An Opening Post by Chelsey
“So…when/where will you start worship services?”
It’s an innocent question, and most likely asked because when people discover that we actually chose to plant a new church rather than work in an established one, they look at us like we’ve got three eyes. Going this route is much more polite than “I’m sorry, are you crazy? Do you even have health insurance?”
Every time it comes up, though, I can’t help but giggle. When? Where? Ha. Very funny.
Truth is, we don’t exactly know yet. We have a general idea, yes, but as far as narrowing it down to a neighborhood, a rental space, or anything else? Not really.
I don’t mean to say that we’re being intentionally irresponsible or shirking the gravity of this work. Simply put: we’re praying. A lot. That means actually walking the area God has put on our hearts and praying as we walk. It looks funny, sounds funny, and probably is funny, but it’s illuminating. And gives us hope that this crazy adventure we’re chasing down isn’t one just of our own choosing.
We’re also researching and studying. This means going through demographic and sociological studies of the area, looking through reports of projected future growth, and finding out where the new neighborhoods, grocery stores, and schools are being built. The Austin area (especially the northern portion) is the most rapidly expanding area in the country right now, and the body of Christ isn’t keeping up with the population explosion.
An important third portion of our approach has been to gather disciples and, well…disciple disciples. We have some incredible support from our parent congregation, as well as some astoundingly faithful friends who have been on their knees, lifting up their own futures in prayer for many months now, planning moves to the Austin area in order to partner with us. To say that I’m humbled and flabbergasted at the very thought of someone possibly uprooting their lives for the sake of the Gospel in my little corner of the world would be an understatement.
To boil all of this down: people and prayer. That’s what we’re focusing on now.
Where are the people? Pray. What do they need? Pray. Where do we go next? Pray.
Most important, though, might be this thought: the Church doesn’t need a building.
The Church doesn’t need a building. It doesn’t need offices. It doesn’t need a youth room or a choir loft or a basketball court or a cafeteria (though all of these things are certainly helpful and can be huge blessings).
The Church isn’t physical. The Church is the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is the priesthood of all believers. The Church is God’s people.
We have seen all sorts of different churches during our church work undergraduate studies and during seminary. Big, expensive churches, small, moldy churches, elementary, middle, and high school gym churches, churches under trees, and, like in this sad story, no church at all.
The people of Saint John Lutheran in Pilger, Nebraska have suffered an horrific blow. Their homes, schools, and church building have been obliterated. People died, pets were lost, possessions were destroyed.
And yet, the Church gathered. They remained.
Yes, it was because they couldn’t reach the sister parish in a neighboring town, and yes, it was good and cathartic to mourn the loss of their physical building.
And yet, the Church gathered. They remained.
The hymnals were muddy and ruined; the organ demolished. They rang the bell with a sledgehammer. The pastor had to shout because there were no walls off of which to bounce his voice. The people listened and sang and sweated in the heat of summer, in the midst of the wreckage.
And yet, the Church gathered. They remained. And through of the tenacious, faithful people of Saint John – Pilger, God is doing a good work.
I believe there is something in our American cultural “DNA” that tells us that we are not official or successful until we have our own building. I often daydream of owning my own home not only because I’m sick of moving, but also because I subconsciously acknowledge that only once I am a homeowner will I be an adult.
Do not misunderstand me: I do not think that owning a home or having a physical church building is a bad thing. In fact, both are usually very good things, capable of providing blessing upon blessing for those they shelter. But I also think the complete-autonomy-is-best American Dream (2.5 kids and an avocado green refrigerator, or, conversely, a white church with a steeple and an oak tree out front) is doing damage to the work of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus Himself instructed His disciples to go out two by two, to carry nothing with them, and when they found people of peace, to stay with them.
Did you catch that? Jesus instructed them to find people.
And so that is our work for now. We seek people. We pray. We dream of having a space for worship, yes, and pray that one day it is our reality.
But for now, the “whens” and the “wheres” are not so important as the “who.”
(Grammar check says that should be “whom,” but that sounds weird. Whatever. You understand what I mean.)