Last night we found something beautiful.
Last night B and I had our first couple conversation with a search team from a potential new church. I don’t know where that conversation will lead, but no matter what happens in the future, last night was big for us.
Nothing about the conversation was corporate. I know that shouldn’t surprise me, but it did. After ten years of trying to lead a church in an engineering town, I was moved to find a body of believers with a whole different set of priorities. We didn't get a printed list of 60 specific demands. (This happened more than once last go around.) They didn't ask if we could create a business plan to produce a religious product. These folks had two basic questions that drove every other question. “Will you make the room to love and enjoy us? And will you help us know Jesus?”
My heart melted listening to them.
This little church sits out in the country, and it's full of people who reminded me a lot of our distant family members. Their last pastor and his wife showed them what it meant to walk authentically with God and one another, and now they don't want to turn back. They want to walk more deeply with Jesus. They want to take good care of each other.
Something else that moved me? Older members who can’t get out of the house very often are a top priority for them. Older folks should be a priority for every church, but they're not. So many churches are restless, desperate to do whatever it takes to attract glitzy new members in their 20’s and 30’s. But here was a fierce and beautiful loyalty to those dear older souls who are sometimes overlooked and forgotten.
They also want to help their community find Jesus. This is a tiny town in East Tennessee—a town where little houses are dotted back along dead end roads. There’s not a central place in the community where folks hang out, so we spent part of our time throwing around ideas about board game nights, and karaoke, and a coffee/live music nights.
They are already serving local people in need, and they are looking for new ways to reach out to those who are hurting from addiction and injustice. They told us they wanted leadership that would push them out of their comfort zones into serving more and more. “Find someone who will make us uncomfortable, who will urge us to get out there and give,” a member in the church had asked the team. I thought that was so sweet.
They don’t want a CEO. They want a shepherd and a teacher. They don't idolize the corporate model of church--and that was one of the most moving realizations of the night for me. I can't tell you what hope that gave me for the American church as a whole. I couldn't help but wonder what would happen to this nation if there were more groups of 150 sincere people willing to believe that a real Jesus could show up in their midst.
I don’t know if God will place us at this church, but it was such a beautiful introduction into our search for new place to serve. America is overrun with too-engineered, corporate, strategic religious machines—but there are still honest groups of believers out there who just want to be known and loved so that they can go out into a dark world carrying the practical love of Jesus.
That’s the strategy Jesus used with the twelve. I couldn’t help thinking about how much he must love these folks as we drove through the mountains on our way home.
I’m thankful God let me see that.
(I'll return to our series in my next post. :) )