Loaves, Fish, Theory and Reality

Its not often a pastor would actually tell people not to join their church… but for a time during 2010 when people came to visit and ‘check us out’ I would suggest to them that maybe they would be better off joining a different church. I had a few conversations that ended with me recommending other local churches and suggesting people give us a wide berth until we sort some stuff out. However once we had moved thru the repentance process and were beginning to regroup, I began to believe that we were on a positive trajectory even if the numbers said otherwise and even if I really just wanted out.

So if you’ve found it all a bit depressing up to now, this is the bit where it starts to get better. Let’s be honest it couldn’t get a lot worse could it?…

So as 2011 began we had one muso left and I had no idea how to write up a roster for a church with one muso and a handful of people. (Stupid roster…) As uninspiring as it was we called a meeting to discuss what to do. We already had one Sunday a month scheduled as ‘non-musical’ but now we were headed for three… So we got together in our newly decorated church office / lounge and met to discuss a way forward. I have no particular attachment to music as a form of worship so I was happy to roll any direction. We could have agreed to meet in the park and I would have been completely happy. As it turned out we had some people in the crew who could play instruments of various kinds and who were willing to do so to get us thru.

None of them felt overly confident in their skills but that they were willing to have a go is a huge credit to them. It was 5 loaves and 2 fish stuff. A small group of people said they would give it what they had to help us keep rolling.

Anyone with a missional brain would be reading this series and wondering ‘so what has all this got to do with forming a missional community? When do we actually get to the good bits?…’

Well, one of the things I have been learning is that it all depends on where you start as to how you move forwards. Starting where we did meant that we had some work to do before we could even begin to head out on another tack. I imagine that if I were back teaching ‘Re-Imagine’ stuff again I would have some insights from reality that are quite different from what I thought in theory. Theory is great because it ‘works’, it makes sense and it all adds up. Reality is messy, confusing and never linear. Theory can often set people up for failure as no one ever expounds a theory where things get worse first before they get better, or where things just continue to get worse. Or maybe they do but their books don’t sell…

The lines you read in books that say ‘how many people are you prepared to lose to make change?’ sound great until you realise that you are losing so many people that you are no longer viable as a community and its just damn depressing. So although this just sounds like the process of a community unravelling, I am actually getting to the part where we begin to re-focus on the original plan.

Despite my ache to be freed from this leadership, the one thing I hadn’t lost sight of was who I was and what I felt mattered. The idea of the church being a group of people genuinely on mission in their community and encouraging one another in that was still what I felt called to do. It was just a matter of how to get there from here.

The thing that needed doing right now was plugging the leaks in the sinking ship. It was as simple and as uninspiring as that. We needed to stay afloat if we were going to do anything more. There is a part of me that would be quite content to totally reframe Sunday gatherings, but my past experience at Upstream reminded me that it is difficult to find people willing to join a group and an expression of church that is unfamiliar. While that annoys and frustrates me – that people are so locked in their ways – it is a reality and one you just need to deal with.

So our first goal was to keep the Sunday boat afloat.

My hope however, was that as people came on board we would be able to teach, provoke and inspire them to consider the nature of church and the call God has put on us to be his people in the world. Some would say ‘the medium is the message’ and if we just put our energies on Sunday gatherings then we will send the message that Sunday gatherings are the most important aspect of church.

I believe if we are to help churches change – and become less absorbed with their Sunday expression – then it won’t happen by simply ditching typical Sunday services. There is too much invested in. There is too much heritage and the weight of it all means it is an unwinable battle.

But it cannot be allowed to be the focus of the church’s life and the primary dump point for resources and energy. So the balancing act we needed to work with was that of growing a community primarily via a Sunday gathering point, but in the process helping people understand that the aim of the church is not to have bigger and better Sunday gatherings… I admit it does sound somewhat counter-productive, but we needed to give it a try. I didn’t feel the Upstream approach worked as it called people to a bridge too far. This idea might die in the water because people don’t get stretched and called to think more strenuously about their concept of church and mission. Time will tell…

So… by now we were pretty much at the point where we realised that God wasn’t going to give us permission to leave so we might as well start to do what we could and see what developed. I wasn’t feeling positive yet, but I could at least write some names on that damn roster…

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