"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A New Season Begins

I’m blogging again! I intend to do so regularly in the coming months, which is rare for me as I’ve tended only to blog during stays abroad, long or short. But blogging is not only a way to keep my friends and family informed about my experiences and processing of those experiences; it is also a discipline for me.

It keeps me accountable to be a learner, able to walk through life with my eyes open, recognizing that life is education, that life will form me into a better person and a person that makes other people better, if I allow it.

And considering that I’ve entered yet another unique season in life, there is plenty upon which to reflect. My time since returning from China in early July has been occupied mostly with preparing for my wedding, the wedding itself, and the week-long after-party (aka honeymoon).

Joann and I are now living in Olympia, and after a week plus of unpacking and arranging and decorating, we are almost all settled, ready to fully dive into our new life together in a new city for both of us.

Why Olympia? Many of you already probably know this, but for over half a year now I’ve been preparing, with two other like-minded and new-found friends from across the country, to co-pastor a church plant here in Olympia.

The plant was Dan Naulty’s idea, who recruited both Jeff Borden and I to join him. Dan was living at Oxford and is still finishing up his ThM. He actually played pro baseball in the late 90’s as a pitcher with the Twins and Yankees (he has an interesting story). Jeff was a Methodist pastor in New York. And I, in China. So we’ve come from all over the world to meet in Olympia for this church.

The question we’ve been getting often as we prepare to launch is one I imagine we will continue to get: why another church? Or, what is unique about us? One thought I've considered is this: it is unique because both the leaders and the eventual participants in our community are and will be unique. A lot of churches say they are doing or wanting to do similar things: worship God, follow Jesus well, form deep relationships, do some good for the community. We want these things too.

Dan, Jeff, and I are acting upon a desire and dream to form a new Christian community that will hopefully do more good than harm in the world (that’s how I’d put it, at least), and a community that inevitably will reflect our gifting and areas of interest as leaders. But our hope is also that it will be organic enough that the ministry and “feel” or focus of the church will be dependent on the people who come.

In other words, we don’t want to create ministries and then plug people into those ministries based on our need. We want to help every member discover their own gifting and ministry and then equip and empower them to live out their own God-given mission, supported by our community. Thus, whatever emerges from this particular grouping of diverse individuals may be what makes us unique. The combination of personalities, interests, gifts, ministry focuses, and particular places in our spiritual journey—whatever that conglomeration looks like will make us unique.

While there are churches in Olympia, there is an obvious lack when looking at per capita numbers compared to other cities. We believe our presence in the community may not only be a source of love and healing and hope, but could benefit many who may find in our church something in us that they don’t find elsewhere (while we recognize that our church will have limitations of its own that will force many to look elsewhere for Christian community).

I’m not sure we are doing anything all that revolutionary as a church, though we are doing some things that make us somewhat unique. We have a plurality of leadership, which ideally eliminates the hierarchical structure that can often make a church overly focused or dependant on their pastor or can create a culture of passivity in which church members are inspired by the ministry of the leadership but not necessarily empowered themselves in their own ministry.

We believe that by spreading the leadership around, the congregation can better grasp the thrust behind our mission—to serve Olympia by empowering people toward greater self-awareness of their gifts and passions and to use those things out of love for God and for the good of others. We want people to see the shared responsibility of our mission and the community between the three of us pastors (possibly a fourth in the near future).

We believe this style of leadership images—in some small sense—the plurality of God, who is Trinity and thus both one and yet diverse. We also hope people catch the vision that every person has something to offer to one another, that we all should be postured to receive from each other. Every member is a minister, and should be encouraged toward self-exploration to discover ways to contribute to the body and to the community.

As pastors, we hope to empower these members toward service. The luxury of being a small church is that we have the time and energy as pastors to offer guidance, accountability, and follow-up to those in our church community.

As the pastor of church ministries (my particular pastoral focus), I will provide leadership to the various organized ways our church is seeking to serve those inside and outside the church. I will be checking in on those who are active, aiding them in their ministry. I will be connecting people with existing ministries started by other church members. I will work on behalf of church members to find outlets for their passions and interests, coming up with ideas and resources for them.

I intend to find ways to expand and deepen TCCs influence in Olympia and the surrounding area. I also hope to work for partnerships and encourage an ecumenical spirit among existing churches in Olympia—a unity that transcends differences while treasuring distinctives between different denominational as well as different ethnic expressions of the Christian faith. I also hope that partnerships can be formed between our church and non-Christian organizations doing good in Olympia. Reconciliation is dear to my heart, and the more that “us-them” walls are being torn down and replaced by a spirit of hospitality, learning, acceptance, and love, the more I believe God’s Kingdom is being experienced here and now.

We are planning for mid-September as our “launch date,” and are currently meeting regularly for dinner parties and a time of Q&A for the families we’ve met who have shown interest and want more information about who we are and what we’re doing. Dan, Jeff, and I are enjoying the deepening of our relationships, as we finally are in the same city! (most of our prior communication was Skype).

I look forward to using this blog space to share more of my discoveries and experiences in this new stage of my journey, updating on both the ministry of our church and my own mental/emotional/spiritual process through all that is happening in life right now.

That’s all for now…my wife is baking bread as a surprise for me because I surprised her with clean bathrooms upon her return from shopping. The lovely smell is calling me…