Why I Still Can’t Bring Myself to Leave the Church

by Levi Rogers

There is some debate but the worlds largest organism, according to some brief, preliminary research on Google, is either the 200 ton blue whale, a fungus in the Blue Mountains of Oregon covering over 2,000 acres of land, or what is known as “Pando,” a single quaking aspen that covers 106 acres of land and weighs an estimated 6,000 metric tons. Pando is located by Fish Lake in South-Central Utah, and, if you believe in Old Earth Creationism, could contain shoots from a clone over 80,000 years old.  Some may be asking the question, “What exactly constitutes an organism? Because trees can’t possibly count!” That’s what I first said, however, according to one definition, an organism is a set of genetically identical cells that are in communication with one another and have a common purpose or can at least organize themselves to do something, i.e., a group of tress or fungus could therefore be considered an organism because of identical cell structure and purpose.

This struck me as curious because in the orthodox Christian faith tradition we who call ourselves members belong to another organism, the Church, capital C, a network of believers gathered together with a common ideology, purpose, and, well not cell structure, but one could say a “redefined, similar interior being.” A whole made up of interdependent parts, perhaps not in very good communication with one another and perhaps at times arguing about just what exactly our common purpose is, but a family and an organism nonetheless.

Most of the time, this bugs the crap out of me. It means I am in “family” and “a part of” people and organizations that most of the time I want nothing to do with. It means that under the Church, we are all equal. None of our specific views or ideologies or beliefs are necessarily better than any other once we get out of the realm of basic Christian belief (by this I mean, basic confession of faith such as sin, grace, redemption, Jesus, etc.). There are those who might disagree, which just goes to illustrate my point further—we are very easily divided. And yet ideally, and perhaps even theologically, we are still united together in our common faith. Some of us might believe war is wrong and others that it’s necessary. Some of us might believe homosexuality is a sin and others may have come to a different conclusion through scripture. Some of us might believe in speaking in tongues and others, not so much. But we are still of the same organism.

How does this work? I’m not exactly sure. I’m sure I could whip up a fairly accurate theological supposition, and yet it seems there is still some mystery involved. Like the other day, when I found myself in church, white coffee cup in hand, eyes crusted from lack of sleep, thinking, “Is all of this even real? Is it? Is church really more than just a club or organization we seek out for belonging?”

I had a friend named Lauren in college. She was a strong Christian, a leader, and a respected woman. After college we lost touch for a year or so and when I saw her again a year later she confessed to me that she was no longer a Christian and felt like most of her faith in college was done solely out of a desire to be a part of community. I understood.

Sometimes I find myself sitting in church, feeling nothing, and can’t help but think that surely this isn’t God’s way of saving the world. Surely there must be some other plan, something more exciting in store. And yet faith and scripture tell us otherwise. It can be hard to believe in faith and scripture above one’s own feelings. If I were going off feelings alone I’d probably never go to church. This week especially (post-World Vision frenzy) it’s hard to look at either the Church or the world and not think we’re all doomed. I look at the world and I see despair. I want to look at the church and God for redemption but lately I find my belief in both wavering.

A song that’s always haunted me is, “Secret of the Easy Yoke” by Pedro the Lion. The first stanza goes like this:

 
I could hear the church bells ringing
they pealed aloud your praise
the member’s faces were smiling
with their hands outstretched to shake
it’s true they did not move me
my heart was hard and tired
their perfect fire annoyed me
I could not find you anywhere
could someone please tell me the story
of sinners ransomed from the fall
I still have never seen you, and somedays
I don’t love you at all

 

It’s pretty rough stuff. It’s basically how I feel every Sunday. Each day at church spins me out because I feel like I should have more faith, more resolve, more feeling. And yet I guess that’s why they call it faith. Because it does not hinge on what you feel for the day. I’m not talking about blind submission to religion; I’m talking about belief in something that is good and bigger than yourself. This is faith. It’s what I try to believe in. And why I need a community of believers around me, i.e., the “Church” to help me regain vision when the fog and blindness descend. It’s not much but I guess it’s why I haven’t left yet, even though I feel like I should have by now.

 

 

Happy Easter, Chuck

by John Blase

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I wish there was a Charlie Brown Easter special, one that essentially mimicked the Christmas special complete with all the cast and uber-cool Vince Guaraldi soundtrack, but one that told the story of a boy who was slightly depressed he guessed, a loveable blockhead who got so worked up with all the commercialism of Lent that he finally raised his voice on a crowded school stage and hollered Isn’t there anyone who knows what Easter is all about?

If there was an Easter special like that, I’d watch it, every year, just like I do the one at Christmas. Why? Because the one at Christmas grounds me, reminds me of what I once believed, and most days still do.  There is a Peanuts Easter show called It’s the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown but its mainly about eggs. True, it does have a groovy dream sequence where Snoopy dances with bunnies, but even that is still sorta about eggs. Now I know there are those plastic Christian egg sets where you can fill each one with an Easter symbol and so tell the story. But for my money, even that is still sorta about the eggs.

So what’s a loveable blockhead with low-grade depression like me supposed to do? Pull a Linus, I guess.

Lights please.

And very early on the first day of the week there were women walking to keep watch over their great sadness. They also carried spices so as to tend to the body of their very dear friend. As they walked, they talked, wondering Who will roll away the huge stone from the tomb? But no sooner had they asked than they arrived to find the stone rolled back. The women stepped inside the tomb to accomplish their task and were shocked to find a young man sitting there in a white robe. Suddenly he spoke, beginning with the old angelic comfort: Do not be afraidI have good tidings of the greatest joy. For unto you this day is reborn the Savior, Jesus the Christ. He is alive and waits to see you in Galilee. And this shall be your sign – death is no longer the end. Go on now, tell his disciples, and remember Peter. And suddenly the women were compelled to run, terrified in hope, with peace on their lips, and good will toward men.

That’s what Easter is all about, Charlie Brown. The everlasting. The happily ever after indeed.

Okay, take it away, Schroeder.

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What does “Say Something” have to do with worship? Everything…

by Melissa Greene

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I read a blog the other day that was questioning and critiquing the use of “secular” music in our churches and in our worship services. The writer had an opinion (of which we all have the right), but I believe he posted about what he felt was the only right and correct way in which to conduct a worship service. His view was that we should never use “secular” music, for then people leave singing the secular song in their heads and not instead thinking about Jesus.

I have so many thoughts.

After being a part of the “Christian” music industry for 9 years I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly. I could tell you about how I believe we have marketed the word and the label “Christian” in a way to sell our products for profit and not necessarily for the hope of sharing the good news.

Or, I could tell you how I believe there is no clear dividing line between “sacred” and “secular” but how I have begun to approach all of life as sacred.

I could discuss my opinion that Jesus, The Word made Flesh, the incarnational reality is alive today in all beauty, truth and goodness, which includes art that is not labeled “Christian.”

I could tell you my many frustrations with social media, blogs and books that seem to be so sure that “I” have the right way if you would just listen to me and do as I do.

See? I have so many thoughts.

For now I’d simply like to tell you my opinion, my process and my intentionality behind how I curate our worship services at GracePointe Church in Franklin, TN. I should mention that I’ve been the Pastor of Worship and Arts there for 5 years and I was ordained this past January. I curate our services, which is to say that I pull together all the elements of each service; the lighting, backgrounds on the screens, prayers and readings, songs, and scheduling the appropriate volunteers all fall under my responsibilities. I, in essence, produce a service in hope that our congregation will have an experience together but I don’t decide or try to manipulate what the outcome will be when they leave the service. I believe God handles that just fine. With that in mind, I do intentionally choose elements that will encourage, refresh, comfort and challenge us. That hour on Sunday is a time to be reminded above all else that we are loved and have great worth just as we are.

When I specifically choose songs for a Sunday morning I choose not based off of what is ranked high on the CCLI (www.ccli.com) chart or what is familiar from “Christian” radio. I spend a lot of time listening and searching for songs that generally speaking carry the message of hope and love, songs of safety or assurance, or songs that are just honest. I feel that honesty with ourselves and God is one of the chief spiritual virtues. I choose to always include songs we sing all together; hymns like The Love of God, older songs such as Wonderful, Merciful Savior, or newer releases like Oceans (Where Feet May Fail). Other musical moments in the service, the times where we are singing over the congregation, end up being songs from any genre (pop, country, indie, broadway, etc.) or any decade. The filter that I use is: does it resonate, does it encourage, challenge or convey a sentiment that we are focusing on as a church? Because if it does, than we will sing it. From Bob Dylan’s Gotta Serve Somebody to Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now to Rent’s Seasons of Love to A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera’s Say Something. Now, I don’t choose these songs so that our worship services will be cool, hip, relevant, seeker friendly or edgy. I don’t sing these songs so that we can pretend that the lyrics were meant to be sung directly to God. No. I choose them and we sing them because this is real life and these songs reveal humanity at it’s best—or at it’s most broken—but humanity nonetheless. This is who we are–beautifully human.

So what does “Say Something” have to do with worship? My response is: everything! If you are in the middle of an ending in your life, specifically in a relationship as the song suggests, then you are going to need reassurance on how to make healthy decisions and face the death of that relationship if that is in fact the best way to go. You will want to be reminded of a new day, a fresh start and a hope that tomorrow will always bring new opportunity—for we serve a God in whom there is always some form of resurrection. Our worship, our spirituality is in how we face this life WITH God and with each other. We face this life WITH hope. But we face life and reality nonetheless.

I want our services at our interdenominational church to reflect that honesty in our worship, in our response to God and in the essence of all that we do.

I don’t necessarily think that you and your church should follow in our footsteps. No, this is the heartbeat of us as a community and our journey as followers of Christ. This is what seems best for us and we are doing our best to honor God and each other in the process.

We believe in the democracy of the Ages; all times, all saints, all places. We don’t believe that you must have uniformity to find unity in the Body.

So, yes, we sing mainstream songs and we sing hymns, we have Eucharist and we have Ash Wednesday services, we take up offerings and we pray together.

This is all just a glimpse into my community which I think is good for you to see. Because when we see each other we see how God is continuing to work in the diversity of this world and the Body.

So let’s keep looking into each other’s journey’s and listening to each other’s stories. Let’s keep our hearts and minds open as God continues to move and redeem this world.

Let’s not be so quick to tell each other what that framework, that world, that song, that service, that life SHOULD look like.

and PS – I might be trying my hardest to fit a JT song in too, but with that I selfishly digress.

Peace in your journey.

 

Photo by Sam Hart, Creative Commons via Flickr.

wherever i’m with you

by Suzannah Paul

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I practically lived at the neighbors’ blue house growing up. I’d get there early enough on Saturdays to watch PeeWee’s Playhouse (unless of course, I’d woken up there) and can’t begin to count the hours we spent in costume, lost to our imaginings. She was an only child and their home a charming oasis where classical music soared at the piano, and her mom served hot, homemade Chex mix, fantastical movies, and creativity in every hue. We accompanied her do-it-yourself parents on dozens of trips to Hechinger Hardware, played cards with her Nana, and celebrated Thanksgivings, because that’s what you do when you’re family, even if not by blood.

In high school I joined a Baptist youth group. My Presbyterian self rolled a bit differently, but I barely realized it ’til years later (when I told my youth pastor, “I followed in your footsteps!” and his eyes widened, confused). Back then we all just loved Jesus and U2 and each other. They were my skiing, singing shelter from the adolescent storms.

In college, I joined sundry Christian groups full of earnest-hearted girls and irresistible boys with guitars, but when I found My People, they didn’t believe or look all that much like me. They were smaller and darker and laughed even louder, and it never seemed to matter that we weren’t The Same when the dance floor heated up or someone needed a listening ear. 

Other times in my life I’ve experienced—or at least suspected—that I’m Too Religious to be accepted by those who aren’t, but finding a home among Christians is tricky too, if you’re deemed Too Free-Spirited or Progressive (or if you’ve been hurt too much or ask too many questions). Alternately, I’ve found myself feeling Too Serious, Too Silly, Too Smart, Too Inexperienced, and altogether Too Much. If only I could somehow make myself less—or more—surely I’d find my place.

But looking back, I have found my heart’s home at way stations along the way, just rarely, if ever, among people exactly like me. When my husband and I left the city for the life bucolic, it took me long and wandering years to find my footing, but eventually we did: at the evangelical camp where we live and work; at our Episcopal country church, among the elderly and empty-nesters; and with friends our age with whom we share secrets and meals and vacations down the shore but not our faith.

I’m increasingly convinced that belonging is more about nurturing creative space together than finding a “tribe” of people Just Like Us. Belonging is cultivated in the fertile soil of hospitality, kindness, and grace, not doctrinal, political, or cultural conformity.

(Anyone who tells you differently is probably selling something, and it’s not the gospel, which is surely not for sale.)

The honest-to-God, Truth-in-Love Good News is that our differences are gifts not liabilities. We need and complement each other precisely because our strengths, perspectives, and experiences are unique. We’re not meant to squeeze diverse passions, personalities, or people into tiny molds.

Folks are disenchanted with Evangelicalism. I get it. Sometimes you gotta get out, start over, and not look back. There’s just one holy catholic and apostolic church, and like the phoenix She’ll outlast every smoldering ruin.

But if there are no standard molds, there are few one-sized-fits-all answers, either. Sometimes we’re just running away, and we can’t outrun our ghosts. Loneliness catches up, and depression descends anew the moment we stop to catch our breath.

At some point, rootedness and growth require staying put, mucking shit, faithful watering, and more patience than we think we can muster.

There is always a death. “Pain is our mother; she makes us recognize each other.

But we are an Easter people. Joy comes in the mourning. Seasons and families and hearts change. The Spirit whispers, and new life stirs.

Shadows lift at Sunday’s dawn, and the strangers and aliens are found at home at last.

 

Photo by Gerry Dincher, Creative Commons via Flickr.

why do the heathen rage? [or notes on a christian bookshop].

by Antonia Terrazas

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I find the shop on the road to a meeting of friends many months in the making, weeks in planning. My single windshield wiper lamely smears the mountain drizzle on my side of things, not helping much.

Must get that fixed, I think for the fifteenth time since last fall. You never imagine you’ll be caught in a rainstorm until there you are.

 The bright orange sign stands out against the grey day—

WHY DO THE HEATHEN RAGE?

I send a text—“I found a xian bookstore we HAVE to go to,” thumbing send after worrying between smirking and vomiting emoticons, the most sophisticated of post-evangelical polemics.

I think I would have more respect in a mosque or a Buddhist temple—in fact, I know I would. (God is not far from any one of us, I am willing to say to the pagan, not the proselytizer.) We barrel in, eyes scanning wild for signs of contempt. It doesn’t take too long to find them. We find Westboro-worthy tracts at worst, the kitschiest kitsch at best. I wave a sticker in the air, twin to the one I had in my middle school locker: a Christian Icthus fish eating a smaller ‘Darwin’ fish with feet.  I find a booklet with a rainbow cover and the subtitle, speaking the truth in love, a claim I am more than a little wary of. Emily and I squeal when I find a stray copy from a Frank Peretti teen fiction series I read before I even had braces.

“Remember the first one? It gave me nightmares!” she gestures emphatically.

“For real,” I roll my eyes.

“You guys, check this out,” she says, pulling a pink book on purity off the shelf, “for girls only,” raising her eyebrows.

Hannah is already reading aloud, more soberly, from a book on the demonic conspiracy theory of bikinis. I wince at the back of a book on ‘women’s ministry’—which I had picked up hoping that meant ministry by women.

“‘…a resource for pastors and women.’ Alright then,” I shake my head, noting the pointed dichotomy. Amma Josephine flutters into my mind, palms held upward above the Table, Amma Erin turning a page beside her.

We are only a few minutes in, but already we exchange looks from around the back room of the little shop and realize this is not just a walk down memory lane. This is not quite what we thought it would be–our past is not in the past. We bring our voices down as we realize the man behind the cash register has taken note of us—bright lipstick, wild hair, dark nail polish, pierced noses, and sweaters draped askew. A nightmare, in short.

It feels stuffy in here, and I’m wondering if this was all real to me at some point and suddenly I find myself needing to touch everything I see. Maybe it’s a laying on of hands.

There are stacks of prayer-cards yellowing in the window: “prayers for your healing,” covered with lilies, like a joke. But then the rounder of pamphlets against the many ‘sins’ of a godless generation, the fear-mongering, the seething hate beyond polite disagreement, white-hot to the touch. My throat almost closes in as I fan the stack that says, “REPENT OR DIE.”  I close my eyes, with a deep breath, Jesus, was it supposed to be this way? I’m really not sure if I’m praying or swearing.

Wincing, I turn and realize they’re selling something I actually want—those special Bible pens that won’t bleed through the thin pages, hard to find elsewhere—I am in Divinity School, after all. I test a few colors on scratch-paper ripped out from Leviticus, curiously. I decide to buy a bright blue one, desperate to make a sign of mercy.

Maybe I also want to be able to place the pen on the counter as if to say, yes, I do read scripture.  But as I grip it in my hand and fan the corner of the dissected color-coded KJV, open to Psalm 2: “Why do the heathen rage?” I know that isn’t right either. This man with the peach-fuzz moustache, suspicious eyes, and pre-conversion moon tattoo on his inner left wrist probably knows the words of scripture way better than I do, and certainly reads it more often.

He walks behind the counter, and I hand him the pen, forcing a smile,

“These are the best, because they never show through.”

I try to decide if I’m only imagining that he’s caught off-guard by my apparent Bible-page expertise.

“You’re right. You’ll find yourself writing on everything with those,” he speaks in a North-Carolinian drawl.

Hannah and Emily reappear from the back, eyebrows a bit raised that I’m pulling out my debit card, nodding at the usefulness of my purchase for school. The cashier eyes the three of us, gathered in motley again,

“Do you girls go to church around here?”

We laugh, giving our confusing account of where we decide to call “home” these days—

“Let’s just say we don’t live in town.”

He ignores our fumbling,

“Well, wherever ya’ll are from, do you go to church there?”

I look up and smile wide, accidentally matching his twang when I answer,

“I sure do—Saint Joseph’s in Durham. They’re dear,” I ramble a bit pointedly, signing my receipt, “a great community.”

“That’s good to hear,” he says, scanning our group a third time, but still invites us to his church the next day, handing each of us a hellfire tract apiece.

Thanking him, I try to call over my shoulder,

“Peace be with you, friend,” struggling with the door and trying to get the hell out.

We walk to my car in silence.

“It just seems like the Jesus they know and the Jesus I’m pretty sure I know are very different people,” Emily begins slowly, shutting the door, gaining momentum, “ I mean, I have a friend who would say that that is part of being in the Christian story—you have to accept all of it. The good, the bad, the Crusades…all of it. But how do you name orthodoxy? How do we decide…”

“Who’s in and who’s out?” I interrupt coldly, sighing, “I don’t know.”

And I don’t. At one point, I might have said “the Creeds,” or “the Eucharist,” effectively ruling out most of the world’s faithful who do not share those elements of worship, including one of my companions. That can’t be it. The voice I don’t know what to do with says, it’s not up to you.

[Our baptismal service goes--

There is one Body and one Spirit;


There is one hope in God's call to us;


One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism…]

 As I pull away from the bookshop, I catch the sign in my rearview mirror—

WHY DO THE HEATHEN RAGE?

 My jaw tightens. One Lord, one faith, one baptism…

To me, that is the terror and the beauty—and the rage.

Don’t you folks ever read your Bibles?

by Haley

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“Don’t you folks ever read your Bibles?” This quote is nestled amongst the bricks of the western entrance to the Multnomah University and Multnomah Biblical Seminary’s John & Mary Mitchell Library. Dr. John Mitchell, of that same library’s namesake, often asked students this question.

It took me a few weeks to find the quote because I always entered through the eastern doors, the ones closest to my apartment and closest to the seminary building. The first time I saw it, it caught me off guard. “This is a Bible college and a seminary,” I thought. “This school produces solid biblical scholars and theologians. It must be a joke.”

Every few weeks since discovering the plaque I glance at it and wonder why Dr. Mitchell asked that question. “Maybe he meant it ironically or sarcastically,” I have wondered, Portland’s hipster culture prophesied on the lips of a Bible College Co-Founder, Chairman of the Board, and Vice President.

But the more I am here at this school, the more I interact with Christians from all over this country, and the more I am aware of what I do and do not know, the more certain I am that Dr. Mitchell had every right to ask that of each and every student and each and every Christ-follower he met.

Because we do not read our bibles well. Instead we are lazy and we make the Bible say what we want it to say. And worse still, failing to think for ourselves we allow others to tell us what the Bible says and assume they have done the work for us, so there is no need to do anything but consume their analysis.

I am not saying your pastor is bad at reading the Bible.

I am not saying your Bible study or small group leader is bad at reading the Bible.

I am saying that regardless of whom we trust to read the Bible well, we should first make sure that we ourselves read the Bible well. We should take seriously the responsibility we as Christians have to individually and communally know and study the Word.

Somehow we approach the Bible different than we approach other books. We come to it as though it were an un-translated copy of War and Peace that we think everyone expects us to understand even though we don’t actually understand Russian or French.

I am not saying the law codes of Leviticus will be any more understandable than that un-translated copy of War and Peace the first time through. I am saying that it is possible to eventually make sense of them and to understand why the saints who have come before us considered them profitable for teaching.

I am not saying that we must always spend hours studying the Bible. I am saying that we cannot be lazy students of the Bible. The Word does not yield its fruit to the flip-and-pointers.

We come away frustrated with our time in the Word because in a world of instant gratification, the Bible rarely offers a quick and easy answer. So instead we look outside the Word, hoping someone has done the studying for us and will simply feed us the answer that we are looking for.

But friends, we must invest the time and energy necessary to know the Bible well. We must spend time in the Word, even if it is only fifteen minutes, we must spend quality time in the Word.

Start simple. Pick a chapter and ask simple questions: who, what, when and where. Who are the people in the chapter? What happens in the chapter? When did the events take place? Where did the events take place? We struggle with this type of Bible reading because it does not instantly tell us how the Bible relates to us, but we cannot know how a passage from the Bible applies to us until we understand what is happening in the first place.

Pick up your Bible. Read it slowly. What is it saying?

Author’s Note: In learning to read the Bible well, I have found the late Dr. Howard Hendricks’ Living By The Book to be extremely helpful. He offers simple, manageable ways to develop a solid method of Bible study. The questions I offer—who, what, when, and where—are part of his Bible study method.

*Photo by Demi-Brooke, Creative Commons via Flickr.

A Church in the Wild

by Osheta Moore

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I chided myself for attempting to “fry” the chicken.  No self-respecting Southern woman oven-fries her chicken, and yet there I was coating drumsticks and thighs in flour and then arranging them on foil-lined baking sheets.  I had no other choice, though since morning sickness was most acute around fried foods and I so wanted to avoid throwing up—at least just for that night and as long as those boys were over.

This was the first “business meeting” of TCC’s T’shirts, an entrepreneurial venture of the teens of Hollygrove, a dangerous and under-resourced neighborhood of New Orleans. My husband worked at the community center in the middle of Hollygrove and for months he wondered how to combine their natural charisma, interest in the arts, and well…salesmanship on the corner, to channel their abilities into something positive.  Having seen that programs only address the surface needs of people in the urban core, he wanted to avoid the allure of starting a new project by inviting the boys over to dream up the possibility of this company and the ways it could fund the neighborhood.

That evening they were coming over for Sunday dinner: fried chicken, fluffy mashed potatoes with melted butter peaks, and Jiffy cornbread with golden nuggets of sweet corn mixed in, all served with tall plastic cups of sweet tea.  This was my staple Sunday dinner menu until baby number two and his aversion to all things fried came along. Knowing my condition, my husband suggested ordering a pizza, but I wouldn’t hear of it.  No, I wanted to make Sunday dinner.  I wanted to busy my hands for hours and be “mama” to those boys for an evening.  I wanted to love on those boys with calories and chicken and good conversation.

As they shuffled up to our second floor apartment, some in Hornets jerseys, some dressed in red from head to toe, a few wearing blue rags, and all sporting gleaming white sneakers, I whispered a little prayer that Jesus would help me show his character to these kids.  When one of the teens played “cars” on the living room floor with my two year old while I set the table, I thought ‘this is what the Body should look like, young and old doing having fun together’. Later on, we sat around my table passing cornbread, pouring sweet tea, and dreaming of a better future for Hollygrove.

This is how my husband and I did church in the wild of Hollygrove. One conversation, one relationship, one meal, one breakthrough at a time. 

This is what I thought we’d be doing when we took up the call to plant a church in the wild of Boston.  This wild is rife with systemic injustice, food insecurity, and inadequate education and we want to set up camp. But for a few years now, I’ve been overwhelmed with the business of church planting.  Many nights I worried about numbers and budgets and expectations.  When we missed the deadlines and benchmarks for a “successful church plant”,  I questioned God’s call on our lives.  “Did God really?” became my go-to accusation.

Spun out in anxiety and ready to give church planting all together, “No Church in the Wild” by Kanye West and Jay-Z  “randomly” played in my Spotify radio.  From the guttural, grimy guitar intro, to the vivid lyrics,  I was arrested by the truth that in the urban core, there’s so much need. There’s so much brokenness, so much poverty, so much desperation, and my husband and I love the city far too much to let it stay that way. When Frank Ocean sang the bridge, “Your love is my scripture,”  the desire I felt nine years ago to love on some teen boys with calories and chicken flooded back to me. I knew how I wanted to brave this wild: one conversation, one relationship, one meal, one breakthrough at a time.

The Holy Spirit used Kanye and Jay-Z to renew my passion for urban church planting by reminding me of my loves for the church and the wild.

I love the church.  I love the gathering of Jesus followers to transform a community by just being.  Not throwing huge events necessarily, but just meeting, loving, and Kingdom dreaming together.  I desire to see the church holistically care for people, by combing both spiritual and physical needs, I love it when people meet Jesus when Christians do the unglamorous job of helping an immigrant apply for a job or a failing student pass a big test.  I’m brought to tears every time I think of  Jesus and his ministry and I wonder what are the “greater things on earth” we could do here in Boston.

I love the wild of the city.  I love the hard sounds of bass from the corner and the movement at every hour of the day. I love the strategy required to find a parking space near the Public Gardens, and I love Fenway in the summer. I love taking the “T” and people watching.  Diversity  is the red line at 5pm, janitors, scientists, students, doctors, tourists, and the homeless all share space on that crowded car.   I love intrusive big mamas and the challenge of earning a single mother’s trust.

I can’t abandon the wild, though. I see the beauty in braving the danger of making ourselves available to gang-affiliated teens and single mamas. I also know that unless God goes before me like the Israelites in the wilderness, this church plant won’t take off, but I want that journey.  I want that challenge.  I want to be a church in the wild.

So planting in Boston’s urban core just makes sense, it’s simply merging my two loves under the banner of my Ultimate Love.

For a while, this dream felt secondary in light of the necessary measurements of church success: people, money, marketing, influence. I’m not cut out for that wilderness.  I cannot brave another day of expectations and metrics.

Going forward, I have to be true to myself.  I just have to.  It’s true, at times, I don’t understand the complexities of church planting strategy, but I do understand the necessity of community building. I know Jesus came to seek and save the lost, heal the sick, and touch the outcast.  He came to reveal the Father and invite us to the table as beloved children.  He came fierce and determined to plant His church on this wild, broken earth.

So, I’ll do my part to continue that work and plant a church in Boston.  Not with spreadsheets and programs but with mounds of mashed potatoes and sweet tea and yes, maybe even oven-fried chicken.

After all, this is the only way my husband and I know how to do church: one conversation,  one relationship,  one meal, one breakthrough, one day at a time. 

 

 

When I Ask Myself, “Why Do I Still Go To Church?”

by Shawn

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One of my favorite parts of a great movie involves a little kid sitting on his tricycle at the end of a short driveway, somewhere in suburbia. Mr. Incredible, depressed and discouraged from his recent lack of involvement in crime fighting and the way he has been shoehorned into an average, ordinary life, arrives home and climbs out of his tiny little car. He looks over his shoulder and sees that boy on a tricycle, staring.

“What are you waiting for?” he demands, still in a foul mood at the boring turn his life has taken.

“I don’t know,” the kid replies, then shrugs and admits, “something amazing, I guess.”

That’s how I feel these days when I go to church.

I show up every week and I serve and I wait for something incredible to happen. I’m not talking water-into-wine or blind-to-sight type incredible, although that would more than suffice. The kind of incredible I’d like to see would be suburban Americans suddenly moved with compassion for the state of the poor all around them. I’d like to see people selling things so that they can help their neighbors pay their medical bills. I’d like to see people more motivated by the horror of human trafficking than they are by the plight of a bearded reality star.

I hear stories of more and more of my friends leaving church. The persistent ones bounce around from place to place, not sure what they’re looking for. The less persistent ones eventually drift away from Sunday gatherings. Why? Why are so many people my age leaving the church behind?

Because so few incredible things are happening. Too many churches are country clubs for the middle class with such tightly scripted services that pastors can’t even come up with a few extra seconds to sneeze, let alone lead their congregation in any sort of spontaneous act of worship or service. Too many churches believe that church growth is simply a matter of copy-catting the most recent success story. Plagiarize their structure or their org chart or the way they “do worship” and your congregation is guaranteed to grow, 100% money-back guarantee.

Sometimes I ask myself why I still go to church, why my wife and I still wake up on a Sunday morning and wrangle our four kids and one-on-the-way into the car and drive thirty-five minutes. Why, instead of sleeping in or getting things done around the house, do I spend these Sunday mornings teaching elementary school age kids about God or sitting in a chair in a building where nothing seems to be happening? All around me people are just showing up, and I’m not sure why.

Why do I still go to church? I ask myself. Why don’t I cut loose from this obligation? What am I waiting for?

Something amazing, I guess.

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