionally for such things, but there's something to be said for hearing the call and jumping in. It shows us what's in our hearts, whether we're eager or reluctant. It serves notice that we're ready at a moment's notice.
So here's an opportunity to jump in eagerly: Would you commit yourself to prayer and fasting this week?
Why fast, and how?
When the first believers needed direction, or healing, or blessing, or deliverance, they prayed. And they often fasted as part of it, meaning they denied themselves food.
We're not told how often they fasted, or for how long. We're just told that they did it.
To fast is to go without food as a way of devoting ourselves to prayer. But it's not a hunger strike to get God's attention. It's a self-prescribed discipline of denying one of our strongest appetites in order to elevate faith as the stronger appetite.
Sometimes people fast from things other than food, and that's fine. While food is especially symbolic and connects us to the traditional practice, some people have medical reasons for not interrupting their nutrition. If you fast from anything for the purpose of devoting yourself to prayer, it is good, and well worth it.
Wendy and I are observing what I'm calling "day fasts" this week. We're going without breakfast and lunch as a way of devoting ourselves to prayer. But then we're enjoying an evening meal. We decided to do this so we could continue to "break bread together" with our microchurch on Tuesday night. But I spend the day hungry, and every time my hunger pangs hit, or I feel a bit weak, it reminds me to pray. And I do it with a chosen declaration that "I want this more than food itself!" And I pray.
What to pray for
I'm praying through the simple agreement of one path, four devotions, and two loves. It represents our faith, practice, and mission and orients my prayers for myself, for you, for my neighbors and anyone else I think of in the moment.
It never hurts to remind ourselves about that.
As I use that to guide my prayers, they come out different each time, but the following represents what's in my heart each time:
Would you jump in and join me in praying for these things?
Make a decision to go without a meal or two (or three) each day this week as a way of devoting yourself to praying through the One Path, the Four Devotions, and the Two Loves. Pray for yourself, for those nearest you, for me (please?), for all who are connecting with this network, and for anyone else God calls to mind. May God hear and answer our prayers as we devote ourselves to him in this way! Amen.
Update: New Microchurches in Sarasota.
At this past Saturday's monthly meetup we formed three new Sarasota microchurches for a total of four. One is thirteen weeks old, and the other three will be starting to meet in the next few weeks, as follows:
The nature of microchurches is that they're limited in space, but some do have room for people to join. We look for a thirteen week commitment, but there's grace for that, of course. If you want to join or start a microchurch, make sure you've signed up for it, and we'll do our best to help.
With faith, hope, and love,
We have our second monthly meetup here in Sarasota a week from this Saturday, October 2nd at 5pm. More information about that at the end of this post.
But first I want to tell you about our first X242 microchurch including an encouraging comment we recently received.
Our first microchurch is almost thirteen!
Wendy and I continue to have church here in our home. It's just a dozen of us as a “Beta group” to see what it’s like. Tonight will be our 12th meeting so we're just a week away from knowing what it feels like to be together for thirteen weeks — three months — which is what we're asking people to commit to.
I don't think it's premature to say, This is good!
We landed early on the following rhythm and haven't needed to change so far. That's not to say we won't ever change it up. We just haven't needed to yet. And there's something satisfying about a stubbornly simple way of meeting.
Here's how we do it:
1. We share a common meal in fellowship with each other.
We typically gather around 6pm for dinner and fellowship. Responsibility for the food part of this rotates between a few whose schedules and abilities make it possible to do it. We gather around and pray, and then we get our food and sit down, enjoying fellowship the whole time. Sometimes during the meal we'll talk through nuts and bolts type things like planning a service project or something. But we usually just talk about life type things, just catching up. Just friendship.
2. We study the apostles' teaching in fellowship with each other.
After dinner we move to the living room where we open to the next chapter in Luke. We've all been studying it on our own for the past week, but we read it through again, this time out loud, with various people reading different sections. Then I ask, "What jumped out at you?" and we talk about it until we're done talking about it. For us, that usually runs a little better than an hour. But there's no pressure to make it go long or to keep it short. We just want to discover what God is showing us in scripture.
The reason we do it this way is because we're devoting ourselves "to the apostles' teaching." We're gathering around, inviting the apostles into the room, so to speak, and just letting them teach. None of us prepares a lesson. We all just engage the lesson that was preserved for us as scripture as if it's the apostles teaching us.
This isn't to say it's wrong to have someone teach a lesson or preach a sermon. Of course not. But my sense is that Christians have become too dependent upon "good preachers" for a "fresh word" or a "new inspiration." We've lost confidence in the Holy Spirit to illuminate the scriptures as we prayerfully contemplate them in fellowship with each other.
I say this somewhat self-consciously as a preacher and teacher who still has something to preach and teach! And ironically, one of the things I need to teach right now is that we need to renew our devotion to the scriptures as the sermon! And my hope is that through this restoration of the way we do church, we will do just that.
I think about it this way: The New Testament scriptures are the sermons taught by the apostles! Sometimes they were written directly by one of the twelve apostles (Matthew, Peter, John), or by a converted apostle (Paul, James), or by one of those apostle's disciples (Mark, Luke). But they were all written so that we might know what they believed and taught! As Luke says in his opening statement (Luke 1:1-4), "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled a among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught."
So, every time we gather in my living room and open the scriptures, it's like we have invited Luke to come and tell us what he thinks is important for us to know — which is what Paul told him was important to know, which is what the other apostles told him was important to know. So, rather than listening to a teacher/preacher like myself explain in my own words what Luke said, we just gather around and "listen" to Luke say it in his own words.
Our goal is simply to know Jesus, so we devote ourselves to the apostles' teaching.
3. We spend time in prayer, in fellowship with each other.
And then we take time to talk about each other's needs and celebrations, and then we spend time in prayer. This includes silent prayer. We don't force this. We just devote time to prayerfully becoming present to God as a group, and we let anyone say whatever they want to say to God. During this time, the two year old who spends most of the time playing silently(ish) during the study time sits next to his mom, silently closing his eyes and holding his mom's hand during prayer. It's reverent. It's beautiful.
Recently some in our group have been going through some heavy things, and we've all just been there for them, praying with them not just on Tuesday nights, but throughout the week. This is part of the fellowship where we "carry each other's burdens." A few days later we all got this in a group chat:
Monthly Meetup: Saturday, October 2, 2021 at 5pm
We'll gather for encouragement around this simple agreement to follow Jesus as Lord (our one path), to enjoy fellowship over a meal and scripture and prayer (our four devotions), and to pursue our mission of loving God with all we are and our neighbors with all we have (our two loves).
And then, Lord willing, we'll pull together some microchurches! (If you want to be included in this first wave of Sarasota microchurches and haven't let me know yet, please do that right away by filling out this Next Step.)
But you don't have to be ready to join to come to the Monthly Meetup. This is for anyone to come see what we're doing so they can decide whether they want to be part of it. In fact, feel free to invite people to this as an introduction of what we're doing. Just make sure to RSVP so that we know how much food to make!
So do that now and you'll get a confirmation with location details.
Pray with me that we might fill this world with love, joy, and peace by living out this simple agreement in our homes and neighborhoods.
My goal was simple.
I wanted to gather people together for encouragement, and learn who is ready to help launch a network of microchurches here in Sarasota.
As of Saturday morning we had exactly one microchurch of twelve people who had been meeting for 8 weeks as a beta group, plus a handful of others who were definitely "in" but not yet meeting. We felt it was time to move it from theory to practice, so we held our first monthly meetup to see what God would do.
We really didn't know what to expect.
I was hopeful and prayerful, but also content with whatever we would learn because I knew this first meetup was going to set the scope and pace of whatever we do next.
We met at a neighborhood community center in the middle of Sarasota. Close to sixty people had RSVP'd, some of them as "maybes," but we were prepared.
People started showing up around 3:45 and we spent the first 45 minutes just talking and getting to know each other.
By 4:30 forty people had shown up. Mike Christner grabbed the mic and got everyone's attention. He talked about how meetings like this are intimidating when we don't know everyone. And then he set our minds at ease by pointing out that actually none of us there knew everyone there! (So true. Even for myself, as the primary point of contact, there were people there I had never met before!) And then he encouraged those of us who enjoy meeting new people to reach out to those of us who aren't as comfortable with it. Then he prayed for the meal and we all sat down to conversations around a meal of enchiladas, tacos and sweet tea prepared by Wendy, Felicia, and Betsy.
It's always hard to interrupt the conversations.
The conversations sounded lively, but we were there for more than that. We were there to lean into a concept we're calling X242. And at the root of it is a shared simple agreement (one-four-two) that I knew I wanted to explain again. So I took the mic to do just that.
Earlier in the day I was reflecting on my week, and found the conversations remarkable, so I spoke about them off the cuff.
I told those stories and then asked, "Why?!"
Why are we doing this? Why are we looking to plant a network of microchurches here in Sarasota? Or anywhere for that matter? Are we just a bunch of Western Christians who are bored and think this might be a cool new way to do church?
Of course not. It's hard to imagine that against the background of stories about brothers and sisters in other parts of the world where it costs so much to follow Jesus.
But still the question: Why are we doing this? My answer is that it's for the same reason my Nepali friend goes up into the Himalayas during monsoon season. He wants to make sure people know about Jesus.
We don't have remote villages here in Sarasota where I live, but we do have remote hearts that are isolated and defended by impoverished values and hostile family systems. And we certainly have impoverished people in every sense of the word -- financially, relationally, spiritually...
Wherever it reaches, this X242 ministry is all about inviting people to follow Jesus with us!
I rehearsed our Simple Agreement.
"We follow One Path." We follow Jesus together. I read John 14:6 where Jesus identified himself as the way, the truth, and the life, saying that no one can get to the Father except through faith in him. I told about my own story where I whispered "Jesus" and how it turned my heart around in a moment. And the fruit of that was that I now follow Jesus. This is our faith for anyone who calls out to Jesus. We follow Jesus as Lord.
"We practice Four Devotions." I read Acts 2:42 (of course) as the model for our practice where we devote ourselves "to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer." I told about my own microchurch and how we do it -- and especially how opening scripture together is helping us to see scripture in a fresh way. I explained the personality of how we do it, and that each microchurch will feel different. But we'll all be devoting ourselves to the same four things: scripture, fellowship, a common meal, and prayer. This is our practice.
"And we fulfill Two Loves." I quoted Matthew 22:34-40 where Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and the second greatest is like the first, to love your neighbor as yourself. Or as we're saying it (to reawaken the radical nature of it): "We love God with all we are and love our neighbor with all we have." That's our mission.
In fact, this new way to be church is not our mission!
Really. Our primary mission isn't to plant microchurches or a network of churches, although that certainly is what we're aiming to do. But make no mistake about it: Our mission is love. Love for God and love for neighbor. And I believe that what we're setting out to do is fulfillment of that.
Everything we do -- what we do, and how we do it -- is all because of why we do it. We are making it our mission in life to Love God with all we are, and love our neighbors with all we have. And we believe this X242 model is helpful to that. We believe such a life of love can thrive in this model, so that's why we're doing this.
I wrapped up by asking everyone to let me know how they want to be involved.
I had them fill out a piece of paper where they could select all of the following statements that apply:
Then we prayed, and people filled out the form while dessert was being served. Then we just hung out for another hour or more, just enjoying each other's company.
It's time to plant a few microchurches here in the Sarasota area! If you signed up you'll hear from me soon.
But some of you told me that you're so new to the conversation, you need to consider it prayerfully a bit longer. I totally respect that. That's the right call. This isn't something we do flippantly. Like I said Saturday, I'm looking for at least a three month commitment to this, with grace of course.
And others of you weren't able to be here Saturday but you're ready to jump in with both feet. I want to give you opportunity to officially jump in!
For all who continue to pray for us, and support this network in so many various ways, thank you so much. You are a strength and encouragement to us. May the Lord fill your life with love, joy, and peace as you delight in him and in fellowship with his family!
It's been four months since I announced my plans to leave conventional church ministry to setup a network of microchurches. And it's been 2-1/2 months since I left to do it. Many people asked me to let them know when the "new thing" was starting. This is me doing that!
It feels like it’s been forever! I had planned to hit the ground running but a friend suggested I fast from working for the first month. That was good counsel. It was especially significant that I push a reset button in my own life before leading a reset button on church.
So I did my best to honor that. And as I embraced a new simplicity in my life, I was refreshed, and this vision became all the more compelling: A network of microchurches gathered around a simple agreement of “one path, four devotions, and two loves, that’s it.”
In my prayers and conversations I kept hearing the phrase "stubbornly simple."
I knew that this new thing has to be “stubbornly simple” for it to be simple at all. Most things move toward complexity, not simplicity. But the irony is that for the end result to be stubbornly simple, a lot of thought and planning has to go into the beginning of it. And some questions need to be answered at the beginning.
So I spent time reading, listening, praying, writing, having lots of conversations, and reflecting on the opportunities and challenges of this new ministry. I listened to concerns and enthusiasms, trying hard to dismiss the extremes of over-the-top optimism and don’t-even-try pessimism.
I pushed and pulled at all the ideas and advice I was hearing and I came away convinced that God is in this — even that the shaking we have all experienced was about inviting us to press a reset button on how to be church.
There’s a lot of enthusiasm about this, but it's more hope than hype.
In fact, in the larger Church right now, people are leaning into this sort of idea with intrigue and enthusiasm like we've never seen in our lifetime. In fact, so many people are moving toward this way of being church that it’s being called a movement — the microchurch movement.
Who knows what it will become? I just know I'm to be part of it, and to help others be part of it.
The crazy thing is, in a world where companies and churches and ministries grow on hype, there’s just not a lot of hype about this. There aren’t big stage shows or big personas driving this movement. Even where "celebrity pastors" and big ministries are promoting this, it's more a conversation than a sales pitch.
More hope than hype. It seems that followers of Jesus everywhere are connecting with this simple hope that church might return to simply being church. That we might restore love, joy, and peace through a simpler devotion.
The inscription on our landing page says, “For those who crave a simpler way, here’s an opportunity to press the reset button.” That’s my heart. That's my prayer.
In my prayer journal I prayed about Acts 2:42 so often that I developed my own little shorthand for it: “X242.”
It seemed good to call this vision by that name. X242.
The passage reads, "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer."
Imagine a world where the believers do that — where we gather in each other’s homes weekly to eat together, open scripture together, pray together, and enjoy genuine Christian fellowship together. Imagine a world where not only is that our worship, but it's our discipleship process, and our evangelism method. And it's our faith family. And imagine all the faith families getting together monthly for encouragement. It would utterly change the spiritual landscape.
But instead, we live in a world of complexities and competitions, where churched people are distracted, dechurched people are disillusioned, and unchurched people are still disbelieving.
I believe this network of microchurches will see churched people refreshed, dechurched people restored, and unchurched people redeemed! I plan to say more about it in person at our first monthly meetup.
First Monthly Meetup! (Please RSVP)
If you’re in Sarasota, plan to attend our First Monthly Meetup, Saturday, August 28th, 4pm (location TBA). I want to gather for a meal and fellowship so we can look around and see who else is in this conversation.
I want to tell you about my family's experience in beta-testing this for the past couple months. And I want you to start imagining what it would be like for you to start or join a microchurch.
We'll keep it simple of course. Just a meal and a conversation. But we need to plan for how many, so please RSVP. Even if you’re interested but can’t make it, please mark that too so I get a sense of interest for future events.
Comment & Invite
Go poke around the rest of this website if you haven't yet. Start here. And then come back and comment.
My hope is that this blog forum would create conversation. I know most of us would rather read other people's comments than leave our own, but consider saying something just to let others know you're here. Perhaps you have a question that you think others are wondering? Or a concern that others are thinking? Start the conversation below.
So, that’s the update! The "new thing" is starting. Feel free to share this with anyone you know who might be craving a simpler way to be church.
(And don't forget to RSVP.)