Thursday, December 11, 2008

Tough Times, Bold Church

I do not believe that you have to be part of an organized 501(c)3 non-profit organization (what us Americans often call a "church") to be a follower of Jesus. Some people probably should not be a part of one. Some people should probably take a break from "organized church" so that they can explore Christianity at a more organic level. I needed to do that. I spent many years on the outskirts of organized Christianity. At first, it wasn't too healthy. Like I tend to do, I made it very black and white. I concluded that all organized church was all wrong - too political, too business like, too event centered, etc. The answer for me, back then, was to reject all of it. There was a year in my life when I would have even thought it to be sinful to go to a church service or be a professional pastor. I see how I got there. I had to go there.

Then I got back in. The full circle journey taught me many things. Leaving church work to work at the Rio Casino for several years taught me that God is everywhere. I needed to see God in a casino to believe he also exists in a church building. I needed to see that a real church could exist outside of a church building to believe that a real church could exist within one. I needed to see that the real issues with church are caused by the real sins in people...and that those sins exist in all churches of all sizes.

Some of my house church friends, no doubt, worry about my soul now...the same way my organized church friends worried about me in my house church days. The truth is I am a hybrid. I'm now part of a 501(c)3 in the state of Ohio called Vineyard Community Church. I don't need to be a part of it to follow Jesus. I don't need to be a part of it to be right with God. I don't need any organization called "church" to be a part of a real church. That's not at all what it's about for me. I have chosen to be a part of it. (Or depending on your theology, God has chosen me to join this story.) Either way, it's a choice.

I choose it, not because it is a perfect organization, but because I believe we can do good and be good together. I believe in the mission - to love the people of Cincinnati into a relationship with Jesus and to give away to the world all that God has given to us. If you called it "The Blue Papaya Cafe" and that was the mission, I'd join up. I believe in the values: a group of people who strive to be a servant community, outward-focused, worshipful, agents of empowered transformation and relevant to the world we live in. Those are five values that I would take as a life-long vow with a group of friends if given the opportunity. I believe in the output of our organization. I see the poor served, the weak elevated, and relationships restored. I see Jesus working in us and the Kingdom coming in what we do...that's why I joined. It's where I'm supposed to be now. Maybe in thirty years I'll be in some non-institutional Jesus hippie commune for retirees, but for now this is where God has brought me.

For the record, that's why my family gives to this place...not because we have to, but because we want to. We give because this is our mission. We give because we have chosen this organization to live out our Kingdom values at this time.

There is great momentum at VCC right now. Hundreds of new people are coming around these days. We may see 10,000 guests at the {re} gifter shows next week to experience a simply allegory of the incarnation. Thousands of families have been served at The Healing Center. Hundreds of students are being loved. The poor are given dignity. The gospel is preached. Lives are being saved. God is moving.

However, there is not momentum in the American economy. Jobs are being lost. Stocks are going down. Some who want to give more cannot because they have nothing to give. But some of us haven't lost our jobs. Some of us have limited giving because of fear. This is not who we are. We are fearless. This is the time to be bold. Debbie and I are going to give extra this month to VCC. We invite those of you who are able to sacrifice with us so that we can move forward with all of our plans to love and give as a church in 2009.

For VCC' here to join us.

1 comment:

Jim said...

i have gone through this too. I do love the outreach and all, but do find the signs and wonders being ignored or hidden from seekers. I always thought the power part of God drew people out and confirmed things in them at the root level.

I have also gone through this with my family. Practically disowned them 15 years ago. Got a church family. Now my church family has either died or gone away. Now I am starting to reconnect to my family again. Strange how it feels to see them is a sad experience but the love that is in me now is from God.

I think we go in circles to get us to see what God has for us. I stopped complaining and gave up the bitterness and depression. I try to focus on God's love and Jesus. Sometimes just being there is difficult since life is so distracting.