Monday, September 04, 2006

“i didn’t have no plans to live this kind of life, naw, it just worked out that way”

this week my blog buddy josh brown is posting a series called the exodus which is going to feature a number of posts by young church leaders who have decided to leave or forego service in traditional church ministries. i am really looking forward to this series and, as i mentioned on josh’s blog, i would also be interested to read a follow up series by young church leaders who have decided to stay and serve in traditional church structures.*

anyway, i’m not writing for josh’s series because i’m on the wrong side of 25 and i’ve never been a paid, professional Christian. however, if i told you that i haven’t asked myself why i haven’t taken the more traditional route a thousand times i’d be lying. as the title of this post suggests i never really planned to be a part of a home church or invest myself in an expansive Christian conversation like emergent. i just set out to follow Christ and serve the church and this is the road i’ve found myself walking. i suppose i provide additional reasons that i’m not serving in a traditional setting - such as my hatred of censorship, my inability to either construct or tolerate topical sermons and the simple fact that i’ve never been offered a paid position in a church – but it’s getting late and i don’t really feel like getting into all that stuff.

however, before i head to bed i would like to tell you one little story that might shed a little light on why i love non-traditional church structures.

last night i had a few free moments so i decided to join the good folks at the gathering in salem for worship. i hadn’t been at the gathering space for more than five minutes before a young man, whom we’ll call neifi, walked up and introduced himself to me. as much as i hate to confess my tendencies towards superficiality, i must admit that the first thing i noticed about neifi was that he spoke with a rather profound lisp. after i introduced myself and we spoke for a moment i also realized that neifi was sporting some pretty funky braids in his hair and he had a rather iconoclastic homemade tattoo on one of his arms.

i should note that running into quirky individuals at the gathering was not a new experience for me. under the guidance of pastor phil this community has become one of the most inclusive and powerfully incarnational churches on the north shore. come to think of it, their commitment to inclusiveness is probably one of the main reasons they’ve chosen to serve beside sinners and saints.

okay, i said this was a short story, so i best be getting to the point. after we had worshipped God through song, chant, scripture and prayer, pastor phil said that neifi had asked for the floor and he encouraged neifi to speak. neifi was sitting right beside me, and i could tell he was a little nervous, but he eventually got up and said that he wanted to apologize before the church to karen, a woman across the room who was handicapped and whose face bore testimony to a rather hard life, because he hadn’t listened carefully to her needs and, as a result, he had not bought her a birthday present that she needed. neifi mentioned that he had since bought her another birthday present and would like for it to be given on behalf of the congregation. moreover, neifi asked if before we gave her the presents we could gather around karen, lay hands upon her and pray.

so with nary a moment of hesitation, the folks at the gathering got out of their seats, encircled karen and her faithful dog, who remains by her side even in church, laid hands upon her and prayed. as we stood around karen, thanking God for her birth and asking Him to provide her with provisions, i am pretty sure a lump began to rise in my throat. i couldn’t believe that neifi, who i had prejudged as a bit of a sissy and immediately assumed was an outsider to the way of Jesus, had led us into this simple, yet unmistakably holy moment. at the beginning of the evening i had eyed neifi with a bit of suspicion, but by the end of the service i was proud to call him my brother and had begun to suspect that at some level he was really my co-laborer in Christ.

now maybe i’m a being a bit cynical here - God knows it wouldn’t be the first time - but i don’t think most traditional churches would either welcome neifi into their presence and/or provide a community context in which he would be accepted and encouraged to grow in the grace of Christ. that’s why, from my perspective anyway, it’s so important for there to be Christian communities on the margins, in the projects and in a thousand other out of the way places, for sometimes it’s only in those unexpected places of little repute that those who’ve been constantly beat on, ratted on and spat upon can connect with the God-man who turned the world upon it’s head by proclaiming God’s blessing upon the poor and promising that theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.

* i am serious about seeing this series make it into (blog)print. if you are a young leader and would like to explain why you are serving within a traditional church structure please email your post to me at i'll read your post and if it is honest, charitable and fairly well written will post it in this space.


Mike said...

what about all of us old balls folks who became disillusioned with paid ministry and so we left only to find ourselves drawn back into the church to do the same shit only now for free?

but sure, go ahead and let the youngin's have the floor.

g13 said...

hey fletch, if you want to write about it i'm all about posting it.

and for the record, i am well aware of the funky font issues that mar this post. i usually write in word and then wait to see how blogger is going to muck my post up.

Mike said...

what i like is when i copy from word and then all my " and ' come out as @#

then i have to go back and fix them all.

so fun.

Rags said...

I loved this post Gentry. You're right on both counts--would a guy like neifi be welcome in most traditional churches? Perhaps superficially, but it would be an extremely difficult thing for him to really feel a part of the body. And he probably wouldn't appreciate a traditional church anyways. I also agree that we need marginal ministries--now more than even because so many people enjoy life on the margins rather than trying to adjust to being "normal." Anyway, I'd like to say more, but I'm late for class.

josh said...

dude. if i would have known you wanted to write, i would give you like a no-age limit clause or something. you're still somewhat young right? young at heart? have you made it to 3-0?

g13 said...

oh dude, i know. i thought about submitting a post to you, but i'm really more interested in what other people have to say.

as i noted in the post i'm trying to get young uns who've stayed within traditional structures to provide their reflections as well. unfortunately i have yet to find any takers.

and for the record, i will be 29 for six more months.