Harbor of Hope Christian Church considered the Bible as four movements, like acts in a play.
“Garden to City” emerged from the desire to bring our community into a personal encounter with the greatest story ever told, the Bible. I assume I am like most other pastors in that my heart is not simply for the local church to become familiar with the narrative of the Bible, but for the people I love and lead to encounter the Author of the narrative.
The story begins in a garden and ends in a city. It is a garden that God himself planted, beautiful and bountiful, filled with peace and promise. Yet in the early scenes, the story takes a tragic turn. Beauty is replaced with brokenness. Life replaced with death.
It is a story much like our own.
As the narrative unfolds, we discover in it a promise of redemption and hope rooted in the never-ending love of God, who, in an unthinkable act of kindness, stepped into our story in the person of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ life we come face-to-face with God, and through Jesus’ death we are brought back into the arms of God. In the final chapter, we see awe-inspiring images of a city, glimpses of God’s plan to fully restore his creation. There in the city, God is finally reunited with his people!
This was the story we wanted to tell; however, to do so, we faced a number of questions.
First, how were we going to take the 66 books—1,189 chapters—that make up the narrative and create a meaningful 52-week experience while still honoring the text? (If you question just how daunting this task is, read through the Bible and then try to narrow down a list of the most significant texts to a mere 52!)
Second, how would we engage the person who began the “Garden to City” experience with us in Genesis, as well as the person who joined us midway through the year? (That is like walking into a play at the beginning of Act 2.)
Finally, how might we keep the experience engaging week after week so we didn’t reach the midway point haunted by thoughts of why we ever attempted such a thing?
In addressing these questions, I was fortunate to be assisted by Harbor’s creative team, comprised of some of the most gifted and inspiring thinkers I know. What follows is just as much a product of their commitment to creatively communicating the narrative of Scripture as it is mine.
Four Movements, Four Seasons
We began by dividing the Bible into four movements, very much like four acts in a play. For our purposes, these movements were Torah, Israel, Jesus, and the church. Next, we separated each act into individual scenes.
For example: The Torah begins in the garden, where we find creation, which is wonderful and breathtaking—and sin, which is terrible and heartbreaking. In the next scene, God revealed himself to Abraham and his descendants, and promised he would bless the nations through them. So, we created a series on creation and the fall called “Let There Be,” and another called “Promise,” that explored God’s personal encounters with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
In the spring we looked at the lives of individuals who faithfully embraced God’s call. We explored the courageous leadership of Joshua in a series called “Platform,” and David’s wholehearted love for God in “Heartbeat.”
During summer, we looked at Jesus’ life through the lens of John’s Gospel in “A Portrait of the Lord.” And for the remainder of the year we considered the characteristics of the early church that made it contagious in its commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We ended our journey in Revelation 21 and 22 by looking at John’s vision of the city of God. For two weeks, we celebrated the hope we have that one day God will free his creation from sin, suffering, decay, and death forever!
In order to make “Garden to City” meaningful beyond our weekend worship gatherings, we created resources, including quarterly journals for personal study and reflection, small group studies and conversations based around our weekly teaching, daily reflections written by a team of bloggers, Scripture memory cards, and children and family resources.
To this day, when I look back on our yearlong journey through Scripture, I celebrate the countless ways God worked through our simple efforts to bring the story of Scripture to life for our community.
Just recently, one young woman at Harbor reminded me of how “Garden to City” introduced her to the narrative of Scripture for the first time. She actually read the Bible from cover to cover! What happened during those 52 weeks was remarkable. Somewhere along the way, she met the God of the narrative for the first time, and her life has never been the same since.
Her story sums up what “Garden to City” is all about.
Eventually, each of us must make sense of our own story. Somewhere, somehow, we must locate the meaning of our own narrative. Through “Garden to City,” we have come to see that it is through God’s story that our own stories find meaning, purpose, and direction for both today and tomorrow.
Jed Mullenix serves as lead pastor with Harbor of Hope Christian Church in North Chelmsford, Massachusetts. If you would like to know more about “Garden to City,” contact firstname.lastname@example.org.