The Expatriations of Bono and TS Eliot

As soon as I became an expat in the summer of 2015, I began feeling a new kinship with those who throughout history have gone to take up residence in a land not their own.

In the past year I’ve been fixated on the so-called “Lost Generation” of expats who lived in Paris after the Great War. First it was a near obsession with Hemingway. Then I got a group of friends together to read this generation. We’ve read Fitzgerald, Sherwood Anderson, Joyce, and now Eliot. In their lives and literatures, they were trying to dial into life after the cataclysm that was World War I.

Eliot’s difficult waistcoat

As I’ve studied The Waste Land, I’ve paid close attention to Eliot’s expatriation. As Yale’s Langdon Hammer humorously notes (in his Open Yale Course), Eliot is the only major British poet from St. Louis. In speaking of Eliot’s forced entry into British culture, Hammer makes a big deal out of the young poet’s waistcoat. (Being a sartorial old soul myself, I was all ears.) Hammer says Eliot’s waistcoat can be read as a symbol of his quest to strip himself of his Americanness, to fully embrace British culture, and to inscribe himself within its literary tradition, however uncomfortable, stuffy, and restrictive that might seem.


Photo: The Telegraph

As Eliot settled into his British tweed, he made it his practice to quote heavily from authoritative literary and religious texts of the past. He was conscious of their power to convey an authority to him by their very citation. But he was also conscious of the fact that everything had changed in the wake of the Great War, and that he would have to do something new with the old he treasured. The result was a sort of bricolage of lines from Shakespeare, Dante, Virgil, Homer, the Bible, and Buddhist texts. Nick Mount’s fantastic lecture on The Waste Land likens Eliot’s use of texts to a Canadian soldier’s gathering of bits of broken stained glass from across Europe and their assembly into a new window at the University of Toronto. Eliot was old and new.

He was also difficult! In his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent, he insisted that, following the War, poetry had to be difficult.

And so Eliot set out to become a tastemaker in his new home. By quoting authorities, he wanted to tell Britain what its literary and cultural legacy was, and he, the American, wanted to make himself the standard of what it meant to be literary, cultured, and British. Spoiler alert: he basically succeeded.

Bono’s star-spangled jacket

U2’s front man maintains a home in Dublin, and has most definitely not renounced his Irish citizenship or roots. And while in 2000 he had “just got a place in New York,” he was not new to America. The Joshua Tree feels like the wide open spaces of the American west. The video for “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” was filmed under the pulsating lights of Las Vegas. “Bullet the Blue Sky” was addressed to the American industrial military complex and its commanders-in-chief. The Rattle and Hum album and tour was an immersion in American sounds and culturescapes. They re-toured The Joshua Tree for its 30th anniversary, convinced that it had something yet to say to the two Americas under Trump.


Image: Getty/GQ

After 9/11, it was U2 who memorialized its dead at the Super Bowl halftime show that winter. The names streamed up the screen like a New York skyscraper as though they were headed to “Where the Streets Have No Name”. Bono showed his American flag jacket lining in solidarity with the country reeling from the attack less than six months prior.

All of which is to say that Bono is a lot like Eliot. He has quoted America’s traditions to it, and has made himself himself its modern interpreter and its most enthusiastic champion. Though while Eliot renounced his Americanness to cozy up to the British, Bono has used his outsider status to hold a mirror up to America—to try to convince America of its exceptional history, ideas, status, and burden to serve and lead the world in all things free and brave.

However, Bono hasn’t postured himself as America’s authority. As recently as last night, Bono sang two songs to America on Saturday Night Live. In one of them, he sings:

I could sing it to you all night, all night
If I could, I’d make it alright, alright
Nothing’s stopping you except what’s inside
I can help you, but it’s your fight, your fight

Moreover, Bono, unlike Eliot, increasingly doesn’t seem to be convinced (as perhaps he was during the Zooropa/Pop period) that, in order to point America back to its founding documents, his music and lyrics need to be difficult. Where Eliot thought the cataclysm of World War I called for difficulty, Bono seems to think the post-9/11 world needs joy and simplicity “with an acid drop mixed in with the sweetness.”

Bono’s and Eliot’s expat churches

One final consideration of Bono’s and Eliot’s expatraiations.

Everywhere in the world where there are expats, there are congregations for them. Eric Liddell went to the English-speaking presbyterian church in Paris on the Sunday when he skipped his Olympic event. Flushing, New York has Korean congregations that dwarf the rest of my denomination’s churches. I currently pastor an English congregation in Seoul.

Perhaps it was just another of Eliot’s anglophilic waistcoats, but the poet converted from Unitarianism to Anglicanism in 1927. He submitted to the authority of a bishop despite his professed Puritanical temperament. While he moved and shook the literary world, effectively becoming its archbishop, in ecclesial matters he sat in the pew and became, liturgically, an English commoner seeking communion. For all we can tell, he was a quiet orthodox church member until his death. Two years after his death, his name was emblazoned in stone in Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey. That seems like a fitting place for one who became both the English language poet of the twentieth century and a humble Anglican.

On the other hand, as one of my fellow expat churchmen has recently pointed out to me, Bono’s relationship with the church has been a different sort of expatriation experience. As Joshua Rothman ably recounts, U2 struggled in its early years with their potential for international stardom and the felt demands of their fringy ascetic ecclesial community. Eventually, they chose rock n roll over church. The Irish context of Protestant-Catholic violence certainly contributed.

The result, as I’ve hinted at above, is that Bono became something of the megachurch worship pastor of America’s sorta-spiritual and maybe-kinda religious stadium rock crowds. He doesn’t fancy himself a papal authority in American music or culture the way Eliot saw himself in the world of British letters. Bono has always taken more of a persuasive posture of influence; he just doesn’t have an ex cathedra temperament. But if one made a bit of a Puritanical analysis of Bono’s dealings with the American soul, one might say he is an unauthorized street preacher; a circuit-riding camp meeting convener; an officiant of strange fire.

In the end, Bono has not expatriated the way Eliot did. Part of me thinks Bono is doing it right. Who instinctively cozies up to Eliot’s renunciation of homeland? Who can bear his stuffy sartorial affectations? Who cannot look on quizzically at his brazen cultural interpolation? And, by contrast, who cannot help but admire Bono’s admiring pep talks in star-spangled jackets?

But the churchman in me, along with the would-be rebel in me, knows that while Bono bends over backwards not to be seen as an American authority, his churchless spirituality ultimately amounts to an unwillingness to sit under authority. He’ll read the Psalms, interpret them, sing them, and make them sexy enough to sing in an arena. He’ll earn his money, and then he’ll decide where it should go and who it should help. And ultimately, he’ll make himself a sort of Unitarian pastor in a “church” where everyone that’s feeling the vibe feels at home, as long as their politics are sufficiently socially conscious and they’re okay periodically holding up their consciences to a certain figure of Jesus of Nazareth.

Bono has expatriated not from Ireland, but from the church. This leaves him homeless, dislocated in a way that Eliot would have remained had he merely gone all-in with the British literary tradition and not settled into the back pew in his local parish church.

It has been 35 years of ecclesial homelessness for Bono. My hope is that he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for in churchless spirituality. My hope is that, if he still can’t reconcile church and rock n roll, he will become uncool or irrelevant enough, soon enough, to settle down into some quiet parish outside Dublin and perhaps duck into Redeemer when he’s playing expat at his other home in New York.

To be at home, to repatriate, he’ll need to take some of the advice he’s giving to America on the new album and get out of his own way.

[Update: As I mentioned to my critical fellow U2 enthusiast, sometimes we assume we know the perspective from which Bono speaks and the audience to which his songs are addressed. We don’t, necessarily. It turns out that America may not be the primary audience of “Get Out of Your Own Way”—instead, that honor seems to belong first to his daughter and second, to himself. ]

Don’t call it an “office”

There are a couple things in life that I’m passionate about. Hills upon which I am willing to die. In no particular order:

  • One does not put two spaces between sentences; the computer will space it appropriately for you.
  • One does not grind one’s coffee until it is time to brew said coffee.
  • North Carolina is in no wise “first in flight”; Ohioans commandeered their beach and wind.
  • The bottom button of one’s blazer, suit coat, or sport coat is to remain unbuttoned.

And, more recently, a new rule:

Don’t call my study an “office.” It’s a study

Nomenclature matters, folks. Our words create the worlds we experience and the quality of our experiences therewith. John Culkin famously said that “we shape our tools, and afterward our tools shape us.” Names of things are human-shaped tools, which thereafter shape us. They shape our expectations and our realities.

I don’t have a classroom of my own. I instead have a tiny room at the end of a hallway. I love this arrangement. I get lots of privacy and in turn I get lots of things done. And, by “things done”, I mean principally “thoughts thought” and “learning learned.”

That’s because my room is my study.

When I tell a student to come see me in my study after school, I am indicating to them that we are going to learn together. Whatever problem they may be having with their grade, the paper they’re writing, their attendance record, their behavior, their language acquisition process, or their mastery of the course content will be approached in a specific way: it will be approached with the conviction that we are, together, learning.

Consider the alternative. I could call my room my “office.” What experience can a student, a colleague, a supervisor, or a parent expect to have in my “office”?

They can expect to have their problem dealt with administratively. They expect their problem to be solved like the unclogging of a procedural bottleneck. They show up to get a grade fixed, a paper corrected, an assignment postponed or a concept explained. People who come to an “office” expect bureaucracy, and they pray that maybe this will be the one time in a hundred when that bureaucracy actually works efficiently, achieving the results desired. They expect, though, to be processed like any other data input that might come into that space, whether through paper and ink, email, telephone, or flesh and blood.

As for me and my study, we shall serve the learner. The learner inside me, and the learner inside student, teacher, administrator, and parent. I want people to come into my study–myself included!–with the expectation that both solitary and collaborative learning takes place in this sacred space. The sofa and armchair, the bookcases, the coffee station and the aroma that regularly makes it into the adjoining hallway, the round table (as opposed to a desk, aka bureau, hello!), and the natural light coming through the windows–all of these things help indicate what this space is for.

But especially the name of the space. Don’t call it an office.

Small Room = Big Feel

From the start of our church plant, we adopted a contrarian “no launch” launch plan.

If you are “launching,” then you need people. Enough of them. Experts say at least 50 of them, or else there’s an 85% chance you’ll never make it to 50.

Congregations are Psychological Animals

I think that part of what’s behind that statistic is psychological. There is a certain effect that empty chairs have on the morale. If you “launch” with 25 people in a room that could hold 125, you’re going to feel pretty pathetic. Try as you might to get this fledgling congregation to imagine filling the space, psychologically, there’s not much that can be done to engender optimism with so many vacant cushions.

If you have a group of 25 people, chances are they are anxious to launch. To get out there in the wild. To get out of the living room and into something that feels more like church. The gurus will say to wait. Launch later, launch larger.


Some Standard Contrarian Counsel

My advice?

Never launch. Just don’t. Reject the whole idea. Then you don’t have to “wait” until you hit some magic number in order to “go public.”

Nah. Stay put until you’re bursting at the seams. Until there is so much energy in the teensy little room you’re in that you simply must acquire a new meeting space.

Why? Because, instead of launching, you can continually calibrate the psychology of your church plant by pressing the limits of whatever space you inhabit.

Upsizing and Downsizing

In our case, we stayed in the living room until we simply couldn’t. Then we moved into a public space, but we didn’t “go public.” We just met there instead. That was two years ago.

This summer, our evening service began slumping in attendance due to vacations. So we moved that service (and the pot luck that goes with it) back into a home. Now we’re bursting at the seams “again”. Going forward, this gives us the option of either meeting in two homes instead of one in the evenings, or moving back into our larger space. Both things will feel more like momentum is in our favor rather than against us.

In the mean time, the psychology of our evening crowd is not “man, that stinks that we got so small that we went back to being in living rooms.” Instead, it’s “whoa, there’s a lot of people crammed in here!”

If you are in a small room, you’re probably experiencing a big feel. Always be a little crowded as opposed to a little empty.

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Be a ‘Food Church’ // The Churched Disciple: Sabbath / In / ‘Feast’

Much of what we’ve been talking about under the Sabbath rhythm of church life has already involved feasting. We believe that the best way to facilitate enjoyment, expectation, and even submission as we receive from Jesus on Sundays is to do so in the context of a feast.



Scholars have observed that Jesus essentially eats his way through the gospel of Luke. He is always on his way to a meal, at a meal, or on his way from a meal. That means that every miracle of his goodness, every challenge made with love, every surprising embrace of his grace, every rebuke and warning to the self-righteous and hypocritical, and even every movement of his passion, occurs in the context of food and drink.

If you don’t eat and drink with your fellow disciples of Jesus, it’s very difficult to claim that you are, in fact, Jesus’ disciple. If you don’t share meals together with the family of God, it is very difficult to maintain that you are indeed a member of the household of faith.

A mark of a truly “churched disciple” in our context will be an increasing commitment to break bread on Sundays with your spiritual family. You should find it awkward to show up right at the time the service is supposed to start, and to have a seat with your hands folded in your lap. Hardly anyone else should be there; they ought to be clearing their plates, stealing a few extra moments of feasty togetherness around the tables, and savoring the bonds of friendship that are formed and strengthened over bagels and coffee, or pot luck fare.


So, make it a priority and a habit to feast with God’s people on the Sabbath, for this, in large measure, is what will make you Festal Sabbatarians, and not obtuse people who woodenly adhere to an ancient law.

In a sense, you owe it to your spiritual family members to show up ready to feast, just like you owe it to your mom to come to the table at dinner time, and just like you owe it to your grandmother to be at the big table on Thanksgiving Day. Your presence and your readiness to feast enriches the experience of the whole family.

And if your propensity is to keep the feast straight through the afternoon between festal gatherings, then have someone over for lunch or head to an Old Town eatery together.


One other thing to keep in mind: while the Sabbath is a day of rest, and may well involve a holy siesta, the growing disciple of Jesus recognizes that hard play is hard work. Do what you can to prepare your food on Saturday. Do what you can to leave the clean-up till Monday. Recognize that you’ll need energy to be joyful for a whole Sabbath feast, especially as you turn your face and your life toward your spiritual extended family in a posture of acceptance.

Trying to do everything on a Sabbath feast day, including making lots of meal preparations and cleaning your kitchen, will make it so that you won’t enjoy much of anything. Conserve your energy for the uniqueness of the Sabbath feast day.

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The Churched Disciple: The WHY

Your own personal WHY

What gets you out of bed in the morning?

What are you dedicating your life to?

What do you believe most deeply about the world and your place within it?

This is the question of calling. Of vocation. Some people call it a “through-line” or a “final narrative”, a “personal mission statement” or a “single motivating purpose”.

I am pretty much decided on what I believe most deeply about the world. I’m still working on the question of my particular place within it, though I’ve come to some preliminary conclusions about what my specific roles are, regardless of how I might sum up my overall calling in one sentence.

All of this gets at the question of WHY. As Simon Sinek says in his fantastic TED Talk,

“Everyone knows what they do. Some people know how they do it. Very few people know why they do what they do.”

One WHY leads to another

What gets your church out of bed in the morning?

What is your church dedicating its life to?

What does your church believe most deeply about the world and its place within it?

This also is the question of calling. Of vocation. It’s an ecclesiastical through-line, a Christian community’s single motivating purpose.

Does your church have one? And is it glorious, memorable, and inspiring enough to get your church out of bed in the morning? Does it lead from a breathtaking premise (what your church believes most deeply about the world) to an ambitious conclusion (what your church’s place in that world is)?

Simon Sinek might say

Your church knows what it does. Many folks in your church know how it’s done. Does your congregation know why it does what it does?

Compelling Verbiage

Church mission statements are pointless if they don’t reflect reality—if they don’t reflect both deeply held beliefs and deeply felt callings. But they are powerful, resonant motivators for those authentic church communities which rightly insist upon a compelling reason to get out of bed in the morning.

In our series of gatherings called “Life in Jesus’ Church” (sort of our living room introduction to our church’s understanding of the gospel, the church, and our communal calling, with lots of food), we ask people if they know our church’s stated mission. Since it’s often newcomers, only about half do. Then we go over it.

“The truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus for the flourishing of Rock Hill.”

Screen Shot 2014-02-11 at 3.07.42 PM

I ask folks what this verbiage suggests about our church’s belief and calling. Here are some of the responses we’ve gotten:

  • “It suggests that we don’t just preach the truth, but practice goodness and value beauty.”
  • “I’ve never heard of a church before that put ‘beauty’ in its mission statement.”
  • “It says that Jesus is Lord over our city and will be the one who produces fruit here.”
  • “It implies that what we do as a church is tangible, and valuable for our town.”
  • “It says that because we have a Jesus who’s good, true, and beautiful, we’re hopeful for our city.”
  • “It communicates that we’re not just looking for conversions or superficial morality, but for our community to come to life in every respect.”
  • “It makes me think of the New Heavens and the New Earth, and the New Jerusalem, and our city’s future in cosmic redemption.” (This person was a bit of a theologian!)
  • “It says that there’s more to church than teaching right doctrine.”
  • “It tells our community that we’re here for them.”
  • “It says that we are committed to being an incarnation of the good news, like Jesus, and not just talking about it.”
  • “It seems to go way beyond ‘going to church on Sunday’.”

Now, I don’t expect anyone in our church to tattoo this statement on themselves. It’s not even important to me that everyone memorize it. But it is important that it would come as no surprise to anyone who heard it, once they’ve seen our church out of bed, on the streets, doing its thing.

As Simon Sinek says, people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.

What would Donald do?

Could it be that the Donald Millers of the Christian world, who have opted out of “going to church”, have done so because our what is mundane, our how is full of cliché, and our why is nowhere to be discerned?


Put another way: if you are a culture-maker within your particular congregation, do you have the spiritual imagination to bore down beyond the what and how to articulate a compelling why? Is that why freighted with your most deeply held belief about the world, and your most deeply held belief about your church’s place in the world? Are you committed to starting with your compelling why and translating it into a sensible how and a well-aligned what?

At the most basic level, do the Donald Millers of your community sense that their personal why is reinforced, challenged, provoked, stoked, informed, and deployed by your church’s why? Are there Donald Millers around who can now say, “I can hardly believe I’ve found a church that is so committed to equipping me and unleashing me to do what God has called me to do”?

What’s next?

Tomorrow, I’ll begin to outline the how. I believe that cultivating ministry across the domains of Sabbath, Neighborhood, and Vocation are the next logical ways to concretize our church’s why. If you resonate with our why, then something similar to Sabbath, Neighborhood, and Vocation is probably called for in your context as well.

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The Benefits of the Middle of Nowhere

My grandmother has the coolest name of anyone in America, guaranteed. Olena Sigurros Homfrieder Paulson Stager.

She’s probably also from the least cool place in America: Mountain, North Dakota. The population has never topped 220, and the size has never reached 0.15 square miles.

That is a provincial locale if there ever was one. 


Gonna Die in a Small Town?

“Provincial”, of course, is usually a pejorative term. Backwater. Flyover country. Irrelevant.

I am reading a set of essays by someone who has been called provincial. He is also from North Dakota. As a novelist, Larry Woiwode lived for a time in New York City, but wrote about the North Dakota he felt connected to. Eventually he decided he needed to move back to North Dakota to learn whether the North Dakota he remembered, and the North Dakota that emerged in his fiction, was rooted in a semblance of facticity.

It was, and it wasn’t, as he says.

After living in New York, and in England, the most cosmopolitan Anglophone places on earth, ultimately his family re-settled in that provincial place.

Citizen of Nowhere?

“Cosmopolitan” is the strongest antonym of the adjective “provincial”. Originally “cosmopolitan” was a self-congratulatory word Enlightenment elites loved to have applied to them. It did not mean that they were Parisians or Londoners or Frankfurters. It meant that they were not citizens first and foremost of their own country. They were fundamentally citizens of the world. (Or technically of the cosmos.)

They abstracted themselves from the narrowness of their motherland. Even Paris was too provincial for such free thinkers. “Internationals” was still too constraining. They were supra-national. Cosmopolitan. They were enlightened, after all.

Wendell Berry has an essay in which he laments the academic institutionalization of agrarianism. Another way to say this is that he regrets the ism-ification of the agrarian intellectual movement. Somewhere along the way, the best agrarian writers and thinkers moved to places like Columbus, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois. Places where they could get away from their provincial farming communities and the peculiar social and physical demands of such places. Places where they could think, write, and rub shoulders with … cosmopolitans.

Berry and Woiwode both say that the more distant you become from the particularities and idiosyncrasies of the dreadfully provincial places they’ve come to love, the more difficulty you have saying something truly valuable, unique, and believable. Why? Because you are not inhabiting a place that is utterly unique. You’re inhabiting, like those enlightened cosmopolitans, everywhere. Which is to say, you’re inhabiting nowhere.

Move Up in the World?

Tim Keller, a personal hero and inspiration, wants to see an emphasis placed on church planting in Global Cities. I get that. Maybe someday I’ll even do that. But for now I am in a smallish town. You probably are too. Should you move to the big city and plant a church? Maybe.

But maybe not.

And if not, embrace your small town. Delight in, and study closely, its provinciality. Don’t be bullied by the cosmopolitans. Instead, take heart and heed the words of Woiwode, Berry, and, last but not least, Chesterton:

“The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce variety and uncompromising divergences of men…In a large community, we can choose our companions. In a small community, our companions are chosen for us. Thus in all extensive and highly civilized society groups come into existence founded upon sympathy, and shut out the real world more sharply than the gates of a monastery.”

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eBook! Podcast!


How about grabbing our free eBook?

My friend Daniel Wells and I are very happy to announce the release of our eBook: Countdown to Launch: 10 Church Planting Rules Worth Breaking. You’re going to love the great illustrations by Stephen Crotts.

And it’s yours for free when you subscribe to the weekly Gospel Neighboring update.

Head on over to and throw your email address in the box, and the book is yours.

First 3 Podcast Episodes are Streaming!

While we wait for iTunes to list our new Gospel Neighboring podcast in their store, you can listen to the first 3 episodes now on our site. We talk shop with Seth McBee of GCM.

We’ve got a great interview with pastor & singer-songwriter Justin McRoberts. And we’ve got a book mash-up of bestselling business / entrepreneurship title ReWork by the guys who built Basecamp.




You can expect new episodes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

And, of course, the new site itself is live. We’ll be posting articles and resources relevant to Gospel Neighboring there on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

I’ll continue to write reflections on the church planting journey here at Gardens Don’t Launch. 

Thanks for reading. I can’t wait for you to hear the podcast and read the book.



Practice Fresh-Brewed Neighborliness

On Tuesday, Daniel and I interviewed Seth McBee for our new Gospel Neighboring podcast. He’s a normal guy running a business and loving his neighbors.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from his experience in gospel neighboring was this:

Gospel neighboring means you serve your neighbors without expecting anything in return. Otherwise it’s not gospel neighboring (“good news neighboring”), it’s manipulation.

Seth has a lot more experience at this than I do. And he has lots of experience with the un-sought, unmanipulated, surprising, God-given blessings his neighbors have turned around and shown him.

Caffeinated Neighboring

But I’ve had a little experience this week that kind of blew my mind.


Being the stereotypical over-caffienated coffee shop-squatting church planter that I am, I was overjoyed to discover that Nova*s Bakery & Coffee Shop was setting up shop a stone’s throw from my house. We peered into the windows to watch the transformation of an old bank building (that had most recently been an ambulance transport service) into my new hang out.

I was up at 1:30a early Tuesday when I saw Nova*s Facebook notice. They were opening for the first time just 4 hours later. I decided to be there when they opened. To be the first customer. To celebrate their arrival in the neighborhood with them.

Comatose Neighboring

I was not in a very celebratory or neighborly mood when my alarm went off at 5.30a. I very nearly decided to scrap my hastily laid plans and wake up at a more reasonable hour. But I scheduled a nap on my iCal and dragged myself over to Nova*s.

Josh and Morgan were trying to make sense of a dozen boxes of just-delivered fresh baked goods and a dozen more containers of cups and lids and straws. They served me coffee and a ‘glorious morning’ muffin. I plopped down on the sofa in a comatose state with a book for an hour, and then headed home.

Extravagant Neighboring

When I came back at 10a for a meeting with a friend from Hill City Church, Josh introduced me to the owner, Vlado Novakovic. Josh enthusiastically told him that I was the first customer at 6a, that I had posted about Nova*s opening on Facebook, and that half the customers that morning had been people in my church.

Josh was instructed to do this:


Now, I’m sure I’ll eat my own weight in full-price scones and danishes during the next 365 caffeinated days. Vlado knows that. And he knows the power of social marketing.

Preaching to the Preacher

But he also knows the power of gospel neighboring. He did not make any demands on me. He did not make the caveat that I got free coffee *with the purchase* of a baked good. He did not limit the number of times I could come in during a given day. Or the number of liters of locally-roasted coffee I was permitted to consume in one sitting.

He simply granted me free coffee for a year.


I thought that I was being the ‘gospel neighbor’ to my new neighbors at Nova*s, as I reluctantly but purposefully dragged myself out of bed Tuesday morning before dawn. But they gave me and you both a better lesson in gospel neighboring than I could ever deliver.

Gospel neighboring is serving your neighbors without expecting anything in return.

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Special Announcement: Introducing Gospel Neighboring

My colleague Daniel Wells and I have a few treats for you coming in the first week of October.

‘Gospel Neighboring’

We’re joining forces to discuss the art and discipline of gospel neighboring—bringing the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus to bear on our cities, one neighborhood at a time. And we’ll be doing this in several exciting ways.

Illustration by Sara McAllister

Illustration by Sara McAllister

The Gospel Neighboring Podcast

We’ve got 5 episodes of our brand new podcast already in the can, with another 8 lined up before syndication goes live on the iTunes, Stitcher Radio, and Blackberry podcast directories.


We plan to release at least 3 episodes each week, in at least two content formats:

Gospel Neighboring Interviews

We’re pulling tons of gospel neighboring practitioners up to the mic to get their stories.

They’ll walk us through their working definition of gospel neighboring. They’ll tell us about times when their efforts to be a gospel neighbor have fallen flat. They’ll share stories of times when Jesus bore great fruit through their faithful and skillful gospel neighboring. And they’ll share some of their favorite resources for the journey of gospel neighboring.

Gospel Neighboring Book Mash-Ups

We read a lot—especially Daniel.

Every week we’ll carve up a book that one of us has read—sacred and secular books alike—and make direct application to the practice of bringing the truth, goodness, and beauty of Jesus to bear on our cities, starting with our immediate neighbors.

Some of the books we’ll strip mine for practical gospel neighboring wisdom early on are Timothy Keller’s Center Church and Jason Fried and David Hansson’s ReWork.

Countdown to Launch : 10 Church Planting Rules Worth Breaking

Daniel and I are excited to let you know that we’re writing a book.

We’ve taken ten of the ‘best practices’ of church start-ups and we tell how we ignored, broke, or failed to keep these ‘rules’. We’ll start with number 10 and countdown to a glorious non-launch. The result is not nearly so much of an arrogant dismissal of received wisdom as you might guess. It’s more of a set of vignettes weaving our unique story of church planting.

What you’ll learn, of course, is that gospel neighboring is the heartbeat of our church planting efforts. It wasn’t always, but we’ve stumbled into these convictions and then stumbled into patterns, practices, rhythms, and priorities that have begun to enact these convictions in concrete, communal ways.

We’ve conscripted our enormously talented friend and co-conspirator, illustrator Stephen Crotts, to deck Countdown to Launch with hand-drawn illustrations.

And best of all, the e-book version of Countdown to Launch will be FREE.

Website, Facebook, and Twitter

When all this goes down, will go up.

In the mean time, head on over to the Gospel Neighboring Facebook Page and ‘Like’ it so you can be in the loop. And grab our Twitter handle while you’re at it.

All this gospel neighboring goodness is coming the first week of October!

Be sure to subscribe HERE to be notified when this all happens.

Church Plants Aren’t Churches

In a zillion ways, church plants certainly are churches. Obviously. But in a very, very important way, a church plant is the furthest thing from an grown-up church.


In what way?

Like Bono, a church plant is a church plant and not a church because, well, it still hasn’t found what it’s looking for.

Startups are not companies. A startup is an organization formed to search for a repeatable and scalable business model. – Steve Blank

A church plant is on the hunt for a repeatable and scaleable disciple-making model. The reason you’re planting a church in the first place is because Jesus has said to go and make disciples who will trust and obey him. And you’ve sensed that there is a vacuum of disciple-making in a pocket of your community—a pocket among whom you have found “persons of peace” who know, like, and trust you.

The Things We Carried

We come to our neighbors with a gospel-shaped life. We come with hypotheses about what facets of the gospel gem will first catch their eye. We come with a set of generic discipleship tools and methodologies that we’ve picked up along the way. We come with a new-to-us paradigm for community.

But the moment we arrive on our neighbor’s doorstep, we’re contradicted. We realize that this assumption was way off. It’s now clear that that paradigm doesn’t compute here. There’s no denying that these tools aren’t compatible with the job in front of us.

My Abandoned Tools

All of this certainly happened to me.

The non-Christians I thought would never come to a service of worship showed up for church. The neighbors I figured would resonate with our Sabbath experience have balked.

I abandoned the strategy of doing a group DVD evangelism course called Christianity Explored when I got some surprisingly chilly early feedback from my otherwise very open non-Christian friends. I then later wrongly assumed that low-barrier-to-entry Bible discussions in Community Groups would be swell environments for non-Christians to dip their toes in the spiritual water.

On the discipleship front, the tools, regimens, and rhythms I deployed initially fell flat—not because they were inherently wrong, but because they were ill-fitting and clumsily executed by yours truly. And even now it feels like my new approach is pure gold in content, but awfully awkward in my not-so-able hands.

We still haven’t found what we’re looking for.

What is the Grown-Up Church Threshold?

To go from a church plant to a “real church” in my denomination, you technically must achieve financial self-sustainability and identify a plurality of ordainable indigenous elders.

But, of course, you can meet these requirements without ever really making a single disciple. Church plants that become “churches” in this way have bypassed the search that should define a church plant. They’ve skipped the search for a repeatable and scaleable disciple-making model.

Be honest with yourself. Have you identified such a disciple-making model that fits your context? Will the disciple-making continue without missing a beat if you dropped dead tomorrow?

Embrace the search, and search relentlessly. If the search turns up nothing, have the dignity to call off the search and quit. Don’t float on a cash reserve into “real church” status if you haven’t figured out how to make disciples that make disciples among your neighbors.

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