Friday, October 4, 2013

Thoughts on Church, Part One: To the Visitor

Dear new family visiting our church last week,

Hello!  I’m Laura.  I don’t know if you remember me, but we met briefly when you dropped your kids off in the nursery on Sunday morning.  I saw the tag on your diaper bag from the big church across town, and remember briefly feeling the urge to apologize for our baby/toddler area, with its more-than-gently-used furniture, and changing table placed across the entrance as a makeshift door.  Then I reminded myself that this is just who we are.  I heard that your family is looking for a place to call your church home, so let me tell you a little bit more about us.

Yes, we meet in a large room on the second floor of an old theater.  The stairs could use some paint or stain, the sink in the bathroom sometimes has issues, and we’re not exactly sure what’s dripping from the ceiling onto one of the window sills below in our meeting room.   We pack a lot of people into that room some Sundays, and we have to kind of sit close. 

We have a pretty casual order of service.  An opening song, with or without an instrument (but we try to have lyric sheets), and then someone will call out announcements.  Someone from the teaching pool will go up and teach through scripture, but we’re a pretty interactive group.  There is always discussion time after the main message, because we value hearing the insights God gives each of us into His Word. Then more singing (sometimes with a guitar, sometimes not), and sharing.  

We have a lot of kids here.  A lot.  And we just seem to keep adding to that number.  Because of this, we often have logistical issues in terms of available adults to care for all of these babies and toddlers and elementary kids on Sunday mornings.  This can be frustrating.  Also, the kids can be loud.  But we work hard at all of this, because our children are a major component of the vision God has given us as a church.  In an American church culture that – according to the bleak statistics – has largely failed the previous generation(s) of kids who are leaving church attendance (or the Christian faith altogether) in droves, despite being immersed in “Christian culture”, we take very seriously the responsibility of raising these children God has given us with an authentic picture of what it means to follow Jesus. 

For us, this means providing classes for them every other Sunday so that they can build community together and study foundational things at their level, but it also means keeping them in the services with us on the other Sundays.  So they can hear the discussions, witness the sharing, even share their own thoughts on what God is revealing to them through the scriptures.  We want them to know that they are valued members of our church body, and we long for them to grow into a deep love of the gathered body of Christ.

We’re kind of diverse, here.  While we stand unwaveringly on the core tenets of the Christian faith, we disagree on a lot of the minor things, and that’s okay with us.  Pacifists sit next to people who have proudly served in the military, and I’m aware that different positions on political issues are represented.  Young-Earth and Old-Earth Creationists mingle together.  It is a rare and beautiful thing to let the big things be big and the little ones be little as we sharpen and learn from one another.  And while it's really messy sometimes and we have lots of room to grow in this, we are doing our best to get there. 

We have three pastors.  And not one of them is “lead pastor”.  They lead together.  We recognize that this is untraditional in the modern understanding of leadership.  But we have always believed that team leadership provides health, strength, and accountability, and this just works for us.  Make no mistake – these three guys lead us.  And with servant hearts and commitment to Jesus and each other, these couples blend their gifts, pray like crazy, and take the responsibility of pastoral care seriously.  They are imperfect, amazing people with big dreams and huge hearts. 

If you show up some morning and we aren’t here, look for us across the street at the food pantry, or check the door for a hastily-scribbled note about where else we might be gathering for the morning.  This isn't a great model for church growth, but's us.  You see, we have long talked the talk about serving our community, and we’re trying to get serious about it.  So we’re giving up “our time” as a church gathering on Service Sundays to meet together other places as we meet the needs of others.  This will sometimes look and feel a bit disorganized, and we’ll work on that.  But if we waited to step out until we had a perfectly structured plan?  Well, it just wouldn’t happen.  So we'll throw out the call, ask people to bring egg bakes or garden rakes, and just do what we can.  There will be missteps and miscommunication.  But we have to keep pushing through and living out our values.  

We make a lot of mistakes.  We aren't always the best about communicating plans, despite our best intentions.  Our pastors all work other jobs as well (something we value), and everyone has busy lives. Goodness knows we will always have much room for improvement, and we have to give one another a whole lot of grace.  But we do have a call from God, and we are doing our very best to follow.  

As much as I will still spend time fretting over whether or not you liked us or enjoyed the morning or think we’re really weird, I have to let that go.  You see, we want you to be comfortable with us, but we want us all to be a little bit uncomfortable too.  Being all up in one another’s space, hearing each other sing without the cover of loud music, discussing the scriptures together and throwing out prayer concerns and song requests in the middle of our worship times…that can be a little unnerving.  And also?  It can be a little awesome. 

Can I confess something to you?  I enjoy structure.  I enjoy big music.  I prefer comfy chairs to folding chairs and don’t like speaking up in front of people.  I like to sit kid-less and quiet without the interruption of a request for a certain color of crayon.  I like to know what to expect each week.  Last weekend when I got up, I didn’t really feel like making two pans of breakfast casserole for Service Sunday.

But I love these people.  More than all of the stuff I enjoy and prefer,  I love the way these women hold me in prayer and our small group feels like our family and our ragtag Sunday mornings together push me right out of my comfort zone toward deeper maturity in Jesus.  I love that we value calling over skill, and that we hold such a deep desire to raise our plethora of children into true Christ-followers.  I love knowing that I can trust the heart intention behind the instances of disorganization.  I even love that being a part of this church family means that I have to expect less of others and more of myself – to ask questions when I’m confused over details of an upcoming event, to step out myself when I see a role that needs to be played or a potential ministry that needs a leader.  I don’t always like this stuff, but I love it.  Because it has changed me – it is changing me.  I am disciple-ing and I am being discipled.  So is my husband.  So are my children.  And there isn’t much more I can ask than that. 

So dear visitors, I deeply hope that you were blessed by your morning with us.  Please know that you are welcome any time.  Please also know that we understand that different people need different things from church.  For many incredible people, our congregation is not a good fit for one reason or another.  Believe me, we know this all too well.  God has called families who once worshiped with us on to other church homes over the years, as He has refined our calling and theirs.  Others have gone away whom I still believe in my heart of hearts were an odd-yet-perfect piece of the puzzle God is putting together here, and I still wonder if He may call them back.  But in any case, there are a whole bunch of great churches in town with different looks and feels, different structures.   I pray that you find the one that God intends for your family.  If it’s us, we will be thrilled.  We won’t have any sort of formal thing welcoming you into membership, I’m afraid (again – that’s just not us), but we will commit ourselves to growing with you in Christ, and will hope that you jump right in and grab a hammer as we build together what God is putting in place. 

Blessings on you and your super-cute little girls,

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