The Journey: Month 14
October 7, 2012
I have been reading a couple of books lately that are shaping the way I think about church planting. The first is a book called Church in the Making: What Makes or Breaks a New Church Before itStarts by Ben Arment the second is The Road to Missional: Journey to the Center of the Church by Michael Frost.
In Church in the Making, Arment talks about the necessity of cultivating the soil prior to planting seeds in agriculture. This metaphor has been very meaningful to me in terms of the growth of our new church. I feel that we have actually been cultivating the soil of our community for the past year: digging deep into the lives of people and the community in preparation to plant the seed of the new church. I have been frustrated because of the lack of growth, but what I am coming to see is that unless the ground has been cultivated and determined to be “good soil” the seeds will never produce fruit. This has been comforting to me as I realize that what we are doing is essential to the ultimate growth of a healthy church in this community.
In The Road to Missional, Michael Frost reminds me again of the centrality of mission to the development of the church. Frost quotes missiologist David Bosch who defines mission as “alerting people to the universal reign of God in Christ.” I heard Michael speak at the Sentralized Conference that I attended in September and he spoke about this idea of alerting people to the reign of God by using the metaphor of a dirty window. He said that outside there is a beautiful sunrise, but the people in the house can barely see it because of the dirt on the window. It is the job of the church, Frost said, to “clean the window:” to help people become aware of God’s love and grace in ways that they never imagined. We do this by viewing our relationship to our community through the lens of marriage. We commit, we listen and we stay. Committing to the community requires time. I have become aware that our community has seen its fair share of new churches coming and going. It is our job in these early years to help this community know that we are committed to them. Secondly we need to listen. We have been asking questions; trying to discern what this community needs, what they would like in a church. Lastly we need to stay. We need to persevere through the hard times (like a faithful spouse) and stay for the long haul.
While I understand the necessity of designing and offering excellent worship, I am seeing that there are far more important things that need to be done before we put all of our eggs in to that basket. We have been spending much of our time on marketing and producing a Sunday worship service, and we continue to walk away disappointed and exhausted. Very few people are doing all of the work and the results are disheartening at best.
I feel that it is imperative for me to return us to our original plan of being a missional church, loving and serving our community and gathering to celebrate weekly but in a much simpler way. We are working hard to offer other options for folks to engage with our faith community without having to attend a Sunday gathering. Our 242 Experience on Wednesday nights is one such option. We are finding that new people are much more interested in community and mission than they are about worship, so we are working on ways to plug people in to small groups and in to outreach and local mission projects.
Our mission outpost – The Journey Java Connection – continues to be at the center of our ministry, offering opportunities for people in the community to connect with us throughout the week. Along with providing a safe third space for people in the community to relax and connect with each other, we offer space for local businesses and small groups to meet, a play area for parents with small children, and a variety of classes and events for the community. Local musicians and artists are showcased at The Connection and we have had many opportunities to minister to the less fortunate and the hurting folks of our community.
We called this new church The Journey and we are discovering that following Jesus and building his kingdom is indeed a journey. This is a process and an adventure that we are blessed and honored to be a part of. It is not easy but it is worth it. Lives are being changed, people are being transformed, the broken are being made whole and the kingdom is advancing.
I see myself as a missionary to this community, and as such, I am trying to lead this baby church as a missionary would. My heart is to see those far from God return to him (or perhaps encounter him for the very first time) and to see then hurting and broken among us receive healing and wholeness in Christ. We may not look like a typical church, but we are doing the work that Jesus commanded us to do, to go into all the world and make disciples of all people. This is what we are trying to do, and we pray that he will continue to bless our efforts.