I’d like to ask you to do something. First, scan this note quickly. Then go get a cup of coffee/tea and come back and read it again. Slowly this time, with a prayer for us and for yourself. It’s that kind of letter. (Sorry, only one other picture)
People ask me all the time what it is like to serve in New Delhi, India. My answer? “It’s like leading a really big Young Life Club—but for grown-ups!” Never boring. Some days re-introducing Jesus. Some days discipling. Some days hilarious. Some days heart-breaking. And most days there are some conversations that just turn you inside out!
We’re hearing fault lines colliding. The first is just how much secular people really want to talk about their souls, but they really won’t take those conversations to church. For all sorts of reasons. The emotions are so strong! This has always been somewhat true; now it’s off the charts.
Second, thoughtful brothers and sisters, people I so respect, with long years of walking with Christ, are edging toward the exits of their very good churches. One person said, “I feel like I’ve come to the end of what my church was designed to do.” Another guy said, “It seemed like the smooth, fast spiritual interstate road I’d been traveling wasn’t where I needed to go. So I took an exit. Now it feels like my road went from concrete to gravel and now my front wheels are resting on the edge of one of those creaky country bridges with just one lane.” Here’s the amazing part: just a generation ago, these people would’ve been the pillars of their churches. Now, they’re more like pioneers restless to explore the high country of God.
You’ve walked with us. You watched as Lee Ann and I were rattled as we felt these shifts coming. Our time in Delhi has only confirmed what we suspected. But now we see that these aren’t just American issues! Folks from all over the world would love to sit around picnic tables with real friends to listen, poke fun and eat. And somewhere in the middle, try to make sense of their lives and God.
Meanwhile, people who been leaders in some of the world’s great churches have confessed over chai here in Delhi that they’ve slipped into becoming just spectators. Or have been on the edge of leaving. But in coming to this chaotic city, God used this crazy, small community to rescue them. It’s a safe place. With plastic chairs, bad electricity, and instant coffee. But there’s something in the candor and humility, simplicity and joy that just works. G.K. Chesterton’s quote sums it up: “Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.”
Now, with the end in sight for our visa, we’re coming home! We’re coming with the certainty that skeptics or saints or somewhere in between—are all wistful for the sort of community I’ve described. We believe God is calling us to create simple “villages” with our friends and for their friends that could be scaled and repeated in backyards, urban coffee shops, break rooms and retirement communities all over the the place.
We’re not talking starting new churches. We love our churches! We have a heart, though, for an outreach and discipleship ministry for those folks I’ve described who are 45+. These joyful communities, wherever we’ve experienced them, share four common components.
- Villages – Think of them like crosses between a Young Life Club, a really thoughtful small group and a slow, Italian picnic. Located in different parts of a city, they’re adapted to each set of leaders and the needs of their circle.
- Gatherings – Occasional times. Everybody from different communities come together in an informal setting to eat, laugh, tell stories and worship. We need to weave our lives into something larger than ourselves.
- The Well – Joy always has an element of investing in and empowering others. Christ told us we would find ourselves by giving ourselves away. We’ll collaborate to give away our experience, insights, wisdom, gifts and skills.
- Horizons – God has wired us for discovery and delight. When they aren’t there, boredom and restlessness win. Joyful people are always big-eyed! They leave the known for the unknown in the company of their friends.
What does this have to do with you? Come on along!
Some of you can identify with our journey. Or as you were reading, God brought to mind faces of friends who would love something like this. So might you. Maybe it’s time for the next adventure in your own journey with Christ. Or you’ve walked with us for such a long time that you can’t help but love us! All Great! Here’s what we’re asking of you:
- Talk to us. Seriously. Either through email, Skype (philoswald), or even phone (+91 959 992 4968) before we get back to Northern California in May. Or let’s set up appointments as soon as we’re back. Tell us what you like, don’t like…just talk to us. FAQ’s will be coming through a separate email.
- Pray for us. It will be like losing some of our heart to leave here. And then there’s the moving. And everything from finding a place to live and a car to drive. But most of all, it’s essential we build a powerful prayer team. This kind of ministry can’t be done without it.
- Pray for yourselves. For many of us, God has been investing in us our whole lives with leaders, teachers, and churches. As we reach our late forties and beyond, we might just be ready for one of the best faith-filled experiences of our lives. So many people are looking around and saying, “So…this is it…seriously?”, we’re ready to say, “We’re thinking that the best is yet to come!” We’d so like to do this with some of you!
- Dream with us. After getting re-established in California, our initial hope is to form four villages in different parts of the city or foothills. Then once our foundations are in place, who knows what’s in store? Even just today, brilliant friends in Sweden contacted us with hopes to start their own village in Stockholm!