Posts in Jason Brown
Top 10 Things I've Loved about Planting City Church Long Beach
Here’s the City Church Crew on our 2015 All-Church Retreat

Here’s the City Church Crew on our 2015 All-Church Retreat

OK, before I reveal the Top 10 list, a bit of honesty.

The journey of being a pastor has been a pretty good gig for me. There are moments, though, where I have wondered if I should be doing this job.  As you can imagine, those moments coincide with difficult season of ministry and/or life – either feeling overwhelmed by the decisions that have to be made and the thought that I could make a bad choice which would negatively affect lots of people or relationships that just don’t seem to be working.

I don’t think that this is unique to being a pastor. My guess is that most of you can relate and that most of you who have been working awhile – even at jobs you really like – have considered leaving to do something else. So, just know that there have been a few of these moments over the three and half years of pastoring City Church.

With that being said, this is a blog about what I’ve loved!

The top 10 list:

  1. Planting a church with one of my best friends. Those of you who know Bill know that awkward is his middle name. But, he loves Jesus and is content to pastor with me. I know it’s cliché to say, “I couldn’t have done it without you.” But, it’s absolutely true. I never would have done it without this particular co-pastor. And, I think who Bill is has been a great complement to who I am. I hope most of the folks at City Church (and around Long Beach we’ve met) feel the same way. One of the things that has made this so great is that I’ve gotten to do it with Bill.
  2. The chance to shape a congregation around the person of Jesus. It’s strange. We didn’t set out to plant a church, so much as we set out to help people get connected to and grow with Jesus. That has made me happy.
  3. The unexpected gifts of people along the way. I didn’t know so many of the people I spend time with on a daily basis when we started City Church. It’s kind of that field-of-dreams reality of, “If you build it, they will come.” Folks just showed up at worship or at Open Houses or in coffee shops or baseball fields – and suddenly they get involved. And then a month later they’re leading something and we’re hanging out and we’re being the church together and I’m even getting my hair cut by one of them. And I think, “How did this happen?!” It’s incredible.
  4. Creating a community I was glad to invite all my non-churchy friends to be part of.
  5. I have loved the focus on baptism and communion at City Church. This has changed the way I think about what it means to be Christian. More and more, I think our unity is sacramental. By this, I mean that I view anyone who is baptized and takes communion as a brother or sister in Christ. We might see a ton of things differently, but neither one of us gets to play the bouncer in of the community. Also, I just find myself looking forward to communion every week and the concreteness of experiencing the love and grace of Jesus in the bread and the juice.
  6. The community of pastors and church-planters in Long Beach.  We are for each other.  Obviously, this is the way it should be with Christians and churches – but, sadly, it’s so often NOT the case. More often than not, churches and pastors are competing with each other. My experience in Long Beach has been so different. Bill and I have suggested to new people showing up that they check out other churches who might be closer to where they live. So many of the other pastors have done the same with City Church.  I know I’m gonna sound uber-cheesy, but there’s a lot of love between the pastors and leaders I’ve met in Long Beach. I think a ton of this is do to the work of PlantLB who brings us together every month to share a meal, listen to people who have interesting things to say and pray for each other.
  7. Beyond the community of churches are all the non-profits and community-minded folks and organizations in Long Beach. Wow. There is so much good stuff going on in Long Beach. I’ve had the privilege of getting connected to organizations like Precious Lamb and the Long Beach Rescue Mission and Northeast of the Well and We Love LB and New Hope Grief Support and His Little Feet and Beacon for Him and the amazing faculty and Principal at Lafayette Elementary. It has been my honor to get connected to these people and groups (and I apologize to those of you I’ve spent time with who I’ve failed to mention!) who are doing such a good job of loving the people in this city.
  8. The chance to try and fail. We’ve tried lots of things at City Church – some of them have worked and some of them haven’t.  So, we’ve just kept doing our best to pay attention to what the Spirit is saying and respond with courage and hope.
  9. The chance to lead a church in a way that honors my stage of life with my family. So many of our nights have been busy getting kids to and from stuff at school and sports. I’ve been able to coach baseball and soccer. And the lay leadership at City Church has not only been respectful of this but encouraging. Frankly, the baseball field and soccer pitch are pretty good spots for me to meet new friends and, just in being myself, help them take a step or two in getting connected to Jesus.
  10. The width and breadth of the people at City Church and in Long Beach. I suppose the traditional word for this is diversity. I have loved going to my “office” at Fox Coffee House and Starbucks on Willow and meeting people whose stories are so different from my own. I’ve loved watching the community at City Church grow and become a home for people of all colors and spiritual backgrounds. I can’t pinpoint all the reasons why the diversity of City Church and Long Beach is so meaningful. It just is. There’s something about it that feels right in the economy of the Kingdom of God. And, it’s something I will really miss.

I’m headed to Iowa.

Not for vacation (Secretly, very secretly, all of you have dreamed about vacationing in Iowa), but for a new job. And, it’s really not an “I” thing. Emilie, Joe, Jack and Pearl will be going. So, we’re headed to Iowa.

The biggest reason for the move is that Em and I wanted to be a bit closer to our family. I suppose it has to do with the stage of life we’re in – wanting the kind of support/camaraderie that comes from a relatively healthy family as your kids are making their way through school.  That sounds like a nice thing to us right now. And, fortunately, we have a family that’s not only willing, but glad to be part of our lives. They’ve missed us the last 10 years.

For me, too, there’s always been this interest in business. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that I grew up wrapping coins in my grandpa’s bank on Saturday mornings. Since college, I’ve been curious about the intersection between faith and business. And, having mostly pastored people who have a “normal” job, there’s this lingering question, “What’s it like to follow Jesus in their world every day?” Well, now I get the chance to explore that question.  And now I get the chance to find out who I am when I don’t wear the title, “Pastor.”

Oh, I forgot to mention I’ll be working at a wealth management firm. Believe me, you don’t want me managing any of your wealth right now! I might be kind and honest, but it’s gonna take a few years for me to learn the ins and outs of the business – and fortunately the place I’m going is A)really glad I’ve been a pastor and B)committed to developing me so that I know what the heck I’m doing.  It’s a firm that stresses generosity and that wealth is a tool, not the goal.

While there’s some hope and excitement related to the move, there’s also plenty of sadness. One way to describe what you’re doing when you plant a church is this: you create the type of church you’d like to be part of – and hope lots of other people find a home there as well. I think that’s been the case at City Church. We are leaving a place that is home . . . where we’ve been loved, where we’ve dreamed and prayed with others and where we’ve learned to follow Jesus a bit better (hopefully!).

I suppose the thing I grieve most is the loss of relationships – the sense of knowing and being known. I think most of you “know” me – at least I feel that way. I think I know many of you. And, its just so good to have that deep sense of being known.  It comes with time: meals, laughter, tears, conversations, baseball, praying, texts, coffee, singing. And in the doing of these things you create a future. You don’t know you’re creating it, you just are. And, then that future is . . . well, different. And, that’s sad.

I’m going to write another blog about the things I’ve loved about City Church and being a pastor in Long Beach. But, this one’s already getting long.

By Jason Brown

Unity versus Holiness

I was listening to a podcast of N.T. Wright this past year. He said something along these lines, “It’s very difficult for a community to be holy and unified at the same time.” At least that’s the way I heard it.

Regardless of precisely what he said, this is the thing I continued to think about. Yep. It’s hard to have holiness and unity at the same time. I’m sure the force of the quote could be diminished by deconstructing the words or playing with their definition – figuring out a way to make them work together seamlessly.

When I talk with younger folks in the church (I’m 43), I get the feeling their primary value is unity. It makes sense to me. You can make a reasonably strong Biblical case for the primacy of unity (Jesus’s prayer at the end that we would be one, and the Hebrew vision of Shalom, for example). But, I think it’s also a response to something they feel: everyone is always fighting, everyone is just so angry with each other.

Perhaps you could call it a hunger. Their experience of so many loud voices, with so many resources to do their campaigning, so angry with everyone else, always dramatically slamming their fist on the table moments before leaving it – well, it leaves one hungry for something different.

I think this hunger for something different is a hunger for unity. If they were forced to choose between unity and holiness, they’d pick unity. Immediately. Why? To my younger friends, all these competing views of holiness – both secular and sacred – just create anger, hatred, tribalism, judgment, and ultimately, separation.

And, right or wrong, their understanding of Jesus is that if he were forced to choose, he’d pick unity over holiness as well.

The more thoughtful ones admit the need for holiness, which might be defined as a commitment to a set of values. But, the only models they have for working out a commitment to holiness lead to division. The sense I get is that they want to call a timeout – could we all just agree to hold our definition of holiness loosely for a day, a week, heck maybe even a year. Long enough to catch our breath, pray, talk when the stakes aren’t so high.

Perhaps spend some time at the table together, eating bread and drinking wine alongside the guy who, as unfathomable as it is, invited all of us there.

By Jason Brown

George, Frank, and a Computer

So, I was at the office (Starbucks on Willow and Long Beach Blvd.) yesterday.

Next to me was George. He was having trouble with his computer. I’m no computer expert, but maybe I give the vibe I am. Sidebar: To all my friends, if I have given any of you the sense at any point – perhaps by my dress or behavior – that I actually am a computer expert, please, PLEASE let me know so I can have more honest conversations with my therapist.

Anyway, George asked if I could help get all the “cookies” off his computer. If you don’t know what “cookies” are, well, I’m not the guy to tell you, but I know it has something to do with visiting websites and accumulating residue on your computer as a result. So, I was spending time doing the little I knew in order to help George. I asked him where he was from and what he was up to. He returned the favor, “So, what do you do?” I answered, “I’m a pastor.”

This caught the attention of the couple on the other side of George. I glanced over and saw a Bible open on their table. Sadly, I wasn’t sure if this was a good or bad thing. I wish I could say I was immediately encouraged, but the truth is that my first thought was, “Uh oh.”

The man at the table, Frank, asked suspiciously, “What do you think it means to be a Christian?” Here we go...

“Well, right now, I think part of it has to do with me helping George with his computer.”

Frank pounced, “That’s what anyone would say. They could be a Muslim or a Buddhist and they’d say that. Helping George with his computer is just about being a good neighbor. That’s not what it means to be a Christian.”

I timidly offered, “Didn’t Jesus talk about loving your neighbors?” Frank lectured me for the next five minutes, pausing twice to ask questions I answered incorrectly. Just then, I wanted to do some un-pastorly things.

For all I know, Frank could be a decent human being, but that experience was terrible. So, why am I blogging about it?

Part of it is to process my anger at the fact that Frank is my brother in Christ. I want to distance myself from him – write him off – but somehow we’re on the same team. This is just confusing to me. I also know that I need as much mercy and grace as Frank does.

I suppose the other thing is that I want to say, “I’m sorry,” to anyone who has felt what I felt yesterday. I’m sorry that we Christians have done stuff like this to you. I’m sorry we haven’t bothered to get to know you, we’ve utterly failed at loving you and we’ve told you how wrong you are. I’m so sorry.

By Jason Brown