In recent weeks, Molly, the kids and I have ventured into unfamiliar territory – searching for a new church home. I believe it wasn’t until just a few weekends ago that the reality of this decision finally hit us…”We’ve never really had to do this before.” You see, Molly and I both grew up in homes where ‘church attendance’ and participation was the norm. It was during my college years at Appalachian State that I first encountered the somewhat courageous and stale process of searching for a good place to sit, observe, sing…and hopefully in all that, experience a fresh encounter with God (ie: worship) on Sunday mornings, mainly at the time to satisfy this sense of inner-guilt that somehow wouldn’t allow me to ‘sleep in’ on Sunday mornings. After several years of ‘hopping around,’ I finally found myself in a place where I felt like I belonged, with a group of people who made me feel at home for one of the first times in my life. Of course, the story goes that God used this group of people who make up Greenway Baptist Church in a significant way in my life – introducing me to healing, fellowship, exponential spiritual growth, and eventually an acknowledgement of God’s call on my life to serve Him as a pastor and an equipper of people.
Ever since that time, I have only known (for the most part) the side of “church” as being a ‘staff’ person, a pastor, or as my dad would say, “someone working for the good Lord.” Following our time and service with Awaken in August of 2008 (wow – that really was a year ago now!), Molly and I found ourselves without the responsibilities that had become so familiar to us, as well as a role that I had honestly become very much ‘addicted’ to. (Perhaps soon I’ll begin to write out some of these deep struggles and lessons from the past year.)
Fast forward to January 2009 – sitting in an office with a guy would would eventually become my supervisor, asking me, “Why has God called you out of a pastoral role and away from the church?” I remember – with absolutely no hesitation – responding with just a few simple words; “He hasn’t.” And I meant it, and I still do. You see, I truly love this idea of ‘church’ in its truest sense more today than I ever have. I also can’t describe in words how liberating it has been for me and my family to actually find ourselves a still-contributing part of the Body of Christ in different places, without the ‘need’ of a title to appease the insecurities and satisfy my need for self-worth in recent years. Furthermore, I know today more than ever that God has given me a unique gift and heart, along with certain strengths and abilities that affirm my call as a pastor. I actually see things quite a bit differently a year later – that sometimes our view, our description of ‘pastor’ is simply a hired position in the church. And yet have wondered in recent months how many ‘pastors’ are there among the Body of Christ who struggle with this call on a weekly basis, because they know God has called them, gifted them with a certain ability, and yet they only have a limited view of what this looks like by what they see on Sundays and during the week. How amazing would it be to see those limitations removed and to see more people in the Body of Christ serving and contributing as pastors, teachers, leaders without the expectation of needing to be “hired,” and in some cases forfeiting more influence in the world by serving as a “tent-maker” as opposed to sitting in an office all week or spending all of your time around Christians?
Now, I understand (also) better than ever, the church’s need for a visionary or visionaries, for leadership, for Biblical teaching – and I believe there is necessity in many cases for the ‘church’ to take care of the needs of certain people who serve among the Body. Yet, as my friend Matt and I were discussing this week, too often our Westernized Christian thinking gets in the way of how we understand the true concept of ‘church,’ especially when it comes to who participates and who simply observes.
Last October, I began the process of (more formally) of letting go of this title and this identity, and found myself and our family journeying with a group of Jesus-followers in Greensboro called Mosaic. I found myself under the leadership of a group of guys who were patient to hear my struggles, who cried with me and who allowed me to simply be part of the Body of Christ without the misconceptions of what I ‘should’ be doing based on my past and experience. Molly and I found ourselves learning, growing, experiencing community with people who were very differnt from us, participating in the Life of the Body of Christ in new and refreshing ways.
I remember in the months following my resignation at Awaken, I was gripped with fear, not sure what I would do next. I remember sitting in worship services evaluating everything that went on, critiqing messages…and afterwards, exhausted from what I grown acustomed to and depressed from what I couldn’t do. I asked God specifically that if He didn’t want me to serve in the same capacity I had in recent years, that He would simply take the desire away. And I can honestly say, as I have many times since, I have less of a desire today to be on paid-staff with a church than I ever have. I’ve found new and exciting expressions and opportunities to use my call, where now I can still be who God has called me to be without depending on the financial resources of the church to carry those out!
So, I come back to where we are…to uncharted territory – looking for a church-home – to a place in our lives where we’ve moved to a new city and understand better than ever our need to be part of a community of Jesus-followers. We’ve never done this before, and it’s scary because it involves risks in relationships and at times discomfort. But, man, I do believe it’s worth it. We can say what we want, but the church is still the Bride of Christ, and if I am claiming to follow Him, I must understand her beauty and His willingness to lay down His life for her and her redemption. If for no other reason, that’s why (despite the frustrations and the immenent feelings of ‘hopelessness’ when we sometimes take a good, long look at the church) I will continue to find ways to serve with Jesus through her!
Which brings me to the whole point of why I’m writing this in the first-place. In recent years, I’ve struggle with how we’ve come to understand this idea of the church. We’ve – in some cases – turned the church into a Five-Ringed circus of Worship, Ministry, Evangelism, Discipleship and Fellowship. In fact, I often find myself frustrated when someone speaks of one without relationship to the others. For example, if Jesus calls us to “go and make disciples,” then what part of that says “evangelism” without “discipleship” and vise versa? Or when someone participates in an act of “worship” is able to find a way to “love God” without eventually serving others (ministry)?
Something interesting I’ve come across in recent months through some of my readings is the Biblical relationship between the terms “worship” and “service” in the texts of the Old and New Testament. There’s a Greek term – leitourgeō – which is where we get our English word, “liturgy,” a common term used to describe parts or the whole of the act of worship. In Acts 13 while the believers are together in the very act of “worshiping,” God calls out (through His Spirit) Barnabas and Saul for His service. You see, it seems the product of “worship” is or should always be “service” – something that is quite historically consistent beginning with God’s instructions to His people in the Exodus account. It is here where God begins the process prior to Mount Sinai of showing His people who He is, what He is like, and how THEY are called to be His “priests” to the world around them. Ultimately, God’s people are rescued, healed, called and equipped for the benefit of the world…the heart of God that identifies the central purpose of the church today; something that ultimately hasn’t changed since Sinai.
For several weeks now, we’ve found ourselves part of a community of called LifePointe Church, where the current teaching series is focused on the term “worship.” And as this series continues, I’m anxious to see what this will produce in the lives and hearts of those listening. Will the ‘fruit’ be a more dynamic, spirit-filled hour of musical worship, teaching and financial-giving on Sundays, OR will the result be hearts who long to express love and devotion to God by finding ways to participate in the healing, restoring and redemptive work of Jesus in the world around us?
This, to me, is what it means to BE the church, what it means to ‘worship’ God and to be invited to participate in His life. To find that there are few distinguishments between what we call “purposes” of the church, but rather an intricate choreography of all of these things working together for God’s glory.
Ultimately, I have to remember that as much as I’m called into the life of the Body of Christ, to a life of serving others, to a mission of bringing healing, hope and restoration to the world around me, I also have to remember – and perhaps most importantly – that it’s THIS life that is actually saving me. Saving me from a life of seeking to gain things for myself instead of pouring myself out (like Jesus) so that I might truly live. Saving me from the rediculous thought that “church shopping” is about what I want more than what He wants for the world through the Church.