By Elizabeth Sias
If you passed Jo-Jo Spencer on the street, you probably wouldn’t guess he’s a pastor.
With a thick curly beard and tattoos, the young man in his 30s doesn’t fit the image of a stereotypical pastor.
But that’s just what Spencer is, and members of the church he started in Isanti are questioning what it means to be a religious organization.
Spencer, or Pastor Jo-Jo as many know him, helped start The Threshing Floor Church about six months ago after he left his role at New Hope Community Church, where he was voted into a pastoral role with a pastoral license.
“When we first planted this idea, we were thinking ‘we need to get people into church that are disillusioned by church or frustrated with church,’” he said.
The group is largely made up of younger people in their 20s or 30s, but Spencer said people of all ages come to their weekly gatherings, which take place Sunday evenings in the Enterprise Commons store front buildings on Enterprise Ave. in Isanti, next to the John Deere building.
Spencer said he originally approached about 10 people to discuss the idea, and the group gradually gained members. Now about 50 people from Isanti and the surrounding area attend gatherings and Bible studies.
Rather than a place, The Threshing Floor Church wants to be known as a people, or a community. Members are encouraged to be involved with each others’ lives outside of weekly gatherings, so they also spend time together throughout the week.
On Sunday evenings, they spend part of their time worshipping and part of their time learning from a teacher, whether it’s Pastor Jo-Jo or someone else. They then open the floor for discussion, a practice Spencer calls a “communal hermeneutic,” or an interpretation of scripture.
“A lot of pastors are wary of this communal interpretation, but it’s been a beautiful thing for us,” he said. “It allows us to open up the Bibles together, to discuss it and wrestle with it, disagree with each other and challenge each other — we want people to engage.”
The group is rethinking leadership roles of the church — they have no paid staff, Spencer said, because they want their overhead costs to be as low as possible so they can do more with the money that people are giving.
With their decentralized leadership, the pastor doesn’t hold the role of the leader. Instead, Spencer explained that it’s more of a collaborative effort in which the pastor is not always the most visible person, but rather acts as a shepherd.
“It’s difficult because everybody has a preconceived notion of church and what that looks like, so to have everybody rethink and re-imagine what church is really takes a cleaning of a slate,” Spencer said.
The group has grown primarily through word of mouth. Spencer said he believes the biggest gap of people missing from churches is young adults who are leaving church for smaller churches or Bible studies, or who don’t attend service at all.
“Let’s embrace this thinking that these young adults are having and see what we can do to provide an atmosphere where they can experience the love of God and experience this beautiful transformation that can happen through the love of God,” he said.
He said he doesn’t think churches should align themselves with political ideologies because it may close the door on people who don’t share the same views.
“If people can’t come to a church because they feel too ashamed, then the church has done something wrong,” Spencer said. “We’ve become defenders of morality rather than agents of love, and I think that’s a huge flaw that’s happening in the church.”
One of the most damaging things the church has done is become so complex with belief systems, Spencer continued, so the goal of the Threshing Floor Church is to simplify their beliefs and provide a more intimate community environment.
“We just want to be a community that embodies the love of God and loves each other and loves people,” Spencer said. “That’s ultimately our greatest desire.”
For more information on The Threshing Floor Church, visit the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/pages/The-Threshing-Floor-Church/122441131158444 or contact Pastor Jo-Jo Spencer at 763-607-8713 or firstname.lastname@example.org.