The question continues to arise, “What will your church be like?” There are different answers that I provide, some of which I’ve already addressed in the posts on the church to be. What follows is an answer from the kitchen.
There are three main ingredients when you begin a church, the leadership, the place, and the people. This sounds pretty straightforward, so let’s unpack it a little bit.
Leadership: Right now this is primarily me but is significantly influenced by Hillary and, to a lesser extent, swayed by the leadership of Trinity (our mother church in Providence). If you then ask who Hillary and I are you get:
Our beliefs: We belong to the rich stream of historic Christian orthodoxy who’s origin is the self-revelation of God in the bible. The true and living God speaks through the holy scriptures and we humbly stand on this firm foundations summarized in ancient creeds such as the Nicene and Apostolic, and outlined more specifically Westminster Confession of Faith which comes out of the protestant reformation. From, here we could get increasingly specific as we talk about being Presbyterian (our form or church government) or our particular theological emphases as a church.
Temperament: Rather than going into the specifics of our myers-briggs and how this will affect the people we draw and the church we lead, here are some generics: I’m pretty laid back while Hillary is more structured; we are both energized by being around people; we tend to think differently (concretely vs. imaginatively) about planning and solutions. The ways we approach decision making, planning, problem solving, use of time, and the dynamic balance of task driven vs. relationship driven, will each shape the church.
Stage of life: At the play ground and preschool we run into young families that would like to be part of a church with other young families. It may be easier for a college student to identify with a pastor who looks like he’s in his twenties and it may be harder for a retiree in his 70’s to receive the ministry of someone with significantly less life experience.
In God’s providence each of us is this odd mixture of our choices and circumstances, and the church will reflect us for better and worse. If I were to try and identify the integral pieces of us as leaders I would point to our theology intertwined with our experience of God, a few turning points in our lives, temperament, and our current status as parents of young children.
Place: Every place has it’s own unique environment, people, and stories. Being in Worcester will shape the church in a variety of ways. Here are three of the big ones:
Secular: Like the rest of New England and much of the North East, a secular view of life dominates. “Religion” in general and Christianity in particular is part of a private sphere of beliefs and does not form a common ground for viewing or living public life. As a church we must engage this alternate perspective on reality, proclaiming the unique claims of Jesus which are both abnormal yet have points or resonance. This is not a simple program but is part of the church’s ethos as a minority population living as a distinct counter culture.
Diverse: Worcester as a city is made of a variety of smaller sub-communities each with it’s own distinctives. We see it in the many architectural styles that fill the neighborhoods around us. A long time resident spoke of growing up in the Irish neighborhood and the days of Irish vs. Sweede politics. For a while there as an incredible influx of Brazilians and now it seems to be more Ghanians. If we are shaped by this diversity it will make our ministry broader as we understand and apply the unique claims of Christ in different contexts. Whether it is in marriage counseling, dealing with addiction, providing aid in financial difficulty, or simply gathering for a bible study there will be different norms and expectations to take into account and challenge. With this multi-facted application of God’s truth we’ll also need to find a few things on which we major. Serving a variety of people it would be easy to be pulled in too many directions.
Cordial but reserved: Through most of our time in New England we’ve found people to be kind, but hard to befriend. It seems to take a while for people to open up and you can’t rush. As a church we will need to be warm and hospitable without being overbearing. There needs to be space for those on the “outside” to check things out without being overwhelmed or pressured. On the other hand, Christians need to be challenged to grow beyond the rugged individualism that is so common here.
People: Who will be there from the beginning? What sorts of theology, temperaments, gifts, and passions will they bring? What I think we’ll see is some of the characteristics of the leadership will be accentuated while others will be balanced out. Here are two examples…
Stage of life: If God brings a whole bunch of people with young children (like us) the church will have an even greater ability to attract young families but an even greater challenge in caring for them. On the other hand if God brings along a few older mature Christians, maybe in their 60’s or 70’s, we’ll be more likely to reach a wider cross-section of people because we won’t be perceived as “a church for young families.”
Sound: I am not a musician and regardless of my ideals for “worship music,” much will depend on the musicians God brings. The sound of a church’s music will further shape who fits and who feels uncomfortable.
When you bring together these three ingredients of leadership, place, and people the final pieces to the kitchen metaphor are proportion, temperature, and time. How much of each ingredient will we mix? I don’t know. That is probably another blog post.
When it comes to thinking of of temperature and time I see these as the energy which catalyzes the reactions between our main ingredients. Maybe the heat and cook time correlate to the work of God’s spirit and our response to his leading. I’m not sure. I know there is a good bit of mystery here and it is the difference between cookies coming out raw in the middle, burnt, or just right.
What will the church be like? We’re continuing to learn more about ourselves (the leadership), Worcester as a place, and have greater clarity as to the people he is bringing. It is quite an experiment.