Every Monday morning, the two of us start our pastoral meeting with a walk through the neighborhood, celebrating the Sunday service and the things that happened before and after. We inevitably talk about where we saw Jesus show up and share about some relational risk we took that might or might not have worked out. 100% of the time we express gratitude for the incredible people who pulled together to make things happen, and often celebrate those who weren’t even there or who told us no about something. As it turns out, what we’re noticing out loud in these meandering conversations is how we’re trying, clumsily but determinedly, to live into our core values. We have four: Jesus-y, Awkward, Better Together, and Unforced. (You can read more about them on the City Church Long Beach “About” page HERE).
Our core, operating values are the things that actually drive us – that motivate us to show up week in and week out, whether things seem to be going well or falling apart. In the moments where we’re facing hard decisions, they’re the guiding principles we can check in with to help us stay true to our vision – to make the right call for us as a community, whatever others are doing. They’re also the gift of clarity for those considering joining us, like my friend who often chooses to wear her “I’ve Met God and She’s Black” tshirt when she’s meeting new people, so there’s no confusion about who she is and what she’s about.
Core values aren’t just an inspirational meme, rah-rah words to put on a cute poster – they’re an honest, succinct statement of who we already are and firmly intend to become more fully.
If you don’t know what your community’s core values are, a great place to start would be noticing what you actually celebrate together. That’s how we came up with ours a few years ago now. Write your celebrations down somewhere for a few weeks, and then look for the themes.
Of course, if you have stated values already and notice your celebrations don’t really match, that could be worth paying attention to as well. Do you really value those things or just think you should? (We’d call those aspirational values.) Do you need to get more clear about naming what really matters to you or more intentional and bold about how you’re living it out?
A Non-Soul-Numbing Business Meeting
Earlier this month we held our annual all-church meeting, which is as “open table” as most other things around City Church – people who consider this their community are welcome to come, and so are those who are just curious. Of course, we have to do some business-y things at a meeting like this, to be transparent with the community about things like finances and leadership accountability. That’s really important AND has the potential to be both mind and soul-numbing.
But what if even the numbers are another chance to do some celebrating together? To notice out loud the highlights of the past year and recommit to stumbling forward in the values and vision God’s given us?
One Small Church’s Celebrations
So here’s a taste of what this little neighborhood church, averaging about 125 in attendance this fall, is celebrating from 2021:
- We’ve redistributed 10% of our savings to ministries that are led by people of color and welcoming to our LGBTQ neighbors. Each ministry was nominated by someone in City Church and vetted by a passionate volunteer team.
- We’ve raised just under $50k for our community care fund, and 100% went to providing food and support for neighbors facing hard times. Many of the donors are from our Wrigley neighborhood; some are church folk. This was on top of our general fund budget.
- Through incredibly generous partners, we bought a house in our neighborhood for families experiencing housing insecurity and have partnered with a great organization (Family Promise of the South Bay) to support the two families living in that house. We made progress on the permits, etc., required to convert the garage into another unit to house a third family starting in 2022.
- We’ve also partnered with Family Promise in helping them get Wrigley Coffee off the ground – it will provide job training for families in our house and their other facilities and be the only craft coffee shop for our entire 26,000-person neighborhood. (HERE is a great preview of what it looks like now – almost open!)
- This summer our talented, community-minded neighbor Diani agreed to join our staff part-time to coordinate all of this amazing neighborhood outreach stuff.
- We had two gifted leaders finish up their internships in June, and we’ve got two more interns/fellows starting at the beginning of 2022.
- One of those former interns, Donna Burkland, is now working on starting a new church in Orange County. This fall she began training as a church planter, raising money for the new church budget, and building a launch team. And we have the incredible privilege of incubating her and her team until they are ready to launch mid-2022.
- We’ve added two new leaders for our worship rotation and half a dozen new preachers to the preaching team, not to mention the dozens of people who have shared their stories on Sunday mornings as a piece (often the favorite piece) of the message. Hearing from such diverse voices has been a huge gift!
- We still love co-pastoring, and along the way we started this nonprofit to encourage other leaders.
- Amazingly talented tech volunteers have helped us figure out to have a hybrid Sunday service, simultaneously in-person/outdoors and over Zoom. Despite our fears going in, our Zoom participants (who hop on from all over the place) have expressed a sense of real connection to the larger community. We envision keeping this hybrid option available as long as it feels helpful to folks.
- We’ve had so, so many new people come to worship on Sundays and start to connect through various groups. Like the three newbies who started in a bible study together this fall, became friends, and decided to jointly “adopt” a neighborhood family who needed help with Christmas presents for their kids.
- A bunch of these new folks are more in the Orange County direction, so we’re getting to help some of them link up with the new plant.
- We saw the neighborhood witch become a Christian, and many others take steps on their own journeys towards Christ.
Our Post-Celebration Analysis
As we wrote this blog and read over these lists, we started to revisit that process of refining core values ourselves. Sure, we spotted lots of “unforced”, so much “better together” and “Jesus-y,” ridiculous amounts of “awkward”… We also started to wonder if there’s another deep value at work around City Church that we haven’t named yet, but maybe should. Can you spot it?
So many of our celebrations from 2021 seem to circle around justice. While of course that’s a big part of what we think it means to be Jesus-y, there’s evidence all around us of folks who claim Jesus, but justice – not so much. Given how easily that distinctive can clearly be lost or shoved aside, perhaps it’s worth us deliberately calling it out and holding it up. If we do, we’ll want to be as specific and real as we can be – to name the value with the words we actually use when we have these kinds of conversations. So we’re starting to ask ourselves and will process more with our board if “centering the margins” is a value we should add to our current list of four.
A Post-Christmas Invitation for You
Friends, you have plenty going on in the week ahead, and what you probably need most over the next seven days or so is a simple invitation to slow down, for at least a few minutes every day, to be present to your own heart even in the busyness of the Christmas season. So yes, we’re making that invitation. Let this be a holy season where you experience some real wholeness – some true connection.
Then as you move into the post-Christmas, New Year space, this next invitation might be more appropriate – to spend some intentional time paying attention to your community’s heart as well. What are you celebrating these days? What do you truly value? How can you live more honestly and deeply into the calling God has given you? Praying these times of reflection, on your own or – even better – with your teammates, are not just illuminating, but liberating.