My family just moved. In case you didn’t know, we uprooted our lives from the place where my husband and I met, where we graduated high school, the place to which we had returned after college, married and started a family, the place where all four of our children were born, the place where we had lived and poured our lives into youth and worship ministries for more than fifteen years and were, by typical American church standards, successful. We left the place where we had an established, growing faith family, close friends, and comfort…so much comfort. Our home was comfortable; our church buildings were comfortable; we had great, material ministry tools. Our lives were, for the most part, settled. The dream God had given my husband and I in high school of a growing, thriving church in our hometown had become a reality.
We had arrived…except we hadn’t (By the way, I’m not sure you ever really “arrive” when it comes to your personal journey with God). Deep down David and I began to feel that something wasn’t right. We had both grown restless, unsettled, and, quite ironically uncomfortable in one of the most comfortable church settings we’d experienced. Now please don’t misread this as criticism about my former, hometown church. God is doing great work there through wonderful people I dearly love. This was an unsettling in us; something wasn’t right about where we were. God was beginning to stir in us a sense of discontent that this was not all He had for us to do. The weekly grind of spending so much time and energy preparing for a couple of short hours one day of the week investing in a programmed service just felt empty and shallow. We could see all the helpless and hurting people who needed us to step into their lives, but we had no time or strength left to do so. We were miserable.
I apologize if this offends anyone. The current model of church to which we have grown accustomed is engrained deeply in us and will not likely go quietly into the sunset, and that’s ok. We need that safety net of what we know to act as a bridge to the new but also ancient direction in which I believe God is calling His people to move. We all need the comfort of knowing we can go home to the familiar when the new becomes too overwhelming to bear, because believe me when I say, that this new, yet old, way of being the church, the people of God, is really dangerous, costly, and extremely messy.
Humans don’t like messy, at least we’re not usually thrilled with having to deal with the messiness of others when we already have our own messiness to manage. The thought of sacrificing our time, energy, resources, and very lives to step into the messiness of our neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and friends is daunting, and the message to take care of yourself first before you attempt taking care of anyone else is a popular mantra today. However, if you wait until your life is no longer messy, until you are no longer stressed, until you feel you have enough knowledge, until you have enough time…you will never step out into the fullness of following Jesus and being a tangible glimpse of His love and life to those He’s placed around you right now. You will miss so much if you wait.
Too often this is what we do in church. We wait. We attend. We volunteer here and there; however, we are perfectly content to let a small majority of people who “have it all together” (LIE!) to take on the messy job of obeying the command Jesus gave to ALL His disciples, past, present, and future, to make disciples and teach others to do the same (Matthew 28:19-20). We’ve been trained to believe this is primarily the pastor’s job and the few, select people on his ministry team, so we sit out on the sidelines of the game, all while our coach is pleading, “I see the crowds. I see my lost sheep. They are harassed and helpless with no one to guide them. They need shepherds, yet there aren’t enough! There are so many who need my love, yet so few workers who are willing to go. Pray earnestly that more would get in the game!” (Matthew 9:36-38, my paraphrase).
About six months ago, God said to my husband and I, “You are in the way. It is time to get out of the way, so others can serve. It’s time for you to move. It’s time for you to go where I am sending you.” I remember weeping during that worship service as I realized exactly what this meant. This meant leaving the church we loved. This meant leaving the community we had known for so long. This meant stepping out of youth and worship ministry and letting others take our place, and this meant heading out into the unknown. It hurt. It was terrifying, but six months later, here we are in a whole new world reimagining what church could be if we, instead of following the usual model, began to pattern our lives after how Jesus demonstrated for us through His life on earth how we are supposed to live as well.
What if we saw people, real hurting people as Jesus sees them? What if we saw the drug-addicted, single mom as a person worth investing our time in and giving our loving touch to so that maybe by the grace and miraculous work of God we get to see her lifted out of the pit?
What if we visited prisons like Jesus said? What if while we were at the prison, we saw in the face of the people there the face of Christ?
What if we worked hard to support ourselves, choosing to be bi-vocational on purpose? What if we never had a building? What if we don’t need all the instruments and fancy sound equipment to worship in the Spirit? What if over half of the money given to the church could go toward investing in the real needs of everyday people we meet?
What if we don’t just shop at the grocery or hardware store? What if we took time out of our busy lives to talk to the cashier, ask him or her a few questions about life? What if that conversation leads to many more life-changing ones in the future?
What if we opened our home to feed people? What if we saw the all-too-often forgotten young adults and came alongside them to help them learn to navigate this difficult world in which we live?
What if church really was a community of people who shared life together? What if instead of a couple hours a day or two a week became more? What if we shared holidays and feasts together? What if we went on mission together? What if we sang in our homes together at the top of our lungs? What if we shared our lives in such an open way that nothing would be left hidden in the dark?
What if we took the broken people we invite into our home along with us into the hurting world and showed them how to love people? What if we taught them to do what we are doing? What if they don’t need us to do it for them? What if we sent them somewhere else to start a new community of believers because we believe that the Spirit in us is the same Spirit in them?
Last night I looked into the face of a hurting young man who has been through more than most young men his age. He had just spent his week helping a friend who had tried to kill himself. He was struggling with his own depression and wasn’t sure what to do with his life. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know a lot about the Bible. I know a few stories, and that’s about it, but I know how to love people. Do you think I can help you guys do that?'”
What if church? What if?