Monday, September 24, 2007

Lessons Learned from Church

My family and I have been involved in a church plant for about two years. It has been moving somewhat slowly, at least from what my initial impressions were. We finally have a local elder/pastor, and he is in the process of forming a band of local elders. I think this is a huge step, and it is one that I pray will lead us to becoming a true fellowship of blessing for the honor of Christ.

At this point, it looks like almost everybody from the "core group" of families has left the church. Even many of those who were not maybe officially part of this "core group" but had been there more or less from the very early stages have left. We have some who have stuck with it, and we have some who are, by all accounts, part of the church, but they are perhaps low on the commitment totem pole. We have some new families, but only one or two. Things look bleak, but I know the Lord can do good things. I really feel like we are starting over, and I am starting to think that is not such a bad thing at all.

I've learned a lot of things in the past two years -too many things to name. I will try to list a few of them, here, perhaps for the benefit of any of my vast array of readers.

1. I've learned that leaving a fellowship hurts. When you leave a church, you don't just leave the preaching that you aren't fond of. You aren't just leaving the music. You aren't just leaving the lack of bells and whistles that you think should comprise a good church. You are leaving people. You are leaving friends, and you are leaving people that you were just getting to know who really enjoyed your fellowship and wanted to know you more. This can not only be painful for you, if you are leaving, it can be painful for those you leave behind. Church is more than Sunday mornings. It is a living, breathing, local fellowship - an expression of the Body of Christ in a discrete time and geographic area. It involves a specific set of people that (hopefully) become close to you in ways that others do not.

2. I've learned that people are fickle -even "like-minded Reformed" people. I thought that "fickleness" was an artifact of low-level, moralistic, nominalistic, even "Arminian" Christianity. I realize now that it affects all walks and all beliefs and all kinds. No group escapes the "I want church this way" attitude, and "if I can't get it I will look somewhere else, even if I need to start a home church." Sure, if we just tweaked the preaching a little, if we just had this like that, if these people weren't so much like this and more like that, then everything would be great, right? But isn't that what being fickle means?

3. I've learned that it is easy to have either a very low view of church or an idolatrously high view of it, making our expectations impossible to meet. In fact, both of these extremes really come from the same thing, and they overlap. One can have an idolatrously high view of certain aspects of "church" and yet, because of that, have a really low view of what church is intended to be, Biblically. Other options include: b) church exists to meet my needs and excite me, and c) church is like, groovy man, and it has no boundaries -we're all church! (which really shows low respect to the need for local elders leading a distinct, known set of people, who build each other in Christ)

4. I've learned that this region is really difficult to plant a church in, unless you fit the formula and split off from one of the big Calvary Chapel-esque churches in the area. You basically survive from funnel-offs from other churches because there are a zillion of them, and it creates a sort of "shop around" environment. When you get bored, you move to the next thing in the buffet line and try something else. Eventually, you might decide to "order-in" and start a home church, which seems to be what some folks have done.

5. We have to gain new blood. We need real revival. We need to reach the many lost people here, and we need the "found" revived to the beauty of Christ and a true sense of purpose in following Him (including by committing to a local church). We, in particular, can't rely on funnel-offs from other churches because a) 99.9% of the people in this town don't know we exist, b) we have less cool stuff to attract people than any of them out there (and probably always will), and c) it seems like many of the funnel offs will eventually just funnel off to somewhere else. It is the nature of the beast. Still, the concern is not numbers. It is gathering people and making disciples and being a blessing to this community.

I'm sure there is more to come. I pray that the Lord will bless this little church. If not, then I have already learned a lot. I have seen these attitudes in myself, so I am not just picking on other people. I have grown much through this 2-year church plant. I have been challenged in many, many areas, and I am thankful for it. I only pray that I would not make too much of it and that the Lord would guard me from ever becoming bitter about any of it. There is good in it all.

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