By Randy Siever (filling in for April Terry, who will be back next week!)
I’m fairly new to the denominational world. I’ve had no experience or background in it, having attended mainly independent, evangelical churches most of my Christian life. My final stop with that model was what is usually called a “mega-church”, because it was over 2000 in attendance on weekends. I was one of (at one point) ten pastors on staff, and I lasted nine years there. I resigned with no idea what would happen next, or if I would ever go back to a church of
any kind. The reasons were too complex to explain here, but I was done.
Almost two years later I found myself attending a very small Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in our town. I had been exploring various forms of worship in the liturgical realm and nearly became an Anglican, but I was tired of fighting all the time, and the Anglican Communion was, at the time, fighting loudly and publicly among themselves. I had enough chaos inside me, thank you.
So my “Crappy Little Church,” as I initially referred to First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was just the right medicine for my soul. It was liturgy lite, but enough to connect me with some traditions that were older than me or the modern era. It was also the anti-mega-church in virtually every way. No large building, no sound system, no smoke machine, no band, no coffee shop inside (just a coffee maker, which somebody needed to fire up each morning). No performances of any kind. We sang (and still do most Sundays) to recorded music. Which was ok because worship wasn’t a 30 minute music set; it was everything that happened during the hour or so we gathered. And there was communion every week, open to anyone who felt led to join in. I was quite taken from the very first visit. I chuckled at the lack of polish and perfection and performance. On our very first visit, they used rainbow colored goldfish crackers for communion because that’s what they had. That was somehow so touching to me that it made me cry.
When we first started attending there were usually about ten to 15 people on Sunday morning. In the two years we’ve been members there our attendance has doubled to about 30. We can seat about 80, maximum, in our little chapel and then we’ll have to talk about a second service or a second church somewhere else. I rather like that the building limits our ability to get big, but then that’s probably just a little baggage left over from my mega-church days. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it was a healing balm for me.
I got commissioned, and then ordained, this year, so I’m officially part of the DOC for life. NO idea what that means or where it will lead me, but I like being part of something larger than the local church, and I love that my ordination is now nationally recognized and permanent (even if it does raise a few eyebrows among my more conservative evangelical friends). Depending on what part of the country you live in, a DOC church can be anywhere from nearly New Age to your hyper-fundamentalist Bible church. We span the spectrum of theology and doctrine, but are united in the mission to love God and love our neighbors (all of them) and make disciples of Jesus. We can (and do) disagree with each other about what we think are critical doctrinal issues, but still come to the Table of Christ together each week. I like that a lot. It reminded me of some well used marriage counseling advice I’ve given over the years: “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be in this relationship?” It’s not that there isn’t a “right”, but relationships are way more important than the right to be right. At least Jesus seemed to think so.
I’ve recently completed four, day-long Doable Evangelism seminars with the DOC in our region (the northern CA/NV region). We have a very diverse region in every way imaginable, which is saying a lot for the DOC which is pretty diverse in general. They all seemed to LOVE the paradigm shift for evangelism that I presented, and I was able to sell twelve DE Course sets over the four seminars. That means some of them are going to teach the principles at their church themselves. I couldn’t be happier.
But these seminars also gave me a birds eye perspective of my fellow DOC clan, at least in this part of the country. I got to meet a LOT of people from over 40 congregations. I got to hear from lay leaders and clergy from Fresno to Watsonville to Sacramento to Chico. It was pretty awesome, frankly, and a unique snapshot opportunity that not many folks, outside the regional minister, get.
And you know what? No matter what the church or individual in it believed, they all want desperately to connect others outside the church to Jesus Christ. They were all willing to explore the spiritual practices we presented, to practice them and to teach them to others for the sake of making disciples of Jesus (and not just Disciples of Christ…the brand).
I found this also true in my experiences with the Presbyterian church, the Foursquare church, and even the Eastern Orthodox church. All across America and Canada I have heard one common passion expressed in the widest variety of churches imaginable: How can we be faithful to the Great Commission (make disciples) and the Great Commandment (Love God, love your neighbor) in the culture that we live in today? Evangelism is the common thread that ties us all together, no matter what our differences may be. Mission is critical to unity, and it doesn’t depend on uniformity to get ‘er done.
This is not to say that I haven’t seen self-serving motivation as well. Some churches are clearly dying and are desperate to do whatever they need to do to salvage their buildings and history. If they don’t get people into their building soon (like in the next five years) they will literally die out. Most of them are just five or ten years from literally taking their last breath. But that has not been the dominant theme, as I expected, so I am quite encouraged.
Doable Evangelism seems to hold some concrete answers to engaging with the culture we currently live in, and the mainline churches (who were NOT the original market for the DE seminar, by the way) seem to be eager to not only hear about new ideas, but to DO them as well.
Thanks be to God.
(I have a few more thoughts connected to this, so stay tuned for a “Part Two” this week)
August 13th, 2012 · 7 Comments
Categories: DE Thoughts