Saturday, February 14, 2009

Regarding Tonight's Posts

I've been posting a lot of stuff tonight about Ember Church. That's the church that I felt called to plant for three years and the project that fell apart in three months. If you're interested and want to make sense of it, you should probably start here and work your way up.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why Call It Ember?

This is an explanation of the name 'ember.'

What does Ember mean? Why are you calling your church that? Sometimes the only answer I’ve been able to give to these questions is that Ember just sounds cool. No other church is named Ember. It sounds more like a club than a place of worship. And yes, that appeals to me. But there really is a meaning behind the name.
Most forest fires are started by small embers. I heard that somewhere, but I don’t remember if the source was reliable. I thought it was the perfect metaphor to describe a church. We’re just a bunch of little embers, and if the Holy Spirit passes over us, this whole nation could be set on fire for God. It’s revivalistic.
But as I thought more about what an ember is, I realized that it doesn’t just start fires, it’s the last part of the fire to go out. It burns the longest. When the campfire dies, you’ve still got to put out the embers. An ember is the remnant. When the fire dies the embers still burn, waiting to start another fire.
Our church bears this name because we believe that God has called us to be embers. We live in a post-Fourth Great Awakening, post-evangelical, post-Christian society. In other words, the fire has died. Our world is post-burn, and only God knows if it’s ready for another blaze. So maybe it’s not our job to set the world on fire for Jesus, but just to be ready for the possibility. It would be a tragedy if the Spirit blew across our city but there were no burning embers to spread the fire.
Enough with the metaphor. This is what it means to be an ember: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. People who are on fire for God love Him and love others. We love the Father. We love the Son. We love the Holy Spirit. We love the people we come across everyday.
An ember is what remains. We are the post-fire remnant that refuses to let it’s love for God and others be extinguished. We will not fizzle and fade into darkness. We will shine with the light and heat of our love for God and others. And bear this in mind: The fire of God’s love for us is far more than embers; it is a blazing inferno that will never be snuffed out. So may we, as mere embers, burn with love for God and others, and wait for the Spirit to pass over us.

Mission and Vision Statements

Here is our mission statement.

We exist as a church in order to love God, serve others, disciple one another, share the gospel with unbelievers, unite the churches, and care for God’s creation. At the moment these principles cease to be our way of life, our mission has failed and the ember has faded.

And here is our vision statement, in a more conventional format.

We burn for a place where outsiders are insiders, where nobodies are somebodies, where the rejected are accepted, where the lonely find friends, and where the downtrodden find allies.

We burn for a community of regular people who love God and each other in a way that costs them something. The love of the Christian community is agape love—love that is self-sacrificing.

We burn for the churches of Toledo to work together in unity, and for the leaders of those churches to be reconciled to one another through the forgiveness we have all received at the cross.

We burn for people to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and have their eternal destinies changed by the forgiveness of their sins.

We burn for followers of Jesus to grow in maturity and character, so that the fruits of the Holy Spirit characterize their lives.

We burn for God. Our lives are an exercise in passionate worship of our Creator, always calling to mind the wonderful things He has done for us, consummated in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

We burn to raise up leaders and help them find what makes them come alive, so that they will be well-equipped for ministry.

We burn for all Christians to live together in unity and self-sacrificing love, so that God’s people might influence the world and not be influenced by it.

We burn for the neglected subcultures of Toledo. We have a heart to reach out to the groups of people who are often overlooked, including skaters, artists, and gamers.

We burn for a place where the hurting and burdened can find biblical counseling; where battered women and children can find shelter; where the hungry and poor can find food and clothing; where anyone can find time alone with God; where the community can gather in a coffee shop environment that gives local artists a place to be seen.

We burn to link arms with other local churches and ministries to provide that place.

We burn for a vocational camp that teaches kids practical skills they can use in the workforce.

We burn for a retreat center where leaders can be reenergized for the ministry.

We burn for God’s creation. Mankind is the steward of this planet, and we want to see our parks and rivers clean.

Vision Statement as a Visitor’s Journal Entry

Okay, so this is the vision statement for Ember as represented by a fictional personal's journal entry about their experience at the church.

I went to church this morning. It had been a while since I’ve been to church, but I kept hearing about this church called Ember, so I decided to check it out. What a weird name for a church!
I hate going to church by myself, so I took my roommate with me. We didn’t know what time the service started, so we were like 15 minutes early. I was nervous going in to the lobby, but the people at the door were really friendly. They told us we were early and said we could hang out down the hall where they had free coffee. Score! It turns out they had this coffee-shop like place there—kind of like Starbucks, but without trying so hard to be cool. There were already a bunch of people hanging out there, and I was a little intimidated, but a couple guys came up and started talking to us right away. They seem pretty cool. On Thursday they’re going to go clean up a playground in some neighborhood downtown. They invited us to go. I think I might.
We met a bunch of interesting people before the service. Everybody seemed pretty nice. They paid attention to me when I talked, and even introduced me to other people as “a cool guy.” Nobody has ever called me cool before. These people are too nice. And everyone tried to get me to go with them on some service project. I don’t know what their deal is, but it’s kind of refreshing.
When the service started the playground guys invited us to sit with them. The band played a couple of songs in the beginning. They sounded amazing, but it was weird, because it was like it didn’t even matter. Nobody was really paying attention to the music or looking at the band. Everyone had their eyes closed and was singing really loudly—especially the playground guys, who both sang horribly and didn’t seem to care who heard them. It was like nobody was trying to be heard by anyone except for God. The words of the songs meant something to them, like those lyrics were the words in their hearts that they wanted to say to God anyway.
After the first couple of songs they played a video. I’ve never heard of a church doing this before, but they played a video that highlighted another church in the city! They interviewed some people that go there and the pastor, and then one of Ember’s pastors came on and talked about what a great place that other church was. After the video the same pastor got up and prayed for that church. My roommate and I just stared at each other. “I’ve never seen that before,” he said to me.
The sermon was really good. After a while I had to start taking notes because that preacher was speaking directly to me. I haven’t had that experience in a while—where God just starts talking to me through a preacher—but that’s what happened this morning. The preacher got choked up when he started talking about the cross, and one of the playground guys started crying pretty hard. The other one just started praying for him. A couple other people came over and prayed for him, too. That almost made me cry! I think the sermon hit my roommate pretty hard, because he hasn’t said much since this morning.
After the sermon the band came back up and played five or six songs. I think they played some songs they didn’t expect to play, because the last two didn’t have the words projected. Anyway, the worship time was really moving. I even got choked up during one song, but I didn’t let the playground guy see because I didn’t want him to feel like he had to pray for me. The whole congregation was really into the worship. Everybody sang loudly and didn’t seem to care if other people thought they looked or sounded stupid. It was like God was there, and this was their one chance to worship Him together.
After the service my roommate went and talked to the pastor. I just hung back by myself—the playground guys had to go, I think to pray for people or something—but still I met a bunch of people. Everybody seemed to be genuinely glad that I was there. I got invited to like four different Bible studies this week. I might go to one, but I’ll definitely be back to Ember next Sunday.

Ember Core Values

These are the core values we came up with for Ember. I wish I valued them as highly now as I did then.

One We value the unity of the community of believers. Unity is too often sacrificed in churches, but it is far too valuable to be laid on the altar for the sake of knowledge, disagreement, ego or sin. Just as a severed body cannot survive, neither can the church full of factions and cliques minister to an increasingly cynical culture. We proclaim that the unity of believers must extend beyond the walls of individual churches and encompass all the churches in a particular region. Further still, the unity of Christ’s followers must extend beyond all space and time, till we are all gathered together with the Lord Jesus Christ, presenting ourselves to Him as His Bride. We are one Church, one Bride, one People of God. (Acts 2:44; John 17:20-23; Eph. 4:3-13; 1 Cor. 1:10; Rom. 15:5; Phil. 2:1-4; Ps. 133:1)

Tree We value the growth of the individual believer. Every Christian should be firmly rooted in the truth of Scripture, taught by the pastors of the church and through his or her own personal time with God, so that he or she might grow up to maturity in Christ. Furthermore, every Christian should bear the fruit of the Spirit, that is, they should be evident in the life of the believer. We value character, integrity and Christlikeness. (Eph. 4:13; Heb. 5:14; James 1:4; Heb. 6:1; Gal. 5:22-23; John 15:2-4; Matt. 3:10)

Burn We value the passionate worship of our Creator and Savior. We value life lived from the heart for the glory of God. We affirm the greatest commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” God is worth being passionate about. Jesus is worth getting excited about. Boredom, mumbling, half-heartedness and apathy have no place in the Christian community. (The Book of Psalms; Matt. 22:37; Amos 6:1; Zeph 1:12; John 4:23-24; I Cor. 13)

Bleed We value the blood of Jesus, which He shed out of love for the forgiveness of sins. Self-sacrificing (agape) love for God and others is the defining characteristic of the Christian community. Jesus sacrificed His life for the world. Everyone needs to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and the message of His forgiveness. Our hearts bleed for this world and those who don’t know Christ as their Savior. Furthermore, we value compassionate, humble servitude that comes from a heart full of agape love. (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Matt. 4:17; I John 1:9; Acts 3:19; Matt. 25:31-46; Rom. 7:6; Gal. 5:13; I Cor. 13)

Remembering Ember

It's late and I've just finished reading the introduction to 'Walking with God' by John Eldredge. I'm remembering a time when I used to hear God's voice. I remember when I used to talk to him, and when he talked to me. I remember when he told me to plant a church, and I remember when it all fell apart.

I don't talk or think much about Ember Church anymore. I've not really dealt with it. But God keeps bringing it back to my mind and heart these days, and I think he thinks it's time for me to deal with it.

I was reading through some of our old stuff--vision statement, values, mission, etc. God meant more to me then than he does now. What else can I say, really? I'm going to post some of our stuff here tonight. Maybe God will speak to all of us...