By South Atlanta Community Facilitator-Trainer, Dan Crain
I have wrestled with what the church should be in the world for over ten years now. I have been on staff at a large mega-church. I have worked in a small church as a youth pastor. I was an intern at a large mega church trying to align themselves with God of the oppressed. I have been a part of a cool white church reaching out to millenials. I have been an assistant pastor at a small church in the neighborhood here for three years. Now we are a part of the body of Christ in different capacatities and right now the guys of Thirkield Unviersity are my flock and they consider me their pastor, a la “Pasta One-Hunnet”. (this name coming from the fact that I keep it real…one hundred percent). Does it look and function like a normal church? No. Might it someday? I would hope.
There are all sorts of different models of church. Mega-churches, house churches, smaller churches, churches that meet on Saturday. There is beauty and truth in all sorts of different models of church.
I am interested in hearing the word of God preached and celebrating the sacraments and being a part of a community that specifically welcomes those on the margins into community. This is going to look very different in many different contexts.
On a theological and academic level, I fall right in between Ralph Winters’ modality and sodality of the “Two Structures of God’s Redemptive Mission”. The article is located here; http://frontiermissionfellowship.org/uploads/documents/two-structures.pdf
Winters’ basic argument is that there are two structures of God’s mission in the world, the modality (church meeting regularly, preaching of the word, sacraments, etc.) and sodality (Paul’s missionary journeys, the monastic movement, para-church, etc.). I personally see the need for both as I have seen the beauty of the modality of church being connected to the sodality of the para-church movement, particularly when it means loving those on the margins.
Right now this is what church looks like for us. We worship at a majority white mega-church where my family loves to go. I am a part of an in-depth Bible study covering Emotionally Healthy Spritiuality that is deeply impacting. http://www.emotionallyhealthy.org We meet Sunday nights and this group looks a lot like a time of AA rather than a Bible study and I personally love it. We are open and honest about the false self and how Christ is calling us into the true self.
Just recently God answered my prayer to be mentored and shepherded by an older African-American Christian man that has been doing urban ministry and pastored in different capacities in Atlanta for over 40 years. This greatly excites me.
I am more committed right now to the connected body of Christ together around the Great Commandment than committing to one particular brand of church in the neighborhood and around the city. I hold true to the doctrines of Lausanne Covenant developed years ago; https://www.lausanne.org/content/covenant/lausanne-covenant. I take very seriously the Apostles and Nicene Creed.
But, I have given up making church what I think it needs to be and holding it loosely to however the Spirit opens and leads it. A part of that right now looks like a monthly prayer walk through the neighborhood as we gather the body of Christ together to pray, not for ourselves, but for our neighbors and neighborhood and then share a meal together.
A couple months ago it occurred to me while watching a group of six young men from TU playing basketball in our driveway that this is my church, these guys are my flock. Do we have the normal functions of a church? Yes and no. We gather weekly and hear the scriptures but we don’t do the sacraments. But there’s a reason they call it a brotherhood. This is in their language for church. I would love for one day for us to baptize and take the sacrements together, but we aren’t there yet. Right now we are just talking about whether there is a God and why does God let all of these terrible things happen in our neighborhood?
I do know I want be a part of a church that not only serves those on the margins, but welcomes them into community and utltimately gives them the place of honor like what James is getting at in chapter two of his letter. I haven’t found this church quite yet and pray that one day a church catches this vision. It seems to me that many of our churches place an emphasis on welcoming the man wearing a gold ring and fine clothes. Maybe we will start one with this vision in mind?
I have given up trying to make church something that I want it to be and just accepting whatever the Spirit opens up and it’s amazing to see what Christ has provided thus far.