And So We Meet…

It’s what Baptists do right? Have meetings?

Well, this weekend just gone was our first ‘church meeting’ for Yanchep Community Church, a gathering of the tribe to reflect, pray and look forwards – to have an open conversation about what we sense God doing in our midst and in our community.

I’m as excited about this venture as I have been about anything I have done.

It’s been 9 months since we first got together on August 5th and ‘pressed play’, and in that time we have been slowly gathering people, seeing some ‘stick’ and become ‘regulars’ while others have come, looked around and said ‘nah not for us.’ No worries.

The first 6 months were very much ‘slow and steady’, with just a small handful of people gathering regularly. On a big week there would be 30 of us there including kids and on a slower week just 15-20. You could get disturbed and discouraged by that – or you could look at the quality of the people in the room and see that God was gathering a very strong core group of faithful, and seasoned people.

More recently we have had an influx of people seeking to find a church home in the area – a mix of Christians who haven’t been to church for a while, a number of Catholics and other people just keen to find a church in their own community or at least close by. Our building legally holds 50 and we have been pushing past that most Sundays as the word has got out. It’s been great to see the small crew swelling and the energy in the room rising as people begin to put firm roots down and call this church home. Including our core team there would be around 20 families or households who are now YCC regulars – hardly a massive mob, but a growing tribe almost all of whom live locally.

What has surprised me is the willingness of many people to bypass a local church and continue to head south to large churches, some for reasons of longstanding relationship and others simply because they can deliver ‘better services’. That’s fair enough – although because my own thinking about church is so intensely ‘local’ I have never understood why anyone would travel for church when a community is right there.

So it’s been 9 months now of running Sunday mornings at Quinns and then turning around at 3pm to do it all again on a Sunday afternoon. The demands were more than I anticipated at first – my body clock was very used to winding down after a full on Sunday morning, but now it needed to keep going. My new routine is leave for church at 8.00am then surf or snooze before heading off to church again at 3pm. It makes Sundays a full day and the goal in that is to ensure it isn’t ‘busy’, that we don’t end up frazzled and frustrated. So far so good. We have managed to sustain a steady pace and I have rarely gone home exhausted.

I never thought I’d say these words, but I am feeling it would be really valuable for us to have a concrete presence in the local community in the form of some kind of venue / building. I mused about this in March last year but its become more of a reality now as we have to grapple with questions of growth and space. I loathe the idea of being a fund raiser, but I see the value of a building as a statement of permanence. How that happens is yet to be determined, but I have been sniffing around the local real estate to see what is suitable. I don’t have a couple of million dollars to spare – but I know someone with a lot more than that…

In my own prayers for this community I have sensed two phrases resonating over and over. The first is ‘here to stay’ and the second is ‘big faith’.

I think the ‘here to stay’ idea is very simple – it’s about permanence and commitment for the long haul – about letting people know we aren’t ‘giving this our best shot’, and hoping it all works out, but rather we have ‘dug in’ and come hell or high water we will keep going. No one wants to align with a group of people who lack a common purpose or a will to move forwards. ‘Here to stay’ feels to me like saying ‘you will carry me out of here in a box’ – hopefully not too soon… But in the meantime we will be making long term plans and putting down deep roots.

‘Big faith’ on the other hand is a simple call to look well beyond what I/we may be capable of creating or doing and believing that maybe God wants to do something bold, significant and even surprising in this area. I sense my part will be to call people (and myself) to follow that God sized dream and to grow in my own faith. I am not sure how all of this works out, but I know that after 28 years of leading churches I can do the regular stuff with ease. Where the challenge lies is in stretching and trusting that God can do far more than I can if I will get out of the way (mentally) and allow him to ferment new possibilities in our imagination.

Our mode of planting this church has been to deploy a small group of people including 2 pastors to ‘run a bit harder’ for a period of time in the hope of establishing a community that can then be quickly be self sustaining. While a small crew have borne the bulk of the strain during this time, it has also implanted clear DNA and given strength and form to this new community. In gardening terms it feels like we ‘taken a cutting’ off the QBC tree and put it down in Yanchep. While there are some differences in the shape of the community, the culture is largely the same and that was the intention.

We feel like the future sees Ryan spending more time in Yanchep and being the main hands on deck around here – giving day to day leadership to the church. At this stage I think I will continue to span both churches and give my own type of leadership to them while Danelle attends Yanchep but works at Quinns. It’s a ‘messy’ model in some ways, but its quite organic in its form and we feel like its working – at least for now.

We discussed whether we see Yanchep as a ‘campus’ of Quinns or whether it will become a separate entity. The second option seems much more likely. Right now we are thinking parent-child and that child will get all the support she needs as she matures, but eventualy she will ‘move out of home’ and be self sustaining. At that point she becomes her own entity, and does all the stuff that goes with that. I’m not sure where that leaves me – either employed by two different churches or needing to jump one way or the other. I feel like somehow having ‘dual citizenship’ is the way to go, but I’m not sure how all that works out either.

Anyway – that’s the scope of things at the 9 month mark. Exciting and challenging – stirring new thoughts in my mind and feelings in my heart and I’m beyond grateful for it all!

Christians Like Us?

If you are an SBS fan as I am then you will have seen the recent doco / reality TV series Christians Like Us, where 10 Christians from diverse backgrounds are thrown together in a house for one week, while being peppered with hot potato contemporary issues and having to grapple with one another’s theology, biases and prejudices.

It was always going to be a tough gig. Amongst the participants were Steve – abused repeatedly by the church he grew up in, Chris, the ex-Baptist who is the gay Christian on board. He shares his experiences of ‘gay conversion therapy’ and eventually coming to the conclusion that he is gay and Christian. Jo, the Catholic may have been given a raw deal by the editors, but she comes across as endlessly pompous and dismissive of the conservatives in the room. A surprise starter for many of us would have been Hannah, the Mormon, who in her words feels like she ‘just wants to follow Jesus, so why can’t people see me as much a Christian as them?’ Tiffany the ‘progressive Anglican’ priest on board finishes the show by declaring her belief that Hannah is actually a Christian and apologises for her harsh judgment of her.

There is also Assumpta, the Hindu converted to Christ and now a conservative (Sydney) Anglican, Daniel the young Coptic Orthodox, Steve the youthful Asian pentecostal pastor, Marty the charismatic pastor and charity worker and Carol, the Uniting Church elder and gynaecologist who ‘comes out’ in Episode two as a doctor responsible for performing abortions – generating another tough conversation.

Spoilers ahead – don’t read on if you want to watch it…

If there was a focus to the content of the show then it would have centred around the contemporary hot buttons of sexuality, abortion and child abuse. A large swathe of time was given to showing the participants engaging and debating (generally quite graciously) on these topics.

Of course any time there is a still raw and fragile abuse victim in the room that subject is always going to be tense. Steve appeared as honest, broken and struggling to find his way. A cameo by the motorcycle group ‘Longriders’ seemed to be the closest he would come to finding his way back into Christian community, however as the show ends, he has given this away and put his hope back into ‘family’. Steve’s story is beyond tragic and the damage done all too visible. What can you say to that? It must have taken some courage to step into the show, but whether it was good or bad for him, only time will tell.

The sexuality question was raised by having Chris present – another person for whom the struggle is still very real. The conversations were careful and cautious and it was clear he was on guard and in fight/flight mode in the early days of being there. As expected the house was divided on where homosexuality fitted in biblical Christianity. With card carrying ‘progressives’ and conservatives in the room there was never going to be agreement and at best there was a re-voicing of the positions we already knew. I didn’t think it was the most productive use of the time there.

I guess my ‘mob’ were the protestant conservatives, but I didn’t find myself feeling represented by any of them quite as I would have liked. Probably the closest to me would have been Assumpta – yeah a Sydney Anglican – who would hold similar theology, and who actually did a very good job of expressing it, but I also felt an affinity for Tiffany – the ‘progressive’ Anglican who was more open and easier going. The pentecostal guys represented their mob well, but they just aren’t my tribe – more culturally than theologically.

At the end of the day there was a lot of discussion around contentious, topical issues and less around Jesus and the shape our discipleship takes in the world as it is. Perhaps a large slab of our discipleship revolves around these social issues whether we like it or not, but I would have liked to hear more discussion between the participants around their take on Jesus and how he has shaped their lives.

And to be honest the Mormon girl got me thinking again. I understand that Mormon theology deviates from Orthodoxy in many ways, but if she is following Jesus as best she knows how, then where does that put her?