In 2008 I attended my first Q gathering in New York City, and since then I’ve been hooked. I’ve attended five of the eight gatherings, and it continues to be the premiere learning and networking event of my year. I even partnered with some friends back in 2012 to put on a local Q event here in Denver. Q has become more than an event I attend; it’s a movement and tribe of which I’m a part.
This year Q traveled to the heart of the south and the state where I was born – Nashville, Tennessee. It was the first time Q had been back down south since its inception with the first event in Atlanta, GA. Nashville did not disappoint as a host city. I have to be honest that I was a little nervous about whether the city was walkable enough to make staying downtown near the venue a good experience without a car. But it turned out to be a great experience. The War Memorial Building, the venue for the gathering, was an amazing space, and it was perfectly located near hotels and ample restaurant options. And with a little help from Uber, it was easy to get to events and experiences around the city. Now on to my takeaways from the event.
Q Nashville was a beautifully curated and executed event
If you’ve ever worked behind the scenes to help produce an event, you will never attend another event the same way. Wherever you go and whatever events you attend from that point forward you will not only be a participant; you will be an evaluator of the event as well. You just can’t turn it off. I’ve worked behind the scenes at many events through the years, including several Q events, and I have to say that from top to bottom I think this was the best Q event yet. Why? For starters Gabe hired Lance Villio earlier this year to be the Director of Q (essentially a COO role for Q Ideas). Lance and his amazing team (Despina, Chad, and Peter) absolutely dominated the logistics and execution of this event from top to bottom. This allowed Gabe and Rebekah to focus on hosting and curating an excellent event. While much of the work of curation gets done way ahead of the event by Gabe and his team (who will speak, what are the topics, etc), Gabe shapes the event on the fly – moving talks and making connections through interviews to content presented to surface themes or ideas that God reveals in the moment. Because Lance and his team owned the logistics of the event, I feel like Gabe and Rebekah could be more present in its curation and presentation. It also allowed them to be more present to one another. One of my favorite aspects of this year’s event was seeing all the members the Lyons family present and engaged. As my family and I look for examples of families on mission together, I feel like I got a big dose of inspiration from Gabe and Rebekah last week.
Religious liberty is important, and if you’re not already thinking about it, you need to be
For me, Andy Crouch embodies everything that the Q event and community is about. Andy thinks extremely well, he is curious, and he works tirelessly to advance good. At the numerous Q events where he’s spoken, Andy also embodies what Q is about by stepping off the stage as a presenter and into the audience as a participant. So when Andy started this year’s Q with a talk about religious liberty and the common good, I knew that this would be an important thread to the week. And it was. Andy argued that the religious liberty for any society can be evaluated on how well the rights of religious expression – not just private belief or worship but also public expressions of faith – for religious minorities are protected. As Christians we have to see that if we are serious about religious liberty then we need to be concerned about the rights of all religions in America, not just ours.
In a subsequent talk, Christina Cleveland pointed out that division is created among people not along the obvious lines and groupings (e.g. liberal/conservative, black/white, etc) but simply around “us” and “them.” We like things associated with “us” and dislike things associated with “them.” We break these lines when we broaden our definition of “us” to include “them.” Within the religious liberty discussion, that means that we need to realize that means that we as Christians need to see resistance and restriction experienced by Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and all other minority religious groups in America is also a threat to “us” because they are “us” – people of faith seeking religious freedom. We must also realize that resistance and restriction is not only, or even primarily, political or governmental; it is social and relational. When Christians publicly protest the construction of a mosque in their community they are providing social resistance and ultimately undermining religious liberty in our country.
Within private conversations that I participated in at Q, it was also acknowledged that the tip of the spear for religious liberty and Christianity is the issue of homosexuality. And we must realize that we brought this on ourselves. The “moral majority” Christians of the ’80s used their power to try and limit the rights of homosexuals in America. They failed. Now the tables have turned, and the bully is becoming the bullied. Andy Crouch’s suggestion for the way forward is the way of accommodation. This word leaves a sour taste in the mouths of Christians who may equate “accommodation” for “compromise.” and want nothing to do with it. But the concept seems true even if the word may need some re-definition. The way forward is difficult, but necessary. If we are to maintain our own freedom to express our Christian faith publicly, we have to find a way forward to accommodate the beliefs and practices of others. Even those with whom we disagree.
“Hookup culture” now dominates the relational lives of young adults (I feel old)
Donna Freitas gave one of the most eye-opening and informative talks at Q this year, sharing her research on “hookup culture” on college campuses. She described the social contract of a hookup as: Anything from kissing to sex, a brief encounter, feeling zero emotion so you don’t get attached, and usually alcohol is involved to facilitate the proces. Her description of the almost complete lack of romance and dating relationships within this culture was shocking and bleak. But within those stats was the reality that there are opportunities to point young people toward what their hearts are already longing for – romance, love, dating, intimacy, and building relational skills. Her advice – use the “Good Samaritan” approach. When you come across a young person immersed in hookup culture, don’t just hold up a sign reading “ABSTINENCE UNTIL MARRIAGE!!” If you find that they are deaf, stop shouting – extend a hand, try something new, be creative, meet them where they are. Creative attention restores humanity and dignity. It requires us to see people where they are; not where we want them to be.
Evangelicals may finally be ready to learn from Catholics
I spent much of my early Christian life being told that Catholics weren’t really Christians. They worshiped Mary, believed in works to earn righteousness, and didn’t take the Bible seriously. As I grew older and actually got to know Catholics I came to see how ridiculous and untrue these generalizations were. Sure there are many whose Catholic faith has become ritualistic and more cultural than authentic, but clearly protestants have a pretty big log to remove in this regard before we go pointing out the specks in the Catholic or Orthodox part of the family. I have personally benefitted and grown so much from classical Catholic writers such as St. John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila as well as contemporary Catholic writers such as Fr Richard Rohr. And come on, who doesn’t love Pope Francis?!? So I was glad to see that Gabe was purposeful to include four sessions that were either led by or contributed to by Catholics: Donna Freitas, Fr. Bruno Shah, Dr. Matthew Levering, and Sister John Catherine Kennedy. I was most encouraged to learn about the work of Evangelicals and Catholics Together, an ongoing effort between Catholic and evangelical scholars to find and articulate the many points of agreement between our understandings of genuine Christian faith. What was so encouraging as they went through the statements was how much we have in common agreement.
Women finally are being given a platform for their voices to be heard
Some of the most engaging, most challenging, and most interesting presentations at Q Nashville were delivered by women. Rebekah Lyons, Christina Cleveland, Donna Freitas, Nicole Baker Fulgham, Dr. Caroline Leaf, Joy Eggerichs, Shauna Niequist, Sister John Catherine Kennedy, Rachel Held Evans, Shelley Giglio, Christine Caine, and several others gave riveting presentations challenging our thinking on everything from neuroscience to hookup culture as well as specifically speaking to the voice of women of faith. The combined effect of these gifted women teaching and preaching to those gathered was surely enough to force even the staunchest complementarian to see that the Church is at its best when we look for ways to leverage the gifts of every person, regardless of gender.
Localized neighborhood parish churches are the healthiest approach for cities
I don’t go to Q for new techniques or approaches for what I do. I’m not looking for practical takeaways for ministry. It’s not that kind of gathering. If anything I like that unlike almost any other form of Christian gathering, I’m in the minority as a pastor. I appreciate Q for the way it ignites my Kingdom imagination and inspires in me a vision for how I can pursue that in my city. But this year I decided to attend Jon Tyson’s breakout on Friday to hear more about how Trinity Grace Church (TGC) has approached church planting in New York City with a localized, neighborhood approach they refer to as parish ministry.
Jon defines a parish as “a geographical area of spiritual responsibility.” This is the organizing paradigm through which TGC sees discipleship, mission, and church planting in New York City. It wasn’t always that way. Jon honestly shared his journey of starting an attractionally minded church plant in NYC and the vision God gave him for something different. The breaking point came when a young girl came up to Jon after a church service to tell him that she had just moved from Texas and was so glad that she found his church, because it was exactly like her church in Texas. In that moment Jon realized that if that were true then he would never have a voice to speak to a neighborhood in NYC that was so unlike Texas in every conceivable way unless things change. In the three hours we spent together Jon shared a number of extremely helpful insights from his journey (he made notes from his talk available here and here, though I’m not sure they’ll make sense on their own), but the one that struck me most was when he described one of the distinctives of TGC as “Prayer and Contested Space.” Jon said that in each of their neighborhood churches there is a strong identification with the people. The church identifies with the people of that neighborhood and there is a sense of agony that arises from the brokenness and need you see in the people. And because there is a strong identification with those people – you are one of them – there is also authority to speak into those specific needs and brokenness. The problem of most networked churches is that they aren’t truly parish-oriented; they are multi-site. As a result they can never speak to the distinctive needs and brokenness of the individual neighborhoods. The teaching, delivered by video, is a kind of “commentary-level” insight – applicable to all people, in all places but never really addressing the individual needs of a specific people. As Jon described this process of identification as accomplished through regular, intentional, and ongoing prayer – not generally for a city but for a specific group of people – I began to feel convicted. Then Jon asked this question that crystallized my conviction:
“Are we running projects or trying to see the Kingdom come to our neighborhoods?
I realized that too often I have thought about my church as a project without thinking about the specific people for whom we exist. Since returning to Denver I’ve gone back to something I did in the early days of my time in Denver – walking the neighborhood, praying for the people, the specific people, who live around me. Those to whom God has sent me.
I’m looking forward to Q Commons this fall
In 2012 when we did Q Cities: Denver, the primary desire was to bring the Q conversation to Denver – to be a catalyst for the Christian community in Denver to stay curious, think well and promote good in our city. I think we were successful at doing this. But our secondary desire was to figure out how to help other cities to do likewise – to learn how to replicate a local Q event. On this account we weren’t so successful. The truth is that putting on a Q event is difficult. Even slimming it down to one day of curated local speakers turned out to be too difficult for the city leaders we spoke to who were interested in doing a Q Cities event.
So Gabe and his team went back to the drawing board. What they came up with is Q Commons – an event taking place this fall in cities around the country. On Thursday, October 9th Q will convene groups from around the country for an evening to hear three talks live streamed from New York and three talks by local speakers. There are a lot of details to iron out between now and then, but along with the Q team here in Denver we’re committed to doing at least one, perhaps multiple, Q Commons events this fall. I’m hopeful that we’ll figure out how to bring this conversation to more people in our city. If you’re interested in hosting Q Commons in your town, go to the website and sign up for more info so Lance can follow up with you.