Racial Reconciliation Training

This spring, we are offering free training aimed at helping address systemic and individual racism and bias. Our goal is “to see and learn about racism in a new and redemptive way, to gain insights into systemic racism through the eyes of faith and Scripture, to see more of the connections between history and contemporary race relations, and to identify organizing opportunities to eliminate racism, both causes and effects, within the body of believers and throughout the world.” Please join us as we pursue reconciliation in this part of the world we call home.

April 22 – Noon to 6pm

April 26 and May 3, 6-8pm*

*While we’d love to have you at all three pieces of the training, you can attend only Saturday if your schedule requires.

To register, simply check our our Facebook event and click “Tickets Available.” We look forward to your presence in our community and welcoming you into the family of the Branch!

Vision (part 2)

Yesterday, we looked at how the first half of our vision statement is connected to the biblical theme of covenant.  Today – let’s look at how the second half is rooted in Kingdom.

in the renewal of all things through Christ = kingdom

As we embrace the covenant God has made with us, and the covenant we make with each other — the world begins to change.   Our lives start to undergo transformation.  Relationships begin to heal.  Our character deepens.   Our passions align more with God’s.  And that personal transformation ends up spilling out onto the people and places and things that we interact with.   Over time, we start to see God at work in us and through us to renew all things.   This is Kingdom.   This is God’s will being done on earth (on earth = your commute, trips to the grocery store, soccer games, work, etc) as it is in heaven.

One of the things that the Scriptures teach us about this is that God is already and always at work in the world.  God goes ahead of us and moves, transforms, prepares.  This doesn’t mean we sit on the sidelines and just watch God go.  Instead, God invites us — no…calls us — to discern where God is at work and join in.  This is our role.  Our responsibility. Our joy.

And it’s one of the craziest truths of Scripture.  God chooses to work in and through us to bring renewal to all things.  Why?  To be honest, I’m not sure.  It certainly seems like it would be easier to just bypass the stubborn, often-dull human race.  But God doesn’t — God won’t.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Seriously.  Stop reading and think about that.  God chooses and desires to involve you in the renewal of all things….

It’s crazy, right?  Like…amazing-crazy.  As we go about our lives God’s power is alive in us.  Which means that every day — every place — every person — is ripe with possibility for transformation and renewal.  And we get to be a part of it!

And in case we might be tempted to save the world on our own (a ridiculous idea, of course, and yet so many of us try it from time to time) — we added a simple reminder at the end of our vision statement about where this all begins and ends: through Christ.  The renewal of all things doesn’t happen through Sue or through Matt – you or me.  It happens through Christ.

We are a community united with God (Covenant) in the renewal of all things through Christ (Kingdom).

So…is there a part of this vision statement that is more difficult for you to live into?   Do you more easily embrace covenant or kingdom?  What step do you need to take to bring balance?  Do you need to remember and rest in your identity (covenant) or do you need to begin to live in greater obedience, surrendering your life so that God bring renewal through you (Kingdom)?

This Sunday we’ll be talking about our strategy.  More to come…

Vision (part 1)

Vision: A community united with God in the renewal of all things through Christ.

This past Sunday (10/20) we began a three week series about our vision, strategy and values.  And while we hope that these messages are super-duper-amazing, we know that we can’t cover it all in 30 minutes.  That’s why we’re writing this post.  It’s not only a chance to tease out the ideas shared on Sunday, but we hope it will also spark dialogue — that you’ll comment below — or even better — set up a time to have coffee.

Ok.  This week: vision.  Andy broke this statement into four parts on Sunday (if you missed it, please listen here).  I want to break it into two.

A community united with God = covenant

This past spring we spent a fair amount of time talking about two themes we see woven throughout Scripture: Covenant and Kingdom.   I don’t want to consider all that those two words hold here, but I do want to remind us that they are absolutely foundational to understanding our place in God’s story.  And so as we considered our vision for the future, we wanted to ensure that these elements were present.  Let’s start with covenant.

“A community united with God…”   From the start we are reminded that our vision is rooted in togetherness.   No one is expected — or meant — or able — to ride solo.   Yes, God works through our individual lives and obedience — but at the end of the day, following Jesus isn’t sustainable alone.  There’s no way around it, we need each other.   Now…let’s hit the pause button for a moment because we all know this is true.  We’ve heard it before and it probably resonated.  But what is also true is that every day we are pulled by life’s demands and culture’s influences towards an isolated life.   Have you ever found yourself there?   I have.  One day it suddenly hits you: except for maybe an hour on Sunday morning, you’re pretty much following Jesus alone.  And it’s not that you intentionally choose that path — but here you are.  Doing the best you can to follow Jesus, but doing it alone.

Now…will a vision statement magically help us live lives in covenant with each other?  No.  But we do hope it serves as a clear and constant reminder of who we are called to be.  That it will call us back when we wander out alone.

Our covenant with each other is central to following Jesus.  But it is only possible because of God’s covenant with us.

Our church’s vision (shoot…our very lives) finds its beginning in our identity as God’s covenant children.  We are daughters and sons.  You are a child of the King, and nothing you can do, or not do, will change that.  You are firmly in God’s grasp.  No. Matter. What.   And because you are a member of God’s family, God invites you to join in the work God is doing.  Let me say that again.  God invites you to join in the work God is doing (more on that tomorrow).  And you did not receive this invitation because of something you accomplished or because of your stunning good looks, but simply because of who you are in Christ.  You are a child of God.

If the Branch is going to see this vision become a reality it will begin with us remembering who we are and who we belong to.  We are a community united with God.

Tomorrow, we’ll hit Kingdom.  Until then.

refugee resettlement. relationship. mission.

Join the Refugee Mission Circle this Sunday, March 3, at 6:30 for dinner and conversation about this mission circle’s purpose and work.   It’s a great chance to connect with others — hear about what this MC will be doing — and discover how you could join in.  Kids are welcome — no need to bring anything.  RSVP by emailing MatthewZomerlei@gmail.com or MatthewZomerlei@gmail.comdowntowngr

art. relationship. mission.

This Friday, March 1st, from 7pm to 9pm at the building our third mission circle invites everyone to an evening of great food and conversation.  Come and learn more about this mission circle, which is interested in helping the arts community — specifically artists — here in Grand Rapids.

At this meal we’ll share more about our first effort as a mission circle: curating a venue for Art Downtown Saturday, April 13. http://www.artdowntowngr.com  If you love art — want to support artists — or are just looking for a community to connect with, you are invited.  Come…join us in mission!  Please RSVP by signing up at the back table or email Nate at nate@thebranchonline.org or Heather Ibrahim at heatheraldridge@msn.com.downtowngr

Ways to Be Missional (Missional Communities)

As missional communities (MC) embark, one of their first tasks will be to think of creative ways that the MC can engage in mission and connect with their community or network of relationships.  We anticipate this being a fun and fruitful process — with MCs planning events, times of service, and gatherings of all shapes and sizes.  But we can’t forget that while parties are great (and an often central element to MC life), one of the major goals of an MC is to help its participants more and more live missional lives in ordinary, everyday ways.

We want to encourage you to carve out 15 minutes this week to read this short article (on simple ways anyone can be missional).  As you do, begin to think of one way you could be intentionally missional in your every day life — right now.  Thinking through this — and taking steps to see it happen — will prepare you for your time in a MC.  But more than that — it will help you more fully live out God’s dream for you — a person sent by God into the world to bring hope, healing and love.

http://www.vergenetwork.org/2011/10/11/10-simple-ways-to-be-missional-in-your-city-part-1/

Getting Started (Missional Communities)

We are so excited to have a group of people ready to move forward with missional communities (MCs).  But how do we get started?  What are the next steps?

You may remember that MCs begin when God stirs in someone(s) heart, giving them a vision — a dream — a mission.  This is the first (and most critical) step.  And so while we might be tempted to launch a number of MCs right away (after all, we have people ready, right?), this phase in the process requires patience and attentiveness to the Spirit.

That said, we have good news to share.  God has been moving.  Currently, there is a small group of people who have felt God uniting their hearts — giving them a shared mission.  This group is working to clarify and specify that mission-vision, and when it becomes more clear we will let the Branch know ASAP so that you can consider if you want to join it.

We’ve also heard from others who are sensing the Spirit stir.  Will an MC sprout from each of these situations?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Again, patience and attentiveness are required (but let’s be honest, we can’t help but be hopeful that another MC will come from this too).

As you read all of this, you may be thinking, “Ok, this is all great.  But what can I do now?”  Here are a few thoughts:

1) Pray for our community.  Ask God to continue to work in and among us so that new dreams are born and new missions brought to life through the Spirit.

2) Pray for the Spirit to steer your heart.  Where and when and in what way is God going to lead you to be involved in a MC?  Ask God to begin opening your heart and mind right now.

3) Pray for the Spirit to stir your heart.  Could it be possible that God has a dream – a mission to give to you?  Might you, in some way, help a MC get off the ground sometime soon?  As you pray, we want to hear from you.  What is God saying to you?  Shoot us an email.  Let’s have coffee.

4) Keep learning.  We plan to consistently post updates and information on MCs in the coming months.  Let’s commit to keep learning together.

We’re looking forward to the journey as it continues to unfold.

Missional Communities

If you’ve been around the Branch lately you’ve probably heard us talking about Missional Communities (MCs). But maybe you’re wondering just what exactly MCs are — or why we’re planning to start a few. This page has been created to help answer basic questions about MCs and paint a broad picture for what God is doing through these communities.

Right now, there are still a number of questions about what exactly missional communities will look like at the Branch. But we think that’s ok. In fact, we think this provides a unique opportunity for you to learn with us and add your voice along the way.

So have fun exploring the resources below — and as you do, let us know if God begins to stir your heart. We’d consider it joy to have you lock arms with us.

the Basics (understanding the what and why of missional communities)

  • The summary from Wikipedia is a helpful place to begin:  Missional Community (also called Clusters, Go Communities, Mid-Sized Communities, Mission Shaped Communities, MSCs) is a group of anything from 20 to 50 or more people who are united, through Christian community, around a common service and witness to a particular neighborhood or network of relationships. With a strong value on life together, the group has the expressed intention of seeing those they impact choose to start following Jesus, through this more flexible and locally incarnated expression of the church. The result will often be that the group will grow and ultimately multiply into further Missional Communities. Missional Communities are most often networked within a larger church community (often with many other Missional Communities). These mid-sized communities, led by laity, are “lightweight and low maintenance” and most often meet 3-4 times a month in their missional context. For the full Wikipedia Article, click here.
  • Missional Communities adopt certain values and rhythms that guide their life together.  In the coming months, the Branch will identify what values/rhythms will guide us.  In the meantime,  here are the rhythms of a church we’ve been learning from.
  • Jeff Vanderstelt: Rhythms [VERGE 2010 Main Session] from Verge Network on Vimeo.

Examples (so what do MCs look like?)

  • Here’s a video that tells the story of missional communities in one church in Tacoma, WA.

    Soma Communities – Tacoma, WA from Verge Network on Vimeo.

  • Here’s an example of a specific missional vision that fueled a MC: Beth’s group is a women-only MC, since that is what she felt the Lord was calling her to build. Naturally, they have sought to do mission activities related to women, but the breakthrough for a sustained approach came when Beth began connecting with a ministry that fights human trafficking. The city where she lives is located at the intersection of two major highways and is a significant hub for this horrendous problem. A local non-profit runs houses of refuge for women who escape or are rescued by the police, but this is very resource-intensive as the women arrive traumatized and with few possessions. Beth, who loves parties, wanted to find a creative way to both fundraise and also to draw women together in positive relationships. So she founded WRATH – Women Rallying Against Traffic in Humans. Her idea was to host great parties for women, where as part of the evening everyone brings a certain thing that the rescue house needs (whether it’s shoes or toiletries or food or whatever). As part of the evening, there is a short presentation and then people are invited to host their own WRATH parties with their own circles of friends. Beth’s aim is for her and the MC to educate , equip and empower women to do this, so that they can build an ever-widening network of women, most of whom are successful and prosperous but together can support some of the most vulnerable and abused women in society.
  • Pam on an MC Serving an Disadvantaged Single Mom: When our church moved to its present building, we had a God-given vision to impact our local area zip code, which is known for high crime, drugs and gangs. We wanted to help break this cycle and the many strongholds Our missional community (MC) is heavily involved in this through Whiz Kids, a faith-based literacy program that allows us to connect with families of elementary aged children and take the light of Jesus into their homes. This past summer, a young couple in our MC felt God challenge them to give their car away. They contacted me and I suggested giving it to one of the single mothers with whom we have regular relationship through Whiz Kids. She had two daughters in Whiz Kids and two sons in prison. She worked hard at her job, but needed dependable transportation. The resource staff at church helped to manage the process of transfer of title and I had the privilege of taking her to get her insurance started. After procuring the license tag, I picked her up at work, brought her to church and watched a great big smile appear on her face. You would’ve thought that we were giving her the biggest and best BMW. As we pulled out of the parking log, she pulled up beside me, looking like a teenager who just got her first car! With a BIG wave and huge smile she was off, all the time know that Jesus had sent a big blessing her way.

We’ll be adding more resources in the coming weeks. In the meantime, if you’re ready to learn more, just let us know and we’ll point you towards the most helpful resources we’ve come across.

CREATE registration begins!

CREATE is our arts camps to Grand Rapids budding artists, August 8-12.  Registration is up and running.  Spots are limited. We also have a convenient paypal button allowing you to pay with a major credit card. If you notice any bugs with our form or process please let us know: create@thebranchonline.org

To register, click here.

If you’re looking for info on how to pay for registration, click here.

To see a fun trailer for CREATE 2011, click here.

SERVE

Next Saturday (May 21) the churches of Alger Heights (Alger Park CRC, the Branch, Church of the Resurrection, Seymour CRC and Tabernacle Community Church)  are coming together to serve our community.  Below are the projects we’ll be tackling and the time choices available.  To sign up: chris@thebranchonline.org

My 2-hour block time of choice is:

8:00am-10:00am________

10:00am-12:00noon_______

12:00noon-2:00pm_________

My project choice is (please indicate your 1st and 2nd choice by writing the # next to the line item:

________ Splash Pad at Alger Middle School (repairs and painting)

________ Alger Middle School Grounds (planting, clean up, painting, mulch, etc.)

________ Playground at Tabernacle Community Church (painting, repairs, clean up, mulch, etc.)

________ Planters in the Business District (8:00 am-10:00am only)

________ Trash Clean Up at Plaster Creek

________ Alger Middle School Park and Recs Restroom (painting)

________ Welcome Table or Refreshment/First Aid Stations

mission

To sign up or learn more, simply email chris@thebranchonline.org

CREATE Team

We hope you’ll join us on March 30th at 7pm as we begin nailing down details for CREATE (our annual arts camp).  This year we’ll need everyone, not just artists, to join in the effort in order to impact the 100+ kids we’re expecting.  If you have the gifts of administration, hospitality, or teaching (or you just enjoy hanging out with kids)  come dream and pray with us.  We’ll be meeting at Branch HQ.

success center

We’ve begun to partner with Hope Reformed Church and a local non-profit (School-to-Career-Progressions) in their Success Center.  Urban youth meet after school for life skills, mentoring, tutoring, artistic expressions, and a weekly meal.  Some of the Branch’s artists have been introducing students to various art forms the last few weeks, and on Wednesday, May 4, we hope you’ll join us in providing diner for these students and the volunteers.  Help us prepare food (4:30-5:30pm) or clean up (6:00-7:00pm).

benefit dinner for the DeYoung family

Last fall the DeYoungs moved to Tanzania to live among and serve the Tanzanian people.  Then, last month, they learned that their oldest daughter, Lola, has leukemia.  They have moved back to MI and will be here for the next two years in order for Lola to receive treatment.  Friday, April 29th, we’ll be hosting a benefit dinner and silent auction to raise funds for the DeYoungs.  Join us from 5-8pm, or sign up to volunteer.  Follow their story at followingthecall.org.

the Church of Alger Heights

Put Saturday, May 21 on the calendar.  We’ll be joining other Alger Heights area churches as we serve the neighborhood.  A team is forming to plan the details and ensure that we have the most impact possible.  If you want to be part of this team, let us know.

meal night

There are few things more important to us than building relationships and sharing life.  And that’s why meal nights have been a part of our routine from the beginning.  Join us March 11th at the Bergman’s home for a relaxed evening of food and conversation.  No agenda or set plan — just an opportunity to meet new people and strengthen existing relationships.

Come anytime after 6PM (whenever your schedule allows).  You’re welcome to bring something to pass, although it’s not required.  Click here for a map.

give

This Christmas…give a gift that will change the world. Read more

food baskets

Over the next few weeks we’ll be collecting food — putting them into holiday food baskets — and delivering them to local families.  You can participate by bringing a specific food item to the Branch, helping us assemble the baskets, or delivering them to the families.  To sign up or get more details, email chris@thebranchonline.org (all food must be collected by Sunday, November 21)

CREATE Celebration Details!

CREATE concludes tonight!  For details about the celebration, click on the image to the left.

Mission: Tanzania

This past Sunday Matt and Lindsey shared the story of how God is calling them to Tanzania.  We assure you, this is worth a listen (at the bottom of this post).

When you’re finished, you may be wondering how you can partner with God’s work through the DeYoungs?  Here are a few ways:

  1. Stay in touch with the DeYoung’s by adding yourself to their e-mail list.
  2. Commit to consistently pray for the DeYoungs and the people of Tanzania.
  3. Support the DeYoung’s financially.  50 families at $50/month allows them to pack their bags and head out.
  4. Participate in the golf outing on Saturday, July 24 at Wallinwood.

Head to followingthecall.org to contact them, pledge support, or sign up for the golf outing.

Mission :: Wind

windWe are using wind as a metaphor for mission. Mission is what keeps a community of faith moving. We are led by the spirit for the sake of the world around us, that needs the love of God. Thus wind seems like a good metaphor for mission, especially since both the Hebrew and Greek words for spirit (ruach and pneuma) both include breath or wind in there meaning.

There has always been intense discussion on why or for what purpose the church of Jesus Christ exists. From our reading of the New Testament, the purpose of the church is mission. This is really the only guaranteed purpose of the church as far as we can see. Jesus never promised safety, community, security or anything of personal benefit to us. He came announcing that the Kingdom of God is at hand. He called out followers and sent them out on mission. It’s true that wherever the mission went, community was formed and the community facilitates the mission. Take away mission and the community makes no sense. Take away community and the mission is hindered

It’s important to visualize mission with movement. Jesus did not call his disciples with the words “believe this doctrinal statement” but instead simply said, “follow me”. To follow Jesus on mission requires movement. It requires following the Holy Spirit sent by Jesus to guide us.

Perhaps a few words about what the mission is would be helpful. It seems to us that the ‘follow me’ that Jesus said has oft been replaced with a ‘believe this’ or ‘accept this’. There is a subtle difference in these words; ‘follow me’ implies movement or journey, while the others imply completion. Do this and your done. We’re not trying to say that following Jesus doesn’t have a lot to do with reshaping your beliefs, but plenty of christians respond to a ‘believe this’ and figured they were done and so stopped moving. So Jesus says ‘follow me’ and then sends us out to make disciples (repeat the ‘follow Jesus’), baptize them (forming community with water), and to teach them what Jesus told us (in a nutshell: love God, love others). As far as we can tell that is the mission and it’s why the church exists.

Community :: Water

waterWe are using water as a metaphor for community and here’s why… with water we are baptized into community. Water gives life just as it cleanses and renews. Together we form streams of living water and offer love and hope to a spiritually thirsty world.

The above description is summary on the info cards that we’ve printed up, but the symbolism goes much deeper. There is a theme that runs throughout God’s word about ‘living water’ or, the ‘river of life’. Jesus references it when he tells the women at the well about ’springs of living water’. Paul speaks of it when he talks about baptism in his epistles.  Erwin Mcmanus describes the way that baptism forms community in this way:

Every believer passes through the waters and becomes a part of the river of life. Alone, you are only standing in a puddle. Together we become an oasis where those searching for genuine love and acceptance can come and drink deeply.

Almost everyone we’ve ever met has a desire to connect on a spiritual level with something larger then himself or herself. Most are unable to articulate how or why but they feel it in their bones. It’s just the way we we’re created. However, our culture is constantly telling us that the material world (the world that we can see and touch and feel) is all there is to life. Culture is telling you and I that we are alone and we best get used to it and learn how to cope. This makes for a whole lot of people wandering and groping in a spiritual desert. They have a deep thirst for spiritual connection but find nothing to drink.

Jesus said that if we ask, he would create in us a spring of living water welling up to eternal life. The community that follows Jesus is the oasis of God. Together, we are the place of love where a thirsty world can come and drink deeply.

Transformation :: Wood

woodWood is our metaphor for transformation. If you pay, attention there are a few themes you’ll see biblical writers return to over and over again. One of these themes is the ‘tree of life’ theme. You see, God is described as a gardener and all that is good and life-giving is represented in the this ‘tree of life’ theme. The Jewish people understood that after the blessing of Eden was lost, God began to cultivate a new blessing. They understood that when God called a people, Israel was being grafted into this ‘tree of life’. So strongly was this belief that even the root meaning of the Hebrew word for tribe or family is ‘branch’. Every family or clan is really just a ‘branch’ of this ‘tree of life’. Sometimes the expected messiah is called the ‘Tsemach‘, which is a similar word also translated as ‘branch’. So, the Jewish people were all about remaining attached to the ‘tree of life’ and waiting expectantly for THE branch to come and make Israel a great and wonderful blessing to the world.

So, why is all this important? Well, I think that if we don’t know a little of this ‘tree of life’ theme, it’s hard to really understand Jesus when he says, ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener…you are the branches.‘ This is Jesus’ plan for spiritual formation. It’s pretty simple really, ‘remain in me, and I’ll remain in you’. Together we bear much fruit, but apart you can do nothing. That’s it really, no fancy bible study curriculum, no annual conference to attend. Simply abide in Jesus and let the gardener cultivate your heart toward growth and transformation. As we remain branches in the true vine we grow like the mustard seed from Jesus’ parable. The branches of God grow up into a place where ‘creatures of every kind’ (read also, people of every kind) will live and find rest. Spiritual formation for the sake of the world. We just can’t get away from the fact that we are blessed to be a blessing, can we?

Culture :: Fire

fireFire is our metaphor for the way that God encounters culture. Perhaps the most wonderful thing about God is that God comes. God doesn’t just sit up in the divine council waiting for us to come. We all know that we’d never make it. Instead God comes to us. This is the heart of the Biblical story. From Genesis through Revelation, time after time, God comes to meet his people. Each and every time God encounters not only human beings but also the culture that inevitably surrounds us. Think about it. God can’t come to a person with out being relevant to that person’s culture (language, geography, ethics, morality).

So when God comes to dwell with us, and this may seem obvious, but God comes as Jew. Jesus was a Jew. The color of his skin and eyes, the shape of his face, the way he dressed and even the way he smelled was Jewish. Does this mean that out of all the myriad variety of human beings on this planet the ancient Jewish people are the best representation of God? Certainly not. God comes with a message, and in order that God might be heard and understood, God becomes relevant to Israel in the form of Jesus Christ. But Jesus was different. He was very much a part of the Jewish culture, but he was also more. He was the very best of that culture. He encountered the culture of the Jewish people and like a purifying fire, proceeded to transform it.

Encountering culture means being relevant and transformative. It does not mean unconditional accommodation of culture. But if the church has learned anything from the highs and lows of the last few centuries of missionary activity, it’s this: in order to communicate the good news of the Kingdom of God, we must first become relevant (in more than just language) to the culture. Fire seems a good metaphor for this encounter considering the frequency that God chooses to appear in fire (think burning bush, pillar of fire and smoke and Pentecost just to name a few). So what does it mean to encounter and be transformative in our culture? This is a question that must constantly be asked if we are to be faithful witnesses of the Kingdom of God. To put it bluntly, relevance to culture is not optional.