Monday, January 21, 2008

100 Cups of Coffee #3 - Paul Anderson

I first met Paul Anderson several years ago at an event for Pastors he was leading at North Heights Church, and I was impressed by his genuineness and warmth. Then earlier this year I learned that he had become involved in some kind of house church expression so I sought him out and we’ve had some wonderful conversations.

Some time in 2005, Paul had some young adult believers living in his home (in addition to his own family) as a result of his gift for hospitality. Some of these were people who had come home changed from service in Iraq, and had leadership gifts. They began to pray together and were drawn to an image of a spiritual “fire” starting in the Twin Cities, where their role was not to try and create a centralized bonfire around themselves, but rather to help start lots of fires in many locations. It was an uncomfortable image that stretched them to think about “going out,” so they began to think of their own gathering as a kind of training or Boot Camp for that work. As they talked about this with others, more people started to gather, typically young adults in their early 20s. Gatherings were monthly at first, but started becoming more frequent and over time became a weekly event. The group grew and grew and now typically has 50 to 60 people attending, packed into Paul’s home, sitting on stairs and so on.

From the outset, Paul has resisted the temptation to lead or control the group. He serves primarily as a mentor, and meets with the people who are the de facto leaders just before the whole group gathers. The group actually talked about formally identifying leaders but decided against it, so the leadership circle is a fluid, porous group. In essence it is a self-selected group of servants. This avoidance of closed structures (my term) also showed up in a discussion of whether they should establish a website for the group. There was concern that defining the group might end up confining it. Paul sees this as a part of the move towards centered set identity (in contrast to bounded set) and you can see it reflected in some of the quotes below in my “Tidbits” section. (For more on bounded vs. centered see Frost and Hirsch p. 47, or go here for some nice visuals: Paul does provide a little bit of structure, simply working to ensure that for any given gathering there is someone ready to lead the people that come. Though he is a resource to the active leaders, Paul only rarely acts as the teacher in the large group so as not to set up some kind of external (“professional”) standard that others will then think they have to live up to.

At about 6pm, Paul typically will meet with the leaders he is mentoring. During this time they may discuss broader issues related to the community, but the focus tends to be on preparing for the evening’s gathering. By 7 they turn to prayer, again, largely but not exclusively pointed towards the gathering which gets going at about 8:00. In the gathering there is usually about 30 minutes or so of worship led by 3 or 4 people who were in preparation since the 6:00 meeting. After that, someone will share “a word” with the group that can be teaching, exhortation, personal story etc. Occasionally someone from outside the group may speak here. After this, there is discussion in impromptu small groups focusing on what was just shared. At that point, people are invited either to stay in the room for open prayer or go out to the dining room for food, or move back and forth between both. People often linger for about 2 hours and sometimes return to Paul’s home in between gatherings.

Paul uses the term communitas to describe the kind of relational network he is seeing, a term that is distinct from community. This is a concept I’m still new to, but I gather that it refers to a kind of bonding through challenging experiences – a “fellowship forged by fire” – and a shared life that extends beyond the times of group gathering. Frost and Hirsch have also written about this, notably Frost in Exiles.

I’m not well-informed here, but Paul did mention that the group has been active in supporting some of its members in short-term international mission trips to Thailand and Brazil. An ongoing connection to a Thai church is emerging. Although there is a desire for the gathering to be “here for the people who are not yet here,” Paul reports that he is seeing more discipleship of current believers taking place, as opposed to new believers being birthed.

A Few Tidbits:
● Personal sharing is common in the group time. People are eager and often ask; “When can I share?”

● Some have said; “This is more like church than church!”

● Some have wondered; “Are we a church?” The sense of the group is that for those who think they are a church, they are. For those who think differently, that’s OK.

● Some have asked; “Can I make this my church? Would that count?” Paul’s sense is that the majority of people involved still have a connection to another, traditional faith community. But for most, this gathering really is their primary faith community.


Feral Pastor said...

Since I first interviewed Paul, he tells me they have begun to think about planting a second group. This is just in the early prayer and discussion stages, but the sense is that they might have a couple of leaders and several people from the first group go out and seed a new one, possibly somewhere in the north metro of the Twin Cities.

AnneMarie said...

I love what he is doing! Praise God for that!