-Pastor Melissa Fain-
"Tell me about the church. What is Fig Tree Christian about?"
Have you ever felt so completely that you should go in a direction, but you have absolutely no idea why?
I knew so many things without a shadow of a doubt.
I knew that if Fig Tree were to succeed, I had to get the blessing of my denomination.
I knew to get the blessing of the denomination, I had to get support rallied around it.
I knew to get support rallied around it, I needed to show it was just as real as any other brick and mortar church.
God knew I was wrong.
I was so so wrong and my first realization was when I was standing before a woman, holding one of the thousand cards I had printed for a physical launch of Fig Tree Christian back in March of 2013. Where I wanted to go, and where God wanted me to go, were not the same thing. I walked through so many parking lots and gave out so many cards.
I can remember at the launch no one showing up. Yep- utter and total failure, and it felt right. I can remember my words hours before it was supposed to start. "Whatever is going to happen is supposed to happen."
I've recalled that fake launch now many times this year. What if it hadn't failed?
If the fake launch hadn't failed, we would have had physical support right away for Fig Tree Christian.
Without a definition, we would have either slowly or quickly become every other brick and mortar church in the area, with no identity online.
In March of 2020, still being green, the Pandemic would have killed us.
In reality, from that moment on I killed Fig Tree again and again. God didn't want what I had done. I felt it, in the core of my being. At the same time, I knew God wanted something from me. So I tried again.
Humanity craves things they know. As the world explodes in change, people just want something familiar. For many, that is church. Every time Fig Tree would launch, I would feel that pull to become what was. That pull was a signal that it was time to fail
Some of you might be wondering why I didn't push through and redirect. Well, church plants are defined by their initial direction. This becomes their DNA. It will follow them their entire lives, whether they want it or not. Everything I was doing, was like pulling back a windup car that is powered by the wheels going backwards. If I didn't get the direction right in the pullback, I wasn't going to get it right when Fig Tree was finally let go.
We restarted in many places: A church, a coffee house, my basement. All of it was online. I was frustrated with each version. I kept drawing people who wanted this to be fully formed and working. That was like asking a baby to fix their car! It was vital that we were without definition. Every one who came for something well defined left. Some that left, left with the promise of great things now for someone else. I watched opportunities comes and go. Always those opportunities would come at sacrifice of Fig Tree. Sometimes what was being asked of us would maintain the name Fig Tree, but I'd be permanently killing it to put someone else's dream in its place. Sometimes it was just blatant killing. Wanting to pull me from my call to give to something else.
It felt so unfair to have such tempting morsels set before us, and knowing I was not allowed to eat at that table. Yet every "no," every restart, came with a definition. Knowing what I was called to say "no" to, meant I was beginning to know what I was saying "yes" to.
No- we are not called to look like the charismatic church, because the charismatic church looks dangerous online. I am not the next Joel Osteen. Fig Tree is not a self-help church.
No- Fig Tree is not the digital ministry arm of [insert church name here]. What I'm doing isn't some long-game resume builder.
No- Fig Tree isn't trying to be [insert digital ministry name here]. Before Covid it was extremely difficult to explain that just like not all physical churches are the same, not all digital churches are the same either.
I couldn't get, but I could give.
If I asked for assistance creating something for those who could not find their way into a brick and mortar church, I would get nothing. I got help because I included brick and mortar churches in the people who would be helped.
I would seek assistance on devotionals for Advent and Lent, specifically including that small churches that couldn't afford a devotional would be able to use it free. How sad is it that in all these years I've only been able to get help if said help would assist their church? In those situations, I could have one foot in the church door, and the other in the mission field, and it worked.
Meanwhile, I gave of myself anytime I saw someone acting for God outside the church. Fonts. Logos. A recorded reading. Anytime I could give outside of what I was doing, I did it. I wanted to encourage exploration in areas deep and wide, and I knew from experience, that happened through donation in specific areas.
Let me go on a sidetrack for a moment: There is this amazing kindergarten teacher. She is amazing at setting up this formative foundation for her kids. She taught my daughter. When we were dealing with personal issues last year she found me. She asked me, what is not getting done right that minute and needs to be done. I told her our lawn. She said almost these words exactly, "We want to help your family. Can I send someone over to take care of your lawn?"
The way she did that is how all of us should seek to help others. So many say the words, "If there is anything I can do, just let me know." Hardly anyone takes someone up on those words. This is because people in need don't want to put others out. More than that, they don't know what you are capable of doing! They may need two weeks of groceries, but they don't want to ask you for assistance on groceries with such an open ended offer. This teacher saw a need, and asked if she could fill that need. She asked if she could help in a specific way.
That's how I've handled giving to others. I notice a need, and I ask if I can help fill it. Almost always the answer is a resounding yes. Meanwhile, I've had people say, "If you need anything, let me know." Occasionally I ask them to write a few devotionals for me. Overwhelmingly I do nothing, because I don't know what they could offer.
What we do, with what we have, is who we are. Fig Tree started as nothing, and from that nothing God created. Now it is something. I've taken very little, and did so much with it. We sit at a precipice of a potential future. Where are we going?
That's a question for next week.