The LBCF Story
LBCF has a long history of inviting people out of religion and into right relationship with God. It seems to be in our DNA to draw people who are burned out on religion but who still have a vibrant desire for God. Our goal is not to “get people to go to church” but rather to see disciples developed who live and love like Jesus. We seek to make disciples who ask “What are you speaking to me, God?” and then respond to what they hear.
We also have a unique history of calling people into right relationship with others—in our community and in the city and world—as we seek the coming of God’s new creation. Indeed, the New Testament word often translated as “righteousness” (dikaiosune in Greek) means to be in right relationship, with God and others. The brief history below is meant to highlight some of the ways these two dynamics, right relationship with God and right relationship with others, have played out over the years.
“Those heady days”
LBCF was founded in July 1983 by Doug and Valerie Richardson and a team of wonderful people who thought it “was so crazy that it just might work” to plant a new expression of God’s love and mercy here in Long Beach, CA. The vision of something new actually came as Doug walked around the lake at El Dorado Park: he had a sense that this community was to be passionately committed to musical worship, to bringing together churches in the city, and to teaching Scripture in a way that invited people into radical transformation, devoid of mere religion. LBCF then started in Doug and Val’s home with six people. They met in the Richardson’s backyard until the space maxed out. Thus, one of the early lessons: It’s hard to grow a children’s ministry when you run out of spare rooms!
For the first 12 years of LBCF’s existence, the congregation was mobile. We started meeting at Millikan High School in November 1983. Our identity as a charismatic community was already in place at this time (today, we call ourselves contemplative charismatics, as we seek to bring together the best of the contemplative and charismatic traditions). And during this time, LBCF’s first missional expressions developed, as missionaries were sent to Chile and Mexico.
Doug also had a heart to reach out to and connect with pastors in Long Beach, to strengthen the city-wide church. This value of seeking unity in the church in Long Beach is deeply embedded in LBCF’s culture and continues to this day. Pastors began praying together on a weekly basis. Doug mapped the ‘spiritual history’ of Long Beach in order to appreciate and strategize how to join God in what He wanted to do in the 562.
GROWING INTO VISION
“Hey, where are we going?”
LBCF remained mobile, meeting in locations across the city. The congregation’s heart for Long Beach continued to develop as ministries to the impoverished became a lynchpin of LBCF’s missional focus.
In 1986, LBCF’s missional vision began to expand. World mission expressions grew and LBCF continued to seek unity in the church and expressions of God’s love in the city. Home churches were developed, organic discipleship (ways of following Jesus) were pursued, and experiments in living in the new life that God gives were embraced. Some things worked, others didn’t. There was joy, there was heartache. Through it all, there was a developing sense of purpose and mission.
In 1994, after 12 years as a mobile congregation, LBCF landed in their present facility. This was tantamount to a mid-western ‘barn-raising’. People brought food, came to work after work, and had a blast making it happen. People were all in, and the congregation grew. We continue to see our building as a resource to be stewarded for the good of the city, and specifically other ministries and non-profits across Long Beach.
During these years, our community helped lead a city-wide movement of repentance for the wrongs of our spiritual forebears. In the early 1900s, church-leaders in Long Beach invited the Ku Klux Klan to gathering in our city. In the early 1990s, LBCF joined predominantly African American churches in gathering city leaders to participate in identification repentance where white church leaders publicly apologized for being complicit in racist behavior and structures in our city. We see this as an example of what we strive to be—a community of reconciliation which helps all things become new in our city and world.
“We were made for something”
By this time some of LBCF’s passions had become part of the congregation’s culture. The passions of worship, listening to what God was doing and saying, risking, trying new things, letting go of religion, and above all, seeking to be an expression of healing in people’s lives, the city, and the world began to settle into our DNA. People who were up for this kind of mission and vision pursued God’s leading and had adventures in places no one could have ever imagined, like India, South Africa, Chile, and, all the while, in our own city. An amazing number of lives were actually, truly transformed.
In the early 2000s (the aughts, we think they are called?), LBCF was influenced by a transformational Christian ministry called ACCD (The Association for Christian Character Development). There was a renewal in focusing on living honest, authentic lives of integrity. This movement rocked the boat a bit, and it deepened the way that the community loved one another. It was also time of upheaval, as some people left our community, in part due to the intensity of the trainings. Nevertheless, this period helped shape our commitment to right relationship with each other and to actually living out what Scripture says in terms of how we engage one another in community, with love, with a refusal to gossip, with fierce conversation (even when it’s difficult), and a focus on emotional health as a part of spiritual maturity.
Of course, through all of this journey, there were hard times. There were deaths and losses that rocked the community. There were seasons of loss and heartache. The work that we did with ACCD was beautiful and transformational, but also destabilizing. The ability to journey through pain together and become strengthened in that challenge also shaped LBCF’s DNA.
RENEWAL AND REFOCUSING
“Learning to live and love like Jesus”
In 2008, Doug, Valerie and the Elders of LBCF, after a long season of seeking to raise up a new generation to lead LBCF into its future, initiated a change in leadership. In 2009, Brandon Cook stepped in as Pastor of Vision and Teaching (he had been the College Pastor, from June 2006).
At this point, the original vision of LBCF was not as clear as it had once been. There was not a clear sense of mission or direction. We had gone inward through the training work with ACCD, but we had lost much of our sense of external mission in the world around us. And this was also a time of pruning. Some people left the community for other communities or cities. The churches finances were incredibly tight. Out of this context, a period of re-birthing came.
In the autumn of 2010, the community at LBCF went through a process called “reFocusing,” which was an intentional time of asking three questions: “Where have we been?” “Where are we going?” “How will we get there?” The community asked additional questions like “Why are we doing what we are doing?”, “What’s our vision?” and “Who has God called us to love and serve?” We targeted five strategic initiatives, including partnerships with Franklin Middle School and Precious Lamb. Out of reFocusing was also born a new mission statement:
Our vision for our community is to learn to live and love as disciples of Jesus.
Our vision for our city is to seek the prosperity of our neighborhoods and of Long Beach. To embrace the forgotten in loving community. To mentor and support children, adults, and families in faith.
Our vision for our world is to proclaim and demonstrate Jesus’ good news.
In this same season, LBCF began a renewed focus on discipleship—on intentional pathways towards spiritual maturity, with mission at the heart of it. Out of this focus our Cadrite movement was born (Cadrites are groups of 3-6 people who journey together through many seasons to grow into our discipleship values of adoption, ambassadorship, and abundant life, together). We also developed a discipleship book called Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus to solidify a pathway—based on time-tested spiritual practices and disciplines—towards mature discipleship. As always, our goal is to call people out of religion and into deep relationship, with God and with each other.
The last decade has also seen a deconstruction of some of our hierarchies and institutional forms. Firmly believing in “the priesthood of all believers” (I Peter 2:9), we have moved towards flatter leadership models, including a Pastoral Leadership Team, which oversees the day-to-day mission of our community.
At the same time, developing into this sense of renewed mission has come with the ups and downs of learning. Living into a missional vision always looks great on paper, but in the real world it comes with challenges and missteps and a stumbling forward. We did not know, in practical terms, how to execute the initiatives borne out of the reFocusing process, and this process of learning has led to the development of new missional models focused on empowering our community to rise up and lead where they have God-given passion and calling. Already we have seen the fruit of new ministries borne out of this new posture.
And of course, there have been times of deep challenge, sorrow, and growth, even in the last few years. In 2017, we had a number of people leave our community as we engaged a conversation around the LGBTQ+ community and the church. We see it as one of church’s most important task—especially given the growing incivility and lack of discourse in society—to call people into unity in Christ, even when there are deep disagreements about important matters. We see this in Scripture (Romans 14 and I Corinthians 8), and we see it as part of our calling. We are a Third Way community, meaning we are committed to maintaining unity in the midst of serious disagreement about this important conversation, as we seek to uphold Scripture and honor one another as we seek Jesus together.
Truly there have been great challenges, and sorrow with them, and nevertheless, we have discovered that there’s great joy in the journey.
As we look to the future, we are committed to learning to live and love like Jesus together, seeking the coming of God’s kingdom where we live, work, and play. And we believe the greatest adventures are ahead of us as we journey as a family on mission together.