Lately I have been wondering if we will be a real church?...
Our ‘church planting’ adventure has entered a new phase with our family this week moving into the community we are going to be a part of and beginning to grapple with what it means to be missionaries in this place. .
During the week I also had two conversations with other local Christian groups that unsettled me, as they reminded me again of the shape we may be ‘expected’ to take as a church.
I spoke to one group about a complex and courageous project they are looking to undertake in a nearby suburb to (in their words) “help churches 'build bridges' into the region and make connections with local people”. We were considering getting involved in some way, but I sense that maybe it’s just not for us, certainly at this point.
I also bumped into a small group in the local cafe who were planning a children’s ministry program – again to ‘build bridges’ with the local community.
And I began to wonder… when will we have some programs up and running? When will we be able to say ‘this is what we are doing?’
Is that even what we want to do?
As I began to reflect on this idea of programs as ‘bridges to the community’ I got disturbed. I mean have we ever really thought thru what that says?...
It seems to me, to imply that there is the church community and then there's the local community and these are two separate entities. And because of that we need to try and ‘connect’ them... because typically they are not well connected. Somehow we need to create ways for church folk to mix it up with those who are not part of our churches.
Does that sound just a bit like an ‘us and them’ thing – perhaps even an artificial thing?
Now hear me! I am not opposed to decent programs, but if their purpose is simply to be a bridge between ‘us’ over here and ‘them’ over there then count me out. Programs that serve the community are great, but I am not at all convinced that people who have either intentionally or unintentionally isolated themselves from ‘the world’ will make genuine connections in any program.
I'm particularly not interested in being a church that runs all the typical stuff that the community already has eg. playgroups, craft groups. Why would we want to develop another one when a perfectly good one already exists and there are people running it, insurances covering it, buildings housing it?...
Do we think we can do better than people who don’t know Jesus? Or do we only believe its possible to share the gospel in a ‘christian’ environment?
I'm pretty sure that at some stage we will do something that could be called a program, but wouldn't it be great if we were able to meet a deep need in the community rather than simply trying to create an evangelistic bridge?
When I consider 'bridges into the community' I believe having my neighbours for a meal is just that. I don't need a program to help me do it though. Helping my neighbour put up his shed is a great point of connection (and I get a free beer for it!)
It seems that sometimes it is the quality, relevance and number of programs that validates us as a church. The more you run the better you are doing. And programs have been our keys to evangelistic connections rather than naturally forming relationships.
I felt a little deflated today when I realised again that our goal is not to get some programs up and running so we can 'establish a presence and a profile' (I’m told that is important) but rather to genuinely connect with people in natural ways.
I also wonder 'why would we want to establish a 'presence and a profile’?... Does a church really need that?
What if?... we were ordinary people with ordinary jobs who went to work, came home and were ordinary members of the community... but we were deeply committed to Jesus and his mission, both at work and in the neighbourhood?
Would we need programs to serve as bridges?...
Maybe programs have been a crutch for our fumbling attempts at sharing the gospel or genuinely connecting with people in their worlds. Maybe it’s saying 'come to a gig we run where we hold the ropes and you can play along and all will be well'. Maybe they have made us feel like we are 'doing evangelism'?
In saying this I know that I am going to have to deal with the questions that will come my way such as "Just what are you guys doing up there?! How can you be a church and not do anything?!"
When the measures of effectiveness shift then the practices that lead us to be 'effective must inevitably change also.
Hopefully we will keep the focus and not fall prey to the need for affirmation of our whiz bang programs. Hopefully we can also recognise when a 'program' will benefit the community and we will make it happen.
Hopefully we will get to know the people in our street and love them and spend time with them and our greatest hope is that we will see them come to know the Jesus we follow…
But for now I’ll be burning my bridges.
Andrew Hamilton is part of a group of 5 families moving into a costal suburb of Perth with the intention of being 'Backyard Missionaries'.