Monday, October 19, 2009

the jesus underground: church

(That's my buddy Jim Zartman's voice you hear in the video below...feel free to pause it. I won't tell him.)

This weekend I spoke from Acts 2:42-47. I'd say that no other section of the BIble has messed with me more than this one. The picture painted of the early church in action is mesmerizing in its simplicity. Strangers from every nation suddenly thrown together radically sharing all they have within the reality of a supernatural visitation from God himself. Who wouldn't want that? To know that there is a God and that He is present. To be fully accepted and valued within a generous family. To see others join the community everyday as Jesus draws them in. To me...that's the Kingdom come. To me...that's church. Or at least what church can be or will be.

This understanding led me to reject the "organizational church" for about half a decade of my life. On my most frustrated days, I was overstated - condemning those who do the sorts of things I do now - things like taking a paycheck from a "church" or encouraging what I called "program centered ministry." On my better days, I was rather level headed about it all. I knew that I did not have to be part of a 501(c)3 organization to be the church. It was ok for others, but I was done with it all.

Overtime I became more comfortable being around organized Christianity again. Today I'm part of the system. When I came back to vocational ministry, those who thought I "went off the deep end" sent me notes saying that they had been praying that "I would return to church." It was OK that they didn't get it...

Today my more staunch anti-institutionalist friends likely see me as a bit of a sellout. I can understand that. We were on a crusade to prove it could work without all the fringe stuff - we'd wax poetic about churches without buildings, budgets and big shots. I still respect them. I still hope what they are doing works. And whether they see it my way or not...I still think I'm one of them.

In my early twenties I began to see myself as a missionary called to North America. Since then I have, for the most part, lived up to that calling. It was primarily missional thinking that brought me to reject the way I had always thought of church. I simply didn't believe that the institutional church was on track to see a redeemed North America. Somebody had to try something else. It was my missiology (in conjunction with some burnout and restlessness) that fueled my second career as an actor. And it was another missional conviction (in conjunction with some unexplainable Holy Spirit stuff) that brought us back to Cincinnati.

My life vision is to see a church (defined as one of God's new families on a mission) within walking distance of every person in North America. A big organization like The Vineyard can encourage that in significant ways. I've thrown my whole heart into the mission of the Vineyard so easily because it fits perfectly into my personal vision and mission. Personally, I'm not all that into the idea of big churches unless they can produce small ones on a daily basis. And call them what you want - small groups, house churches, church cells, ministry teams...I don't care what you call them. I call them churches. And I want to see one in every neighborhood in Cincinnati as soon as possible.

When it starts to really happen it will be too messy for any organization to control it anyway. That's how we'll know it is from God.


Greg said...

Word to all that.

Jon said...

In our PanerActs group tonight, the question was posed, "Didn't Jewish people at the time already get together, eat, and praise God?" My argument was that the difference was in obligation v. devotation. Thoughts?

photogr said...


If we attempt to look out side the Church walls, we can find several united and organized operations dedicated on tearing down the rights to religious assembly. Much of it is comming from the political leaders in Washington right now.

The literal church for many decades has over looked these issues and in most cases each denomination had their own campaigns and agenda. In a sense, We were going off on different tangents and are wholly un organized to the will of God and the preservation to worship as a united Body of Christ.

However,our main purpose still and always will be winning souls to Christ but in todays environment; we must also think out side the church walls by being united in securing our right to worship and pray as we choose.

Nothing can be more important than for us as a united front to make our voice heard as Christians to preserve our rights. If we don't, we then will become an underground movement persecuted by the rulng parties.

My definition of a church. A gathering of a party of one or more gathered together to pray and worship the Lord God all mighty.

I seem to have wandered off target to your post and I sincerely apologize but It is some thing that I was led to say.

learning to believe said...

Joe I agree with you that the scripture in Act's can turn your life upside down. I could see living in a commune, others around me, in my house-could not.
Your messages make me think...outside the box !!!

Jason Coker said...

Two things:

First, thanks for mentioning in your message. It's been cool to see the Cincy Vineyard pick up that resource. I hope it's useful to your folks.

Second, I wonder how many people out there realize how brave this post it. Emerging Churches (Gibbs & Bolger) was a powerfully impacting book for me (as were many others in that stream of thought) and your story was a significant part of it. In many ways I'm on the path you were on years ago, and your post makes me wonder what lies ahead for me in the years to come. Whatever happens, thanks for being transparent.