The Branch is a two-year old church plant in downtown Long Beach. Their church operates on what they call their rhythms of Love, Learn, Live, and as they enter their third year as a church they plan to focus their community life on discipleship. Again.
The original plan had been to focus on discipleship in year two and then shift in year three to a focus on service to the community. But then The Branch had the opportunity to move into a shared space with an organization called Beacon For Him, which focuses on service homeless and at risk residents of Long Beach. For The Branch, this seemed like a good reason to jump straight into serving the down town community, and they have spent the last year distributing food, paying for people’s laundry, and making a home for themselves in their space on Anaheim and Magnolia. So as The Branch looks to focus on discipleship again this year, they do so with a strong awareness that what they do on a Sunday morning is only a small portion of the true life of the church. For Derrick Engoy, founder and pastor of The Branch, this is the ideal.
Derrick will say that his role as a pastor is simply to create a space where people can be loved while they learn who Jesus is. I’ll break with decorum and quote him at length here, because I think he articulates it so well.“I think [my personal spiritual journey] paved the way for me to come back here and create space where our doors aren’t closed to anyone. Whether you’re gay, lesbian, Muslim, you are welcome here. My job is not to convert you. My job is to create a space where you can learn about Jesus, whom I love, and at the end of the day if you choose to follow him, great. And if not, you’re still welcome here. I’m gonna still love you. My desire is that you would embrace and follow Jesus, but I can’t coerce you into doing that. … We’re open. We’re not going to compromise teaching the truth of Jesus, but at the same time we’re gonna open our doors to everyone. … I think the traditional way of discipleship was you convert to Christianity and then you go take this discipleship class. But you don’t have to be a Christian to be a disciple of Jesus. You are a “learner of,” again that’s what disciple is, so anyone can learn about Jesus. And so I just think that we’ve had this mindset that we have to convert people first and then disciple them. But no, I think you do the discipleship process where people fall in love with Jesus, and then if you want to call it conversion then so be it.”
Derrick’s take on discipleship melds well with his church’s emphasis on service in the community. It is a discipleship that breathes, walks, and grows; rather than one that ticks a box and moves on to the next thing. It is a discipleship that knows that the men who spent the most time with Jesus while he was on earth spent three days huddled in a room, scared and despairing after his death and an unknown number of days after that debating whether or not to believe that he had risen – all because they still didn’t get it. So often, we still don’t get it. And those in our churches don’t get it. And Sunday mornings are only a fraction of the ways that the “getting it” can happen. Working with your church to live beyond Sunday morning can be a difficult thing. Cultivating a desire to meet the needs of the city takes time. But this is part of discipleship. The rhythms of The Branch capture this life well: love, learn, live. We love others. We learn together (the literal essence of discipleship). And we live together, recognizing that the body of Christ is called to be so much more than a Sunday gathering.