Yesterday, I wrote this post (Jack, Daniele, and the Day the Church Went to the Bar…) inspired by the true story of a real church that chooses to hold it’s worship services in a bar. The church is known as Ethos, and meets at the Mercy Lounge (formerly the Cannery Ballroom) in downtown Nashville. The picture above is an actual picture taken outside the Mercy Lounge.
Probably five years ago, I had a chance to visit Ethos while I was in Nashville for a weekend. After worship, I was able to grab a few minutes to chat with Dave. As a dreamer and a hope-to-be church planter, that single conversation shaped my dreams in more ways than I expected.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, and I was brainstorming some ideas for blog content to keep me focused through the summer writing months. I had an idea to tell stories about the kingdom of heaven meeting earth in surprising ways, inspired by true events but written with a creative flair. The idea was inspired by the stories that Jesus told; stories where God often shows up in the most wild and unexpected places, and stands on the side of those we wouldn’t expect.
The first thought that came into my mind was the conversation that I shared with Dave, after church, standing in a bar. So, I emailed him to ask his permission to use his story for a story, and he was kind enough to take the time and write back.
Below is the transcript of our conversation about Ethos, un-edited. My hope is that it will inspire you to find that faith is beautiful, uncomfortable, and alive.
Jake: Why did Ethos choose to start meeting in a bar?
Dave Clayton: Honestly I think the bar chose us. Several years before we had any thoughts of planting a church, I began a discipleship and outreach ministry with a few of my friends here in Nashville. Our primary purpose was learning to follow Jesus more faithfully, and as we did this learning to share the “good news of God’s kingdom in less than conventional places” became a real sticking point. We started spending time in bars / night clubs and other places in an effort to connect with folks that were looking for “something.” We had a hunch that we might just know the “one” who could fill that void. God opened some amazing doors as we ventured into the unknown and he taught us a lot about himself and ourselves in the process. Years later, when Ethos was just starting to percolate in our minds, we knew we wanted to worship God in a place that was non-threatening to our friends who didn’t know Jesus, but would also keep our Christian friends on their toes in regards to Christ’s mission for the church. Thus we chose a bar.
J: How has that single decision continued to shape the ethos of the church?
DC: I honestly don’t think we will ever know just how much that decision has shaped us. God has done some really incredible things simply because people who normally wouldn’t even give Jesus or church a shot have wandered through the doors. It has kept our mission in the forefront of our minds as we gather each week. We are in the world, but not of the world (not just on Monday-Saturday) but even as we worship. It has helped climate any notion that we are “escaping” from the “world out there.” So we come together, we worship Jesus and we celebrate all that He is up to in our midst.
J: What have been your two or three biggest obstacles in the life of your church?
DC: You are asking some great questions and I’m afraid my answers aren’t accurate or sufficient. I’m not sure that I can give you our biggest obstacles, the truth is that they are probably things we don’t even know about because the Lord has protected us from seeing or understanding them. A few that I’ve noticed that come to mind in the time being though:
A) Uncertainty – every church / person has to deal with the fact that they don’t know what tomorrow holds, but the younger the church, person, situation, etc — the more apparent that becomes. When you are a church that has only been around for 6 months, every challenge is a huge challenge because there is always this sense that it could be your “last challenge.” We had to surrender to the notion very early on that nobody knows where this things is really going except for God. So we will dig in withhim, and trust that He has got us right where He wants us.
B) Temptation to Compromise – I think the temptation of any church is to slightly compromise the radical call of Jesus for something that is a little more convenient / comfortable. Every group and every person fights it — as do we. Our desire is to stay focused on Jesus, and when we see compromise creeping into our thoughts, words, actions, etc … repent, confess it to each other, and then take the tendency “out back and put it to death.”
J: How has God surprised you, your team, and your church?
DC: He has surprised us in nearly every way. Financially (the way He chooses to provide), with people (those who leave and those who stay), with protection (he has helped us through some scary moments), with prayers He has said no to and prayers he has said yes to. God is constantly surprising us with not only how Big He is but how active he really is among our church and our people.
J: What have been your biggest wins? (What are the things that have made your team celebrate the hardest?)
DC: Watching people become disciples of Jesus and then turn around and help others become disciples of Jesus. Watching people who we’ve prayed for be baptized, then baptize their friends, and baptize their friends. Watching people not just serve the poor, but really love the poor. Bring them into their homes. Watching young men and women love the Lord, study their Bibles, care for the hurting. Seeing people use their God given talents to turn our city and the world upside down.
These are just a few of the things that get my heart rate up on a regular basis.
What an incredible story. What an incredible inspiration. Now, it’s your turn. It’s time for you to envision and live out the story that God is waiting to write once you move. It’s time to be brave and to be active. It’s time to be alive in a new, different way.
Leave a comment and let me know: what’s your reaction to Dave’s story?