True City Pulpit Exchange

On Sunday I participated in something called the True City Pulpit exchange. True City is a network of churches working together in Hamilton. Once a year all the participating churches swap pastors for a Sunday. I got to go hang out at Lightway and had the opportunity to share a little bit about The Commons and our experience with True City. The idea is for pastors to get to experience other communities’ Sunday Gathering, and for local church communities to be introduced to some of the pastors participating in True City.

My family and I had an amazing time. Lightway is a multicultural church community situated in the east end on the edge of Stoney Creek, in one of the most ethnically diverse high density neighbourhoods in the city. They are doing a great job of being a diverse and welcoming community. In the short time we were there we met people from Afghanistan, Vietnam, and Greece. I loved it when people broke into small groups to pray and they were instructed to pray in what ever language they felt most comfortable in. That is as it should be, God understands all our languages and why should we make someone stumble in English when they are talking to their heavenly Dad. I was very happy to hear from my new Vietnamese friend that I spoke slowly enough for him to know what I was saying. We also got stay for an amazing pot luck lunch that  was deliciously diverse as the community, with foods from all around the world.

If you are interested in what I talked about at the Gathering here are my notes:

“And Everyone Liked Them…”
True City Pulpit Exchange
Teaching Notes by Randell Neudorf
Feb. 5th, 2012

Thanks so much for having me at your Sunday Gathering. One of the goals for the True City Pulpit Exchange is to introduce churches to each other. I figure in the spirit of the pulpit exchange I should let you know a little bit about myself and my church. My name is Randy and I’m the Pastor of a small community called The Commons, We meet downtown at Living Rock Ministries on Sunday Evenings. Here is a slide to help give you a picture of who we are.

We are a diverse little urban community made up of people from a wide range of back grounds. In some ways we are bit of a group of Misfits, we often joke about being a church for people who couldn’t go anywhere else. Most of us live in the lower city and we really love our neighbourhoods. We have a special relationship with the Downtown, and for many years we have been having our worship gatherings in the Beasley neighbourhood, first at The Freeway and now at The Rock.  I’m married and have 2 little kids, and no one is more surprised than me and my family that I have become a pastor. My back ground is actually in Art and Music. I didn’t go to school to be a pastor I actually have a degree in Fine Art from York University, and I minored in Philosophy. I also play in a band called 2x the Mono.

You could imagine that is a hard thing for a Musician / Artist / Philosopher to get a job related to his field. It was very true for me. When I graduated from University I got a job in a factory in the small town of Alliston. I worked for 7 years building Mini Vans. I really hated my job and was always scheming for a way to leave but nothing really worked out. I couldn’t afford to take a lower paying job that I liked because we wouldn’t be able to afford to pay for our house. My wife being the smart lady that she is said “Randy, either we need sell our house and move, or you need to accept your job and be happy here.” That was a very scary but easy decision for me. Our house went up for sale the next week and within 5 months we moved ourselves and our 3 year old daughter and our 6 month old son to the lower city of Hamilton. We had no jobs lined up, no church and no friends. What we did have was a feeling that we were supposed to be living in an affordable urban neighbourhood that was a little rough around the edges, and that God had work for us to do.

My wife found this church on the internet called The Freeway and told me that she thought she had found our church. I wasn’t convinced and said very loudly that “you can’t choose a church by looking at a website.” Being wiser then me she retorted “I don’t know about that, but they seem to support artists and musicians and are putting on a lot of shows you should at least try to get a show.” We checked out The Freeway on our first Sunday in Hamilton and met a bunch of great people. We never got around to checking out any other churches. We had found the community that God had been calling us to, without us even knowing what we were being called to.

We became part of the church leadership team (and to make a long story short), our community has gone through a lot of transition over the last year and we’ve changed our name to The Commons. This artist / musician / philosopher got hired on for a job that lets him use all his skills, and apparently it’s called a pastor.  I really love my community and for me I can’t imagine being part of a different church. I intend to stay apart of The Commons whether I’m paid or not, it is my community and my family.

Like every nuclear family we have an extended family, and True City is part of that extend family. Since Lightway is also a part of the True City Family, I guess that makes us cousins.

One of the great things that I value about True City is being exposed to different expressions of church. It is so great to see you guys in this very unique neighbourhood and terrific meeting space. I got to have coffee a couple of weeks ago with Ian and he was showing off your neighbourhood to me and talking about your history and your dreams. You have something very special  happening here.

One of the things we like to do at a Commons Worship Gathering is to take songs, videos and art from popular culture and re-contextualize them for spiritual reflections. It helps us think outside the box and also creates surprise times to think back on what we talked about at Gathering. When that same song we used on Sunday comes on the radio, or when we stumble on a YouTube video used, it takes on a whole new spiritual meaning that goes beyond the entertainment value that the song or video might normally be used for. We like to think of it as a “take home.”

Some of you may have heard of a band called “Walk Off The Earth” from Burlington. They have a YouTube video that has gone viral. The video is of 5 people playing one guitar at the same time. Last I checked the video has received over 43 million views, and the band is signing a pretty big record deal. Every musician is wishing they would have thought of this first, I remember back to high school where 2 or 3 of us would play on one guitar as a party trick. Oh! If only YouTube was around back then I could have been a rock star. My musical jealousy aside, there is a good reason why I’m talking about this video. We are going take a couple minutes and watch “Walk Off The Earth”, and perhaps learn about something that goes beyond creative marketing. As you’re watching the video don’t get too caught up in the lyrics, rather I would ask you to just to admirer the cooperation that went into creating this unique performance:

When you think about what True City is all about I want you think back to that video. The band could have recorded that same song in the studio. They could have each brought in their own guitar and played their parts by themselves, and then mixed it all together at the end. For that matter, one person could have even recorded all the parts by themselves and mixed them together on a computer. They wouldn’t have had to coordinate their schedules with each other, they wouldn’t have had to fight about who gets to sing which part and they wouldn’t have had to been crammed together like sardines for the 40 plus takes it took to record the video. They could have gotten way better sound quality by doing the song separately but in the end, something would have been lost.

  1. The First thing that would have been lost is 43 million viewers. All those people wouldn’t have taken the time to watch. Recording on separate instruments is what everyone does and the melody, words and music alone wouldn’t have caught everyone’s attention.
  2. The second thing that would have been lost would be “Beauty.” There is an inherent beauty in people working together. The messiness of cooperation adds to the sum of the parts.

That is a little bit what True City is like, it is a bunch of churches working together, creating something beautiful.

This idea of working together is not a new idea for the Church. I want to share one of my favourite little snap shots of the early Church working together in the book of Acts.

42They spent their time learning from the apostles, and they were like family to each other. They also broke bread and prayed together.  43Everyone was amazed by the many miracles and wonders that the apostles worked. 44All the Lord’s followers often met together, and they shared everything they had. 45They would sell their property and possessions and give the money to whoever needed it. 46Day after day they met together in the temple. They broke bread together in different homes and shared their food happily and freely, 47while praising God. Everyone liked them, and each day the Lord added to their group others who were being saved.
Acts 2:42-47 (CEV)

What really stands out to me is the statement that “Everyone liked them.” That is amazing! The Church was bringing people together and they were sharing and cooperating; and the people around them saw something special in that. What they were seeing was so special that every day more people were joining in on this new community of Jesus followers.

This isn’t really the community relations experience that many Church’s feel today. And I know that there are verses that talk about the “World hating us as they hated Jesus.” I think when we feel some negative pressure and criticism from our friends, family, or coworkers about our faith, we as church people often grab that verse too quickly.

I decided to google the question “What do people think about Christians?” and the answers I saw weren’t new to me. Here a couple of them:

  • They’z crazy. They’re weak. They are blind followers who haven’t considered reality. They lack common sense if they want to live their lives based on one old book.
  • Boring, backwards, uncreative and intellectually stifling. I’ve had disagreements with hundreds if not thousands of people but I’ve only been spit on by Christians.
  • I try to keep an open mind – and not generalize based simply on the word Christians (or any religion for that matter).
  • When I first hear that someone is a Christian I believe they are very moral people with strong family values. But I also picture them as being very judgmental and I feel ill at ease.
  • I don’t think there is such a thing as a Christian any longer. There are so many denominations that vary tremendously in their beliefs…

Now during the Last Supper, Jesus takes the time to talk to his followers about what He sees as the calling card for this little group that will eventually be called Christians.

34But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. 35If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.
John 13:34-35 (CEV)

The Church is a big thing, with lots of different local communities and many different tribes and denominations. There are lots of things all these tribes and churches could agree on and probably even more things that the church as a whole could disagree upon. Jesus in his finial talk with his closest friends doesn’t give a huge theological list of things to do to show that you are part of the church. He just says “if you love each other, the way I love you, people are going to know you’re following Me.”

For me that is what True City is about. It is churches loving each other, working together, celebrating everything that God is doing in our city and in our local expressions of the church. Ian wanted me to talk a little bit about my experience with True City, so here it is:

  • I’m part of a True City pastor’s group that gets together every other week to talk about what it means to be a “Missional Church” engaged in the community. We all come from very different back grounds but I think we all find strength, encouragement, and accountability in meeting together.
  • The Leadership Team at The Commons has been part of a couple “board gatherings.” It was a very powerful thing to see the boards of over 10 churches sitting together in one room, talking shop, laughing and encouraging each other. There was a lot of diversity in that room and I think it was a tiny snap shot of the Kingdom.
  • My church has recently gone through a lot of changes. We had our founding pastor move on to a new position, we made the decision to leave our meeting space at The Freeway Coffee House, and started a new partnership with Living Rock Ministries. And we are currently in the process of joining a denomination. These were and are some very big discussions for us, and we are so thankful for all our smart friends who have helped us with this process. One of those smart friends is Dave Witt. Dave is on staff with True City and it has been great to bounce ideas off him. We get an outside perspective on our situation from someone who has been journeying with us and understands our community without being tied up in our day to day activities or our denominational network. Dave and True City know our story and speak into our situation as friends.
  • We have received Practical Support. During this time of transition we were burning out trying to plan weekly worship gatherings. Many musicians and speakers that we met through the True City Church network would come and give our team a break by speaking or leading music every couple months.
  •  The other big thing that I have valued about True City has been the yearly Conference.

I’m not generally a huge fan of conferences. I don’t like to spend a lot of money to sit around and talk, or even worse to sit around and listen to a bunch of stuff that has nothing to do with my community and neighbourhood. Most conferences feel like a waste of time even when the information is good because it is often better to just be doing something instead of talk about it. But all that being said the True City Conference isn’t like that. It is exactly about where we live and it is all about doing something, it is about Church Communities coming together and loving each other like Jesus asked us to do.

The True City conference is the one conference I commit to going to every year, and I strongly encourage all the people in my church community to go if they can, and I would make the same recommendation to you. I want to focus on what makes the True City Conference different than the rest.

  1. It is only $20! That is a good deal (many other conferences are anywhere from $50 to $200 per person). If you know someone in your community who can’t spring the $20 perhaps there is another person here who could sponsor them. We have had a little of that happening in my community.
  2. The second thing that is different is the majority of the speakers are local. They are pastors, leaders and members from Hamilton Churches talking about what they know best: “Being the Church in Hamilton.”
  3. Third, this is a Celebration. It is a coming together of Hamilton Churches worshiping together, praying for each other and the city of Hamilton.
  4. Artist’s voices are added to the mix. You are going to hear some great speakers and music but you are also going to see a diverse display of art. Artists who attend True City Churches are going to have their work up contributing to the Conference. Being an artist I love that. Images really help me focus and having artists contribute to conference is amazing.
  5. The last thing that is different is that this is really a great chance to meet people and network. When you meet people at the True City Conference, chances are you are going to run into them again and again throughout year. The Community of True City doesn’t end when you walk out of the conference, it’s a year round thing.

Well that is my little spiel about True City and Community. If you will indulge me for a couple more minutes I would like to let you in on a little other piece of The Commons. We have started writing our own worship songs. And I have one I would like to teach you. It is called “Enter The Circle” and it is all about something we call “deep community,” and since True City is all about community and this Pulpit Exchange is all about deepening that community I thought this would be a good fit for us today.

I don’t have the a recording of this song yet but here are the lyrics:

Enter the Circle by Randell Neudorf of The Common Collective (c) 2011

Hold my hand, feel the warmth
My flesh and blood,  gains life from you
You and you,  You and you

Enter the circle of deep community
Enter the circle that our Lord has drawn for us
We are all one through His love
Bound together by a common thread

Father and Son, and the most Holy Ghost
And all of the saints,  gathered here tonight

Enter the circle of deep community
Enter the circle that our Lord has drawn for us
We are all one through His love
Bound together by a common thread

Hold my hand, feel the warmth
My flesh and blood, gains life from you
You and you,  You and you
You and you,  You and you...