The Jubilee Project
Jubilee Christian Church, located in the small coastal hamlet of Goleta, CA (whose next door neighbor is the city of Santa Barbara), is perhaps one of the most unique non-denominational congregations I've come across. When you dig into the church's story, you find an astonishing legacy that has already made a world-changing impact.
I'm interested in this story because it brings tremendous glory to God. And I think it will encourage many Christians, especially congregations who are facing adversity or ministering in places where it's an uphill battle spiritually.
The theme of this whole project: It's often the things that the world overlooks that God uses to shake nations and change history.
On the surface, you might describe Jubilee as a boutique artisan church with an eclectic, diverse group of people who come from a wild mix of backgrounds and denominations. Over the years they have put into practice an intriguing philosophy and approach to worship and the sharing of ministry duties. I choose the word "artisan" for several reasons. The artisan movement in America has grown in recent years, so many people understand its meaning immediately. "Artisan" is about things that are hand-made--things that are given careful individual attention and painstaking work in their slow but steady formation. "Artisan" focuses on quality over quantity.
Jubilee's roots and beginnings are fascinating, and I'll start there (a brief description) before explaining my project.
The seeds of Jubilee began in the early seventies. It began at UC Santa Barbara as a Bible study started by a college student named Julie Griffing, which eventually included her husband Jon Eymann (and both are still there pastoring today, 40+ years later) with the help of veteran church planters such as the late David Shoch and the late Violet Kitely. It officially launched as a church in a store front in Isla Vista in 1974. Before they reached that point, however, God had already done some amazing things to steer Julie to UC Santa Barbara (she was originally planning to attend Berkeley, if my memory serves me, but then God spoke to her in a dream to attend UCSB instead), and then God used her to bring her then boyfriend (now husband) Jon Eymann to Christ, and that's when their epic ministry adventure in the Santa Barbara area began.
And, as we look at where the events above fit into the larger narrative of Christianity in the twentieth century, this is where we find some astonishing connections in Jubilee's roots.
Violet Kitely, who helped plant Jubilee, was one of the original participants in the 1948 revival in Canada that would have a worldwide impact on Christianity in the twentieth century. She also founded Shiloh Bible College in Oakland, CA that, among many other things, helped launch the ministry of perhaps one of the most influential western missionaries in China in modern times: Dennis Balcombe.
Mr. Balcombe has written books about his experiences, such as the 2014 release China's Opening Door: Incredible Stories of the Holy Spirit at Work in One of the Greatest Revivals in Christianity. Bill Johnson of Bethel Church, Dr. Heidi Baker, and Chinese house church leader Brother Yun endorsed the book and made remarkable public statements (which you can read on the Amazon page linked above) about what God did in China through Mr. Balcombe and his ministry partners.
Jon and Julie Eymann have been friends with Dennis Balcombe for decades and even traveled to China and helped Dennis and his ministry smuggle Bibles into China to Christians who desperately needed the Word. Ministry veterans Josh and Tim Eymann (sons of Jon and Julie), Stacey Eymann (Tim's wife), and Barry Griffing (Julie's brother) also aided Balcombe's ministry in smuggling Bibles during a trip to China. The Eymann family and Dennis Balcombe go way back, in other words, and, perhaps most importantly, it reflects Jubilee's passion for missions and the fulfilling of the Great Commission. This connection to Dennis Balcombe is just one example.
Another example: the work of Jon and Julie Eymann in the Philippines, in partnership with Filipino minister Norma Manuel and other western missionaries such as Barry Griffing and others during the eighties, could easily warrant its own research project if one were to study the massive revivals that occurred in the Philippines over the last 40 years. Jubilee played a pivotal role in those events--a catalyst and early spark that ignited a massive firestorm that continues to change lives today. I could also dive into ministry work that Jubilee has done with Faith Covenant Ministries in Poland in the 2000s and Africa (Ghana and Kenya) in the 2000s and 2010s (and ongoing today). Their work with Dr. Kodjoe and Salome Sumney helped shape the entire nation of Ghana in astonishing ways, like something out of an Old Testament story about Elijah.
The point is simple: "look beyond the obvious," as my mom used to say, and don't make assumptions about a ministry based on its size or location or even its denomination or style, whether you think a church is too charismatic/Pentecostal in its theology and practice or not charismatic enough. God has used people on both ends of the spectrum who have zealous hearts for Him, charismatic and non-charismatic, to transform entire nations. And the deeper you dive into the history of this "boutique" church in little Goleta, California, you uncover layers upon layers of ministry impact and a rich ministry heritage that has changed the world. I don't say that as hyperbole. If Jubilee hadn't been formed in the early seventies, certain major developments in certain nations likely would not have happened.
Just to give a little background about where I'm coming from in all this: even though I was just a young college student when I first met the Eymanns, I had seen quite a few churches in America before stepping foot in Jubilee. Thanks to my late father's ministry as a pastor in Montana and California in the eighties and as a "pulpit supply" preacher in the nineties (which meant he was basically a "pinch hit" preacher/pastor who would be assigned to churches that were temporarily in need of someone while they searched for a permanent pastor), I had experienced a wide variety of churches in my first 20 years of life. Of course, every church has its strengths and weaknesses and unique qualities, but Jubilee has made such an impact on my life over the years that I've decided to launch a blog project dedicated to researching and preserving information about the church and reflecting on what I've learned from them. Ideally, I hope to eventually entice members of Jubilee to be guest contributors and tell their stories first-hand.
Disclaimer: It's not about comparing and contrasting ministries. Every church that God has breathed into existence has a distinct value and purpose that no one else can fulfill. The ongoing narrative and history of American Christianity unfolds quietly every day with the steady and faithful work of tens of thousands of churches across this massive nation, but each man must tell his own tale, and I find Jubilee's part in the story of American Christianity intriguing.
I discovered Jubilee in the year 2000 (cue Conan O'Brian's skit "In the year two thousaaaand") while attending UC Santa Barbara, and although recent twists and turns in life have taken me away from California's sparkling coast, my wife Amy and I have been involved in the church as worship leaders, Bible study home group leaders, and occasional guest speakers for many years (and still are involved, though in a more limited way).
One of the little pet projects I did years ago was an album of "musical sermon summaries" in which I took audio snippets from some of my favorite Jubilee sermons, shaped the audio clips into an outline of each sermon in a way that summarizes the message under five minutes, and then set it all to an eclectic collage of edited music snippets to create atmosphere and emphasize the theme.
And that's where I will be starting with the Jubilee Project. Soon I will be posting articles with written summaries of each of these sermons, basically sermon notes from some of my favorite Jubilee sermons--sort of a "Best of" sermon mix from those years. (I will also share the music track that I created for each sermon.)
It will take a little time to get these sermon notes put together.
In the meantime, I found some old posts with pictures and audio on my blog that documented a "worship week" that Jubilee did in 2014 in which we attempted to have continuous worship and prayer in the church's sanctuary 24/7 (or close to 24/7) for a week. I also found some content about "Operation Torch," something the Jubilee men's ministry did in 2014. I will place those posts in the Jubilee Project archives link below to kick it off (and so the archives don't start out empty). These articles have some nice pictures of the people and the sanctuary and some audio of the worship and prayer, and they provide a sense of the vibe and spirit of the church--a nice introduction for the project. Of course, you can always visit Jubilee's website for direct information and more recent pictures and events.
This will likely be a years-long endeavor, and you can access all posts for this project, including the introductory "worship week" and Operation Torch posts, here: The Jubilee Project Archives
You can also click on this picture below of Jubilee's sanctuary to view all Jubilee Project posts: