Friday, June 6, 2014

Why Start a New Church

Since we started this project, I have been reading books and articles about starting new churches. This is not a heartening genre. The subject tends to attract the bitterly idealistic. An article on how to start a new church often carries the silent subtitle "Because Every Existing Church Fails to Live Up to My Standards." 

This is a dangerous thing to believe.

If our new church fails to grow and become sustainable, my family will look around for a few weeks and find somewhere else. In any place we settle, the gospel will be preached, Jesus will be worshipped, and we will be alternately satisfied, challenged and hurt. This is the nature of congregational life. There is no shortage of churches where we could settle.

We are not starting a new church to create one that is worthy of us and our precious, precious ideals.

Churches are supposed to disrupt our preferences. If everything is being done the way I want it, then I can't grow. A congregation that lives up to my ideals is, perversely, a congregation that lets me down. My ideals can't always be right. There will be too much of me in them. I will mix up "the music I like" with "the music God likes," or live in the uncorrected certainty that my expectations for a pastor are the universally-recognized dictates of the deity. 

There are lines that must not be crossed. There are dictates from the deity. But the forces of habit and the imperious preferences of personality and the sloth of unexamined priorities can masquerade to us as the will of God. Sometimes we need a good shaking to remember where the real solid ground is.

Starting a new church is disruptive. No one can say "but we've never done it that way before," because we have never done it before. The disruption makes us think more deeply about why we are here and who we want to be. The disruption makes us flexible, with more freedom to speak in the language that our neighbors are best able to hear. A new church is, it turns out, new. Fresh and green and pliable, like the honeysuckle shoots I cut out of my yard. They bend.

The reason to start a new congregation is so we can bend when we need to bend. The point is to have lost so much already - the stability and familiarity and comfort and steadiness of the church you left - that you can give up whatever you are asked to lose next. Because the gospel asks us to give up all sorts of things. 

The loss of the familiar helps us make Christ our steadiness. The absence of cherished friends in our worship service reminds us that Christ is even dearer. The dislocation we feel reminds us to see Christ in the faces of strangers and welcome them as brothers and friends.

Welcome. Come in. Come learn with us.

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