“We really appreciate the way that there is always an open invitation to come to your home, particularly because we can come as we are, on both good days and bad days. I have begun calling your home ‘The Harbor.’”
These simple words were shared with my wife, Mary Beth, and me in an unassuming conversation that we were having with several young adult women who had become regular frequenters of our home.
In prayerfully reflecting about one of the core elements of the Inspire Movement’s Way of Life, “Sharing Fellowship,” my wife and I recently began living with an ‘open house’ policy. Essentially, anyone is welcome to come by our home whenever they would like to, provided they understand that we will not stop what we are doing in order to put on our ‘host’ and ‘hostess’ hats. Instead, visitors are welcome to enter into and participate in our daily lives irrespective of what we are doing. Interestingly, we have found that people have an uncanny manner of showing up for meals or evening devotions while simultaneously missing out on doing dishes and daily chores!
Embracing this intentional practice has arisen out of several key insights that we have gleaned through our time walking alongside of the Inspire Movement.
Discipleship as an ‘Everyday’ Experience
The first key insight we had is that discipleship is made up of the stuff of everyday life and is both caught and taught through a conscious decision to share the ups and downs and the spectacular and mundane of our lives with others. I can remember when this insight was seeded within my heart, as my wife and I, during the first year of our marriage, were invited into the lives of Phil and Sam Meadows, along with their children Daniel, Tabitha, Tim, and Ben. We were able to observe what their marriage and parenting looked like from up close, how they chose to live both within the church and as they perused the aisles of a grocery store. It was uncontrived time where they were not trying to impress us, nor am I entirely certain they were trying to teach us anything.
And yet, the seeds of the Kingdom are hidden within the folds of everyday life, and as such, a young couple was able to observe and learn what loving and respectful communication could look like, how one could parent with both love and discipline, and most importantly, how one could choose to live consistently as followers of Jesus irrespective of where one found oneself.
This final observation gave birth to the second foundational insight behind the practice of our ‘open home’ policy.
Discipleship as a Reflection of Identity
Children of God do not need to put on or take off this or that hat based on the various tasks or environments in which they find themselves. We are beloved children on our worst days, and redeemed by grace on our best. There is no need for pretense or facades because the heart of the gospel reveals that we are all imperfect creatures in the process of being formed in love. We came to realize that we didn’t need to hide certain parts or aspects of our lives from others and that our uniqueness, both as individuals and as a couple, might be used of God to empower others to embrace the freedom we have in Christ.
Despite being an un-dramatic statement, the young woman’s words, “The Harbor,” echoed in my soul, and I felt the gentle whisper of the Spirit directing me to Matthew 11:28-30 in the Message paraphrase:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.
In our experience of participating in Wesleyan style fellowship bands through the Inspire Movement, we have experienced the joy and transformative lightness that comes from intentionally walking in intimate community with a small group of like-minded believers. However, a nagging question has always persisted in my mind: What would it look like for a larger group of people to walk in this kind of vulnerability and transparency and to experience the empowerment and abundance of the presence and leadership of the Holy Spirit in their midst?
Discipleship as an Encounter with Spirit-led Community
Slowly, the Spirit began to mature an idea in our minds. It is one that I have to confess I was slow to embrace, simply because it was an invitation into uncharted territory.
A little over 6 weeks ago, we finally responded to the Spirit’s prompting and half-heartedly invited a group of friends and family to begin joining us bi-weekly for a Saturday evening worship/prayer gathering at “The Harbor”. To our surprise, roughly 25 people expressed interest right away, and we began gathering together.
Our initial sense was that we wanted to explore in community what it would look like to become a community that embodied the spirit of unity and love that Paul was highlighting as a goal in 1 Corinthians 11-14, a community in which dividing walls are torn down, people are affirmed and empowered to exercise their gifts in a manner that edify others, everyone seeks to outdo one another in showing each other honor and value, and above all, sacrificial love is exercised toward one another.
We entered into this journey recognizing that we had to surrender all forms of control and management of our time and space together and to be receptive to the leading of the Holy Spirit. We knew that the time would involve a simple shared meal and partaking in the Lord’s Supper together, but beyond that, we were stepping into the unknown. We had all in our own ways longed to be part of such a community, but none of us had experienced it in anything other than a fleeting glimpse or taste.
I cannot express adequately in words either the sheer beauty of our first meeting together as it unfolded under the Spirit’s guidance or the heaviness of the Lord’s presence. We were blessed to listen to timid teenagers inspired with boldness to share testimony of God’s goodness in their lives, unassuming housewives prompted to share prophetic words of encouragement, and construction workers sharing profound words of wisdom from the Scriptures. We were led into abandoned worship by a young woman who, in the safety of this context, sang passionately and in an unfettered way that she had rarely experienced as a worship leader in the local church. When the group finally came to its senses, we realized that we had expressed adoration for the Lord together for almost 4 hours. It didn’t feel too long, nor did it feel too short. It felt just right.
The wonderful thing in our experience thus far is that no two meetings since have been the same. In some gatherings, the Spirit has led us in a more somber reflection and sharing of Scripture. In others, we saw an inspired bout of speaking prophetic words of encouragement over one another in order to dismantle the lies of enemy. And yet, in each gathering, we gather around a common table to share a simple meal, along with much laughter and stories from our everyday lives about where we are seeing God at work. We also routinely partake of the Lord’s Supper as a reminder of the blood shed on our behalf that binds us together as family.
Truthfully, it is a grand adventure that we have all embarked upon, one whose subsequent steps are not yet made clear to us. And yet, there is comfort in proceeding forward into this unknown space because we know that the Lord is with us and that we are walking this path together.
Discipleship as an Invitation to Others
For my wife and I, as well as the burgeoning community with whom we are experiencing abundant life in Christ, these gatherings in “The Harbor” are a culmination of individuals and groups embracing and living into the Inspire Way of Life. Meeting together in fellowship bands has infected us with a hunger to experience the fullness of life that is possible in Christian community, as well as a resolute determination to not be satisfied with anemic expressions of the Christian faith. There is so much more of God to experience and we have found the journey to be richer and fuller if it is embarked upon together!
It is important to share that the Spirit has impressed it upon us that this time together is not intended as a replacement for attending the local churches of which our group members are a part. Rather, it is a deep communal abiding in the love of God that empowers each individual and fellowship band to create compelling and attractive missional outposts within these local churches that radiate with the beauty of lives shaped by the hands of God. Gathering together bi-weekly at “The Harbor” is not a meeting for the elite, rather it is a group of hungry souls desperate to drink deeply from wells of Living Water. It is also becoming a place from which men and women go forth into the world compelled by the love of Christ to share with Christian and non-believer alike that there is yet more of God that He desires for us to experience.
This is a journey upon which we are just beginning to set forth, one whose steps are not neatly laid out for us as we proceed. However, we are placing one foot in front of the other because of a simple confidence that we share. We believe that as we entrust both our strengths and weaknesses to one another and communally seek the wisdom of the Spirit, the road ahead involves being conformed into the image of Christ and becoming men and women whose lives overflow with sacrificial love and whose scars exude wisdom. We have a profound assurance that this journey will continue until the day we stand before Jesus and we are finally made like Him because we see Him as He is.
The amazing thing is that this is not merely a testimony about what God is doing in our midst in a small town down in Texas. It is an invitation to embark upon a journey of your own with others around you who are hungry to experience the fullness of what God has for us all. In every town, in every church, in every home there is the opportunity for a new ‘harbor’ to be born because the kingdom of God is at hand. The King is waiting for men and women to come together at his feet and experience abundant life. He desires to guide and lead you in community with wisdom from above offered in the tenderness of the Spirit and invites you all to surrender control and embark upon a journey of encountering Him—the likes of which will leave you awestruck and at a loss for words.
The question that remains is this: Will you join Him?