3 Things I Learned from Listening in Place with Jeff Richards
Jeff Richards is a PCUSA Pastor that has a house church called The WordHouse. It is fantastic to see how his church is choosing to engage the community around them. They choose to stay small and impact big by; listening to the community around them, seeing where God is at work, and partnering with God in those places.
The WordHouse’s mission is:
We are a community seeking to be formed by the love and grace of Jesus Christ. This shaping includes desiring to embody and experience ‘good news’ with our neighbors. We gather in all sorts of places, particularly where you can normally find people – homes, pubs, and coffee shops.
Richards and I met up at the First Baptist Church of Sacramento (FBCS), in the heart of Midtown… Wait… What the heck? What is a PCUSA pastor doing at a Baptist Church?! Seems odd? “Well, it shouldn’t be!” is Richards’ sentiment. WordHouse is constantly looking for different partnerships that are focused on the movement of the Spirit and not limited by denominational lines.
Richards and some of the leaders of WordHouse were looking at the space to prayerfully consider how the small house church could partner with this big Baptist church. Then a sweet happy accident occurred. Lamar J. Pringle, he walked into the courtyard... like he was walking onto a yacht… ok, so maybe not... But nonetheless, we were able to spend the better time of 30 mins talking about the state of the Church in America and what needs to change and how we need to start embracing the beauty of God’s dynamic and diverse creation.
From there we were able to have lunch with Richards’ spiritual mentor Pat Watters. Pat is a self-described cheerleader for the pastors on the fringe. His hope is to help support, encourage, inspire, and spur on those that are pushing the traditional boundaries of Church. We chatted over tacos and burritos about how we need more people embracing the mystery of God rather than feeding the thin theology narrow-minded fear.
After about 3 hours of amazing conversation with Pringle and Watters, we realized we hadn’t recorded Richards’ story yet. We made our way to Capsity, a collective workspace where Richards rents an office space for his church. The choice to inhabit this space was one that comes straight out of The WordHouse mission: to embody and experience 'good news' with our neighbors. Richards and his community take this statement seriously. So seriously, that they intentionally seek out an environment that will allow for relationships with their neighbors directly.
It was a full day. So much of what I saw brought me joy and laughter. So much of what I heard was deeply rooted in seeing God’s Kingdom here on earth. Here are the highlights of this amazing visit. I give you the top three lessons I learned from my time listening in Sacramento.
1. Change is finding like-minded people that do not look like you.
“We aren’t even supposed to be family.” “We aren’t even supposed to like each other!” Pringle and Richards start to explain the dynamic of their new relationship. What brings them together is beyond their skin color, backgrounds, and denominational ties. Their desire to see the Kingdom of God here on earth is what brings them together.
FBCS is a church that understands that for old relationships continue they must foster a place for new relationships to blossom. Richards and Pringle have started to cultivate a friendship. Pringle is one of the pastors at FBCS and is the first Black pastor at the 166-year-old church... ever.
Pringle knows that his difference creates space for the people of his community to engage a part of their faith that has been ignored. He recognizes that, as Dr. Brian Bantum would say, "His body does work!" Pringle knows that his presence, as a Black man in an all-white congregation, cultivates an important opportunity for his community to widen their worldview and see how God’s creation is bigger than they realized. I got to witness these two men from different places, different backgrounds, different ethnicities humbly see the beauty in one another.
Pringle and Richards’ friendship is a beautiful example of how people of difference need to come together. The work they will do together has just begun. The fruit of their work is yet to be seen. And their friendship is a great reminder that to make change in a community means partnering with people that are like-minded not look-a-likes. To really make a difference you cannot ignore the people next to you. You must see God’s beauty in those around you and intentionally seek out ways to work together.
It’s almost as though when two worldviews collide it is an opportunity for big change in the community or destruction. We all have a choice when we meet someone who is seemingly not like us. To bring life or death. To see Christ in them or to not. I pray we can start to see Christ more and difference less. Pringle and Richards help us see that their like-MINDedness is what brings them together. Christ is what brings them together.
2. No matter how old you are, what degrees you have, nor how much experience; you always need a mentor.
Everyone needs someone to encourage, call them out, inspire, and brainstorm with. In Richards’ case that is Pat Watters. Watters and Richards have been meeting together for some time now and found a rhythm that gives room for innovation and wisdom to collide.
Watters has been in the small parish church movement for decades. His desire is to inspire those on the fringe that are pushing the bounds of traditional church. Richards sought Watters out knowing, despite his Masters of Divinity, he needs to have someone in his life mentoring him as he moves forward doing Kingdom work. As we met over burritos, Watters energy to support Richards was abundantly clear. It was an honor to see their relationship, rooted in humility, faith, hope, and love.
I was reminded about the importance of finding a mentor in my own life. As well as, remembering those that have taken time out of their lives to mentor me in faith and ministry. I need people in my life with more experience to help guide me no matter how many degrees I get.
3. Letting go of your building might help you focus.
A noisy room with cubicle-office-like spaces, where the seemingly unconnected unite. Where Skype phone calls intersect with interviews and daily business. Where a dog walking business meets a local house church which meets other social entrepreneurs who need each other to have a space to fulfill their purpose. A place where people come together and reveal that difference is not a boundary to keep them separate but that their unique differences actually reveals connection and interdependency.
There are so many things that get in the way of partnering with God in church communities. Especially when you have a huge building to take care of: the upkeep, the grass, the carpet, the sound system… the list goes on. These distractions are not horrible things that need to be thrown to the wind. Yet, when they become the focus, people lose sight of the purpose of the church. When the pews become more important than the people, there is a problem.
Distractions are inevitable. Yet, not many are intentional about the type of distractions to have. The WordHouse has intentionally chosen to keep in line with their mission by not entertaining the distractions of having a building. They have chosen to allow for distraction of an open space setting, which allows for people to be the distraction.
Richards and I took time in his workspace to collect his story. It was noisy but it served as an important reminder: Buildings do not a church make. A church building is a gathering place for the people of God and that can be anywhere.
When All's Said and Done:
There they are! The three main ways I saw hope in Sacramento. It was an honor to see how God is working through the WordHouse community; making a big impact through a small group of faithful Jesus followers. Thank you, Jeff for showing me your world and where hope is being spread throughout your neck of the woods.
Please make sure to check out more about Richards’ community at The WordHouse. Video coming soon.