First confession: I’m not yet an ordained “pastor,” but the title I used sounds more interesting than “Confessions of a Youth Director.” Second confession: I’m scared to death of being the parent of teenagers!
I have two boys, ages 6 and 8. By all accounts, I should not worry about being the parent of a teenager yet. However, if 14 years in youth ministry have taught me anything, it is that kids grow up faster than parents expect! When my oldest son turned 8 in December I realized that I had less than ten years left to plan for a college fund and only eight to plan for him driving on his own! Yikes!! Scarier still: only 5 years until he is officially a “teen!” In recent years, some of the teenagers I work with have asked me if I wouldn’t like to have a girl. I have a pat response: “Yes, I would love to have a little girl, I just don’t want to have a teenage girl.” This usually gets a good laugh from the boys and indignant protests from the girls. It’s funny, but it is also totally honest! It’s not that I think boys are going to be so easy, it is just that I at least understand some of what they are going to face, and I hope (probably naïvely) that it will help me a bit.
So what does any of this have to do with this blog about our new church development? This brings me to my next confession: one of the biggest reasons that I want to be part of planting a church is that I have a desire to see my boys living and growing up in a community of faith that is deeply woven into their lives – in their school, on their sports teams, in their neighborhood, in their home, etc. I want them to “see” and “feel” what it is to be the church more than I want them to hear and talk about it.
Now please do not hear the wrong thing: I am NOT saying that Mountain View cannot be that kind of church or that there aren’t other churches in Stanwood/Camano that are like this. What I am saying is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to use our current models of being and doing church to disciple young people. This is not a radical statement – almost any book or conference on youth ministry today will be talking about this phenomenon of young people leaving the church after high school. I think that older generations in the church are finally admitting that this is not simply a repeat of previous patterns of young people leaving the church and then returning when they have a family (the statistical trends are simply too obvious for that kind of speculation now. See #5 in Five Myths by Barna). So what we need in order to disciple young families are new models. Models that can be integrated into the lives of families, equipping them to live out their faith together during the week where they work and play in order that more people may come to know and believe in Jesus Christ.
So we need to experiment. We need to try new things. We need to fail, try again, fail, and try again. We need to embody the church as people more than place. Since I know that the church is going to have to change in order to be faithful to God’s calling in the world, I might as well get on board now! I want to be able to look my boy’s in the eye someday and tell them that I at least tried to live out what they hear me preaching from the pulpit, even if it means letting go of some of what has been comfortable for me.
We’ve been doing some research on different models for starting a new church. The “messy church” is a creative example of something that is working in some contexts to reach families. Would you like to be part of a “messy church?”
I met a guy recently and we were talking about our ministry roles. I told him that I was beginning to transition from my position as youth director into the position of leading a team to start a “daughter church.” He responded, “Oh… so you’re a church planter.” It wasn’t really a question, but more of a statement – a statement that left me wondering if that was a good thing or a bad thing in his mind. Then I began to wonder if it was a good thing or a bad thing in my mind.
“Church Planter.” The label was like trying on some new clothes. My initial thought was, “wow, this is new and stylish!” But then I realized that it felt a little uncomfortable. The reality is that we are living through a time when we are tying to be careful and intentional about our language when it comes to the “church.” I’m not so sure that when people hear about church planting they think in terms of what we are trying to do with the Mountain View “daughter church” (I’m not sure I like that term either – I’m too picky!).
For starters, if I am a “church planter” then everyone else that I am working with is too. Our discernment team members are “church planters,” our session elders at Mountain View are “church planters,” our Presbytery leaders are “church planters,” and on it goes. Secondly, I’m concerned that when people think of a “church planter” they think of someone going in, getting a building, putting out advertising, and creating the next slick Sunday morning experience. In some ways, it is not unlike starting a new small business. But in this sense a “church planter” becomes a sort of “church supplanter” because they are simply pulling in people from the existing churches. Or, as I heard a speaker say recently, “circulating the saints.”
I’m also aware that I’m reacting a bit to the idea that when I hear of “church planter” I think of someone going to a place where the Church (I use that capital “C” on purpose) does not yet exist in an organized form. Take, for example, some parts of Senegal where our church and other are trying to reach “unreached people groups”. The truth is, God has been at work ahead of us, and the “Church” already exists and is active in Stanwood and on Camano Island. However, there does seem to be the need for some new expressions of the Body of Christ in those communities. There definitely seems to be the need for “more workers.” (Luke 10:2).
In some ways, what we are doing is like planting something new in a garden and nurturing it to see what kind of “fruit” it produces. I’m ok with being a type of “gardener” – watering, feeding, tending and working to allow new growth. All the while knowing that we are working with the mystery that the life created is the work of God alone. So how about you? What comes to your mind when you hear “church planter?”
Too often concern for the status of the church tempts some to employ desperate measures to insure that the church will remain socially significant or at least have a majority of the population. But the church is not called to be significant or large. The church is called to be apostolic. Faithfulness, not numbers or status, should be the characteristic that shapes the witness of the church. Indeed it may well be the case in our time that God is unburdening the church so that we can again travel light.
I ran across this while reading Stanley Hauerwas’s commentary on Matthew 10 (Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible). I’m preparing to preach on this text this week and I continue to find God affirming that the task ahead is about faithfulness. If I begin fall into the trap of thinking about success/failure rather than faithfulness then my focus begins to be more about me than about Jesus and his mission.
Just this week I picked up a book I have long been meaning to read: The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer. I immediately recognized that the Spirit was behind this as I read the first chapter and realized how relevant it is for the work we are doing in our discernment team right now. Here is an excerpt:
Before the Christian Church goes into eclipse anywhere there must first be a corrupting of her simple basic theology. She simply gets a wrong answer to the question, “What is God like?” and goes on from there. Though she may continue to cling to a sound nominal creed, her practical working creed has become false. The masses of her adherents come to believe that God is different from what He actually is; and that is heresy of the most insidious and deadly kind.
The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him – and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to them undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past.
I find it interesting that Tozer points out that we can have a great “nominal creed” (as we Presbyterians do in The Book of Confessions), and yet our “working creed” or what we really believe about God and act on can be distorted. That is why it is essential for us to begin here, and specifically to begin with the incarnate Word, Jesus. What is it about Jesus that we believe at our core? Is that accurate? How do we act on that understanding as we seek to follow him in our place in our time?
Last night at Mountain View PC we had a great evening talking about Justice and spending time in worship asking the question: “What is my next step?” What an awesome ministry my good friends Phil and Amy are engaged in with Steps of Justice! I am convinced that the Church is called to be at the forefront of stepping out against injustice as it acts out the prayer: “Your kingdom come!” I’m not as confident in stating what this looks like exactly. I have a feeling that it will be slightly different for each community of faith.
It is my prayer that whatever form this Stanwood/Camano Island church development takes, that it would be infused with the desire to both reach those who do not yet know the grace of Jesus Christ, and to follow Jesus in reaching out to the “least of these” (Matthew 25:45). One of the most exciting things to me about being engaged in the birthing of a new faith community is the opportunity to infuse some of these qualities into the “DNA” of the community. But in order to do this we must be aware of what the issues are. We must be willing to move beyond self-centeredness and open our eyes to the world around us. This is no easy task.
What do you believe are the most pressing “justice” issues in the Stanwood/Camano area?
Our discernment team will be participating in a “Starting New Churches” workshop at Mountain View Presbyterian Church, hosted by Craig Williams. Craig is an associate with the Western Office of Church Development with the Presbyterian Church (USA). The workshop dates are January 4 – 7, 2012. We will be meeting in the evenings Wednesday through Friday, and all day on Saturday.
The workshop will serve as a kind of “pre-gathering” for our discernment team. During the workshop we will go through everything that we will be doing in our discernment process and begin to anticipate what it will take. The goal is that after the workshop the “Starting New Churches” process will not only makes sense, but our team will have experience from the training that will speed up the process and make it more thorough. We will begin the 17 Gatherings in the second or third week of January.
I just added a page called “Roadmap.” If you click on it in the above menu you will find a picture that we are using to display where we are at in the process. As I mention on that page, the process we are using is based on a document called “Planting New Churches.” This will be our guide as we begin to put together a “Discernment Team” and move through 17 gatherings together. During those gatherings we will begin to have more clarity about what we believe God is calling us to do. We will answer question like: Are we really being called to Stanwood/Camano Island? If so, why? What is our mission? How do we engage in the mission? Do we need meeting space? What do we call ourselves?
As we move through the process I will be updating the blog with what we discern. Currently, we are beginning to put together the Discernment Team that will have representatives of Mountain View Presbyterian Church, the Stanwood/Camano community, and the Presbytery of North Puget Sound.
If you have questions, be sure to post a comment and I will respond. If you want to know more details about the process, be sure to download the document and take a look.
This is the beginning of something brand new! Hopefully not just a new blog, but the beginning of a new missional community. This blog will be a tool for communicating with all of you that are interested in the process. As you read, I hope that you will pray. As you pray, I hope that you will be encouraged to move to further the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Updates to follow.