Brian Johnson, Pastor of The Simple Church Network at Westside Family Church, breaks down the acrostic B.L.E.S.S. by sharing stories from his church planting days. He illustrates how B.L.E.S.S. can prepare us to build community with our neighbors and share our faith. He reminds us to join Jesus where He is already at work.
[00:00:12] Hi! Welcome to the BLESS every home podcast. I’m your host Gary Kendall. Here we keep the conversation going about joining Jesus and His work where we live, study, work, and play. We’re on a quest to help people discover life, real life, in Jesus, and to see the vitality of their life go up. We see that when they begin to engage in their world with Jesus in mind where they live, work, study, or play. In essence, they understand that their relationship with Jesus is what enables them to actually enjoy the life that they live. They then share that same life with others. The blesseveryhome podcast is designed to involve you as a listener, to equip you, to help you grow, and to help you discover the things that we’re talking about and then apply them in your life.
[00:01:36] I’m so excited to be a part of the podcast. I’m thankful that you’re letting us share about this. I was thinking about what the bless rhythms are for us, and I thought the first thing that would be helpful is to kind of tell you our story, our own family’s story, where we were. My wife and I both grew up in the church. We always joke, even though it’s actually true, my mom taught Sunday school and then went to the hospital have me, so I was in the church the day I was born. It was an important part of our family life. You didn’t ask if you were “going to church on Sunday.” You got in trouble for that, actually. So we grew up and that was just what we did. On Sunday you had a morning service, you had a night service, than you had Wednesday night service. Our worldview was wrapped into that as far as church was concerned. It was that place and it was that thing that we went to and that we did.
So fast-forward. I met my wife Kristen when we were in high school. We started dating and we both committed to doing ministry full-time. Ministry was going to be a vocation for us. So we moved from going to church to working for the church. We were in Auburn, Alabama, and we lived in this little neighborhood where we didn’t know any of our neighbors. I’m kind of making a long story short here. We were on a walk one night after our first son was born. The one neighbor that we kind of knew, motioned for us to come up in his driveway. So we walked up in the driveway and we started chatting with him. As it turns out, a neighbor across the street, it was an elderly woman–her mom had passed away. So our neighbor said, “Hey did you hear about our neighbor across the street that her mom had died?” She was a widow who’d already spent her life at home alone. I just kind of turned my head and acted like I didn’t know and he called me out. He said, “You don’t even know her name, do you?” There was just this sort of silence and I tried to play it off you know. I will never forget he said, “That’s the problem with you Christians, you make loving people a job.
Wow. He brought it!
Yeah. I mean it was so convicting. I said Kristen, you should probably go home. I think I need another couple of hours here. Actually, my neighbor began to disciple me on the ways of Jesus, of knowing my neighbors names, knowing what they did, knowing their rhythms and their patterns. He just knew the neighborhood. He talked with people. So that sent us on a journey where we just became intentional. You know, I tell this story often where I had already checked my mail one day but I saw a neighbor coming to check hers and I didn’t know her name. So I just went and “checked my mail” again and introduced myself. I would find little ways to intercept my neighbor’s life and to get to know them. So that was just one way that we got to know that neighbor. In that journey, I came across this short video by Dave Ferguson of Community Christian in Chicago. In that video, it’s a little three-minute video, and he’s talking about these B.L.E.S.S. rhythms. I was fascinated by it because he told the story how they sent missionaries to Thailand and they had these two separate objectives.
We invited people to our home on Wednesday night. They were people we were intentionally trying to disciple. We would show them, hey this is this is how you live this out. They’re not just rhythms for your personal life. They’re also a liturgy for your gathering. So we would get together and we would eat a meal together. As we would eat, we would listen to each other’s stories. What’s happening in your life? What are the things you’re excited about? What are the things you’re struggling with? Then we would move from that mealtime into an intentional time of worship. We would pray together and we would talk about intentional ways to serve each other. Then we would always share the story of Jesus in some way. So it kind of became a pattern for how our little community gathered. So these rhythms, they’re profound, they’re important.
I came across what you’re talking about a little over a year ago when I read a little pamphlet that Westside put together. It just it hit me in the way that things do when they both convict and excite. I thought, this is awesome because I see the relational equity you can build with people, which is so important to helping people. If people are going to find real life in Christ Jesus, they have to see it work in your life. The more that we’re about telling, the more it feels like the other person is really just about receiving.
But if we can do life together–that’s just a whole different way of learning. It’s the kind of discovery that I think that Jesus is really all about. So when I read it, I thought this is great stuff and immediately began to think about how I could apply it in my life. I have lots of ways but I can talk about them other times. What I would really be interested in today is for you to tell a couple of stories of how you see this happening in your life or Westside. How are you using this?
For the people who are listening here today, what are some practical steps they could take to put this into their everyday life? Because I think it really works seamlessly into the life of a Jesus follower.
[00:09:09] Yeah. So in Auburn, we were trying to live these things out, live the B.L.E.S.S. rhythms but there was something sort of holding us back. Honestly, we just didn’t know how to fully do it. I mean there’s a level of well, you pray; it’s not hard! You learn to listen to people. You have to open up your home to eat.
I like that part.
Yeah, I do too. That piece doesn’t even have to just be a meal at your table. It could be coffee with somebody at work. It could be the break time, you know, got 15 minutes we share a pack of crackers, and just listen to their story. For “S” we find simple and tangible ways to serve. We were doing it, but it was like we had the bones, but not the meat of it. You know what I mean?
When Kristen and I moved to Kansas City, we started working with this mutual friend of ours, Rob Wagner. What we developed around the B.L.E.S.S. rhythms were what we call the “breathe in” and “breathe out” motions that are attached to it. So with each one of these rhythms, we would say, you need to breathe in prayer and you need to breathe out prayer.
So with breathing in prayer, we began to teach people in our lives to learn to do a form of listening prayer, where we don’t just come to God and pour out everything, but it’s a conversation. We teach people the simple prayer, “God, where you are already at work where I live, work, learn, study, and play?” So that’s a simple prayer that you can memorize in five seconds. Where are you already at work? Then just listen. Ask God to open up your eyes show you show you where He’s already at work around you in other people’s lives. We believe as you pray that prayer, He’ll do that. Yeah! He’ll show you those places. Then we begin to breathe out prayer. So we follow that simple prayer of, where you are already at work, with how can I join you? Then we listen again. We just say, “God show me where you’re at work. Show me how I can join you in the work that you’re doing.” Again, we believe when you when you pray those prayers in faith, Holy Spirit will show you how to do those things in meaningful ways and practical ways.
Then the next one would be listening in. So we listen to the stories of our neighbors. We listen to the stories of our neighborhoods. We tell people we listen with our eyes, with our ears, and with our heart. You can just look into the neighborhood and see the broken places. As you hear people communicate their stories, those things that kind of break your heart a little bit about what they’re telling you, those are places to pay attention to. Those are places God is probably already working that you might step in. Then breathe out as engage in relationships. So listen and engage, ask more questions, and invite them to that meal. So you listen, you engage in deeper in the relationship, and then we move to eat.
We say we breathe in meals with our spiritual family, with our biological families. So we breathe in those meals with the people that bring us life. We try to do that regularly. Then we breathe out meals by eating with our co-workers, with our neighbors, and with our mates, the people on the softball team, wherever you’re engaged–a third space. If you have, not to cross over barriers that some people struggle with, but if you go to a pub locally you know two or three nights a week, the people there that you talk to and you share their stories. Those are places that that you’re breathing out a meal. Now we should create time at our own tables because Jesus demonstrates life so much around the meal. So we breathe in meals, we breathe out meals. We use that.
[00:12:51] You may say this later, but it reminds me so much of incarnational living. You know, Jesus took on flesh, and I like the Message Version, and moved into the neighborhood. So He’s a part of life. Jesus never came across like a salesman. I don’t think people are looking for a salesman. In fact, I think people are running from salesmen. But everybody wants a friend. When I moved into the new work environment where I am, at the Plexpod in Lenexa, I really wanted to live this lifestyle. I feel like I’m a fake if I talk about it I don’t live it in my neighborhood or where I work. In this co-working space, there’s actually about 40 different businesses here in the same space, and we share every part of it. One of the first things I wanted to do was just throw a meet and greet for everybody. We spent a fair amount of money getting the kind of drinks that people would drink and knowing also that if we did it this way, that they probably would come.
It pulls down some walls.
It did. So I had no concerns about that. Some of the listeners might have concerns about that, but honestly, I just wanted to meet people where they were, which is, I think, what Jesus did. It was so fun meeting people. I didn’t hide the fact of what I do because I thought, later if they find out I’m a Pastor, if I’m not honest and up front, there’s no continuity. So I told them what I do. But I said, “I just want you to know, I want something for you, not from you. I just want to meet you on your level playing field. I just want to be part of the fabric of the Plexpod. It’s been great. I know so many names now. It’s not like anyone fell on their knees and asked for Jesus. But what happens is, when we see each other, we say, hi. Sometimes when we’re eating lunch someone will sit down and start talking and pick up a conversation where it left off last time. It feels very natural. It feels like we’re part of the same community. Christians, followers of Jesus, can be a part of that community just like someone else who doesn’t know Him yet, they’re maybe on the way, but they don’t know him yet. So yeah, I’m resonating with what you say.
[00:15:09] We always point out that Jesus is always close to a party. You know the Gospel of Luke is around these nine or 10 meals. We say, Jesus is either coming from a meal, at a meal, or He’s going to a meal in the Gospel. So He eats His way through the Gospel of Luke. No wonder they call Him a glutton and a drunk. He’s always in the middle of this party but He’s there because He recognizes that the sacred tool that a meal is. It’s all through scripture from the Passover meal, to the feasts of Israel, to the marriage supper of the lamb. There are these big parties. Jesus uses this evangelistic tool of the meal.
It’s usually at a meal where you’re listening to your neighbor, your co-worker, that you find those practical and tangible ways to serve them. That’s that breathing out part of serving where we don’t just serve the way we think would be good for our neighbors. We listen to their story to find out what is a practical and tangible way that they’ll see Jesus. One of the ways that really lowers the playing field, or evens it out I should say, is when we receive service from our neighbors, and we don’t just act like we’ve got it all together. I don’t know how to build this, or I don’t want to fix this. I don’t know how to make this, but our neighbors do. We say, “Can you show me that?” We let them bring their gifts to the table.
Then the final one is, we listen and we breathe in the story of the Gospel for ourselves first. We always say, put on your own oxygen mask first before you try to help somebody else. If the Gospel is not changing our lives, how can we expect it to change others? But then we learn how to share our own story and we learn how to share the gospel story and how those two things integrate. Well when we moved into this neighborhood, we came with this this framework. We’re going to bless our neighbors and we believe that through blessing our neighbors, they’ll see a better story that they want to be a part of. That’s not arrogance that we have the better story, it’s just the story of Jesus.
So we immediately began meeting neighbors. We immediately began throwing parties. The last party we threw in our neighborhood, 80 people showed up. So we have this big extended spiritual family that we’re creating that are circling around our life. We’re tangibly finding ways to serve them. What we find is, as we live this way, because we pray by name for our neighbors. We ask God, “Where are you at work?” We ask God to breakdown spiritual barriers so that we could speak into their lives as we’re listening to our neighbors. I can tell you almost all the names of those 80 people. We know a lot of their stories, what they do, what their heart passions are, what their hopes for their family are. We share meals regularly. What’s happening is, we’re in their lives in such a way that when crisis happens, we’re who they come first. So we’ve had a couple of those this last year.
The people right behind us, we love them dearly, lost their first child. It was just heartbreaking. We have five kids; we love kids. They came to us, and we walked with them through that. Then we were some of the first people they told when they got pregnant again. We’re able to celebrate with them. It’s to the point where a neighbor is coming onto my porch six months ago and saying I want to get faith back in my life, can you help do that. Well you know, teeing it off, but it’s two years of conversations and relationships, saying who we, are and what we do, and why we love Jesus, and what He is doing in our lives. Those are some of the stories and they’re happening just regularly as we get to know people and as we live intentionally in to the neighborhood.
[00:19:05] Yeah that’s awesome, and as a parent who’s lost a child, thank you.
[00:19:10] Yeah. It’s a hard story to walk through. But, just be there. Again, not to fix the problem, but just to know you got a friend next door.
[00:19:23] The hard part about our story was that Christians in our lives were less helpful than the ones who didn’t know Jesus. The non-believers would probably just cuss and say it wasn’t fair and they didn’t understand. The ones who are Christians often gave us cliché answers. It’s really been a hallmark in our life to say, you know when tough things happen, and they do in life, to go as a listener. Go as a friend. Be there with people without a bunch of answers. There may be a time they ask for answers and you can talk more about that when they do, but we’re really careful not to offer answers to questions they aren’t asking.
[00:20:04] Yeah. It’s so much about living in to the rhythms and the lifestyle. We grew up, to go back to our story, my wife and I grew up in this, knock on the door meet someone you’ve never met before, present the gospel in three minutes or less. I don’t want to diminish or devalue that, lots of people come to know Jesus that way. It’s just the practical reality of my own experience and the people around me, are that we live in such a church saturated world. People have heard the name of Jesus; they sort of know the story. What they really need is to see it lived. They don’t need any more information. For the most part, they know the story and they know what you’re asking. What they need is a better picture of how it affects real lives and real families, and how it makes it better, and how it is a better story.
The B.L.E.S.S. rhythms, we say, are teaching people how to become everyday missionaries. You do get to share the story, but you’re demonstrating the story, often times, before you’re proclaiming it. When you proclaim it, people are saying, “I see the connection. I see the consistency in your life. We want more of that.” Honestly, this is one of the phrases that we use, we say, “Live questionable lives.” It’s sort of one of those provocative phrases. When we go to that passage in Peter, that when they ask you about the hope that you have, be prepared with a response. If you slow down, it’s when they ask you. We need to be living lives that people are asking us this question. That’s a metric for us. How many people have asked you about this hope that you have lately? If they haven’t, maybe we should be examining the Gospel story in our own lives and the hope that it’s bringing so that we live these questionable lives. W don’t have to do the knocking on the doors. We live in such a way in the neighborhood that we are those lights. We are those light that people are just drawn to and they want to say, “What is different with you, and can I have some please?
[00:22:24] At Blesseveryhome, when a person chooses to adopt their neighborhood, and “neighborhood” can mean wherever they live, work, study, or play, they are called a “light.” Jesus was a light and we become His lights. So thanks for tying that back in. Thanks so much for your stories and for the life you’re living, as well as the methods that you’re teaching. I appreciate that so much. As we invite our listeners into this life that we’re talking about, may we all walk in the B.L.E.S.S. rhythms, whether we actually remember what B-L-E-S-S stands for or not. May this lifestyle, the lifestyle of Jesus, be the one that guides our steps throughout our day.