Monday, June 13, 2011
A New Day Dawns
Then one Tuesday I was told that the leadership of the church had decided to eliminate my position at the church. In one conversation the rug was pulled out from under us. I began looking for another job. We had grown to love Dallas and had very good friends there...but to find another ministry job would most likely mean moving. For months I searched. Time and time again we found ourselves among the final 2 applicants for a position - several of which were still in the DFW area - and every time someone from the selection committee would call to say they were very sorry but they'd decided on the other guy. In one week I got a call from one church saying they felt like they needed someone a little younger, another saying they wanted someone a little older...and another that just wanted someone else. I felt like I was the momma bear's porridge AND the daddy bear's porridge.
After 6 months, and jobs in insurance adjusting, Barnes and Noble bookshelf alphabetizing, bounce house set-upping, disaster relief child caring and even a few random jobs, we were invited to move to the New Orleans area on a one year contract where I'd work as an outreach minister in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The first year and a half were brutal. We were still wounded from our previous job loss...and in hindsight were probably not in the best state-of-mind to relocate to a disaster area. However, our one year contract became nearly three years, the outreach ministry position became the preaching ministry position and Tammany Oaks became our family.
I began spending time at local coffee shops and cafes. I met and developed friendships with people who had little or no desire to ever step foot in a "church building." It became apparent to me that in order to truly connect with such folks we'd need a very different approach than what we were used to. We began to discern a call to church planting.
So, we told Tammany Oaks what we were thinking and our desire to take up this calling in north Texas - to be sent home as missionaries. I was nervous, I'd been dropped by a church before, how would this one respond? My fears proved to be unfounded in this instance. For six months we remained at Tammany Oaks while we raised support - in the midst of church family that prayed over us and pledged a year of financial support themselves, and friends who are still very dear to us.
Four of us had left Texas in April/May 2006 and five moved back to north Texas in October of 2008 (Josiah was born in Covington, Louisiana, but still secretly on Texas soil as I'd had a bag of that beautiful sandy-loam smuggled into the delivery room...) We began working with Christ Journey, a young church plant in Burleson. I spent time developing spiritual formation and discipleship processes for a house church based ministry, got to know waitresses and strangers in the park, started new house churches and began working on a doctor of ministry in missional church studies at SMU. My school studies were helpful and have led to the development of a training resource for groups - particularly established congregations who wish to begin connecting with people like the ones I'd met in south Louisiana coffee shops...and Burleson coffee shops.
But the real learning took place in the midst of the Christ Journey community and our attempts to cultivate a missional community in the midst of Bible belt culture. I gained insight into the struggles that come with planting churches in an area that author/professor/church planter, David Fitch recently described to me as "extremely comfortable with church."
I learned about the limitations of and the need for godly leadership in young communities of faith. I learned about the inherent relational risks associated with an approach to faith that calls you to invest in one another beyond merely attending events together. I learned about the difficulty and the necessity of leading as a fellow follower, co-laborer and travel companion and the danger of abdicating that calling.
I learned the importance of serving the poor and connecting with neighbors as central elements of life as a disciple of Jesus - experiencing life as "the scattered church" ...and I developed a whole new appreciation for the value of gathering regularly for worship - life as "the gathered church."
I struggled with the role of preaching and proclamation in a culture that values dialog over monologue...and am learning how to navigate that path.
I learned to recognize the need for structures that benefit organic growth and learned how stunted that growth will be without such structures.
My learning is far from complete. But my family and I, along with a few other families have now been sent out by Christ Journey to continue the ministry of planting churches. The Gathering is already connecting with others and inviting new friends to taste and see that the Lord is good. Just as planting an apple tree means planting apple seeds, planting churches means planting not the finished fruit but rather a seed, which is the good news that Jesus himself planted - The kingdom of God is at hand!
Since we moved to Burleson we have been supported financially by a combination of raised support and part-time (and sometimes full-time) jobs. As we launch out on this new phase of our adventure, we are once again seeking others to partner with us financially. In addition to our ministry with The Gathering, I'm currently working several part-time jobs (4 to be precise, along with completing the final stages of my degree at SMU) and am in the process of starting a non-profit ministry called Intentional People, formed around Communitas, the process I've developed through SMU. Rachel currently has 3 jobs of her own (in addition to caring for the infamous Wellsbrothers).
One of our primary goals for fundraising is to be able to raise enough support to let go of a few of these other jobs in order to devote more time to church planting and Intentional People.
We have put together a newsletter which describes The Gathering and Intentional People, and provides information about how others can partner with us. If you, someone you know, your church or another group may be interested in learning more about either of these ministries, please leave a comment, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or send me a message on Facebook or Twitter.