A student of mine, finally breaking past that professor-student barrier, casually asks. A friend tosses the question out over dinner, months absent from my weekly routine now sitting accepted at my side with bowls of soup and love. And an acquaintance at the market, someone from the old story caught off-guard, wants to be polite. We get the question from diverse places, "How is the church plant going?" And to that question I never know what to say because I think the question is really a different one all together. How is it thriving in my soul? How is it changing the way I experience God? How is it a place you might venture into?
We are planting a church, just a year old this week, in our town, or more specifically from our living room. It's a small venture at the moment and yet in every way, as C.S. Lewis says, "The inside is bigger than the outside."
When we're asked, "How is it going?" or, "What kind of church are you starting?" we don't share numbers or dates, measures that are irrelevant to our present vision. We don't give locations and times as if we're only the church part-time in certain places. We tell you stories.
As we join with the greater narrative of God, that one begun 'in the beginning' to rescue and restore all things, we find that delineating the church from the other domains of our life becomes an impossible surgery to perform. We find that the answers about our impact and mission and viability are intermixed with our accounts of common, daily life with neighbors and with our group and with the 'other.' These are our stories that will answer your question.
After I released my students from class on Monday, my life-giving part-time job mentoring future shepherds, I stopped in at the tea shop where my friend works. Her swearing-in to the state bar was that afternoon and acknowledging important days can be done with a surprise hug. We had walked with her during her last stressful semester of law school. She'd arrive for core group with her notes in hand, having her husband quiz her on the drive over. I'd helped her find a space in the seminary library for a change of scenery during her bar studies. We'd prayed together the night before the results came out and rejoiced, distracted and dizzy, in the morning to see her name on that laudable list. And Monday was the day her title would change.
The church comes into your labor to share the joy of what's coming.
When I was done working that Thursday during my sons' fall break I went to my friend's home where they were playing. But instead of rounding them up to go with "thank yous" and "I appreciate its," I sat down in the chair and gathered her small daughter up in my lap and we talked about the kitties in the window. My friend crept out on her errand while I was present with the kids, familiar and usual; they never knew she was gone. We were trading off that day: my sons with her while I worked a few hours and then I stayed with all while she met with a teacher. A year ago the distance between our homes wouldn't have allowed that. But this summer they moved into our neighborhood.
The church moves into the neighborhood and splits the load of life.
During a weekend in May we gathered in an ample mountain home and dreamed. We, our kids, and our dogs spilled over the sofas in comfortable company and made welcoming lists upon which no scribbled idea was bad. We talked of missional ventures, finding the acute suffering, relational ideals and worship. Thereto, sorry and shy, we named what we were not drawn to and nearly whispered it, the elderly. Yet, four months later when we picked up steam in our service to the community, we gathered at a trailer park and painted the eaves of the smiling gray woman, pulled the weeds of the retired shuffling feet, cleaned the gutters and bagged the leaves where those looking through the windows grow dim. And then we returned again. And soon we'll serve them Thanksgiving dinner.
The church lets Jesus lead them where they are afraid to go.
When she saw the pain in my eyes and the fear of the future she said, "We'll take care of you." For months she did just that with income and presence. Sometimes it looks like she's commanding the universe to bend to her will but when we kill our assumptions and move into the depths of her heart we see she's running for her life after Jesus. She lined up work and a partner for my husband. Then took her hands off and let it roll. When that partnership changed, another friend took the reigns. His faithful pledge to our community sprang forth in an interview and bloomed into a new job for my husband. And now these friends, together, knowingly smile at their creativity that elicited the income that frees us to do the beloved work, that which we can't not do.
The church enters the tension to give food to the hungry and set captives free.
When we met him, he was rough around the edges but fighting for a different kind of life. The record of his life was long with rap sheets and alarming detentions. But friends said, "God has other plans for him." So we stuck close for this entire year; listening with accepting ears, offering affirming words, working alongside his frustration and doubt, living lives of compassion he could receive. The other day, he asked a question far more important than any other we've received so far. "Is there room in your church for someone like me?" Yes. And there's room in the Kingdom of Jesus too.
The church intentionally lives so that others will ask.
I love that you ask me how my church is going, but I know that you're really asking, cloaked and curious. "How is your life with God?" My answer is this: come with us and give yourselves to the stories and then you'll know just how much bigger is the inside than the outside.