It's hard to connect with other people when you're not allowed to, well, be around other people. This was the question on Scott Serrato's mind as he moved to Annapolis this summer, in the middle of the pandemic, as a new Christian, with no existing community.

Scott's faith journey started 18 months ago when he left on a five-month deployment with the amphibious assault ship, USS America. Deployment on a Naval ship is hard. The environment is often negative and cynical. As we talked at Ceremony over a cup of coffee, Scott told me that he felt lost. He grew up nominally Catholic, but faith wasn't a big part of his life. He had no anchor to cling to as he began the hard journey. 

And then he met Chaplain Matt Weems.

Chaplain Weems was a bright light in a dark place. Scott got involved with a daily Bible study led by the chaplain and it changed his life. He went from feeling lost to feeling home. All Scott wanted to do was be with people who desire Jesus.

As the deployment ended, Scott was nervous to re-enter the world. The USS America, for all its downsides, had become a safe space with a Christian community that he depended on. To make things more difficult, Scott returned home in March of 2020. The world he left was not the world he returned to. Think about how disorienting it would be to come back from months at sea to months (and months) of quarantine.

Scott’s Bay Area journey didn’t start at Bay Area. It didn’t even start in Annapolis, but in Pensacola, FL. After bouncing around the country throughout the spring, he was living in a Florida apartment so small he had to cook everything in a crockpot. No friends, no community, and little hope of finding any with the country shut down.

A friend had taken Scott to Bay Area once during his years at the Naval Academy. It left a mark. Scott knew he was getting stationed in Annapolis next, so as he sat in Pensacola, cooking another crockpot meal, he started watching the gatherings.

One of the things that struck him was seeing people his age on screen, like Abbie Hoekstra and Jocelyn Sacks. This was the community he had on the ship, and desperately longed to have again. After moving to Annapolis, he reached out through the “Are you new?” button on the website. Jocelyn was his contact. Next he found out that a friend from his Academy days was living in Annapolis. They started watching the gathering together every Sunday and attended a Bay Area picnic, an event held in the fall of 2020 to help people connect during COVID. Maybe community was possible during a pandemic.

Scott was excited to have found a church home—one he had never set foot in—but was feeling like he had plateaued in his ability to connect. This is where I enter the story. Please, hold your applause.

One of the ways that Bay Area is fostering community during this season of distance is through Connect Groups. These are eight- week groups that meet in person to study topics like the gospel, community, discipleship, family, service and evangelism. The goal of a Connect Group is for everyone to be placed into
a long-term discipleship community at Bay Area.

I’d never heard of Scott Serrato, but I was feeling called, along with my wife and a couple friends, to lead a Connect Group for young adults. I wanted to be with other believers, to help the church connect members during the worst possible conditions for connection. Also I was tired of sitting in my house.

Scott told me that when he saw a young adult group was available, he registered for it three times waiting to hear back. It was exactly what he was looking for. Our group met for the first time in Rob and Kayleigh Vaughn’s backyard, masked- up, and huddled around fire pits. It was cold, and it was dark, but Scott had finally found community during a pandemic.

Sometimes our Connect Group goes deep on The Good Samaritan and sometimes we debate which Christmas movie is the most overrated (it’s A Christmas Story). Scott, along with his bone-dry sense of humor, is a central part of anything we’re doing. He immediately started a text thread to plan game nights. Within a few weeks, the group had found a rhythm that felt like home. Scott told me, “Tuesday nights have become more exciting than Friday or Saturday.”

If you’ve been doing your Chapter a Day reading, you’ve recently read Genesis 2 where God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” God designed us to be in community. That’s one of the main reasons that 2020 has been such a trial. Social distancing is vitally important for this season, but it’s not how God intended us to live. I might be biased, but I think you should join a Connect Group. King David writes in Psalm 133, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head.” I’ve never had oil poured on my head, but if it’s as great as going to my Connect Group, I say bring on the oil.

Oh and Scott has still never attended an in-person gathering. He looks forward to going.

2 A.M.
Wake up, read Bible, spend time in prayer

3-6 A.M.
Head to the gym for an hour
Go home, shower, eat breakfast

6 A.M.
Head back to gym to meet first client

7:30 A.M.
Teaching a fitness class

8:30 A.M.
Meet with another client

9:30-11:30 A.M.
Work on classes for AWS certifications
Eat lunch

4 P.M.
Take a nap

5 P.M.
Practice music (for serving on worship team)

6 P.M.
Devotional time

7 P.M.
Eat dinner
Check work emails and business social media accounts

8-9 P.M.
Go to sleep
Are you tired or overwhelmed reading that? I know I am. As I listened to Charles’ entire day, guilt over my own inefficiency slowly crept into mind. When he mentioned taking a nap at 4 p.m. I immediately felt like taking a nap. Before he even finished recounting his entire day, I was ready with my next questions:

“How do you keep that pace up?”

“Are you overwhelmed and tired every day?”

“Why are you so much more efficient than me?”

 As the interview continued, I noticed that Charles spoke with confidence. He revealed no bitterness or defeat in having a day planned out hour by hour. In fact, he almost seemed relieved to know exactly what he would be doing the next day. For the entire hour we talked, Charles never once said, “I don’t have enough time in the day,” or “I have too much to do,” or even, “I don’t know how I will get it all done.” Phrases that are in my everyday repertoire. Phrases Charles never used a single time. I asked him how he even came up with such a seemingly insane schedule, and he shared a simple answer: write out everything you want to do and pick some of those things. Then stick to your schedule.

There’s no way that was the answer. Surely Charles is on some miracle regimen of a top-secret experimental serum that gave him the ability to pause time. I pressed him for more details, but there was nothing more to share. Charles literally sits down and writes out everything he wants or needs to do in a week, picks things and adds them to his calendar, and then follows the schedule he just made.

It was at this point in our conversation that I began to see what made Charles different; what it was that prevented Charles from burning out and yet remaining fulfilled and accomplishing his goals. Are you ready?  

(The original title for this article was The Secret Part 2: The Actual Secret).

Charles lives out discipline. If you look at his schedule for a normal day, he begins and ends with discipline. From the moment he wakes up and begins with reading the Word and spending time in prayer, to investing in his education in his free time rather than doing nothing, there is a level of discipline in every part of Charles’ day, in every activity he does.

You could argue that all that effort in discipline in every part of your life would be exhausting, in the same way that we are exhausted by “too much to do” and “not enough time.” But Charles is such a clear example of how the opposite is true. Discipline actually frees him from worrying about having too much to do and too little time because he has a clear, thought-out schedule that he can stick to. Discipline is how Charles changed from being an unhealthy hulk to a lean, agile and vigorous athlete. Discipline is how Charles maintains multiple businesses while continuing his personal education. Discipline is how Charles grew from playing one instrument on the worship team to three.

Discipline is how Charles has entered into a deep and growing relationship with Jesus. “Reading the Word is seven days a week; there’s no changing that. It becomes an everyday thing. The more you do it, [the less] you have to think about it.” Pay special attention to how Charles explained that. It becomes an everyday thing. Charles has done that through praying and reading the Bible as soon as he wakes up, every single day.

Charles is a walking reminder that discipline actually opens new doors. If I work out every day with 20-pound weights, eventually I will be able to lift 30-pound weight. If I choose my routines and schedules carefully and stick to it, I won’t be overwhelmed by a lack of time. I think we all experience a similar fear when we first begin a new discipline. It probably sounds similar to this: “What if I turn this activity into a planned, scheduled routine, and it becomes boring and dry?” I know that thought has crossed my mind plenty of times. Personally, I experience this fear when I think about my spiritual routines. If I create a schedule and a routine to read my Bible and pray at the same time every day, will it become so routine that my brain starts to check out? If I practice Sabbath on the same day every single week, will that day eventually turn into a day where I sit around and do nothing?

But in the same way that I’ll never experience lifting a large weight unless I start with a smaller one, I won’t experience the depth of knowledge and wisdom in God’s word unless I start reading every day. I won’t experience the fruit of regular rest in God unless I start designating a time in my week to Sabbath. And while there may be a limit to how much weight I can lift (trust me there is a limit and it is low), there is no limit to how much God can teach us from reading the Bible. There is no limit to what God can do with us when we have been rested and refreshed in Him.

I encourage you to try what Charles does and add a little discipline into your life. You don’t need to start big, in fact I’d say start small! Read a chapter of the Bible every day. Plan one meal a day that is intentionally healthy. Set a daily alarm to take five minutes to pray. And keep your eyes attentive to the doors that discipline can open.