Dear Parish Family,
I continue to pray for you as we continue to deal with what seems like constant challenges going on in our country; the Coronavirus, racial tensions, rioting and looting, an upcoming election, and, an uncertain economic future.
I believe, also, that the Church is going through changes and challenges. Many of us are trying to "be the Church" for one another. Being involved in a church "community" has always been a part of my walk with Him. A walk with Jesus, a growing and alive relationship with Him, always involves doing some sort of ministry and having relationships with others who are believers and who are seeking to grow. In the last five months, this has been more challenging for not only me, but for all of us!
In the midst of thinking about and rethinking how we might be the church together, I have been reading a book entitled Letters to the Church, by Francis Chan. Francis has been a youth minister, a pastor, an author, and a compelling speaker. His background and testimony is compelling. What has intrigued me is his evolving definition of what it means to be "the church." He began a church in 1994 in his home with his wife and about 30 others. It grew, in the next ten years or so, to a church of 1600 members, one of the largest in Simi Valley, California. He has written a number of books (including his well known book Crazy Love, known and read by many pastors that I know, as well as many others. He has given most of his royalties on book sales (around $2,000,000) away, as well as half of his salary to various ministries, including Children's Hunger Fund, and Gospel for Asia. Since that time, he has left his pastorate and began a church in Hong Kong, and has become part of a church movement called "We are Church," which is a network of House Churches. His goal, and one of the challenges in his book entitled "Letters" (above), is to truly find Christian Community. When he was pastor of his large and growing church in Simi Valley, he felt that he had lost something that he had when he was a part of a house church when he first began. He even moved to Hong Kong because he believed that what he was seeking may be able to happen easier there (he moved back to California, too). He has seven children, and was seeking a real church experience for them.
His church, Cornerstone Community, was a wonderful church in many ways! There was good community life with many ministries and small groups. But, there was too much emphasis, in his mind, on "the perfection" of seeking a compelling church worship service that was becoming more about the service than it should have, and he, as the pastor, wanted more. I believe that his "success" was part of his challenge, but I also believe that his point is well taken: How can we "be the Church" in the United States today, which, in many ways, is even more challenging because of our current circumstances!
One of the analogies that he draws in his book is doing a comparison to gangs. I realize for some, this is a stretch! Gangs are often built around some unhealthy practices and goals: drug and alcohol abuse, drug sales, violence, and competition that grows between rival gangs. However, the positive experiences that come with gangs: family (when most if not all of the gang members come from broken and/or dysfunctional families); a sense of belonging and caring for each other: having each other's back; support and encouragement; being a member for life; and we could go on. Again, not all of these are for healthy reasons, but, a gang provides something in an imperfect way that people are looking for in their lives and relationships.
Francis Chan draws an analogy with the early church, beginning with Jesus and the Apostles: they were a "gang" of sorts; in fact, an experience that the brothers James and John may have had (they were called "Boanerges" in Mark 3:17.... “Sons of Thunder!”). The Apostles, a mishmash of misfits in some ways, became a community, with Jesus at the center. Fast forward to the early church when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost after the cross, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. What we see in the early church is: they continued in the Apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and the prayers. The Holy Spirit moved with power in their midst and they shared all things in common. And, no surprise, the Lord added to their numbers daily! (Read Acts 2:42-47). Why? Because "Church" was so much more than an hour or an hour-and-a-half on Sunday. They experienced real community, real love, real care, real spiritual life, real mutual servanthood; they were growing in the Lord and had each other's backs. Perfect? No! Just read Acts 6:1f!
In our modern, progressive, busy, and very different world, this may not be very easy! Throw in a virus, social and political upheaval, economic challenges, and it becomes even more complicated and challenging! But, the question remains: How are we to be as "The Church?" From what Jesus and the apostles modeled, and the early church lived and Scripture encourages; we must learn to be His Community, His Body.
Right now, I can't tell you that it is easy to be "connected," to be "family." But, if you look at my newsletter articles and E-Blasts, I have always addressed everyone as "Parish Family." Families aren't perfect! So, we are not going to try to create a perfect family who loves and serves each other perfectly. However, the question is: Are you seeking to be "His Community," His Body on earth, His Church? Very much related: How can you love others in your Parish Family right now? The "right answer" right now will be different once we are past the threat of the virus. But, the question is still the same: How do I as a believer in Jesus be a member of His family, His community, His Body now?
Pray about and think about what our Lord might be leading you to do now and after the virus, to truly be "one of the gang;" not any gang, but "Jesus' gang." How can you be part of His family so that you are truly connected, truly loving and serving His people as well as others, and how can you grow continually in Him and with others? There are many ways: on Sundays, during the week, in small groups, in ministries, and the list goes on. The reality: it is more than "going to Church" on Sundays or once in a while when it is convenient. Currently it is definitely more difficult; but, try to be creative and consider options that "work" today in our challenging time. Pray about the future; and while you’re at it, pray for our country!!
Your life in Jesus will be incredibly blessed! As will others!!
With love, in Christ,