As I think about the people who are a part of Christ Church I think about all of the reasons people are here. Many are here because of relationships with someone in this congregation. Some are here because they’ve heard about us through the grapevine and want to see what we are about. And many are here because they come out of situations of great adversity.
It’s no secret that Christ Church is a church born of adversity. Many, if not most, of our initial attenders are good people hurt and confused by things that happened in other settings. When it became clear that, perhaps to the surprise of some, I was going to be the lead pastor of Christ Church, I made two things very clear. First I said was that CHRIST CHURCH WILL NOT BE A REACTIONARY CHURCH. And I stand by that statement to this day. We are not a church with a chip on our shoulder. But we knew that people would be coming to this church carrying with them a wide variety of emotions. And we knew that along with great sadness and deep hurt and confusion, we would have some people who were, and maybe still are, angry. Our goal is that Christ Church be a place of healing. We want you to know that whatever experiences, hurts, and emotions you are carrying from your past with your family, your friends, even a past church, you are welcome here. You can heal here. But those emotions, particularly anger, which can lead to a “let’s show them” attitude, will not influence the direction of our church.We want you to know, clearly, that anger will not serve as a foundation for this church, and I will be doing everything in my power to help anyone who needs the help to process their hurt and anger, integrate their experiences from the past, and move forward.
And second: CHRIST CHURCH WILL NOT LOOK LIKE VERY MANY OTHER CHURCHES IN OUR COMMUNITY. Yes, we have worship services, and we preach the word of God clearly, and we have small groups and Bible studies. But as we move forward and develop, we’re going to be doing things that feel unfamiliar to those who have been in the church for the last 30 or so years. We are not a program-oriented church. We are a people-oriented church.
So what are we moving forward into? What is the future God has for us? We’ve just been through a major transition 10½ months ago, and now another one, with a teaching pastor moving on, may have some people on edge, frightened, or frustrated. And I’ve been studying counseling and am almost done with this second master’s degree. So what if pastor Jeff leaves too? Maybe we need a consultant some might be thinking. We don’t want to think about having to find another church again so soon. Things seem shaky. The good news is that God does some of his finest work when we feel like we’re on shaky ground. In fact, we’re going to be looking at some of those situations in the coming weeks and months. But let me put some of your fears to rest, and give you another glimpse into the future of Christ Church, understanding that we ARE Christ Church, and our future is ultimately in his hands. For starters, I’m not going anywhere. Now, will the day come when I decide to move full-time into counseling practice? Probably … as it turns out, I’m pretty good at it. At least, that’s what my clients and supervisors have said. But for now I’m staying right here. And if and when God allows me to move in that direction, Christ Church will be more than ready. This church will never find itself without a shepherd, even if I need to start a private practice early to ease financial burdens for the church.
Speaking at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit, that year, Bill Hybels summarized the findings of a study of Willow Creek this way: “Some of the stuff that we have put millions of dollars into thinking it would really help our people grow and develop spiritually, when the data actually came back, it wasn’t helping people that much. Other things that we didn’t put that much money into and didn’t put much staff against is stuff our people are crying out for. He called this research “the wake-up call” of his adult life. Hybels confesses: “We made a mistake. What we should have done when people crossed the line of faith and become Christians, we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become “self-feeders.’ We should have gotten people, taught people, how to read their bible between service, how to do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own. In other words, spiritual growth doesn’t happen best by becoming dependent on elaborate church programs but through the age old spiritual practices of prayer, bible reading, and relationships. And, ironically, these basic disciplines do not require multi-million dollar facilities and hundreds of staff to manage.”
Folks, my goal is not to build the next “greatest thing” in Traverse City, to be the next church that all of the already churched people in our community flock to. We aren’t going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to hire consultants who know nothing about our community to come in and tell us what we should be doing. When I read my Bible, is the call of Christ “Go and make disciples,” and is the heart of most churches, large and small. So what are we going to do? We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. And we’ve got the research to back that approach.
Smaller is better these days, churches are finding. For years, churches have used metrics like numbers of people in attendance, numbers of people in small groups, budget size, and building size to determine effectiveness. In fact, if I were to survey this congregation today, I’ll bet there’d be some people in here who wonder why we aren’t already up to 200 attenders. Boy, wouldn’t it be great to be able to say, “Yeah, we showed you! Look at how fast we’ve grown already!” Ah, but remember, bitterness and anger aren’t going to influence our direction … Christ is. This is Christ Church.
So as we look to the future, we’re going to look at cutting edge trends now, and “smaller is better” is one of those trends, as churches struggle to figure out and reach the largest generation in American history … a generation that right now is largely not attending church anywhere this morning. Now I know that not every member of any generation perfectly fits the composite that comes from generational research. But the components of that composite picture of a generation grow out of the fact that there really are traits that are more common in one generation than another. Tom Rainer is a church researcher and blogger who has done a lot of research with thousands upon thousands of people currently in their 20s and 30s, and these are some of the things he and his research teams are finding: that they tend to be attracted to smaller, more intimate venues, that they would rather see culture as something to influence rather than an enemy to be avoided, that they prefer to cooperate with other churches in their communities, that they tend to abhor worship wars over music style.
So here’s what we are already doing. We already have our first class of participants about ready to finish their participation in the Apprentice series, which is a partnership between Grace Episcopal Church, Feast of Victory Lutheran Church, Christ Church of Traverse City, and First Congregational in which small groups of 12 participants or so, including participants from more than one of the churches, under the leadership of trained lay leaders, walk through three books designed to help followers of Christ learn how to practice the spiritual disciplines. And we’ll be launching a new series shortly after the new year! By the way, the first spiritual discipline, and I’m not joking about this at all, is sleep. That’s how I talked the already way overbooked Gregg Law into going through leader training for Apprentice.
And we have our two annual within-church small group campaigns. And those groups won’t ever be broken down by demographics or similar likes. Do you have any idea how boring it is to sit around with a group of people who are all in the same life stage and situation as you are, with all of the same perspectives and ideas? Not to mention how frustrating it is to have a small group of young parents doing a study on how to keep your marriage alive in the early years of parenting, with everyone looking around the room knowing, all these people are just as busy and sleep-deprived as we are. There’s no way we’ll find someone to babysit our kids so we can go out on a date regularly in this group. But what if each small group had some young parents alongside some more experienced parents and even some grandmas and grandpas willing to babysit every once in a while. Talk about a small group suddenly becoming a blessing instead of a burden. And imagine the more lively discussions as people from differing perspectives, divorcees and long-time marrieds, young and old, singles and retirees, all join together. How much more fun is that?
And we’re going to keep straddling that line that divides so many churches … the worship music line. You see, we believe that a body, and that’s one of the biblical images for the church, is not a bunch of parts that all look, act, think the same, or even like the same things. We believe the body is supposed to be a diverse group of parts working together under a single head, and that head is Christ. And that requires emotional maturity. That requires being able to die to yourself and learn to sing some old songs, or maybe some new songs. Folks, the altar of personal preference, which is just another version of selfishness and pride, has to die. It has no place in Christ Church. And let’s be honest, if we were doing things by the book …. Following one of the dozens of church planting models out there, with the capabilities of the men and women who lead us in worship every week, we would have come out of the gates rocking and just let the horses run. But I made a decision early on that we weren’t going to do that. There were too many really special people in my life who really like to sing hymns. And guess what … so do I. So we decided to toe this line between contemporary and liturgical, and we will continue to do so. I told the others … if you want just another church, I’m not your man. I said “no” when Dr. Walls said I needed to lead this church more than once. And besides … the really great church, large and small, never follow the guide book. They follow Christ. I mean who starts a church when they’ve been a Christian for just five years with absolutely no theological training of any sort? That doesn’t follow any guide book. But that’s exactly what Bill Hybels did … at 22 years of age, and a Christian five years young, and Willow Creek was born. No, the really great churches never follow the guide book … they follow Christ.
I hope to see you soon!