Sharing Life Together: The joys and challenges of home church | Rosanne Moore & Karlene Cannon | Ep. 21
There’s nothing like close relationships for revealing who we really are, both the glory God is creating and the messiness of what is still unrenewed. Karlene Cannon shares today about the decade that her family hosted a large church community group in their home and how God used those relationships to reveal Himself and grow His people.
Bio: In 2012, Karlene Cannon sat across a dinner table from Rachael and Larry Crabb and was captivated as Larry talked about his Teleios project- his dream for how his lifework and legacy of relational spiritual formation would be passed on to a new generation on a broader scale than had been possible in his lifetime. That evening eventually led to Karlene joining the staff of Larger Story as the Director of Content and Product Development, where she uses her experience in education, content development, and software business consulting to direct Larger Story’s strategy and create new products that bring to fruition the Teleios vision Larry articulated over a decade ago.
Karlene has written curriculum, developed retreats, and hosted a large Christian community group in her home in the ensuing years, but nothing has prepared her for the current task of reaching a new generation more than raising 4 children (ages 25, 21, 18, 14) in a family culture where relational formation is the norm, relational holiness is the goal, and the Holy Spirit gets all the credit. As she now launches them into a world rife with divisions on all sides, where the truth is often regarded as optional, Karlene’s vision is to reach this connected-but-lonely generation with the transforming certainty of a relational God and His Larger Story. Her passion has found an outlet in digital course development, content creation, and the kind of spiritual direction that occurs over a cup of coffee, via text, and through long conversations in the car.
Karlene loves sports (actually, just Duke basketball and whatever her sons are playing), all things vintage and historic, great books, fragrant coffee and crackling fires. She feels God’s pleasure when her home is full of courageous people sharing their hearts and lives for the glory of God and their own growth and healing.
Real Church by Dr. Larry Crabb
Experiencing the Trinity by Dr. Darrell Johnson
SoulTalk by Dr. Larry Crabb
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[00:00:28] Rosanne Moore: Hi Larger Story community. We are so glad to have you back on the Relational Spirituality Podcast. I’m your host, Rosanne Moore, and I have Karlene Cannon with me again. Karlene, last time we talked about the overview arc of your church experience, this time I want to talk more about, what was it like having a community group, having 50 to 80 people meet in your home, week after week, over – how many years was it?
[00:00:57] Karlene Cannon: It spanned about 10 years, but the middle 8 were when we grew. There was a bell curve. We grew, and then Covid hit, and we ended. But, yeah, it was a good eight years of really solid regular weekly meetings with a good-sized group of people.
[00:01:15] Rosanne Moore: Wow. So tell me, how did that start? You said it started as a community group, but obviously something was happening that people liked. How many people did you start out with?
[00:01:26] Karlene Cannon: It actually started because the church we were going to at the time had a very strong emphasis on discipleship. “Life-on-life discipleship” was the term that they coined and used. The way that looked was, small groups of men met together weekly, and small groups of women met together weekly, and they had student discipleship and discipleship for children on Sunday mornings.
We were all in. Rich had his discipleship group, I had my group of women. The kids were involved, and it was good. It was formative; those were really good experiences. But one thing was that our kids were getting older. We would have this experience because it was a large church, and it was a large campus. We would hit the doors 20 minutes before church started because it took that long to get from the parking lot to the doors to get all the kids spread out across the church building. We just kept having this experience of, we’d have to take Ivy to her middle school thing on Wednesday night, and I had my Tuesday morning thing, and Rich had his Monday night thing. It started to feel like our family was being pulled apart by the church. That wasn’t the intention and it certainly wasn’t the design, but that’s what we were experiencing.
We wanted to bring us all back together in a space in a way that we were actually experiencing discipleship as a family. Over the course of, probably three or four years, and in a couple of iterations, we started bringing the men’s discipleship group and the women’s discipleship group together on Sunday nights, just for conversations about marriage.
But then, we had all these kids we had to do something with, so we rotated and took turns as an adult down in the basement with the kids. Anyway, that just organically grew. At the time, Rich was doing youth discipleship. He was a leader of a group of boys, so then we just started getting all these teenagers.
Our kids were little at the time, but we started getting all these teenagers who would come to our house and would bring their families and gradually over time it grew into this group of about 20 families. We would meet together for so long that we needed to have a meal, so we would have dinner or lunch, depending on the time we were meeting. Some of the adults would be with the teenagers and some would go be with the kids and do their discipleship time while the rest were cleaning up. Actually, it’s a real family affair.
We let the kids have their own community down in the basement; this was the risky part. We would leave them because they were older teenagers, like 17, 18 years old, and the adults would have their time together. At our peak we had nine different groups of adults meeting in all the different rooms of my house. They’re in my kids’ bedrooms, there’s a group of adults in the nursery, and it was a really powerful way to engage in spiritual formation because you couldn’t hide; if there was a problem happening between you and your spouse, there was somebody talking to him and someone talking to me. If there was a problem happening with your teenage children, someone was hearing from the teenager and someone was hearing from the parents. We were just able to be in each other’s lives in ways that our prior experience, of hitting the church doors and scattering, didn’t allow.
We walked through some really hard things with people. Everything from young women with severe eating disorders to real tragedies. We had another family who lost their father. He had a sudden heart attack, and we walked through that with them. We had our whole set of challenges with family and in church and jobs lost, just the whole gamut of human experience and it was messy. We had lots of really profound, teary breakthroughs. We had lots of conflict that we had to resolve. It was, in some ways, the best season of our life. I think in some ways we’re all trying to get back to that because it was real and fully orbed; you could show up as your whole self and there was some real terror in that, but there was also real goodness in it. It was just a really special season.
[00:06:45] Rosanne Moore: What I’m curious about structurally is: it was a community group associated with a church. You did have people who were designated leaders, and you also had an opportunity for people to plug in at the beginning and then it was resonating so you drew more. I’m curious, if there were someone who is looking for that kind of community and says, I would love to open my home in that way, what advice would you offer?
[00:07:20] Karlene Cannon: We did some things structurally; first of all, we were very blessed to have some financial means to support this endeavor. We’re in a metropolitan area where there’s all sorts of traffic issues that come up, and we started doing the traditional potluck; everybody brings something to contribute to the meal. Because of the logistics of getting all the food here at a certain time, at some point I just decided to handle that. We would have people contribute salad and dessert, but I would provide the rest of the meal because I could ensure that it would be ready at 12:30 or whatever. We just had the means to do some things like that, because logistically those kinds of things can derail something.
The whole way we approach the children is very controversial. What you do with the kids in a church is a big undertaking. There were times we had 30 kids down in our basement and we were just blessed by my daughter at the time when we had that many small children. She’s a teacher now, she was built to manage and shepherd children. Even at 16, she had those kids all engaged in playing games and doing stuff. We were just blessed to have certain things that solved some of our problems. When she went off to college, we then had to, put together a rotation of adults down in the basement, and honestly, they struggled to do what she did naturally.
Every year we had to adapt the logistics to what was in front of us. It honestly gave me a greater appreciation for what churches manage when we all show up on Sunday morning, because we were managing essentially the same thing at our house.
That was the whole period where we got integrated again with the Crabb family. We went to SSD during that time, and a lot of the people in our community were also able to go. We were also involved with another ministry that was a companion or offshoot ministry of Larry’s work.
All of that emphasis on conversation and the training of how to have good conversations and how to really get into people’s souls were things that we were able to engage in together. Sometimes we did that really well and sometimes we did it absolutely awful and had to clean up messes that we made and had to apologize and repent. I think if I remember back, I was constantly confronted with my own pride and entitlement and I really went into it wanting to offer sacrificially and selflessly, that is really the desire of my heart. Then I’d just hit something or somebody and be like, “Nope, that’s enough. That’s too far. You’re asking too much.” I was challenged to put into practice these glib things we would say, of giving sacrificially. It’s hard, it’s really hard to do that. It’s hard when people are in your house.
[00:11:08] Rosanne Moore: I remember hearing an interview that was done by an American reporter with Mother Teresa and she said, “Americans like to give, they’re very generous, but they don’t know how to sacrifice.” It was something to the effect of, they give from generosity, not from love, something like that. It doesn’t cost them anything. And the reporter said, does it have to cost something? And she said, love always costs something. I think that’s real. You put your finger on something. We like the idea of being loving until it costs something. That’s not very much fun.
[00:11:50] Karlene Cannon: It costs us things; it costs privacy, I had to give up on any notion of having it all together and looking good.
There was one period when I was pregnant with our fourth child. It was a really difficult pregnancy, and I honestly spent most of the nine months in a chair because I was sick and exhausted and in pain, but I had three kids, so things like the laundry had gotten totally out of control.
I distinctly remember this enormous pile of laundry in my laundry room. I was sick when it was community group night, so I stayed up in my room, and that night, Rich finally was at the end of his rope and was probably complaining about all the things that he was having to pick up.
Ivy was 11, Ivy was having to pick up and said something about the laundry, so my friends went into my laundry room and got all this laundry. I’m telling you, I felt like the pile was over my head. It probably wasn’t that bad, but that’s just how it felt to me. They took it; they took my dirty laundry and I was mortified. I was so angry. Talk about airing your dirty laundry. They literally took my dirty laundry and I was so angry at Rich that he let them do that. I was so humiliated and embarrassed and yet, they were so glad to do something for me. They were so kind and sweet. They just spread it out so each person had a load to do. I had probably 15 loads to do, they spread it out.
Anyway, it was this pretty radical experience for me. It seems silly as I’m telling it, but it was a radical experience of love. Both my husband – he knew I was going to be mad. He risked my anger and humiliation because he needed help and he knew they wanted to help – and they ministered to me in a way that was really uncomfortable. Yet, God taught me the cost of my pride and the beauty of radical love.
It seems silly to talk about dirty laundry, but He really used that in me because it was really easy for me to feel like I was doing so much for other people, because I spent a good part of my weekend helping. There was even one season where I was writing curriculum for the youth and the kids, cooking all the food, getting the house clean, and raising my four kids. Rich traveled all the time, so it was easy for me to feel like I was doing so much that I think God had to use those experiences – that’s just one – to grab me by the chin and get my attention and say, “you’re really not doing that much. This is about forming you. It’s not about all the things you’re doing.” I think that’s what community is about. It’s about not only how we love each other and how we serve each other, but it is about those times where we hold a mirror up and say, here’s something you need to see. I don’t think that’s what these women were doing when they took my laundry, they just wanted to love me, but that’s what happened as a result. I saw myself in my complete weakness, still trying to be independent and still wanting to get it right and manage my life and still feeling so entitled. It was ugly. There’s something about love; Larry’s phrase of looking bad in the face of love, that might have been my first real significant experience of that, because it looked bad. I had all this dirty laundry. I wasn’t even keeping up with my regular life and I was angry and cranky about them taking it and ungrateful and all of these ugly things. God just said, look at you, here’s a mirror. Who are you and is that who you want to be?
[00:16:37] Rosanne Moore: Yeah. It’s interesting that you brought up that statement by Larry, because that was what was going through my mind as you were sharing. We want to be loved, but we fight it so hard. We fight being loved for who we actually are instead of who we want to present that we are.
That’s so good, Karlene, that’s amazing. It’s interesting to me because the really unhealthy church that we were in had some serious issues. We actually also experienced some really warm community as well, in the middle of that; It’s really complicated to sort through all of that. I had very traumatic births, and yet I had people bringing six weeks of food meals afterwards. As human beings, we need Jesus. This is why we need Jesus. We’re complicated.
[00:17:47] Karlene Cannon: That’s exactly right. There’s Jesus in all of those people. One thing that I just ran across in some of my preparation I was sharing about this course, was a book that Larry recommended called Experiencing the Trinity. In that book, he talks about – Larry has talked a lot about seeing other people as image bearers of God, and that’s a really profound concept. – But he took it a step further and said seeing them in the community of the Trinity and the whole relationship you have with them as part of the Trinity as part of this community. I don’t think that was a notion that was really conscious to me at the time we were doing community that way, but as I look back and think about how formative it was, even for us as a family, like I was saying, we had all of these teenagers in our home and we had really close relationships with them when our kids were still in elementary school and middle school, so we had all of this wonderful experience with teenagers before we actually had to parent teenagers, which was priceless. We were able to be confidants and support for them and their parents as they were walking through really difficult things. We’re just able to experience a little bit, I think, of what Larry talks about that perichoresis or engaging with the Trinity in someone else’s formation.
Of course, as I just shared, that always comes back to somehow forming me. There’s just something really beautiful when a family opens up and lets you be family with them. We were in a season of life where, in a lot of ways, we were losing our organic family. During that season we had some significant breaks with Rich’s family and haven’t repaired them yet; not for lack of trying, but God provided us this bigger church family. In some ways, because there wasn’t all of the baggage that comes with family, the history, we are just able to engage with these other families in intense, wholehearted ways that we haven’t found a way to do with our family. It was such a gift.
I think we have plenty of stories of messiness where there was divisiveness and people left and we don’t really stay in contact with them. We have just as many stories of families that we see. I was just at a birthday party for one of the young women who was a teenager and came up through our community group. She babysat my kids and now she has her own kids. We were just part of their family at this birthday party. For all of the messiness, of the pain, I’d still do it all over again. It’s hard for me because of the painful experiences. It’s hard for me to think of starting up again. There’s a lot of work and effort in building those relationships, but it was absolutely worth it.
[00:21:30] Rosanne Moore: Yeah. That’s good. Thank you so much Karlene, for sharing all of that with us. Larger Story community, I hope you were encouraged. I know that sometimes reading Larry’s books, he creates and stirs a thirst for deeper relationships that we can sometimes ask the question, okay, where do I find that? And I think, Karlene, your conversation reminds us, we begin with, where can I offer that? How do I begin offering that and then see who God brings into my life.
[00:22:09] Karlene Cannon: One thing that I had to learn, and my husband is much better at this, he would go to the elders of the church and say, give me the people that you don’t know what else to do with. I thought, we don’t have to ask for those people, we don’t know what to do with them either, but I learned from him this sort of openness to, I am going to love the people God brings and I’m going to take on my own biases and prejudices and you just like some people and you don’t like others and it’s often the people you don’t like that God has the most for you from them. Especially with your kids; teaching your kids when they’re 14 to love the unlovable is an important thing, but they have to see you be willing to do that first. I think one thing I learned is that it’s the very people that I was the most skeptical of, or least drawn to, that God then used the most in me and for me. I do think going into it, have this real openness for who God’s going to bring to you.
Another thing I learned from my husband and my kids is being willing to invite anyone. To be expectant for what God’s going to do, because He wants us to live in community, so He will bring people that’s dear to His heart.
[00:23:59] Rosanne Moore: Thank you all for joining us today. Thank you Karlene for sharing and we hope you will be back with us next time. We’re wrapping up our quarter focus on Real Church and our next quarter book will be SoulTalk, which if you want to be a part of Real Church, SoulTalk is a good way to get started.
[00:24:18] Karlene Cannon: That’s right.
[00:24:21] Rosanne Moore: We hope you’ll join us for our book club in July, August and September, focused on SoulTalk. There’s still time if you want to get a taste of what real church conversations are like in our book club, you can still do that as well. So thanks for joining us today.
[00:24:36] Karlene Cannon: Thank you, Rosanne. Bye everyone.
[00:24:40] Rosanne Moore: Bye.