I saw this picture posted on Facebook the other day. The woman is opening up a restaurant in her neighborhood – realizing a dream of being a small business owner and serving the people she loves most. This picture was posted by a friend of mine who is doing great work in helping communities revive and thrive. Wendy, and those who work with her, are walking alongside others and encouraging them to live their dreams – together as a neighborhood and as a community. As far as I can tell, their main work is to nurture the idea that together they can elevate their community. They believe that if they invest in one another they can infuse a greater sense of love and hope in the place where they live.
Through the magic of Facebook I had a short conversation with Wendy the other day. We talked about how difficult it can be for pastors and worship leaders and even church leaders to worship on Sunday when other things are on their minds. In making my response to her question about this difficulty I said this:
…yes, it is hard to worship, at times, inside the church walls. But, when I live out of the reality that the church is not the walls and I am not a salesman in a God-franchise, then I am able to live into worship differently. It means trusting the Spirit when I am not fully ready and accepting grace when things don’t go smoothly. It means looking at the gathered people with a goal to love and be loved, not just the goal of doing a good job. If I can live into those things, then worship becomes more lively.
She then responded with this:
I love your statement, “It means looking at the gathered people with a goal to love and be loved.” … I think I have that posture in my work [with a local community] but I am not sure I have that same way of being when I am in the walls of the church…
I knew from what I had read that my friend does have a great sense of community and personal investment in her work. Truly her work has inspired me to nurture that same spirit in the church. I see and read the stories of how people are living their lives TOGETHER and seeing things change for the better, and I think to myself, “that’s what the church should be about. That’s the light that’s needed in the darkness of the world – a real and deeply connected community offering a real sense of peace and hope in a world that tends to pull us apart.”
I think one of our greatest challenges in the Church is to recapture the idea of being a “community of believers.” As it is right now, I find many churches to be more of a “collection of believers.” We are people with a common interest who meet in a common space to learn about a common way of living as people known as Christians. We live our lives in proximity to one another more than we live life together.
This is what I think of as the Starbucks way of being church. People who go to Starbucks (or other food/drink places) on a regular basis do so because they like something about what they experience there – what they “get.” When they meet others who are also “Starbucks people” they feel a sense of camaraderie with them and they high-five each other and talk about the things they love most (okay, the high-five may be a bit much, but I think you get the point). If these “Starbucks people” go to the same location on a regular basis they may even get familiar with other regulars. They might have conversations about their families and their jobs. Many of them develop an understanding of who the other people are, and they’re glad to see most of them.
To me, that sounds like what we often see on Sunday mornings in our church buildings. People go to the church they do because they like something about what they experience – what they “get.” They feel a camaraderie with others who also like that place. They talk about how much they enjoy the place, they get to know something about one another, and they are glad to see one another in that place each week.
Now, is there something wrong or bad about such a church? Not on the surface, no. It all seems good and nice. We go to a place where we have something in common with others who are there. We’re friendly and we talk to one another. Then we go our separate ways figuring we’ll see each other again soon. And therein lies the rub.
The church was never meant to be a place where people of like interests meet. As a matter of fact, the Church did not begin as a “place.” The Church began as a community. The Church began as people seeking to live into this new life found in Jesus and empowered by the life of the Holy Spirit within them and among them. They shared life together. They not only knew the stories of the other followers of Jesus around them, they were part of the stories of their brothers and sisters in the faith. They didn’t go their separate ways hoping to run into each other once a week, they sought each other out and nurtured their life together – just like Jesus had done with the people who traveled with him.
So, what do we do now?
Well, as a pastor I often think I need to figure out how to move the church in the right direction to be who we are called to be. What kind of campaign can we launch? What program or process can we implement to make this happen? What’s the plan for making us that kind of church? And then I realize, I can’t make it happen. I can only live into what I know to be good and right. If I want to see this become a reality in the church then it first has to become a reality in my life. I need to begin living life WITH others rather than living my life in proximity to others.
Our “Growth & Nurture” team will soon be living into the work of developing small groups where people will learn and live life together – hopefully. I am going to be one of the small group leaders gathering to pray and work on plans for building up a “community” that meets together and lives life together.
My hope is this: first, that we build real community; and second, that we show others what being the Church outside church walls can look like. I also hope that somewhere along the way we might even help those who don’t follow Jesus see that there is a treasure to be found in the midst of those who do. Maybe, just maybe, they will look at our community and say, “see how they love one another…” And then, beyond that, they might desire to know such peace and joy in their lives as well.
What about you? Are you ready to be the Church rather than just go to church? Are you willing to find other believers and live life WITH them and not just around them?
I hope so. I hope I can and I hope you can, because together we might just see God working in us and through us to change the world.
Holy high-five to you,
P.S. If you want to read more about my friend’s ministry check out her blog: http://wendymccaig.com