It’s just about dusk at Heritage Glen apartments in the Cincinnati, Ohio, suburb of Fairfield. As the sun drops from sight, the lower light begins to mask some of the harsher realities of this low-income apartment complex—including the dilapidated tennis court that’s populated with random cracks and missing a net, the overgrown grass, and the worn exterior paint job. A handful of volunteers from the Red Door, a Southern Baptist church plant in Cincinnati eagerly play with, laugh with and generally corral neighborhood kids. What better way to kick off the church’s plans than by doing what’s at the heart of what the church is all about?
The apartment complex is only about 25 miles from the posh community of Indian Hill, where Cincinnati’s elite—like famous astronaut Neil Armstrong—live. Yet Heritage Glen seems like a thousand miles away.
Photo by Dale Stroud
Josh Lenon preaches at Red Door Church, a one-year-old church plant that operates out of The Underground, a state-of-the-art club and concert venue in Cincinnati.
But, more to the point for church planter Joshua Lenon, it’s even further away from heaven. For the past two years Cincinnati’s Red Door Church, started by church planter Joshua Lenon in 2010, has pointed people in the Heritage Glen apartments to Jesus by trying to close that distance.
Josh and Tiffany Lenon are among five North American Mission Board missionaries featured as part of the annual Week of Prayer for North American Missions, March 4-11, 2012, and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. The offering supports Lenon and others like him who serve on behalf of Southern Baptists throughout North America. With a goal of $70 million, this year’s offering theme is “Whatever It Takes.”
“We can provide just a glimpse of heaven on earth,” said Lenon. “We can paint a picture of God’s future for these people.”
Today that means throwing a block party for neighborhood families—complete with pizza, popcorn, cotton candy and a great family-friendly movie. In the past it has meant everything from redoing the complex’s playground—including buying equipment and doing the landscaping—to providing Thanksgiving meals for its residents for the past two years.
And much of that ministry is thanks to the faithful gifts of Southern Baptists. “Flat out, we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without the support of the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and the North American Mission Board,” Lenon says. “We wouldn’t have the funds to do that.”
The Lord’s Prayer reimagined
The church’s passionate commitment to bringing heaven to earth isn’t just a trendy church planting strategy; instead it’s borne out of a deeply held conviction about the Bible’s most famous prayer—the Lord’s Prayer, found in Matthew 6.
Lenon came to this realization in the midst of a particularly tough time in his life. Discouraged and saddened by a bad experience on staff at a large church in a neighboring state, 30-year-old Lenon and his wife, Tiffany, left the ministry and began a time of deep soul-searching.
“The Lord’s Prayer became really significant for me,” Lenon says. “I thought if Jesus said to pray about this then it is probably what I should be about. I prayed it repeatedly. I thought about it constantly. For me, it was hitting the reset button. I knew this was going to be a critically important thing for me—to wrap my mind around this prayer.”
Late one night, as he pondered the prayer, he came across a life-altering realization—the Christian life wasn’t just about getting people into heaven—it was also about bringing heaven to earth.
Tears started to flow. Months of frustration boiled over. “If that prayer moves from heaven to earth, it means I have a very specific mission for my life: to spend my life bringing heaven to earth,” Lenon says.
A church is born
Realizing this was the kind of truth that should incubate in community, Lenon called up some friends near Cincinnati, where he was from, to see if anyone would want to study the truth together. To his surprise, many did.
Thirty-five people showed up for a whiteboard session to discuss what it would be like if they spent their lives bringing heaven to earth. And what if they did it—together?
Even after the group started meeting monthly, Lenon wasn’t ready to call what was forming a “church.” But God soon made the word unavoidable. Josh and his wife, Tiffany, moved back to Cincinnati with no money, no jobs, and the conviction that God wanted them to spend their lives “bringing heaven to earth.”
For the next year, Lenon and the others who were joining him (his core team) made plans to start a church in suburban Cincinnati. Lenon named the new church the Red Door, which had a creative double meaning. In cultures around the world red doors represent places of refuge and safety. Lenon says the tradition goes all the way back to the Exodus, where the Israelites painted the doors of their homes with the blood of an unblemished lamb.
Everyone behind that door was safe.
“Hundreds of years later, Jesus painted a red door over the cosmos and says ‘all who enter through me are safe,’” Lenon says. “We tell Red Door people that whether it’s your office cubicle or your daughter’s soccer game, or it’s your work party, or it’s your neighborhood, you should be the place that people know as a place of home and welcome and safety and restoration.”
Now, a year and a half after the church officially launched in September of 2010, worship attendance is starting to climb past 100 on Sunday mornings—many of whom are re-connecting with church for the first time or after years of being away. Five people have been baptized in the past year.
The help of other Southern Baptists—both locally and around North America—has been crucial to what God has done through the Red Door. A strong partnership with a local Southern Baptist association and nearby Lakota Hills Baptist Church in West Chester Township has provided a breath of fresh air for the church. Lenon compares the newfound partnership with Lakota Hills to an orphan finding a parent.
“You feel very, very alone without a strong partner church,” Lenon says. “With Lakota Hills coming alongside of us, it’s like finding parents. All of a sudden you find out that someone cares for you and loves you. They help take care of needs that you don’t even know exist and aren’t planning for.”
Just a year and a half into the life of the Red Door, Lenon has already started to plan for future church plants with a similar vision of bringing heaven to earth.
“In five years we’d like to have two churches,” Lenon says. “Not a satellite, but another pastor leading a community of people like the Red Door, sharing resources and sharing a vision.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tobin Perry is a writer for the North American Mission Board. To view a video about Josh Lenon and other Week of Prayer missionaries, visit anniearmstrong.com.)