Chris Breslin is the pastor of Oak Church in Durham, NC, the proud husband to Rachel, and the dad of Noa, Titus, and Emett. He is the shipping assistant for his wife’s thriving cottage-industrial venture, Bullpin Apparel. He enjoys reading and learning about intersections between theology and the arts, tending his small flock of chickens named pop divas, adding to his vinyl music collection, following FSU football, Durham Bulls baseball, and Duke hoops. Some of his favorite authors are N.T. Wright, Eugene Peterson, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, T.S. Eliot, and Christian Wiman.
A younger me would have prepared for this year’s Awakenings Conference by making sure I had plenty of writing materials. Don’t get me wrong, I took copious notes (not as aesthetically pleasing ones as these though). Missio Alliance Gatherings have always been cornucopian in their abundance of food-for-thought. Their most lasting nourishment came from a surprising part of the trip.
But what if I told you my greatest highlight of Awakenings was a nine-hour roundtrip that started with a broken windshield?
Each of the last several years, I’ve trekked up to either Missio Alliance’s or Ecclesia Network’s Gatherings. Each year, I’ve added friends and co-laborers in the gospel to the carpool. Each year, we’ve returned home having learned something which has deeply shaped the way we think, pray, and live the gospel in our context. In 2014 at Ecclesia, I learned about this community of pastors and practitioners who not only knew stuff, but shared in ministry around the table. Shared their struggles and their joys, shared their questions and their challenges. In subsequent years, we’ve continued to grow our carload. As we’ve grown, another significant takeaway has been seeing and experiencing the Spirit powerfully working in confident, humble, gifted women leaders in our midst. I can’t tell you how inspiring this has been for some of our female leaders, to not only a powerful inspiring vision of what it might look like to lead, but also sustaining friendships a step or two ahead in their own journey.
It was with that expectation that our little Durham, NC church plant stuffed five us in a northbound vehicle to see what the Spirit might dole out this year. If previous years, were bound to show us what it looked and felt like to partner in the gospel, to live into a vision of being #TrulyHuman, and to affirm and equip women as powerful ministers of the gospel, this year was going to be the year of the Spirit, which is always strange and exciting territory in which to venture. I’ll speak on behalf of our group, and attempt to synthesize some of the things they expressed to our congregation upon returning:
The Spirit moves powerfully when marginalized people are centered and marginalized voices are amplified.
It really struck us, particularly my friends Nate & Stephanie, young leaders in our church, how demonstrative and powerful it was to open our time together with the public transition of the Missio Alliance Board Chairperson from Jim Baucom to Leroy Barber. We came expecting to learn about how, as white Christians with some obvious and some less obvious privileges, should approach ministry in a way that embraces and makes room for the Spirit to work the multi-culture of our context. This is a good message, but one to which we’re almost inoculated against. To see in 3D, the keys to the ship being handed over to an amazing, prophetic, Spirit-gifted man like Leroy Barber, first thing, was a jarring enfleshment of that message.The spirit moves powerfully when marginalized people are centered - their voices amplified. Click To Tweet
He took hold of that baton and reminded us, that if we were going to participate in “a church reimagined for a world recreated,” we’d need the Spirit to reconnect us to the original story of God calling from the margins. His benediction into a productive that would orient our time together, reverberated for the entire conference.
On the way home, our group debriefed Jin S. Kim’s challenge that the U.S. doesn’t “have a homelessness crisis. We have a hospitality crisis.” We were struck by the deep spirituality grown from Ruth Padilla DeBorst’s Costa Rican context. Her words were particularly poignant because of her profound lived-knowledge of community and mutuality born of the Triune God and embodied at Casa Adobe. And though none of us could actually hear Pastor Charles Montgomery’s final words of his sermonic lecture on the ascent of the missional Spirit from the “Old Ship of Zion” we all viscerally knew and felt it. We had begun to be awakened, to be woke from a Spirit-empoverished slumber.
The Spirit makes us most truly ourselves as we partner in the gospel together.
I’d characterize most of our group as “cautiously open” to the Spirit. Sarah, our divinity school intern, described her operating view of the Trinity’s identity in her daily life as “Father, Son, & Pet Bird.” Most of us, in some measure, are anxious about excesses of the Spirit. Probably not for any strong theological reason but mostly, because it seems so strange to imagine ourselves acting, well, not like ourselves.The Spirit makes us most truly ourselves as we partner in the gospel together. Click To Tweet
I remember Jeremy Begbie once saying that the Spirit “extroverts us.” As an introvert (a car-load of introverts!) this doesn’t seem too helpful or appealing. Reflecting on Awakenings, I’ve come to understand this a little better. Being “extroverted” just means being turned out, rather than in. This is an insight begging to be embodied. Our time at Awakenings gave texture to this: we got to see Spirit-empowered attention and intention from many contexts and in many forms. It was a brilliant gift to learn from self-described Pentecostals and purple-shirted Bishops, to decorated academics and the most even-keeled Portlandian Pentecostal you could imagine. All of these different people shouldn’t exist on paper, and certainly shouldn’t all be in the same room.
With such a panoply of examples, it made it much easier to imagine what it might look like for me to be yielded to the Spirit to work through me. Through the gifts and experiences, assets and limits that are uniquely mine. Easter to imagine the Spirit speaking through my wife Rachel, using those very particular arrangement of Gifts which only she possesses and turning them outward for the good of our church and neighborhood. For the Spirit to empty out and fill up Sarah’s remaining time in graduate school. For the Spirit to help Nate embrace his quiet, steady role as intercessor and to empower him to pull others into that life of prayer. For the Spirit to use Stephanie in the lives of the graduate students she ministers among as they discern their vocations and are having their lives formed for the sake of others rather than for themselves. This is the work of the Spirit, to be make us into something altogether more than we are on our own, but not altogether different.
The Spirit runs rampant (in a good way) in the space created when we listen together.
Finally, perhaps the most important and lasting part of Awakenings was our time in the car together on the way home. I wouldn’t trade that “forced intimacy” for anything. In that unhurried space, with someone riding in the middle and drinking lukewarm generic flavored-seltzer water and eating homemade Anzac biscuits, the Spirit knit us together.The Spirit runs rampant (in a good way) in the space created when we listen together. Click To Tweet
Whatever lasting impact the Spirit works in each of us and through us into the community, a lion’s share must be attributed to our conversational time on Interstate 95. This shouldn’t be surprising. The Spirit always moves in those unhurried spaces. When we ask questions and take the disciplined time to courageously answer and listen. By the time we pulled into the church parking lot, it felt like we’d been commissioned, to continue in both the discomfort and the extroverting, that had begun. This Spiritual Carpooling, couldn’t have been possible without the wide-display of faithful ministers and prophetic voices that taught us deeply and will continue to sojourn with us.