It’s a…..baby!

This process of starting a new church that we are in, it feels a lot like waiting for the birth of your first child.

A friend and I spoke the other day and he brought this up to me. Since then, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The analogy is so spot on.

When you and your spouse are expecting a baby, you go through the procedures of eating right, caring for yourself, regularly visiting the doctor, and everything else that’s necessary to ensure a healthy baby.

As time marches on and you get closer and closer to the due date, the anticipation, excitement, and terror can be overwhelming. You can’t wait to meet this baby, to see his or her face, to hold them, smell them, cuddle them, just look at them. There is excitement over what it means, this new human being who will charge into your world, disrupting it and making it perfect all at once.

But there is also the terror. Not sure how many first-time expectant parents didn’t think at least once along the way, “Oh my goodness, can I do this? What kind of parent will I be?” If we all waited to have children until we were ready, we may never ever have children.

Waiting for a church to be born has felt similar, but I could never quite find the words to describe it until my friend introduced this to me the other day.

In less than two months, a baby church will be born. We are preparing for it. When it comes, it needs to be nurtured. We wait. We anticipate. We get nervous.

Ultimately, we follow the direction and leading that God gives us through his Holy Spirit. We trust. We pray. We plan.

And to be honest, as much as I thought and planned and hoped along the way before my first child was born, when it came down to it and he was born, most of those things fell away. The only thing that I cared about the most was that he was healthy and growing. The other things were just bonuses.

In much the same way, if things don’t look exactly like I thought they should with this church, I think I will have a similar approach, my number one desire is for a healthy “baby.”

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Just Being Honest

This past weekend, my family and I had the chance to travel down to the church of a good friend of mine. He had asked me to preach for him and I was grateful for the opportunity to be with him and his church family. He and I have spent the last few years becoming friends. Now, I feel even closer to him as we ramp up towards starting a new church ourselves.

There were so many joys that we experienced in our time together. As we’ve had the opportunity to travel around to different churches, my perspective has grown and I have been humbled to see all the different expressions of the church in a variety of contexts.

One thing that struck both my wife and me was the authenticity of the people in his church. They were so open and honest, sharing things that surprised me considering that they had just met us. Nothing uncomfortable or awkward, just honest and real, appropriate.

This struck me so much because this doesn’t just happen, it needs to be nurtured. I know that my friend has nurtured it. As we’ve walked together in friendship over the past few years, I have had the chance to see him journey through some difficult seasons. I’ve also seen just how God has worked through those difficult seasons, how he has grown so much through them. I’m confident that God’s growth hasn’t limited itself to him but has spread throughout his faith community as well.

As I pondered on all that I had seen, I couldn’t help but wonder why it was such a surprise to come to a church and find such openness and authenticity. But isn’t the church the place where we should be encountering that kind of thing? Isn’t it the place where we should see Jesus’ words, “Come all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest?” Why is it a surprise when we experience that kind of honesty in the church?

One thing that I sure hope happens as God builds his church through us is that this kind of honesty and authentic atmosphere can be built as well. I hope and pray that people can come back to using words like “refuge” and “safe” to describe the church, and I know that a lot of that will depend on how I lead.

Honesty is only good if it leads somewhere. Our motivation for honesty shouldn’t be to just “get something off our chest.” If we are honest and have no desire for that honesty to help someone else in love, we probably need to rethink it. In fact, sometimes, we might need to withhold our honest thoughts and feelings as they just won’t be well-received by the people we feel burdened to tell.

I’ve been wrestling with this a lot lately, continuing to check my own motivations in speaking truth. Leaning into the Holy Spirit to guide and move. Holding my tongue when my motivation is wrong. Speaking even when it might be uncomfortable but doing it in love with purpose and hope.

My heart for people to meet Jesus is met equally by a heart that desperately knows that the Church has much of which we need to repent. We have not done things well in loving those who don’t look or think like us. We have not always welcomed well the widows and orphans. Pro-life has not always meant from birth to death for us. We have not always remembered that the history of the people of God includes exile, bondage, and times of wandering. We have forgotten that God’s people are immigrants, seeking solace in a land that is not their own.

I pray that the Church can begin to be honest with herself first. Once we begin to get honest about who we are, where we have gone wrong, and how we move forward, I think that kind of authenticity and humility will go a long way to letting people see beyond the Church and see Jesus.

How Are You Different? – The Parish Model

Have you ever had someone give you language to describe something that you’ve known or sensed for a long time but could never describe? For me, it’s happened a few times.

One of the most significant cases of this for me was with StrengthsFinders. I always sensed that there were things that I was really good at and things that I was really bad at, but I never had the language to talk about it and describe it.

The Enneagram is another example of this, giving me language to describe my personality so that people can understand me better. It’s been helpful to describe myself in a way that people can see, hear, and understand (hopefully) that it’s something deeper than me just trying to offend and tick off as many people as possible.

A month ago, I was speaking at my denominational meeting, giving an update about what we are doing in the area of church planting and casting vision for where we are headed. I’ve been known to be passionate when I speak and this was no exception. Couple that with the fact that it’s been quite some time since I’ve preached in a church (going on five months) and I was probably pretty fiery.

After I got finished, I headed to the back of the auditorium where I was promptly approached by a gentleman I had never seen before. We made our way out into the foyer and began a conversation that started with him asking me what my dinner plans were that evening.

As we began talking, I was captivated by the ideas that he was throwing out. He was one of the keynote speakers for the afternoon and I was disappointed to have missed most of his talks because of another meeting that I had. But we talked long enough that afternoon (and then again at dinner) for me to fixate on one idea and concept that he shared.

He said that the new model of church was a parish model. Well, I had heard similar concepts before, but his concept was different. The idea of a parish church is hundreds of years old. The Episcopal Church still uses this idea in naming some of their churches. I grew up in a town with St. Luke’s Parish and I’ve seen that multiple times. Churches function in a geographic area as a parish, ministering to the people within that specific area.

But my new friend cast a different idea. He said that  today is different than it once was. He ministers in blues bars and other places where the people to whom he ministers may never darken the door of a church building. At the same time, the people who come to his church on a Sunday may never darken the doors of these blues bars and other places. It makes for separate ministry spaces with the understanding that there may never be overlap between the areas.

As I’ve been ministering in the community where we are planting, I’ve had this underlying sense more than once, but I could never quite articulate it the way that my new friend did. There are countless new people that I am meeting. I’ve enjoyed these new friendships. I have no hesitation to invite them to come once we launch out this new church, but there is no expectation that they will all be there. So what do I do with that?

It’s amazing to me how often it seems that we embrace the notion of a Triune God in evangelical circles and then live as if only two of those three persons of God are legitimate and real. Francis Chan wrote about it in “Forgotten God.” We talk a good game about the Holy Spirit and then we proceed to live as if he doesn’t exist or as if the same power that raised Christ from the dead is unavailable to him.

If I really trust that some plant seeds, some water seeds, but only God makes them grow, then I need to rely way more on the Holy Spirit than I may be willing to admit. Yes, I need to be faithful to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Yes, I need to teach people the ways of Jesus. But I also need to trust that behind the scenes in ways unknown to me and outside of my own control, God is at work through the Holy Spirit doing a work that I could never do on my own.

I believe that community is important. I believe that being part of a community significantly impacts the way that I live my life. I believe that there are benefits when I give myself fully to community. I can’t make everyone believe that same thing. I can earn trust. I can share when asked about what I believe. But I can never make them embrace this for their own. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.

There should always be an urgency in those of us who confess Jesus Christ as Lord. That urgency can often spring up in us in a way that ignites our passion to see others come to that same acknowledgement and confession. But if I don’t let the Holy Spirit do the work that he needs to do in them and simply try to argue them or convince them to that conclusion, then I can’t expect good things to be the outcome.

I said it earlier in this series, the church is the only organization that exists for those who are not yet part of it. Am I okay with spending time and ministering to people who will never darken the doors of my church? I better be, because if I’m not, then I probably shouldn’t say that I believe in the Holy Spirit and the work that he is capable of accomplishing.

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

 

How Are You Different? – Trust Matters

The place of the church in American society has significantly diminished from what it was 50 years ago. Where once churches held central places in cities and towns, not only geographically but socially as well, they no longer hold that same place of esteem that they once did. The process of this fall from esteem was not a fast one. Tim Keller, in his book “Center Church,” describes this societal change.

The problem is, the church’s response to this societal fall has been more complaint than correction. Instead of saying, “What can we do to adapt to this fall?” the church has instead said, “How do we get back to our place of esteem and glory?”

This fall from esteem has helped the church to garner a look of suspicion from most of society, not just from those who are not a part of it but also those who are or at one time have been a part of it. Because of its stance on various issues, the church has been labeled as prejudiced, bigoted, and closed-minded.

It’s really easy to lament this change and wish for the golden days when the church was respected and esteemed, but what will that lament change? Will it be helpful? Or the church can do the hard work of building trust in its community, seeking to build relationships with people who have become skeptical and calloused towards the church.

In this day and age, I am constantly reminded of Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (bold and italics mine)

I’ve heard this verse quoted many times and it seems that many people have neglected to include that bold phrase, “to everyone who asks you.” I’ve heard people say, “Always be prepared to give an answer,” and then they do just that, giving everyone around them an answer to their hope without building a relationship or earning their trust. They just launch into answering questions that are never asked.

We live in a day and age of skepticism where people are not as trusting as they once may have been. Taking that into consideration, trust is something that is earned, and it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a long and slow, cumulative process. It can’t be microwaved, it needs to simmer and soak through interactions and conversations.

This has been one of the major growing areas for me during this church planting journey. I’ve written before about my personal journey of listening to understand rather than listening to respond, this is part of it. If people think that I am only listening so that I can get a word in, there will be no trust built. But if I listen to understand and hear what others are saying, if I show genuine concern for them and the things that they are concerned for, trust is built.

The last thing that I ever want someone to think is that I’m just a salesman who is “selling Jesus.” I’ve seen this happen all too often, Jesus becomes a bargaining chip for people. Come to be part of our party, but first you need to listen to our “Jesus pitch” before we let you enjoy yourself. Worse than this is when people come to have some of their physical needs met and we tell them, “We’ll give you what you need when you listen to what we want you to listen to.”

Treating Jesus and the gospel like a bargaining chip cheapens the message of grace behind it. If we don’t earn trust and earn our voice, why should people listen to us? If we simply listen so that we can get our moment in the spotlight, people will sniff out the disingenuousness of our listening and we will be even further from gaining their trust or earning a right to be heard.

Trust matters and this is a part of the process that can’t be skipped or fast-tracked. It needs to be entered into authentically, organically, and with the utmost patience and care.

As I’ve been building relationships within the community, this is forefront on my radar screen. I want to hear about the things that people care about. I want to hear their hearts, know their fears, know their joys, know their passions. I don’t want to know or hear these things so that I can use them as collateral to negotiate, I want to know and hear these things so that I genuinely care about these new friends I am meeting. If I don’t care about these things, then I am just a salesman, selling Jesus, doing my best to convince people of something.

Jesus said to love my neighbor, and it seems that one of the most loving things that I can do is to listen, care, and build trust with people, letting them know that I’m for them and about them, not simply wanting to tell them what I need to tell them and then move on.

Building trust leads to the last significant difference which is also the newest one for me: establishing a parish model of church. We’ll talk about that in our next and final installment of “How are you different?”

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

 

How Are You Different? – Partnership Is Key

If there is one thing that I’ve seen done both well and horribly, from one extreme to the other, in all of my time within the church, it’s this one. Partnership.

When I say partnership, there are two different aspects that I am talking about: within the community and with other churches.

Henry Blackaby wrote a book years ago called “Experiencing God.” The premise of the book was one big idea: find out where God is moving and working and go there.

As big of a book as “Experiencing God” was among churches that I was a part of, I was amazed that more didn’t really embrace the premise that it proposed. So, as I’ve begun the work of starting something new in a community, this has been at the forefront of my mind in both organizations and churches.

I should give a little aside to the fact that Gallup’s StrengthsFinders has been a significant part of my own journey. In a word, the premise behind StrengthsFinders is that we are all good at something and we should focus on those things in which we do our best work, leaving the things that are not in our wheelhouse to those who possess the strengths to do them well.

As I look at communities, I see so many different organizations. There is the school system, full of teachers, administrators, and other committed workers who have the best interest of the children of the community in mind. There is the emergency response workers who also have the best interest of the community in mind. There are community focused organizations. There are small businesses. There are hosts of others organizations who have a primary focus and a skillset that lies outside of the church community which is being built.

In my opinion, it would be absolutely stupid for me not to consider the strengths of these organizations. To hear what they are doing and to find out ways that we can come alongside what they are already doing seems to be one of the wisest things that we could do. I’ve always said to my wife, “We are better together.” It’s true in a marriage and I believe it’s true in communities. Coming alongside other organizations to find ways in which we can work together is a crucial piece of building this new church.

But the partnerships don’t stop there. In fact, it may be easier to think about partnering with organizations than to think about partnering with other faith communities.

In the past, this kind of work may have been called ecumenical. Like so many other words, ecumenical has inherited a host of baggage along the way. While I think the word is more loaded than it should be, my own denomination has helped me to see the value of ecumenicism. Our motto is, “In essentials unity. In non-essentials liberty. In all things charity.”

If each church is living into the phrase that my friend shared years ago, “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?” then they all have something that they do really well while there are other things that they don’t do so well.

So what happens when they work together?

Honestly, to enter into any community, town, or city and think that your church alone is the answer to all of its problems has to be one of the most arrogant and egotistical approaches I’ve seen, and God knows that I’ve seen it more times than I would be willing to admit.

But the experience that I have been having thus far is that some of the churches in the community (not all of the churches) really want to see how they can encourage each other and help each other, looking at the mission of God as significantly bigger than just their local church.

Honestly, I have just not seen this happen very often. There was one church that I was part of in another state in which I experienced the polar opposite of this. All I will say is that it felt like the equivalent of a boys’ locker room with everyone trying to outdo each other. Instead of working together, it felt like everyone was trying to outdo each other and compete with one another.

Last time I checked, the mission of God was what the Church was called to, the whole Church. To think that one church could single-handedly accomplish that just doesn’t make sense. Partnership is key.

For partnership to work though, trust matters. And that’s what we will look at in the next installment of “How are you different?”

Read the previous installments: Intro, Part 1, Part 2

 

How Are You Different? – A Redefined Mission

During this church planting journey that we are on, I’ve been doing a magical mystery tour of some of the other church plants that meet in non-traditional locations around the Richmond area. I’ve been taking note of the things that I have liked, the things that I haven’t liked, and doing my best to remember what stands out the most that I think would fit well in this new community that we are hoping that God builds through us.

A few weeks ago, we visited a church where the pastor spoke as they segued into their offering time. For those not familiar with this, most churches have a time set aside to gather up funds in what they call “the offering.” Some pass offering plates, others pass baskets. Some invite people to the front. Others have boxes at the exits for people to deposit donations to the church and its mission as they leave the worship service.

This pastor spoke of how they give 20% of their offerings to better the community of which they are a part. As he talked about the joy it gives him to contribute to these missions, I couldn’t help but think of Jeremiah 29:7, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

As he talked about these missions, I wasn’t completely sure that all of those missions were “Christian” missions. Now, I could write a whole blog post or series about what that actually means, but for the sake of brevity, let me just say that it has to do with the mission and vision and whether or not there is some importance given to an evangelistic focus. In other words, is it a concern for an organization that people’s physical needs alone are met or is there emphasis given to people’s spiritual needs as well?

All that being said, it really got me thinking about how important this is.

While this is a significant part of who we will be as a church, I don’t think it means that the mission of God cannot be accomplished through people who don’t have that same focus. Seeking the peace and prosperity of the community, if we are really thinking holistically, involves physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being. It’s possible that missions can be supported who do this better than the local church does.

This really plays into the next significant difference which is that partnership is key.

We’ll talk about that in the next post of “How are you different?”

This is part 2 of a 5 part series. You can read Part 1 here.

 

What We Leave Behind

Last year, a family in the faith community that I was a part of lost their house in a fire. This family had experienced a significant amount of loss before the fire and it was heartbreaking to see them experience one more tragedy in their lives. It was even more heartbreaking because I stood with them watching their house burn.

It was one of those surreal moments where you scroll your social media feed and see something that stands out, kind of like “Which of these things is not like the others.” The wife had said her house was on fire. Before I knew it, I had a message from someone else confirming that it was true.

There have been multiple times in my life when I have felt completely helpless. Hearing my mom’s cancer diagnosis was one time. Knowing her treatments were done and her death was imminent was another. Standing with these friends in front of their house as it burned was another. I felt speechless and I doubted my presence there multiple times, wondering if they really wanted me there.

As the fire was brought under control, the firemen brought out personal items and it was excruciating. Family photos. Jewelry. Other items. The remnants of memories that had stood as markers were tainted. It was a hard thing to watch as it unfolded.

Last month, when news broke that Notre Dame Cathedral was burning, I had that same helpless feeling. It was hard to watch the flames uncontrollably lick the spire and roof of this centuries old cathedral, engulfing this sacred monument.

Through it all, I thought about legacy and what we leave behind. Buildings can burn, that became abundantly clear to me as I watched these buildings, but was that the limit of what was left? Memories are sometimes reliant on space, marked by some geographical location in which they took place. While those spaces and locations may change or cease to exist, the memories remain, they are imprinted within the very core of our being.

On a small scale, it begs the question to me, “What do I leave behind?” When I’m gone, returning to dust, what is left? Are there memories still burned on the minds of the people who are left? Did I make an impact, a mark, a difference?

I can’t help but think about this in the context of the Church as well. People were sad and heartbroken that Notre Dame was burning but I don’t think it was because a sacred space was gone or because they had experienced significant life change within those walls or even because hundreds of worshippers would now be forced to relocate. I think it was because a cultural icon was harmed, damaged, diminished (thankfully, not beyond repair).

When it comes to our local churches, what would happen if our buildings or meeting places were gone? What would be the evidence that we had once been there? Would we need to have pictures or a building or other tangible artifacts and remnants? Or would we find the evidence and artifacts on the hearts of the people whose lives had been changed by our presence there?

I want to be known for the difference that I have made. When I am gone, I don’t want people hanging onto only tangible things to remember. My hope and prayer is that the difference I made went far beyond the physically tangible and to the heart and soul.

Did I listen? Did I care? Did I love? Was Christ present in me? These are the questions that are significant to me, the ones that I hope can be answered in the affirmative.

What do we leave behind? My hope and prayer for myself and for the church that we are building is that what we are building goes far beyond a physical building. I hope and pray that we are helping to build a community with love, with listening, with care, and with Christ.

 

How Are You Different? – Who We Are For

Over the years that I have been in ministry as a full-time vocation (15 years this month), one of the quotes I’ve been known to use over and over again is that the church is the only organization that exists for those who are not yet here.

When Jesus left his disciples, his commission to them was to go and make disciples, teaching people to obey everything that he commands and baptizing them. So, at any given time, within the church of Jesus Christ, we are raising up disciples and nurturing disciples. Raising disciples happens when we share the good news of Jesus Christ with people who have yet to hear it or yet to embrace it.

Unfortunately, the gravitational pull for most churches is inward. It becomes the default position because once a church is established and begins meeting, sustaining itself can easily become the most important thing, especially for the pastor and everyone who considers that church to be their home and community.

It’s really the difference between being inward facing versus outward facing.

When we are inward facing, we exist for the people who are already part of our community. The programs that we set up and create, the services we provide, the events that we plan, they all focus on those who are already a part of our church and who are most likely funding the mission that we have embraced.

When we are outward facing, we are always asking the question, “Who is it that is not yet here who needs to be part of this community?” We will also be looking through the lens of those who are not yet there as we analyze what we do. Are we speaking language that is easily understood by those who have not grown up in the church? Are we creating an environment that is winsome and welcoming to those who have never darkened our doors before?

As I move towards the launch of this new church plant, one thing that I want to emphasize over and over again is that we are for those who are not yet here and not yet part of our community.

I’ll be honest with you, this scares me, not a little, but a lot. It can get messy. Answers may be elusive at times. We will make mistakes. But we continue to press forward, doing our best to make sure that we are seeking ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ to people who are not yet part of our community.

One of my favorite books of the Bible is Jeremiah. In particular, I appreciate the 29th chapter of the book. I was the guy who quoted Jeremiah 29:11 in my senior yearbook quote in high school, but that’s not the verse that stands out to me all these years later. It’s actually the verse that happens just a few sentences before it. Verse 7.

Jeremiah 29:7 says, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

With this verse in mind, this leads me to the second difference that I see as significant: A redefined mission.

We’ll look at that difference in the next installment of “How are you different?”

How Are You Different?

One of the questions that I consistently get in this church planting journey is, “How are you different from every other church out there?”

As I’ve thought about it, it’s a great question. It’s a great question not just for church planters and church plants but also for every local church. What is it about your local church that distinguishes it from every other church?

Years ago, I heard a friend and colleague ask the question (and I’ve blogged about this before), “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?” We may not always have that answer at our ready, but it’s one that we certainly should think about because, whether we admit it or not, there should be something unique about us.

All that being said, I was asked this by someone on my team last week. It got me to thinking about it and wondering, what’s the answer to this?

Our experiences are going to dictate our response and approach to the present and the future. That’s certainly the case with church planting as well. The things that I have experienced over the years as I have been a part of churches as a volunteer, an attender, a staff member, and a pastor, those things will dictate how I move forward and what things become most important to me.

As I’ve thought about it, there are five things that I’ve distinguished as different. Now, when I say different, I don’t mean that there are no churches out there that do these things, it’s just that in my experience, they are not always the norm among churches.

The other thing that I think it’s important to point out, these things are not an indictment of every church that I have ever been a part of. Identifying these things does not mean that all the churches that I have been a part of in the past have lacked these qualities, it just means that these are the five things that I have identified as important.

Without further ado, the five qualities and distinguishing factors that I have identified are:

  • Who we are for
  • A redefined mission
  • Partnership is key
  • Trust matters
  • A parish model

Over the next few weeks, I will look at these qualities. So, hope you come back to read what I have to say about these as the weeks go on.

 

Context Is Key

A few years back, a friend and mentor of mine introduced me to a concept that really made sense regarding the local church. He talked about the three C’s of church. Contents, Context, and Containers. The contents of what church is about is non-negotiable. If we are seeking to be faithful to the Bible, we will do our best to understand it and let the contents of what we do and say as the church be driven by what it says.

The containers in which that content is housed are negotiable, they can change. Another way of saying container might be presentation. How is the contents being presented? In which containers is the content housed?

But I haven’t really been thinking much about contents or containers lately. I’ve mainly been focused on context. This friend and mentor asked a question as he presented this idea of context. He asked, “How does God want to express himself through our church in our community at this time?”

As I’ve been on this church planting journey, I’ve been visiting other churches to get an idea of how they do things. I’ve especially wanted to observe churches that meet in non-traditional spaces, spaces that are not their own. Schools. Theaters. Rented spaces where they have to set up and tear down every week. We’ve visited a number of them.

As I look back over the past decade of my life in full-time ministry, I can see a progression of my thinking in regards to church. Ten years ago, I questioned why church planting was necessary. I also questioned why there are so many churches and why people feel the need to constantly change churches. It never made a lot of sense to me and it still doesn’t completely make sense, but I’ve begun to put some of the pieces together in my head.

You see, as I’ve looked around and seen these different expressions of the body of Christ, I’ve begun to understand that it makes more sense than I thought for there to be so many expressions. After all, we are a diverse people and that diversity is going to shine differently in different contexts and in different people.

But there are two things that I think need to happen in order for this to be more effective.

1)  Before you leave and before you commit, ask a different question

It seems that people choose churches like they choose an outfit in the morning before they leave the house, it all depends on what kind of mood they are in. I think that often people come to the local church and ask themselves what she can do for them, and I don’t think that’s the right question.

With all apologies to JFK, I think his statement about asking what you can do for your country may apply here as well. Instead of asking what a church can do for them or even asking what they can do for the church, I think they need to ask themselves, “How can I best fit into this community?” or “Is there a place for me in this community?” or even “How can I best use the gifts that God has given me in this community?”

I think that some people may ask that question but I wonder how many actually go through the due diligence of seeking the answer in earnest. It seems that people are quick to express their frustration with the inadequacies of the local church and quickly go find another one. I wonder what would happen if every pastor expressed the same frustration over those members and their lack of engagement and using of their gifts in that same local church. That would be interesting!

If we think about it in terms of the context question my friend shared, I think we might wonder how we might fit into this local expression as God expresses himself through us in this place and at this time. Are we seeking ways that we fit or are we seeking ways that we disagree?

If the church is to be about the Missio Dei, the mission of God, her people will need to ask these questions with the intent of finding out how to best be used by God. This doesn’t mean that God can’t accomplish his will without us, but it does mean that we should always be asking how can I use what God has given me to best be a part of his work?

So, before you take your toys and go somewhere else, ask yourself if you have really been seeking to use the gifts that God has given you where he planted you.

2) Come Together Despite Differences

The town in which I am starting a new church is a unique place. It’s fairly diverse in many ways and it’s been cool and interesting to see.

There are a number of churches that already exist there and I’ve already had it asked of me more than once why this place needs one more church. And what I am finding is that God wants to take a group of people who come together in community to allow him to uniquely express himself in this particular place at this particular time.

If you were to put all of the churches together, I think you would have a lot of differing opinions on a number of different topics. But, I also think that there would be a number of areas where you would see agreement, and frankly, I think that gets overlooked far too often.

For how far down the road we are since the church was established in the first century, I don’t know that there will ever be a time this side of eternity when we could move towards one local expression of the body of Christ. In the meantime, though, I think we can look for a taste of what is to come. I think we can look at the essentials and see if we align there. If we do, I think we can have some discussions on the places where we differ and see if those differences prevent us from fellowship together. If we are honest, I have a hard time believing that they will.

In fact, as I look around at the community and its needs, I think that God can accomplish his work through his church if some of the barriers that have been keeping us apart are removed. That doesn’t mean that we will all agree on everything. That doesn’t mean that there might still be some significant differences. Could it be that some of these differences exist so that we can work through them and in spite of them? What would happen if the world could see the testimony of grace in these local churches as they put differences aside and seek to be on mission together?

As I continue to go from church to church to see how God is expressing himself from context to context, I am beginning to understand that these separate churches aren’t a bad thing if we can just try to find ways to come together now and then. We can be unique, express ourselves in the ways that God is calling us to express ourselves, and still find ways to cross over the barriers that keep us apart to have a taste of unity, not uniformity, not full agreement, but oneness. After all, there is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all.

The picture that we see in Revelation 7 seems to be a “someday” picture, a picture that we figure we’ll get to after Jesus returns. I wonder what it would look like if we began to practice that now, every tribe, tongue, and nation coming together to worship the Lord. A foretaste of what is to come, and I don’t think it’s a pipe dream to think we can begin to experience it this side of eternity.

Soli Deo gloria!