Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Vineyard is turning 25!

This Sunday. 10:30 a.m. The Cintas Center at Xavier University. One huge Celebration.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Practice of Christian Community - Part 4. My Take on "Small Groups"

I have, rather inconsistently, been doing a series on this blog on Christian community. I've recently added links on the left sidebar for the community series...and links to my earlier leadership series on the right side. So, head over there and catch up if you missed the first three posts.

I'd like to write today about "small groups." First - a full disclaimer: I help lead a church with a small group ministry. I believe that a larger church with no method of grouping people into smaller communities is relatively pointless. I've written several times about this. I believe that "small groups" are actually much closer to the New Testament idea of "church" than what we normally call church.

That said, I need to address a significant weakness in typical "small group" programs and ministries. Namely, that many people tend to drift toward seeing their group as primarily an event or meeting instead of a community. Ironically, this is why small group ministries became so widely popular in the American church over the last three force people to move past the mentality that church is primarily an event or meeting (Sunday service) instead of an interactive community. Unfortunately, many small groups facilitate the exact same problem diagnosed on Sunday mornings but in a smaller format. They become simply another (sometimes irregular) meeting to attend - an event to go to for prayer, study and maybe to sing a few songs. Yes, sometimes in these meetings people do grow deeper together and actually begin to share life on a deeper level. Sometimes truths are told and tears are shed. (This is good thing.) But, more often than not, once the event ends so does the sharing of life...until the next meeting in a week or two.

As church leaders, we tend to look at our small group numbers as a sign of health and a barometer for how our people are doing at sharing life together. If we have 500 people in our church and 400 of them are in groups, we feel pretty good about things. "80% of our people are in community," we say. But are they? Are we sure they just aren't attending another meeting? This should be of primary concern for a pastor.

I think it comes down to us wanting a short cut when it comes to community. We know that it is impossible to live in the Kingdom and know Jesus apart from life within a community. We want everyone in our organization to know Jesus and the Kingdom, so we create a system of groups to ensure their growth. This is not bad thinking. It is actually a well-intentioned loving act of leadership. But...we cannot let ourselves so easily off the hook in assuming that gathering people in meetings will lead to community. Our goal is not that our people attend events, but that they can honestly say that they are part of a growing, missional spiritual family. We want people to be in community - not simply in "small groups."

Attending a meeting together doesn't make us a community. Neither does studying the Bible twice a month together. Nor sharing "how we are really doing" 24 times per year. Here's the hard pill to swallow: there is no quick fix to real community. It takes TIME. Lots of it. More than you probably think you have or want to give. Real Christian communities live life together daily. They arrange their lives around each other. Their informal meetings dwarf their formal scheduled ones.

Think about how families are made. Real families are slowly formed over years and decades. I don't buy the "quality is better than quantity" argument for half a second. The people I know the most, love the most, have been influenced by the most are the people I have spent the most time with. My mom and dad, my wife and kids...and my closest friends. Family involves daily check-ins, regular clarifications, consistent communication and, perhaps most importantly, shared proximity. In essence, family is forged over time though the act of togetherness. Once a family has been forged in togetherness, it can afford to be apart for a while. But none of us would honestly imagine a husband-wife or parent-child relationship built solely upon two 90-minute formal meetings per month. We should not presume that a spiritual family can be formed that way either. I'm rather convinced that it cannot.

Of course, at some point balance is a factor. I need days to be alone. I need days to be with just my wife and kids. But I also need to be a part of a church. I need a spiritual family. I rarely go two days without being with someone in my community. It could be a lunch with a friend, a text to check in, a formal "small group" meeting or a friday night poker game. When a community learns to live life together, the need to strictly "program" their time together diminishes. In my opinion, this is why the weekly or bi-weekly formal meeting is still important. It's the time to check in with one another about the state of the community: Have we prayed together this week? Have we shared? Have we learned? What have we learned? Have we worshipped? Have we served the poor? The meeting is a time to keep the community on isn't the time, generally speaking, to do the mission. That is done everyday as life is lived together.

This may create in many of us a flood of negative reactions: What do you mean my small group isn't enough? Do you have any idea how hard it is to get together just once a week in the first place? This is all too much work!

I get it. I feel that way sometimes...even about the people I love. And I think I have found the answer: It is simply hard to live in community. It is more natural to isolate. Being a part of a Christian community will involve radical sacrifice on your part. Just as being a part of a family influences every decision you make, so being a part of a spiritual family has consequences in every area of your life. It will take time to see this family birthed: hours and days and years. It is how families are made...slowly and over time.

So my advice for you is to find a few people to love. Live your daily lives in regular proximity with one another. Be entwined. Tie your lives in relational knots. And have a few "small group" meetings each month to make sure you are becoming the sort of community that honors Jesus and points others toward his coming reign.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Hitting the Nuts World Premiere!

I just sent the following e-mail to the cast and crew of Hitting the Nuts. I thought I'd share it with the's exciting news for all of us!

*content disclaimer - You are all invited to the premiere of the movie, but please know that it is intended to be a PG-13ish comedy with little redeeming value apart from inducing uproarious laughter. If SNL-style humor is offensive to you, you may prefer a quiet evening at home.

Dear Cast, Crew and Supporters of HTN,

It is hard to believe that it has been thirteen months since we wrapped shooting on Hitting the Nuts. It's even harder to believe that it has been over four years in the making! I'd like to think it just proves that good things take time.

I'm excited to announce that Hitting the Nuts was recently named an official selection to the Cincinnati Film Festival. This is an internationally known festival recently named one of the "25 Festivals Worth the Entry Fee" by Movie Maker magazine. (See the full article here if you'd like: )

HTN will premiere at 8pm on Saturday, October 9th at the Hollywood Casino in Lawrenceburg, IN. (Cincy Metro). The festival and casino are also throwing a release party for us at Boogie Nights nightclub after the event. Or course, you are all invited and I hope you can come. We are still planning on theatrical screenings in Las Vegas, Kansas City and Louisville, Ky in the months to come if you want to wait for HTN to come closer to you.

There are about 500 tickets available for the event. Beginning Sept. 30th, the festival will begin releasing tickets for individual films for $10. Until then you can only purchase weeklong and day passes. Those are available now at the following link:

I'm also excited about the film leading into HTN at 5pm. It is the regional premiere of the SNL documentary "Saturday Night" produced by and starring James Franco (Spider-Man, Eat Pray Love). If you are interested in seeing that film and HTN, I would suggest a day pass - which is available now at the link above. If you are coming from out of town, the Hollywood Casino is offering a special room rate for festival attendees. Because the premiere is in a casino, attendees need to be at least 21 years old. However, there will be a second viewing of HTN at The Esquire theater in Cincinnati the following Tuesday. More details on that showing will be available in the days to come at

Feel free to forward this email, post links on Twitter and Facebook and spread the word anyway you can. The best way to get the most current information about the movie is to direct people to the official Facebook page at

We are working on DVD distribution now with positive feedback from potential distributors.  (A VP at a major studio watched the movie and told me he thought he was the funniest indie comedy he had seen in two years. He took it home and watched it again with his wife...) It will take a while to find the perfect match for distribution, but the process is going very well. The festival exposure will do nothing but help us get closer to a deal.

Obviously, it wouldn't be what it is without all of you. I can't wait for you to see the final product.


Joe Boyd
Producer, Hitting the Nuts
HTN trailer:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fences - A new VCC feature film

Whenever I write or talk about what is happening in and around the Vineyard with film and video production, I cannot help but personalize it. I felt as though I was leaving a dream behind me in Los Angeles when I accepted the call to come to Cincinnati a little over three years ago. It was confusing because I felt as though God really wanted me to pursue a vocation in and around film and TV production. When the unexplainable and undeniable circumstances occurred surrounding the opportunity to return to Ohio and align with VCC, Debbie and I had no choice but to follow what was clearly a God-inspired invitation to work here. We haven't regretted it. God was (and still is) in it.

That reality didn't take away some of the confusion and grief surrounding what felt like a calling in LA abandoned half-finished. I remember holding back tears my last day in Hollywood thinking, "I have a new calling to pursue, but this one isn't finished yet." Secretly I wondered if I had somehow failed God...or maybe I had never been called to the entertainment industry to begin with. Maybe I had just fooled myself into doing something I wanted to do. I had, over the course of my five years outside of vocational ministry, received various emails from well-meaning people telling me that I was denying my call to be a pastor and should leave the "Hollywood experiment" behind and work at a church again. Those emails had always fueled me to prove them wrong. I hated the mentality that working at a church was somehow more of a calling than some other vocation. On that last day in LA, I began to wonder if maybe they were right. Had I fooled myself into following some self-centered dream that God had to come and rescue me from by giving me a church job? I had no answers to those I decided to leave them on the west coast and come here.

I remember thinking of he moved to a new land in faith. And I tried to do the same. I would let my old dreams die on the vine because God had intervened and given me a new worthy adventure. So I came to Ohio to be a pastor and help lead a church.

What slowly became obvious, though, is that when God gives you a calling it isn't that simple. Looking back, God seems to have been busy taking the seemingly unconnected strands of my life and weaving them together. Doors in the entertainment industry that were closed, began to open once I moved here. God had moved other people to VCC with aligning passions. So personally, this is the one area of my life where I most feel God's love and grace toward me. The dream I left in LA followed me to Cincinnati. And I have no idea where it is going from here, but I am thankful. I still hold back tears at times...but now they come from overwhelming gratitude. God loves me enough to allow me to be all I am...not just one part of me at a time. For a guy like me, that's the best gift he could give.

So all this brings me to an announcement. Over the next year we will be shooting two feature films through VCC. In 2011, we will produce a romantic comedy currently titled A Strange Brand of Happy. We had hoped to shoot that movie this year, but we need a little more time to round out the funding.

In the meantime, we will be making a low/no budget digital feature called Fences. Here's what it is about:

Josh, a young white social worker, moves into a predominately African American neighborhood in Cincinnati. His next-door neighbor is George, a recently retired African American who doesn’t exactly welcome Josh into the neighborhood.

Over the course of one day, through a series of misinterpreted events, both Josh and George learn that in order to really become neighbors they are going to have to do the hard work of getting to know each other. Blurring (and sometimes crossing) the lines of racism and prejudice, both men discover that the real healing will only come in time…one genuine conversation at a time. 

We believe that Fences will initiate conversations in Cincinnati and beyond about the subtle prejudices we all have. And we believe these simple conversations will lead to healing. This forum gives VCC an opportunity to say the sorts of things we have said for 25 years in a new, culturally relevant way. It gives our voice a microphone to the world.

So, Fences will shoot for about twelve days beginning September, 27th. We are depending on volunteers to pull this off. It's not going to be easy, but it will be worth it. We have lots of video professionals and actors already volunteering their time. At this point, we could use help with the following:

-individuals or restaurants who can provide a meal for 15-20 people.
-people who can provide snacks and drinks for the other volunteers on set.
-locations for shooting: specifically a convenience store exterior, gas station, car wash and a suburban house with a closed in patio room.
-help gathering and finding props.
-cars for out-of-town actors to borrow for a week or so.
-people committed to pray for the project.

If you want help with these things, email us at and we will be in touch this week.

We'd love to have you be a part of this. All of us together can create something amazing. God is good.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

The Practice of Christian Community - Part 3. The Acts 2 Community.

I discovered Acts 2:42-27 when I was in high school. It struck a chord with me. I knew that I wanted to live in a community like the one described there. Here it is in the NIV:

42They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. 44All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need.46Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

It still stirs something within me. I am frustrated that I have learned so much over the last twenty years since it first captivated my heart. It was stunningly beautiful in my youthful innocence. These days, it reads more like a nearly-possible-but-not-entirely-likely future reality. With age comes a sobering realism. This is still the community I desire, but when it comes to living life together, the disciples in Acts 2 did have a few things in their favor that we do not:

1. The Resurrection. They had within their midst the apostles - eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus. These days we all have a temptation to only see the resurrection through a metaphorical lens. I think that is a true way to see it. (To say that we metaphorically die to ourselves and live again is certainly a teaching of Jesus.) The rub comes when we only believe it metaphorically. It seems that the Acts 2 community, fueled by the 12 to 500 eyewitness of the resurrected Jesus, had no room for doubt in the physical resurrection. Their instant conversion to a radical communal lifestyle had to flow from that utterly unique circumstance.

2. Socio-political circumstances. There has been an assumption that the earliest disciples would have been shunned from the Jewish community in Jerusalem, including their own families of origin. If this is true then they may have been economically, socially and political ostracized forcing them to more fully depend on one another. Though not in North America, there are places in the world today where a conversion to Christianity results in persecution, or at least severe shunning. This forces believers together to meet real life needs. A similar thing may have been happening in Jerusalem.

3. The Eschaton. The last thing the leaders of the Acts 2 community heard from God was that "this same Jesus who you have seen disappear will return to you." They obviously took this to mean a quick (and very real) return - within a matter of days or weeks perhaps. They believed that they were living in the very last days before the great King would come and rule Israel. (These last days are called "The Escahton.") Their actions in Acts 2 mirror what they anticipated life to look like when their great King would come to reign. In essence, they began living as if the King were already reigning because they knew he was about to return at any moment. Decades later, these early Christians struggled with the fact that Jesus had not yet returned to fully reign. In II Peter 3, Peter writes to a group of churches saying:

3First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." 5But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. 6By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

8But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. 9The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

If Peter found himself in a position to remind followers of Jesus that he is still returning despite a delay of only twenty years, we can admit that the task is exponentially harder for us 2,000 years later.

With all of that as background, I cannot dismiss Acts 2:42-47 as simply history. I think it is a vision of pure Kingdom community lived out in Jerusalem circa 30 AD.  As the Kingdom (present and yet to come) invades any people or culture, these same realities begin to emerge: devotion to prayer, teaching, togetherness, meal-sharing, radical generosity, worship, expectation of the miraculous and numerical growth. What happened in Acts 2 still happens today. But, it gets messy. It got messy then as well. Acts 2 is a snapshot of the church on its honeymoon while the letters of Paul and Peter show us a messier version of community as the disciples begin to set into a daily life within their various cities.

So at this point in my life I try to avoid the most extreme positions on this passage. It can be dangerous when viewed as a prescriptive formula for church growth. (ie - we all have to sell our houses and live together or if we don't see any miracles this year we aren't a real church, etc.) The other extreme is the position that more or less excuses the Acts 2 community as an anomaly - just a bunch of excited new converts caught up in what they thought was the last days. This quickly takes us down the road of learning from their mistakes vs. learning from their faithful witness. I choose to believe that their response was valid and exactly what God wanted. If nothing else, they painted a picture for all of us to follow. Through Luke's pen, they showed us what  community will look like in the Kingdom fulfilled. As for me, I'd rather give my life to seeing us get us close as we can to that vision on this side of the Parousia.  These are the last days. We are in the Eschaton. We have been for 2,000 years...but to God that's like 48 hours. I'd love for Jesus to find my church looking a lot more like Acts 2 than anything else when he comes back to reign.

Friday, September 03, 2010

I don't like being a pastor.

I don't like being a pastor.

Now let me unpack that.

Maybe, a less dramatic way to say what I am feeling is that I don't like being perceived or labeled as a pastor. The Bible lists pastoring among the spiritual gifts given to believers. I don't believe that I have a large measure of the "pastoring" gift. To me, a true pastor (Biblically speaking) is someone exceptionally gifted to care for and disciple a smaller group of people. I may be better at that than I give myself credit for, but it isn't my primary gifting.

I can look past that, though. I live in culture where the word "pastor" (or minster, reverend, etc.) means something other than what the New Testament means when it uses the word. I don't have to be the etymological purist who tries to rescues words back to their earlier meanings. I'm tempted to do that, but it isn't worth the effort. So, in our culture, a "pastor" is for all intensive purposes defined as a protestant priest. Most people would define a "pastor" as a professional clergyman who leads a church (meaning a non-profit religious organization). There are, of course, negative connotations to the word. Lots of pastors are egomaniacs, for instance. Many are rather shallow people using religion to forge a career for themselves. Some of them, of course, love God and their people legitimately...ok, probably most of them do if I am being fair. But, the reality is that the word itself isn't a very exciting label for me to attach to myself.

When someone on an airplane asks me what I do I usually say, "I work for a church." If I'm feeling particularly guarded I might say something like,  "I do lots of things...teach at a church, write books, make movies." They will generally be intrigued more by writing books and making movies, which leads the conversation toward a more desired destination. In most circumstances I can rarely make these words come out of my mouth: "I'm a pastor."

I do have business cards that I never use that say "pastor." It's also what appears on my W2 form. I am, legally speaking, a pastor. I'm registered with the state of Ohio as a member of the clergy to perform religious rites. I'm a pastor. I just hate being called one.

I worry that I think too negatively about this stuff. I know I can tend to do that. The "happier" people in my life advise me to make it my ambition to embrace the title and embark on a crusade to redefine it. But it's hard to give my life to redeeming a title that neither Biblically nor culturally accurately defines what God has called me to be.

This post all comes from a thought I had during our prayer time last night in my church meeting (small group). It hit me that for all of the obviously rough days Jesus weathered, there might have been a similar frustration that he quietly endured day to day. I started thinking about how many people called him "Rabbi." He was a rabbi - a teacher. But he wasn't like the other rabbis. He spent the majority of his time combatting the Pharisees, the leading faction of rabbis. I wonder if the average person - at first glance - just put Jesus in the "rabbi box." I wonder if they thought things like, "He's a little different than the Pharisees, but a rabbi is a rabbi. He's all talk. All about the rules. All about the power, etc."

Of course, those who spent time with him would begin to say things like, "unlike the other rabbis, he speaks with genuine authority." But, I can't help but wonder if his stomach didn't turn now and again when a stranger walked up to him and addressed him as "rabbi." Maybe I'm way off. I am obviously projecting my own story onto his...but I don't think I have thought about how the cultural expectations of being a rabbi could have been a frustrating obstacle toward his goal of bringing the Kingdom.

I have a great measure of clarity around what God has called me to these days. He's called me to live my life in a church defined as a "a small missional family loving God and each other." He's called me to Cincinnati and the Vineyard to use my gifts to mobilize people to see the Kingdom come in our city and beyond. He's called me to play a role in speaking to the larger American culture through film and video production. I'd do those things regardless of my job or title or circumstances. I don't think any of these callings make me a pastor, but you can keep calling me that if you long as neither of us really start believing it too much.


Pastor Joe

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

The Practice of Christian Community - Part 2. It's About God.

This is the second in a series on Christian Community. You can read the first post here.

Let's get our theology on for this post. Just a little:

Orthodox Christians believe in a mystery normally labeled the "Trinity." We say that God is one being existing in three persons - Father, Son and Spirit. To say this is to say that the One God who always was has always been Three. At his core, he is a functioning community. He is such a community that we are careful to say that he is not three Gods working together, but we boldly proclaim the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One."

He is such a profoundly perfect community that he is, in fact, One.
He is plurally singular and singularly plural. He is Three, but One.

And we are created in his image. More than that, we are drawn into his Being. When need only to revisit John 15 from our previous post to hear Jesus tell us to "remain in him" as he remains in the Father. The ancients would often speak of this reality as a "divine dance." The great joy we have is knowing that we have been invited into the everlasting dance of the Trinity. Once we were alone, but now we are free to live in the community of God himself.

In other words, it is impossible to talk about the Christian God without talking about community. Even to say things like, "God is love" has an understated assumption of a triune being who loves within himself. So, when God creates a people he has an agenda. He wants a people who will represent him. He infuses his DNA into us. He creates, as he always has, in his image.

All of this produces in me a different way of thinking about community. If it is about God and his being, then it truly isn't about me or those around me. Community simply becomes worship. It is how I show God that I love him. It becomes discipleship. It is how I become like God, since he is the first and greatest community.

Sometimes, when it comes to the various acts of worship, I find that I simply don't want to do them for whatever reason. (I think of singing praise songs or giving my time and money or standing in solidarity with the poor.) Sometimes worship flows from me because I am overflowing with gratitude, but sometimes worship itself is a discipline that I do in spite of my desire not to. I know that God is worth it, so I give him my time or money or praise. Community is the same way. Sometimes I am filled with gratitude and being in community is natural - sometimes it is even fun and easy. But sometimes I don't want to be in community. Then it becomes a discipline of worship.

Though we may overlook this truth, it is clearly stated in the Scriptures. I John 4 says it clearly and better than I can. The reason we live in community is because of the nature of God himself:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. In this way, love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment, because in this world we are like him. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.