Wow! Has it been a year already? I'm not talking a year from the online launch, that's months away. I'm talking a year since I sat down at my computer and began crafting what is now Fig Tree Christian. What a journey it has been. A year ago the website didn't even have it's own name! We had two likes on Facebook, my sister and myself. (My husband would have liked but he left Facebook about a year ago and hasn't been back.) I would like to take a moment and reflect on the journey so far.
2 Kings 5:1-14 CEB
(Written for Community Christian Church (DOC) in Fayettville, GA 7/7/13)
I am going to be honest with you. I wrote four sermons before I finally felt I was headed in the right direction and began drafting what I am sharing with you today. Seriously. I wrote on this scripture for Fig Tree Christian and in my red journal there are three ½ written sermons. They are all making decent points, it just didn't seem to fit for this morning. But I think I got it.
I have, for years, considered myself a modern Protestant Monk. What I mean by that is I was raised by the church. I threw myself into the congregation and immersed myself in the bible. I was practically raised by the church. As a child, I introduced myself to the bible by reading the stories from a Children's bible each night before I went to bed. As I got older I would choose a book, like Job or the letter to the Romans, and read a chapter, writing questions in the margins, and brought those questions to the minister on Sunday. (I was very grateful my minister was also a professor at Columbia Theological Seminary.)
Now beyond seminary and ordaination, I have felt drawn to a focus. God had seems to have been drawing me to for years, to revitalization and new church start. In late middle school and early high-school I was part of a new church start. I saw and felt the struggles first hand as a congregant. The courses in seminary that re-energized my call were mission and evangelism focused. My favorite Saint is Patrick, who successfully brought Christianity to Ireland. My internship, while I was in Seminary, was to First Atlanta. I worked with Dr. Roger Sizemore as he led the discernment process for revitalization of that congregation. Since ordination, most of my continuing education has been focused on revitalization and new congregational start. I took an online course with Dr. Dick Hamm on revitalization, and the Georgia region sent me to Indianapolis to be trained as a Church Planter. As you know, today I am working to grow Fig Tree Christian. Every minister has a focus. Mine is clearly evangelism.
Now, there is a reason these two fields, Church revitalization and planter ministry, go hand in hand. Both are new beginnings. Both require getting back to the basics of Jesus. There are many congregations that don't realize this, the church, as we know it, is going to look way different in the next 10-20 years. As Dick Hamm put it, 80% of mainline churches are in decline with many of those near death. The world around us has changed. Not only has the internet completely changed how we engage with one another, culture in general has morphed into something new and different. Facebook altered how we connect with pretty much everyone. The rise of the “nons,” a group of Christians who claim faith but not a place of faith, has altered the path Christianity can take.
I like to think of it like the Missouri River. This is a river that is way larger than it appears. It flows for hundreds of feet across in both directions... underground. We only see a little bit of it above ground. Now, for years the Kansas/Missouri border had issues with this river because the river we see above ground would move. Whenever there would be a flood the river would change it's banks. The real river, the one underground never changed, the river above ground moved. Eventually, they built levees and chose where the river was going to stay. Now cartographers can accurately place the Missouri River on a map and farmers don't have to worry about their land being wiped out by becoming part of the wide Missouri. In fact, to validate my point, back in the early 90's they found an honest to goodness steamboat in farm land way off from where the above ground Missouri is now. It had sunk when the Missouri was where this farmers land was. Now it was no where near it. The river is still hundreds of feet wide, underground. When they dug up the ship they had to continually pump the water out of the hole.
Think of the river being like Christianity. For years when the culture changed Christianity would change too. The faith was deep and wide, and the organization of Christianity would change course where the society would go. This happened for years, until the levee was built by society. See, our banks have been set. Faith is still deep and wide, but what Christianity can be within the river of belief has been limited. We can't move with society anymore and still be what we have been. See, our worship, this hour of time we spend on Sunday morning, has worked for generations. But now, people are living outside of our organized process. They live outside of the river. We cannot move the river to them anymore. Our worship is a boat. We have to invent a car.
See, it's completely different. It doesn't look like anything we have ever done. And this is the world I am living in. Churches that seek revitalization have to figure out how to move from being boats into being ducks, those boats with wheels. New church plants, need to avoid the water all together, because there are more than enough boats out there, and figure out how to do what they do on land. And new church plants are struggling with this because many are just taking the place of the congregations dying out on the water. They are just changing the music or the style in which the sermon is done, which is really just building a speed boat when locomotion is needed.
So bringing it to the scripture. We have Naaman. Naaman wants to be healed of his skin ailment and requests the help of Elisha to do it. Naaman knows how it has been done. He knows the rites and rituals. He imagines he will be anointed with oil. Words would be said over him. He would have to do A, B, C, and D. In conclusion he would be healed. Instead, Elisha doesn't even show up and sends word for him to dunk himself in the Jordon seven times. To give you an idea of how dejected he would have felt, imagine if I decided to not show up this morning, and instead emailed my sermon ahead of time. Then my sermon simply read, “God is good. Go and do like Jesus.” Naaman was bitter. He was angry. He didn't want to get dirty in the stupid Jordan river. This is Naaman looking at the faith from the visible side of things. Since he sees the Priests and Prophets doing all the work, he falsely assumes it was the rites, rituals, and the Priests and Prophets who held the power. But this isn't about the people or the acts. This is about God. God is deep and wide. It is God who holds the power. Naaman had to let go of what he thought was a large conception of faith, but was really a tiny meandering conception, to gain a grand healing through God.
It's like the Missouri River. We only see a small part of the picture. We get so caught up in what we are doing as humans, when we are not the bringers of miracles. God is, and God is bigger than us.
So, realizing the real power comes from God, are we willing to give it all up for the sake of everything? How do we take the next step, the evolution of Christianity that is coming over the next 10-20 years? We have to see that God's presence is there whether we choose to sit or stand, whether we choose to sing contemporary, traditional or no music at all. God is there whether we meet in a sanctuary, concert hall, or out in the open. Because, our relationship with God is deeper and wider than a building with a cross on it. It is scary. Most things in the future are. Even if the future is moving away from what we have been comfortable with, our purpose will still be with God. If we can realize we are still with God even when we leave the metaphorical river we see, we will have a bright future in 10-20 years.