Recently I found myself sitting over coffee with a young and insightful leader who burns with passion, albeit cynical passion, for Christ’s church. It’s a conversation I’ve had countless times in the last two years as a first-time church planter. It’s a cynicism, which, to some degree I understand. I grew up going to church, had my doubts, asked my questions and found early and often that my kind of thinking was a fast-track to an early exit. It is indeed quite difficult to gain enough influence to be heard while questioning the very means by which you ‘gain influence’ in a given organizational construct. If I question the very basis of the institution that is so ingrained in the American Church model why would I stay around long enough to change the parts (if any) that GOD would have me to change?
Jen and I started Disciples Church a few years back with a few dear friends. Since that time we have gathered some of our best friends to partner with us and asked them to do some pretty audacious things. We have made new friends along the way as well. All of this was in the “recruiting brochure”. But we have also lost friends, hurt people, seen relationships damaged, been hurt, beat up and gossiped about. Those parts got left out of the brochure. So believe me when I say the question of “why are we doing this” has filled many late night conversations in bed staring at the ceiling, tears running down the pillows.
The discussion to be had, however, is not THAT the American System of Church it is broken (let’s assume for now it is), but HOW do we fix it? See if the discussion ends with simply pointing out all the ills with the church, it’s institutions, it’s leaders, that discussion has only one logical finish line: drop out. Just quit going, Start a blog, attend a house-church, maybe even send money to orphans and widows. All of which are fine, though incomplete…on a number of significant levels. First and foremost: You and I were never intended to enjoy Jesus without his wife…and last I checked he’s not remarrying.
But what if we take a longer view of the finish line?
Apollo 13 was a planned lunar mission that amazes even my non-scientific mind every time I think it through. Here you’ve got some of the smartest people alive both on the ground and in space. You shoot a small missile into space with all the technology imaginable only to realize it’s broken. The complexity is these astronauts are so far from contact they cannot just send a rescue vessel out to them (insider irony intended). Secondly they can’t just jump ship. They couldn’t bail. They had to stick it out, even their roles were changing and their idea of the mission was in question. In the midst of flying this broken ship on a failed mission they had to re-engineer the very flight plan they were flying.
So in all that rambling here is the LEADING THOUGHT. Yes, there is a time and place to bail, I agree. But let’s stay longer than we think we should have. Let’s keep leading that ailing ministry an extra month, let’s keep the church doors open one more fall, let’s disciple that guy one more season, let’s host one more small group. Our time line for transformation is not like God’s. One of the American attributes we all have is a terrific propensity to put up with our own slow personal growth and yet have little or no patience for the pace of growth in anyone else. Is it possible the church is right on the cusp of being all it could be but we won’t know because we bailed? Is it possible that ministry was just about to turn a corner but we might not see it?
- In the last week, I got to sit with a man in his mid-twenties who says he has found a church family for the first time. He has decided to be baptized because he wants to declare for the first time that he is Walking With Jesus.
- Last week, I sat amazed with Sean, our Program Director ( in his early 20’s with no formal ministerial training) as he led a meeting with wisdom, insight and grace for the design of our Sunday Gathering, which turned out excellent.
- Last week, I sat with a woman who has known Christ many years but never experienced community until she found Disciples. Her marriage is in trouble and for the first time ever she spoke of that need for healing with people here, hoping and praying there were some here who will walk with her through dark times. We will.
Yes, the promise of Jesus, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it” were meant to ring in our ears as we press on to be everything God has called us to be as a community of faith, even in the midst of broken systems and seemingly strange institution.