Twenty-two years ago I believed the good news of Jesus Christ. I was not a part of nor attending any church. By God’s grace, the message of the gospel was delivered and I finally received it in a postal truck while delivering mail. Over the next 20 years I experienced just about everything one can experience in our modern church models. I took the deep dive into church and the Christian culture, but I never felt fully at home there. I even went to seminary hoping to become a cross cultural missionary, thinking that’s exactly where God would want me. He initially led me to Himself largely void of Christian culture and so it made sense that He would use me to serve the same purpose, to take the good news and apply it cross-culturally.
I came into the church as an outsider. I was welcomed literally with open arms by some of the most loving and gracious Christians. They loved and served me well. But as much as I was accepted there were was always a part of me that didn’t belong no matter how much I fought it. My experiences before I became a believer, while not unique, did give me a perspective on church and the Great Commision that was a minority position. I left for seminary to get it all straightened out. Seminary was great in so many ways but didn’t help my perspective that the church’s mission to reach the nations was largely futile as it was being practiced in the church. I learned that 70% of Americans today have no interest in attending a church gathering of any type. I also learned that only 20% of Christians have any idea what the Great Commision says and less than 5% have a clue as to what it means for their lives. Those statistics reflected what a challenge it is to make any headway in terms of reaching others with the good news of Jesus Christ. Only 30% of Americans are even interested in a church gathering and only 5% of those within the church have any idea what it means to reach them. These are not winning odds and yet the massive resources of the church are misapplied with little to no care for what doesn’t work. While I don’t doubt the well-meaningness of so many Christians and churches, the model simply isn’t working in relation to reaching unbelievers. How many more resources will we waste on models that get so few results? Those questions weighed heavy on me year after year.
So I set out to change it from within. I took an outreach minister internship from my home church in hopes of starting something that had never been done in the 200 year history of that church. I found some success. So then I started a nonprofit ministry set out to connect the community of believers (lots of churches) into the community of need (lots of different needs), seeking to put the church directly in front of unbelievers in hopes that real conversations, culture, redemption, and discipleship would occur. Others joined me and perspectives were changed.
Eventually a group of folks desired to plant a church that would seek out the community of need and do church in a much more simple way, focused on doing life with one another and intentionally spending time with unbelievers. I was all about that missional church life and it was good. I was much more comfortable in this Christian ghetto, but I still couldn’t shake the feeling of still being an outsider in a Christian world that I had finely groomed into everything I thought I wanted.
Then came the brewery. It was originally nothing more than a missional community started from our church to meet others in our community and get to know them over homebrewing. And it grew. And grew. And grew to become Reformation Brewery, a legitimate business. I quickly began to see something new that beer was doing. It was bringing people together that I had longed to see together. It happened when I stopped trying to force it to happen. It taught me a lot about the gospel but it also brought its share of disdain from the Christian community. As an introvert, I felt the ostracism deeply. Over time I made the very difficult decision to let go of the church ministry and see where God might take me next. Little did I know He would lead me deeper into the Underground.
I am now almost two years removed from formal vocational ministry. Some might say disgraced by my vocation as the CEO of a brewery. But never have I been more at home. While I will never outrun (nor do I desire to outrun) my history, I am in a position now that I only dreamed about 20 years ago and would never have dreamed the context in which I’m found. I’m in cross-cultural ministry every single day. I’ve learned more in the last 2 years about myself, the gospel, and others than I had in the previous 20 years combined.
I’ve lost contact with some good friends but I’ve gained incredible new ones. Reformation Brewery is a mess of people. But it’s my underground outpost, my mission field where I get to know all kinds of people and serve them what I’ve been served, grace upon grace.
And if I might put out my first dispatch, “Send help now!” I need fellow gospel-drenched believers to join me. The laborers are few. The fields are ripe and ever expanding. You’ll need to die to self. You might get dirty. But God is rich in mercy and beauty is found in the strangest places. "How do I get there?" The power to live in the Underground is found in the freedom of the gospel that gives us the great freedom to risk. Gospel believers can risk the most because we have the least to lose. We get to be initiators of all things becoming new. And if I might dare say, advance the kingdom.