(This article originally appeared in The Brethren Evangelist, Spring 2017)
It was four years ago that I caught wind of this movement called "church planting" at our General Conference. That year, I heard from people like Hugh Halter, Brandon Hatmaker, and our very own Bill Ludwig, talking about kingdoms here on earth that were radically different from the previous status quo. These were the conversations that sparked my overzealous, punk rocker, anti-establishment attitude to start something different, something unique. It was during this time that I was at a crossroad with my current definition of church. It was a paradigm that was about to be shifted, and at the core of this change there were these values that are still faithful to this day.
We need to be in community. To share the burdens of each other, and to give comfort to those who need it. Also, the life changing, paradigm shifting, truth of the gospels is best interpreted, shared, and discussed together!
How we start new forms of community is not revolutionary, but we sensed that people are not going to church like they used to. We live in California, and in my part of the state, there are many un/de-churched folks. We are 2-3 generations from the “grandma took me to church” reality. There are folks that when I say “Jesus,” they might have never heard of that guy. So we try and go where the people are, and not just create a community for ourselves.
In doing so, our hope is that we can train, disciple, mentor, and help individuals realize their potential in this Kingdom that Jesus constantly talked about. The power that raised Jesus from the dead is dwelling inside us, ready to transform ourselves and everyone we meet!
What does that look like for us?
We have a Monday night gathering that meets every other Monday evening at the Machado House. We hang out, read scripture, discuss what we liked, didn’t like, what we had questions about, and how we apply the text to our lives. It is very low key, and very informal. It’s the longest standing group that we have and has morphed throughout the years. I like to think of it as a launching point group, using that time to see what Jesus is doing in our lives and see the passion that starts growing in those who join us.
We have another expression called The Burrow. You know, the house in Harry Potter that was a place of security and safety – yes, like that house. This unique community reaches out to the kids in the Trailwood neighborhood around Colony Park in Manteca. Our friends, the Yetters, open their home to these children to play games, feed them, and get to know them individually while showing the love of Jesus.
This past year my buddy Joe and I started a podcast called ZAO Church Podcast. The podcast was the brainchild of Joe, as he was eager to explore his faith journey and do it in a more public space. I sprinkle in some of my “pastoral commentaries,” and we have a splendid time talking about our past church experiences and how that has shaped our current world view.
What’s new on the horizon? Daniel, our brewmaster extraordinaire, had a vision for a beer church and beyond. It was a year and a half ago that this little idea got started, and as excited as we were, it never felt like the right time. Fast forward to today, we have a name for this new venture: Brethren Brew Pub. It will be a unique and different way to view church.
We have a warehouse space that a friend of ours is willing to let us use a few times a month. We have tables, chairs, and of course fresh homebrew! More than all that, it gives us a very easy way to invite people in, who otherwise would never step foot in a church building, and invite them to church and hear about this Jesus that has transformed our lives. I think our German forefathers, who appreciated a good brew, are smiling down on this new expression of church.
Based on the needs of the people around us, we’ve met in a tattoo shop, Panera Bread, and other various locations. These are all hyper contextualized comminutes that are there to serve the needs of those participating. And that’s the beauty of it all. If one of these communities needs to close or transform into a different expression, we have the freedom to turn the ship in a different direction very quickly. I’ve learned early on in this process, and through the growth in my life that Jesus wants to show up! There is this eagerness that is inside us all that wants us to get closer to Him. I feel it in the conversations I’ve had with those not connected with
I’ve learned early on in this process, and through the growth in my life that Jesus wants to show up! There is this eagerness that is inside us all that wants us to get closer to Him. I feel it in the conversations I’ve had with those not connected with church. They want to have a conversation about Jesus! God gave us this mind of creativity and discovery, but we are too often limited to our reality that is starting at us today. I think God wants to do more, to form different and unique expressions of church, to start new and exciting communities that usher in the transformative power of the Gospels and to have that empower his people to do great work. We just have to trust and patiently await his timing.
We just have to trust and patiently await his timing.
I don't want my response to come off as someone out of touch with the times but I have a couple concerns why a beer church is not perhaps the best possible outreach. It is true that drinking alcohol is not a sin drunkenness is a sin. With that being said there are many pursuits in life that become major stumbling blocks for certain people. Yes Paul was to free to do all things but not all things were helpful. Under the same reasons you will put forward to open a brethren beer house someone could also use to open a Holy Spirit Hemp house. I do not say this jokingly. I believe both these pursuits to have major flaws about them. For me freedom as a believer is not freedom to do things I would like to pursue but freedom is not needing to do things and we must remember the placing of a stumbling block in front of our brother is not a good idea if it can be avoided.
Secondly, yes our forefathers may have drank alcohol. But they were such a small group we can not say how much alcohol was involved in their daily life. The brethren of the 20th century were very committed to fighting the abuses of alcohol in their time. I think if we attach the name Brethren to something the majority of the Brethren ought to be in favor of it and I am not so sure the majority of Brethren today would like to have their name associated with the word brewery. I do hope you win many people to Christ but I do hope you also wrestled with all the implications of what you are to embark upon.
In Christ love, Wes Lewis
Hey Wes. I hear your concern and know that we take the topic of alcohol consummation very respectfully. It has been a total of 18 months, from having the idea, to where we find ourselves today. I want to also make clear that at our brew pub gatherings, we have a crystal clear disclaimer, that is said at the ebbing of every meeting, if there is some who has a issue with alcohol or if people accidentally get over served (which we also regulate strictly) that this is not the venue for them.
I hope this helps shed some more light on what we're doing out there in CA. Feel free and reach out to me anytime you have a question.
Hi Jesse, I am sure you thought and prayed about this and I am glad that you are taking precautions. For me, on a personal level, because I have seen to many lives destroyed by alcohol and have never been at a place or function where I could honestly say -boy I am glad there was booze there it really made the event. I think if we can not enjoy fellowship without it something is wrong inside. Any how I believe the world would be better off without it. But that is just my personal take.
In any church, including traditional ones, worship can easily become about other things and there are all kinds of things that draw people in. For some it might be music style, the speaker or leader, or sadly many come out of force of habit or tradition. That is why I am cautious when I hear of the latest fads or draws in the Christian community. I am sure this is not your intent but be on your guard because the adversary always try's to make it about something else.
Anyhow, I am not sure I am on board with your method but I do pray for you to win souls to Christ. My life verse is I Corinthians 10:31. If that guides your practices God will bless you and my prayer for you and your church is that he does.
Your brother in Christ, Wes
Wes, I also appreciate your concern, but really do believe we've done all due diligence, and when we ask ourselves would Jesus A) be happy with this, and B) come to this, our answer to both is a resounding yes. It is difficult for folks outside our context to understand JUST HOW SERIOUSLY we take this, because people tend to expect the worst, (mostly because of their fear of the unknown). Though we understand this is an unorthodox expression of the church, we recognize that tonight alone, 3 people who may have never heard the Gospel before were exposed to it. We talked about discipleship, and God's parental love and all the challenges that surround that. Two weeks we talked about how grace is predicated on first understanding our brokenness and need to be saved. Rest assured, this is not a watered down investigation of who Christ is, rather an expression that can appeal to folks, who I assure you we'd never have access to, who need Him and perhaps don't even know it yet. We've met folks who have traveled 30 minutes or more, to check out this NEW THING. For us the NEW THING is this idea of systematizing and safely distributing beer and the Gospel. For them, in many cases it's the Gospel itself.
As Jesse pointed out, we are vigilant in monitoring the distribution of beer, have a disclaimer about stumbling blocks (rooted in the scriptures themselves) before we even get started, and have quite ambitious dialogues to process the truths of scriptures and power of the redemptive work of the Cross each week. We offer alternative modes of community for those for whom alcohol may be a struggle, and even drive/uber people home if things were to get out of hand (in spite of the other checkpoints).
The spirit here is not beer first, Jesus as an afterthought, rather an opportunity for questioning people to investigate the truths of scripture in formats that meet them where they are, to build a work around delivery system for the Gospel that allows the good news to get to them, without them coming to us.
We appreciate your concern, and recognize this isn't a format that would work everywhere. However, through prayer, study, and dialogue we're confident that the work we did tonight will add to the fruit of the kingdom, and it is with a clear conscience that we will do the same, reaching those outside His flock, again in two weeks.
Be blessed and a blessing my friend!
Having visited the Beer Guild last Spring I was impressed with how beer simply provided an invitation for folks who would not likely have accepted an invitation framed another way. The gospel was clearly presented by a local pastor and faith conversation in small circles of four or five were rich. Wouldn’t work everywhere but you guys have found a real opportunity there.