Sunday, April 06, 2008

ecclesiological portraits: seven mile road

(ir)relevant stats
former church name: edgeworth church
current church name: seven mile road
future church name: tba
location: malden, ma
affiliation: conservative congregational christian conference and acts 29 network
leadership: pastors matthew kruse, ajay thomas and kevin luce
sanctioned scripture: the english standard version (esv)
coffee: free and tolerable but not plentiful

this morning kieran and i made our first stop on our ecclesiological pilgrimage throughout greater boston. the purpose of this pilgrimage is to explore the growing number of innovative churches and faith communities in the greater boston area so that we can: get a better sense of what God is doing in our region, provide an idiosyncratic road map that will both help interested parties find these communities and help these communities find one another, and simply spend a morning each month hanging out with one another.

we decided to make seven mile road our first stop because the community is located a stone's throw from rectangle, in the edgeworth section of malden, and i've been looking for an excuse to visit this community for quite some time. since this is only the second post i've penned in this series,* i'm still not sure of the best way to structure these reports. but, since i have to structure it somehow, i'm going to provide you with a brief outline of the liturgy, capsule comments that recount some of my experiences at seven mile road and conclude with a few questions i've raised in the few short hours since my visit. after reading the post, i'd appreciate it if you'd let me know if you found this structure helpful or not

an outline of the work of the people**:

introduction: fairly brief, a little stiff, could very well have been plagiarised from a piper podcast

psalm reading:
wish i remember what it was and don't have a bulletin to double check

"you are amazing God." the worship leader has chops, the sound is clean and spare and, by this point, i'm
getting the warm , fuzzy sense that we won't be accosted with a poorly contextualized movie clip

greet and give:
the congregation gets up to greet one another and give their tithes and offerings by placing
commodities that hopefully fold and do not jingle in a basket on the front of the stage

new testament reading:
i tim. 1:18-20

commissioning of new members:
pastor kruse follows the reading by reminding the congregation that it is
membership sunday. after his introduction, he calls forward about 20 people who have decided to join this
church body, briefly explains the nature of their commitment to the body and the body's commitment to them
and prays over the new members. i am doing this segment of the service no justice. it was quite beautiful.

as part of the series on "timothy's inferno" pastor kruse explicates i tim. 1:18-20 and thematically
considers how we can fire proof the church by "disciplining well." the man can definitely preach, but this is
definitely a sermon for guys who love sermons. start time: 10:24 a.m. stop time: 11:13 a.m.

"nothing but the blood" by matt redman. nothing against matt, but i prefer the original to the remix

pastor kruse says something pithy about communion and without direction people stream
forward to partake of the body and the blood. it takes me a moment to realize that everyone is holding the
elements before taking them. there is very little orientation to the way the church practices the sacrament. i am a
little confused until pastor kruse prays and we all partake together.

it's an original entitled "we are one." this community clearly has some gifted songwriters and musicians. as
superficial as it may sound, i am easily distracted by off-key worship leaders, unnecessarily flashy graphics or
any utilization of the iworship product. fortunately seven mile suffers from none of these things.

"wholly yours" by david crowder. it's a long song which provides a good opportunity for me to slip out and
recycle the aformentioned coffee.

pastor kruse prays over us, challenging us to hold firm onto Christ and dedicating our service to
"God's great glory and our great joy." this latter phrase, that has been repeated two or three times throughout
the service, is a clear pointer to the church's reformed theology and piperian influence.

although the church did not have a formal recessional, they did have a clearly rehearsed conclusion.
immediately after the service everyone stood up, folded up their chairs and took them to the front of the stage
where they were immediately hung on racks. this practice was incredibly efficient, saved the take down team
many minutes and, in a small way, bore witness to the congregation's willingness to serve.

capsule narrative:

7 mile road is an incredibly friendly community. from the moment kieran and i walked in we were warmly greeted and throughout our time at the service people consistently welcomed us, asked us about ourselves and shared a little bit of their stories. it is also worth noting that before, during and after the service children were all over the place playing with one another, interacting with people of all ages and, after the service, streaking around the gym, sprinting through packs of adults and so reminding us of the original purpose of the room. 7 mile eagerly incorporates and encourages children to participate in almost all aspects of their worship. i found this element of their gathering quite beautiful.

as can be reasonably deduced from the outline above, 7 mile road is clearly a protestant church that is primarily focused on worshiping God through the proclamation of his Word. pastor kruse's sermon on church discipline was passionate, well structured and clearly delivered. i suspect that his treatment of the (incredibly difficult!) topic of church discipline was a little heavy on the definition of the problem and a little light on the proposed solution, but clearly this was a man who had wrestled well with the text and had carefully considered the implications this text had for his community. interestingly, in the midst of his sermon the pastor also mentioned that while studying for this sermon he was a little put of by the way a fellow pastor in his network had used this text to, apparently humorously, identify two emergent writers with hymenaeus and alexander, the soon-to-be-excommunicated divisive men who paul instructs the church to "hand over to satan, that they might be taught not to blaspheme." by contradicting the teaching of one of the leaders of the acts 29 movement in this way and suggesting that any pastor who has to deal with "hymenaeus and alexander" in the church must do so with much greater humility, pastor kruse bore witness to his courageous authenticity and humility. in that moment, although i realized that there are a number of non-essential*** issues of theology and practice that pastor kruse and i would not see eye to eye on, i could clearly learn a lot from the pastoral heart of this man. in the end, the sermon was not simply an explication of i tim. 1:18-20 but a consideration of how a pastor can call, encourage and exhort his community to biblical fidelity in a manner that is marked by humility. so yeah, i appreciated the sermon.

before the sermon and after, kieran and i made the most of our time to meet the members and pastors in the community, including pastor ajay, who is going to start planting a 7 mile road church in philly this summer. in the midst of almost every conversation i tried to introduce the people to both the point of our little pilgrimage and the fact that we are both involved with the emergent cohort in boston. i emphasized the pilgrimage because i wanted, and subsequently received, their blessing to post this little introduction. i mentioned the second part because i realize there has been a fair amount of hostility as of late between those affiliated with emergent village and the acts 29 crew and i wanted to see how they would react to the "emergent" tag. fortunately, no one cut off the conversation at the first mention of emergent or first sight of the hitchcockian profile of mclaren that i've recently tattooed upon my ass. however, when the e-word was dropped walls seemed to go up and the conversations did seem to become a bit more guarded. i hope that in the midst of our conversations, in which i went out of my way to emphasize my passion for and shared investment in the mission of this church, the members and pastors were able to suspect, if not see, that there are many of us within the emergent conversation that are eager to partner with them as together we pursue God's great glory and await our great joy, namely, the fulfilment of God's Kingdom, Christ's reign and the Spirit breathed recreation of the world.

a question or two:

how in the world do these pastors maintain full-time day jobs, pastor a growing church of this size (approx. 110) and nurture what clearly appeared to be nurturing relationships with their, rather large and growing, families? it's rare to run across such fruitful bi-vocational ministers. my hat's off to them!

when will the acts 29 crew and the emergent cohorts finally reach a detente? both of these movements of the Spirit shared similar origins before they diverged in a wood. i hope one day we all learn not simply to quote, but to passionately live out the old reformation credo: in essentials, unity. in non-essentials, liberty. in all things love.

why do i have the bladder of an eight year old girl? why!?

that's all for now. if you have questions about our visit or would like to drop a comment, correction or critique, please feel free.

* you can see the first post, which focuses on the gathering, kieran and i's home community, here.
** or liturgy.
*** in my opinion anyhow.


slowfo said...

There is something about your post that is most disturbing. Why are you showing your ass with its Hitchcockian profile tattoo of Brian Mclaren on the very first sunday that you meet these people? It seems a little forward and unsightly for a sunday morning. This also may have had something to do with the sudden "wall" that you felt go up between you and these new strangers.

g13 said...

hey they don't call me
_ _ _ r
_ n _ _ _
_ e _ _ _ _

for nothing.

dpinck410 said...

Thanks for your jaded, optimistic musings regarding 7 mile road. As a fellow A29 pastor in the Northeast, and a huge fan of "Pastor Kruse", your comments provide helpful feedback for Kruse and company. Watching Matt lead this congregation the past 4 or 5 years, I too am amazed how this bi-vocational pastor does such a sweet job at family/church/work.

On future hopes of an Emergent Village/A29 relationship, I suspect that because of strong theological biases in each "camp", perhaps the best we can hope for short term is mutual respect and humility. Redemptive History (what's that german term, heil geschicta or something like that) is marked by the demarkation of camps (Israel/Judah, Paul/Barnabas, Roman Catholic/Orthodox/Protestant, Emergent/A29..). Reducing the public bomb throwing, fostering respectful conversations, and maintaining personal relationships with friends in "opposing" camps is perhaps the near future way.

Whatever comes, may Christ be praised...

Thanks again for your posting on 7 Mile Road....

g13 said...

thanks for stopping by and dropping a comment.

i would also like to see less hostility between acts 29 and emergent village folk. i think that acts 29 and ev each have distinctive purposes and intentions. for that reason, i would question the wisdom of drawing any lines of demarcation between the two groups.

from what i can tell, acts 29 is a church planting organization that has specific theological, sociological and missiological emphases. these distinctives seem to be what binds acts 29 together as a cohesive group.

emergent village, on the other hand, is not a church planting organization nor does ev exist to promulgate specific theological, sociological and missiological positions. quite simply, emergent village is a generative conversation among friends - among whom we would love to count all acts 29ers - who are committed to discussing and pursuing God's mission in the world.

because of the distinctive differences between the two groups i think acts 29 and ev are really apples and oranges. clearly there are specific reasons, due in large part to the shared history of the movements, that some of the proponents of these organizations have disputes and issues with one another. however, there is no legitimate reason that there should be any line of demarcation between the majority of acts 29ers and the majority of the participants in the ev conversation.

that's what i'm thinking at the moment anyway. peace be with you!

Matthew Kruse said...

Jeff, good to meet you and Kieran.

Learned a ton from your post, nice to have an outsiders perspective. Sunday morning is just one aspect of the life of our church, but your words will really help us as we seek to honor God through our corporate worship.

Vegas has the over/under on how many times I mention 'God's glory and our joy' at 4 per service. I am trying hard to get that line up to 8 or 9.

And thanks for not revealing your Mclaren ink...

Matthew Kruse

g13 said...

thank you for stopping by matthew. i really enjoyed our visit and hope we have many opportunities to collaborate in the future.