A Circle Story: The Practice of Listening

Circles are Open Door's way of tangibly training people in the Way of Jesus.  These are the primary spaces in which we become equipped & mobilized into God's reconciling mission of Restoration.  Our Circles take on myriad forms and themes, but a few of things remain the same in each: (1) they are all oriented around the life and teachings of Jesus; (2) they create space for shared life and belonging to occur; and (3) their impact is beyond those who are a part of the Circle.  Learn more about Circles and/or find a Circle by clicking here.

Deborah Benzuly is in a Circle of dynamic women who have chosen to enter into an extended journey with God, each other, and others.  In this guest post, Deborah reflects on one tool that has been especially transformational for her and for those in her Circle.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) I haven’t completely understood or internalized this verse until I entered into a Circle with some amazing women a few years ago.  My original intention was simply getting to know a few other women believers...I had no idea what was in store for me. We've been on a journey through life together: relationships, children, jobs and school. We’ve experienced God’s amazing healing and cultivation in each woman, a true testament to God’s work in us all.

Transformation is what we're about. We have all assumed a posture of growth, to be accountable to one another, and to speak truth and encouragement to one another.  This has not come about naturally, but with intention and purpose from everyone in the group.

It is because of this that I have personally experienced a closeness with these women that I could say I’ve never experienced before with friends.  Each woman brings a unique gifting to the group that I benefit from on a regular basis.  With Kelly, I learn the power of empathy and compassion for myself and for others. Kate has taught me the importance of rest and tangibly incorporating a Sabbath on a weekly basis.  Ashley constantly shows me to embrace God’s love and joy through daily life.  And I have challenged the group to bring learning and ideas into tangible action. Lastly, I have learned how to hear God’s voice and the presence of the Holy Spirit from Melissa.

Melissa has always been the one in the group that seemed to naturally channel the Holy Spirit in forms of encouragement, prayer, images; you name it.  We often joke that she has a direct line to God. She quickly debunked the myth that she was the only one God was speaking to. She normalized her ability to clearly hear God’s voice and speak truth and grace into each one of us into something that we could do too. She framed it as a skill, rather than a gift, as it is something she has learned and has practiced on a regular basis.  It was then that we all had to experience this for ourselves.

We asked Melissa to lead a night of teaching us how to hear for God’s voice. It may sound silly, but the thought of sitting still and silent for more than 2 minutes hoping to hear something was anxiety provoking.  My relationship with God had to this point been one of prayer, however not a conversation. It was during this night that Melissa taught us how to listen for the Holy Spirit.  She walked us through a process of prayer, of breaking any agreements we may have with the Enemy, and asking God what He wants us to hear from Him.  She encouraged us to write anything we heard, saw, or felt, with no censor and no scripting. Then she cut us loose.  In the next 30 minutes, I couldn’t stop writing.  I can only best explain it as an outpouring of love, encouragement, and challenge from God in the form of images, reference to specific scripture, and an audible voice that sounded so much like a loving and tender Father.  When we circled back as a group, I couldn’t stop smiling, laughing, and crying.  It was as if I finally listened and God couldn’t stop talking. I had a direct line too, just like Melissa, and that was worthy of celebration, laughter, and tears.  For it was there all along, I just needed to learn how to listen.

 I am so thankful for Melissa having shared this experience with us and tangibly showing and walking us through listening for God’s voice. This has become a regular practice for me and continues to deepen my relationship with the Father. I am so grateful to be in a group that learns from one another, sharpens one another, and loves one another.

New Hire Communication & Next Steps

Friends: 11 months ago (January, 2013), Steward Team had determined that it was mission critical for us to expand our staff and that our next hire would be a Pastor/Shepherd. As the year progressed, our mission of cultivating Jesus followers expanded beyond our Gathering to include Circles.  Our Gathering is designed to help us become a Worshipping Family while Circles are designed to help us become a Family on Mission.  We are watching as the fusion of these two expressions along with the mobilizing of Pastor/Shepherds within our community is contributing to the care & holistic cultivation of Jesus Followers who are Rooted, Woven, Extending, & Cultivating. The growth & fruit is obvious as is the impact beyond the immediate Open Door Community, but so much more is possible.

As Steward Team explored the Pastor/Shepherd hire with Open Door through four Living Room Sessions in January and one Round Table Conversation in April, two things became clear:

  1. Expanding & diversifying our staff to equip & mobilize Open Door into our mission of cultivating Jesus Followers is essential.
  2. The hunch that the new staff member needed to be a Pastor/Shepherd came more from a desire to compensate for where we felt deficient than forming a staff that mobilizes and equips the community for mission.

In October, Steward Team dedicated its entire weekend-long retreat to clarifying how our mission is lived out and determining how that mission is best supported with staff. After consulting with a team of non-profit organizational experts (Dave & Maya Smith, Kate Schwass) and past elders (Tim Halls, Kerry O'Brien), Steward Team has concluded that we are moving forward to expand our paid staff from 1.5 to 2.5 people.  Our paid staff will include Jer, Elizabeth, and our New Hire.

  • 1.5 staff will be dedicated to helping us become a Worshipping Family and will focus on equipping and mobilizing people for ministry in and through our Gatherings.
  • 1 staff will be dedicated to helping us become a Family on Mission and will focus on equipping and mobilizing people into mission within the spaces we live/work/play through Circles.

Here are the immediate next steps:

  1. Job Descriptions will be finalized by Steward Team.  Our goal is to have this completed by the end of the year.
  2. Kate Schwass has been invited to and has accepted the role of co-leading our Hiring Team.  The Hiring Team will be in place by mid-January and will begin their work of developing our hiring process and casting the net internally and externally for the appropriate candidates.
  3. Our desire is to have our new hire in place by the end of April, 2014.

Here are the financial implications:

  1. We will need to bring in $15,700 monthly in order to successfully & adequately staff our mission.  This will require a monthly increase of $4,700.
  2. In the meantime, we have a runway to help us fund this increase due to the Reserve Account that has been building for more than two years. While this is helpful, when we deplete the Reserve Account, it's gone, making this a significant risk that we're willing to take.

Here is our invitation of you:

  1. Would you consider seeding this next step with a significant year-end gift?  Gifts can be given at our gathering and online anytime between now and December 31.
  2. If you are not currently contributing financially to what God is doing in & through Open Door would you please begin through a monthly gift?  Start with a day's wages every month or commit a set percentage of your annual income.  You can set up your account and begin giving online on Dwolla. ("The Open Door Community" ID 812-632-9836)
  3. If you are giving, would you consider increasing your monthly giving by a set percentage or by a day's wages? Adjustments to your current giving are easy to do on Dwolla.("The Open Door Community" ID 812-632-9836)
  4. Please pray over Steward Team, the Hiring Team, and the individual that God is in store to serve with us.
  5. Please feel free to respond directly to Ben Johanson from Steward Team with any questions that you have.

We've never been more excited about how God is weaving heaven & earth together again in and through The Open Door Community.  Greater things are yet to come!

With you, Open Door's Steward Team

What are Circles?

Over the past couple of years, we’ve gotten clear on the work of The Open Door Community: to resource the cultivation of Jesus Followers (Matthew 28). We’ve spent the last year discovering that a Jesus Follower is someone who is Rooted in Christ (John 15), Woven together as family (John 17), Extending sacrificial love (John 13), and Cultivating others to be & do the same (Matthew 28). We affirm that for the past 2 millenia, heaven & earth are being woven together again through Rooted, Woven, Extending, Cultivating Followers of Jesus.

The BIG Question is: “How will The Open Door Community resource the cultivation of Jesus Followers in 2013-2014 such that heaven & earth continue to be woven together in the East Bay & beyond?”

The Answer: 2 ways. (1) Through our ongoing weekly Gathering (5pm on Sundays) and (2) through Circles.


What is a Circle? A Circle is a community of people (1) oriented around the life & teachings of Jesus; (2) living out shared practices; (3) and guided from within. A Circle is a community of people who are intentionally seeking to integrate the Rooted, Woven, Extending, Cultivating Way of Jesus into their everyday lives. A Circle is a community of people who grow in trust & intimacy as they take risks together in the Way of Jesus.

Who Guides a Circle? Ultimately, the Spirit is our Lead Cultivator & Guide. But we also acknowledge that its the Spirit who inhabits & empowers humans to serve as guides for others. Thus, Guides are: Men/Women who are living out the Rooted, Woven, Extending, Cultivating Way of Jesus. Men/Women who walk slowly, with wisdom, & toward relationship. Men/Women who are in process, teachable, & committed to the flourishing of others. Men/Women who are empowering coaches.

How do I get into a Circle? Simply take a look at the list below and send an email to one of the Guides who will personally follow up with you. All Circles are open-invitation and all Guides are committed to your finding the Circle that will best resource your cultivation.

Circles begin the week of September 15th and vary in duration.

Clint & Heidi Brandow Type: Mixed (Life Stage & Gender) Focus: Following Jesus into Injustice When: Weekends (Day & Time TBD by the Circle) Where: 47 Dublin Dr., Pleasant Hill

Darrell Olson Type: Mixed (Life Stage & Gender) Focus: The Rooted, Woven, Extending, Cultivating Life When: Thursday evenings, Where: 630 Curtis St., Albany

Sandra & Kevin Ernst Type: Mixed (Life Stage & Gender) Focus: Sacred Space…Encountering God Together When: Thursday evenings, 7-9pm Where: 2986 Putnam Blvd., Walnut Creek

Jac & Jer Swigart Type: Mixed (Life Stage & Gender) Focus: Following Jesus in Neighborhood When: Wednesday evenings, 7:30-9pm Where: 2347 Pepper Dr., Concord

Rachel Powers Type: Women Focus: Listening for God’s Voice through Scripture & Living out what we hear. When: Thursday evenings, 7-9pm (Through October 10) Wednesday evenings, 7-9pm (October 16 & forward) Where: 1340 Springbrook Rd., Walnut Creek

Anthony Machi Type: Berkeley College, Grad, Young Professional Men Focus: The Rooted, Woven, Extending, Cultivating Life When: Friday mornings @ 6:30am Where: 2467 Warring Ave., Berkeley

Paulina Inzerillo Type: Berkeley College, Grad, Young Professional Women Focus: The Rooted, Woven, Extending, Cultivating Life When: Sunday evenings @ 8pm Where: 2430 Fulton St., Berkeley

Chris Schwass & Scott Parr Type: Men Focus: The Rooted, Woven, Extending, Cultivating Life When: Friday mornings, 6:30-7:30am Where: Scott's office @ 1801 Lacassie Ave., Walnut Creek

Tony Collins Type: Men Focus: The Rooted, Woven, Extending, Cultivating Life When: Tuesday evenings, 6:30-9:00pm Where: The Pool House @ 1755 Trinity Ave., Walnut Creek