Monday, July 26, 2010

Church planting and the economy

As I have been sharing the news of our new adventure with friends, family and strangers, I have been receiving a variety of responses. As I have shared my sense of calling and vision, I have heard responses like "Better you than me", "I wouldn't even know where to begin", and "you really have your work cut out for you!" Another response that I have heard several times is related to our current economic times: "Starting a church will be particularly difficult considering our current economy." While I do not disagree with the sentiment of any of these comments (trust me, I realize what a challenging undertaking this is!), I do find this last statement particularly interesting and I want to offer a challenge here (much easier to do here than to start a debate during a casual conversation with a well-intending friend/church member).

Perhaps one of the most overwhelming parts of church starting is the financial aspect. I have spent some time creating a rough budget for what I project will be some of our expenses. Determining expenses, estimating my personal income needs, and considering fund-raising goals has been very uncomfortable for me. While I know that church starting does in part rely on the financial generosity of others, there is part of me that wants to cringe when the financial considerations are the first to surface when people hear of my sense of calling to church planting.

I think that some of my resistance to this mind-set has to do with my widening vision of the fundamentals of "church." While for most of my growing up years, church meant buildings, programs, and well-paid staff, lately I have been calling those assumptions into question. While such needs may become necessary, it bothers me that they are considered fundamental. As I dream of what the church can and should be, I am not considering anything a "given", including the necessity for abundant financial resources.

I want to go a step further. Maybe these tough financial times indicate the ideal time to start a new church. As people have faced loss of jobs, homes, and financial security, perhaps this is the ideal time for a new community of faith to emerge that invites people into the story of God's great love - a love that does not exclude us based on our economic status or anything else, but rather calls us into a life of dependence on God. Despite the financial hurdles that we will no doubt face, I pray for eyes to see the church as a community of those in need, not a place dependent on a good economy for its success.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Losing and finding

As I have spent a great deal of time reflecting on my journey and what has led me down the path of church planting, the recurrence of "losing and finding" has surfaced. While I have been fortunate to not face many involuntary and tragic losses, I have experienced the losses that are often a necessary part of life. The loss of friends, comfort, stability, dependence, and dreams are just a few examples of what most of us experience at some point in our lives.

I have also seen this theme revealed in scripture. Many of God's followers left much behind in response to God's guidance. Jesus himself traveled from place to place with little evidence of carrying many belongings with him. Ultimately, Jesus and some of his loyal followers would lose their very lives. We find these words in the 16th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew:

21From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” 23But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? 27“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

As I read these words, I am reminded of the life that can emerge from losing something for the sake of Christ. The problem is, we do not know what there is to gain when we choose to give something up. We do not know when and where we will experience new life. I have to believe that Jesus knew this doubt when he faced the hour of losing his own life and cried out to God that if there be any way this cup could be taken from him. I have to believe that Jesus, too, struggled with the uncertainty of what was to come. Nonetheless, Jesus chose to enter into the unknown. Losses, no matter how necessary, are not easy; however, they lead to life. That is the peculiar, yet amazing message of the gospel.

In my life's journey, I have chosen to lose once again. I have chosen to begin down what I have been told will be a stressful, lonely, difficult road. I have decided to be a church planter, but more than that I have decided to start a faith community that follows the way of Christ. This means it will not be entertainment-driven. It will not be about giving people easy answers. It will not be a community that is defined by programs and buildings. It WILL be a community that includes everyone. It will be a community that loves deeply. It will be a community that speaks boldy on behalf of the oppressed. It will be a community that continues the life and ministry that was begun by Jesus.

I am aware that I have chosen a difficult road. It is not always the popular way and it does not always draw the masses, but I believe that the way of "lose"(rs) is also the way of Jesus. "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." As I leave behind some old patterns and begin new ways of being church, I am eager to see when and where I will see experience the wonder of new life.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beginning again

When we left Jacksonville, FL five years ago, I assumed we would not return anytime soon. Having decided to attend seminary and relocate our family to Atlanta, Georgia, I was certain this meant not returning home anytime in the near future. After all, that's what ministers do, right? They leave home, family, friends and go wherever they sense God leading them. We set out on an adventure all right, but it has led us back home, back to a city and a people that we love.

What led us home is even more surprising than being back. After struggling to discern a direction for my future in ministry, we decided that an opportunity to start a new faith community in the Jacksonville area would be the next step. My love for the church, my desire to pastor and my passion for finding new ways to be church together have led us down this path. (there will be much more to come about this in future posts!)

So, I am beginning again. Although I am in a familiar place, I am NOT in a familiar place. I am beginning a new leg of the journey that will demand courage, persistence and commitment to my calling. As intimidating as that sounds, I am reminded today of how thankful I am for a God who goes with us wherever we go. I am reminded that God continues to create new life and new opportunity to respond to God's invitation to begin again. Thanks be to God for new beginnings!