My daughter had a little friend over after school yesterday. Cora is about the purest, sweetest little girl, with bows in her hair and the faint scent of bunny rabbits which have been running through spring flowers. She’s a nice little girl, and I’m always happy to have her playing with Bis. I was working at my computer and heard them playing house, going shopping, and making dinner – a father’s joy (the play, not the dinner). But the sadness landed on me that all the things they were playing, while creative, honest, and real, were not realistic.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” “Yes, thank you.” Would more realistically be: “I’m too lazy to get my own tea, would you get it for me.” “I’m just as far away from the tea as you are, why can’t you get it yourself?” The reality is that there is work to be done. My kids never pretend to do laundry or dishes. Nobody ever comes to the pretend door and wants to paint their house. Never once have I seen them sit down to pay pretend bills or fix a loose cabinet door. Only the fun stuff. And I’m glad for that. There will be enough reality later.
This morning it hit me that our churches have a choice to make. Playing God’s house or doing the actual work to be done. I was reminded of this by a pastor friend of mine, Chris De Graaf, who read a note to me from a parishioner and on it the man wrote this: “I was a persistent bastard at one time, but now I am persistent towards God.” I don’t believe that a church can play God’s House and still receive letters like this from the jailhouse (where there is no make believe).
This is my vision for our new church: to be a place where reality and honesty take precedent. I sent out a mailer to our community earlier this month. It said that “we are just like our neighborhood: singles, married, divorced, young, old, alcoholics, soccer moms, Christians, agnostics, atheists, jobless, enthusiastic, depressed…” This, I know for a fact, makes some people really nervous. I get it. If you invite people like that to church, they might show up. Plus, Jim, you don’t acknowledge those things in public…you pretend they don’t exist and sweep them under the carpet.
I can’t pretend. I won’t play house. I don’t have time. We speak it and we deal with it. I want to follow Jesus and I have yet to read anything about him sweeping and playing house. I don’t know if you or your church play house, but there are bills to pay, and solicitors to deal with. There are crooked cabinet doors that need straightening and tightening, and there are real neighbors with problems just as real as yours and mine.
We are preparing to start our first consistory. Being the good little RCA boy that I am I looked for help from my servant the Book of Church Order. It makes sense that I would want some help and direction on what is wise when it comes to making such an important move. To my chagrin there was no help. The BCO assumes a consistory exists.
Now…I could be wrong. I may have missed it. I do have more pressing issues and more interesting reading to attend to than the BCO. So if you have seen it, let me know the page number, section, paragraph, article, etc.
This leads me to a further thought. If the RCA has put so much energy into starting churches over the last decade, why have they not put much thought into helping these new churches become organized and becoming “Reformed”. I hate to poke a bear by that question, but…I’ve already received all my outside funding so…
Really. I have not, in my preparation as a church planter, nor in subsequent resources, found any (and I’ve thought about this) ANY encouragement to start a church that is Reformed. So it doesn’t surprise me to find that there is nothing in the BCO that will help me make this important step toward organizing as a church in the RCA.
I want to. I am a reformed minister and, though I have issues with certain things in my denomination and don’t always see eye to eye with everything my denomination acts on (or fails to act on), I want to start a church that is both reformed and a vibrant, helpful part of the Reformed Church in America.
A little help, please. I feel a bit alone on this.
I wrote four drafts of my 10 minutes before classis. The first three were a little…shall we say…combative. The final draft was much more gentle. I was told I had 10 minutes to “engender some help to my needs”. I wasn’t sure what to say besides: we need some money to buy a church building. Please help us. So, the first three drafts got out all my thoughts that lean toward guilt or shame. The last draft had these parts:
Here are two stories about new faith.
Here is the problem we have: space and money
Here is the solution God seems to be showing us: buy this building (will help with both problems)
Here is how you can help: share. Share leaders with a church plant, share mature disciples with a church plant, share your resources with a church plant once the 3 years of support are gone.
I left them with these two requests: please help us financially, and please show your young churches what it looks like to be a classis.
I pray it was received well. I pray I wasn’t petulent. My heart, by the time I had written the last draft, was pure in my intentions and motivations. Now I’m curious…what will they show?
Our little church is getting ready to enter the world of purchasing a building. We’re much to young to be doing a thing like this, but circumstances (God’s maneuvering we believe) dictate that this is the right path. It’s exciting and terrifying. I have, for better or for worse, not emphasized committment in our body, but this nessecitates some pretty serious committment on the part of those who would call Embody Christ Fellowship their church. We have to come up with a downpayment – or a significant portion of it.
I’ve been making the same phone call more and more often since we started this next chapter in our church’s history. The phone call is to someone who’s been gone for a while. I don’t call if someone misses 2-3 weeks, but after that I check on them. I don’t want people to feel like I’m keeping score, but I want them to know they’re missed. I’m getting the response I fear the most – they’ve found, or are looking for, a new place to worship.
Upon further investigation I get gentle platitudes for the most part. “We want to worship closer to home.” or “Our parents want us to join them.” or something gentle like that.
I guess I feel better hearing that they’re going somewhere. But last night I got an email from a couple that I couldn’t get a hold of. “Yes we’re doing well, thanks. We’ve started going to a different church…” I layed down in bed and I cried. These are people I pray for, people I’ve camped with, people who have a daughter I baptized, people I love. I was just plain and simply sad.
This is hard work, and very few things are a “given.”
Then Colossians reminds me that this Christ I worship, this Christ I preach, this Christ I trust and follow is the cosmic creator of the universe who holds the title of image of the invisible God, firstborn over all creation. And I’m reminded that this is all His, and while I’m a steward (faulty in many ways), the Spirit is blowing through the place and guiding this little ship of ours with all its crew and me the first mate. He’s billeted provision for the journey and knows the onloading and unloading of crew and passengers.
It’s the only given I’ve got and I rest in it. Wipe my tears. Pray for those who have disembarked. Cast off from the dock, lift the sails, and trust the wind of God for everything.
I’m tired. It feels like I’ve been pushing a boulder up a hill for three years. I don’t mind the pushing. I’m just tired. So, I’m taking a vacation…well, a staycation. The kids have school and Dana has work. So, basically, I’m not preaching this week and Dana and I will take Friday night away from the kids. It’s been over three years since she and I have had a night away from the kids. I know. That just isn’t right.
Here’s the question – how does a planter take a vacation at home? How does one whose job it is to engage strangers and be dangerously available just stop something like that? How do I go to the coffee house and ignore people? How do I go to a school choir concert and not work? My work looks just the same as being neighborly with intentionality.
No wonder I’m tired.
Our church building will not work forever. In fact, we had to go to two services because we didn’t have a lot of room. That sounds really impressive…until you realize the space isn’t all that big. Short story goes like this: buy our present location and build on to fit more people – or – move.
We looked into the first, and it’s not financially doable.
So we prayed about it and God made available a new space just 1 mile away. A dying church was selling their building.
Sunday we all had a big church meeting and then caravanned to the other building. We looked around, and asked questions of the realtor. We sat in the pews after we had looked around at all the church building’s nooks and crannies and broken cupboards.
I asked for opinions, thoughts, feelings, etc. Not too many people said anything until I asked this question: “If we were to move here, what would we lose? What would we have to give up?” With permission to mourn, to recognize loss, to speak their possible sadnesses, our church began to open up and, surprisingly, began singing the praises of the potential new space.
I’m not sure what we’ll do yet. We’re going to pray about it and listen to what God has to say, but I thank God for the insight to ask the right question.
She used to work at the Way Cup Cafe, where I make an office half the time. She’s off doing something else now, but we used to spend time in an empty cafe together: me working on sermons and her cleaning and making ready for the influx of customers that she hoped would come. And in those lulls we would talk. Eventually she came to worship with us one Sunday…two Sundays…then…nothing. I was ok with that because I know God’s at work and it takes time.
Well, she moved to the North side of town and got a different job. I didn’t see her very often. Today, however, she stopped in for a cup of coffee while I was working on last minute Saturday sermon prep. We had a short chat, and she was behind the counter making herself a drink. (She had donated a foosball table to the church) and I was telling her we had cut the legs on it to fit the 6 year olds who loved to play it. She was glad to hear it was getting used, and then this exchange:
“You know, we really ought to come out and worship with you again.”
“Sure, that’d be great.”
“It’s been a long while since we’ve done church, and -” (now remember she was making herself a fancy coffee drink) “Where’s the damn Vanilla?”
“I’m not sure, I can help you – “
“Oh, here it is. Under F for French Vanilla not V for Vanilla. I was saying it’s been a while since we’ve done church.”
“We’d love to have you again.”
The conversation went on from there, and she eventually headed wherever her car was taking her that morning. I just thought it was funny and sad that she interupted her one spiritual thought of the day to swear at the missing vanilla. She won’t show up this week, or next. But I have faith that God is at work in her life. The connection we have had over the many “down” moments in the coffee shop have served a purpose in her life and in mine.
I get a lot of people telling me they will “have to come out and worship with us.” 87% of them don’t and have no intention of doing so. I’ve gotten over it and am used to it. I take the opportunity to be engaging and hospitable to them. Who knows what God is up to?