In January, I said I’d be back in May…well, it’s May. My test is done. I took the Fundamentals of Engineering exam 14 years after graduation (most engineers take it their last semester of college). I’m fairly sure I passed – I put about 200 hours of study into it – but I won’t know until the middle of June.
Nonetheless, I feel as though I have my life back, which is a very good thing.There is a quote from a book by Elizabeth O’Connor from the Church of the Saviour in D.C. where she mentions that it took them 10 years before anything of significance took shape. This has always encouraged me in light of our struggles birthing Christian community here in South Florida. Unbelievably, ten years is right around the corner (we have lived here for 8 1/2). I don’t know if ‘significance’ is the word to use for what we are beginning to see, but there certainly is fruit.
The book I finished a year and a half ago chronicles our community’s story discovering what it means to be the church in a new world and a way forward through our collective brokenness. In the spiritual desert of South Florida, it has been tough sledding to say the least. But we have seen people from across the ecclesial spectrum begin to unhitch their trailers of baggage and discover simplicity as humans and followers of Jesus. It’s not perfect, it’s not big, and there have been pitfalls. Dude…it’s church.After Amber, the kids and I returned from an extended trip to Peru two years ago, we felt that God was leading us into a time of gathering. The first 7 years of living here were about deconstruction, questioning, and learning brand new skills. The next 7 years would be putting what we learned into play in the Kingdom.
Out of a simple gathering of women getting together to paint, an artist’s collective was birthed. Another set of friends are exploring how we can serve a large migrant Guatemalan community here in Jupiter. These are small steps, but we are meeting people around who are hungry to follow Jesus into the world.Over the next weeks and months, I’ll be continuing to post about these projects, our philosophy for how we are approaching the work, and telling the story along the way. But I want to back up a bit and attempt to tie a thread between the story told by my book (and the church that story represents) and where Amber and I feel God leading us into the future.Our “church-family” as it’s known around our house is comprised of people that functionally don’t “go to church” anymore. We do worship together (on Sundays!), share what we’re learning from the Scriptures and our experiences, and try to care for one another when we’re hurting. Like I said before, it’s not perfect. We fail often at caring and don’t always reconcile relationships as we should. We also struggle with what I like to call social saturation. In other words, there is a limit to the number of meaningful relationships you can have if those same people are not around each other 24-7. For example, if you coach your children’s sports teams, you’ll have other people in your life that require time and attention. Nothing wrong with that…it just leaves less time for the church-family. Same goes for work, or school, or any other social environment. God wants us to be present to those people as well. Obviously, if those other social attachments are just that – social obligations or distractions – they might not be healthy. But for the most part, we are there for good, God-ordained reasons.So what does this have to do with the health or otherwise of our church and the future? Well, social saturation makes it difficult for church-families to grow. There, I said it. Grow. Expand. Enlarge. Reproduce. Yes…growth is healthy! Never said it wasn’t, by the way. But when your social cup is full, new relationships just spill and make a mess of the carpet. That’s been a struggle, particularly in a place starved for any shred of authentic connection with other human beings. Once you taste the wine, there is a very real fear it might be taken from you. The response to that fear is to protect the social framework you have and subconsciously resist anything that might bring change. I say “subconsciously” because we often (and I have been guilty of this) say we want to see new growth, but then struggle to enrich our sociality in practice.Let’s not kid ourselves, we’re not playing around with any ordinary social forces at work. A social phenomenon, lead by Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, literally turned the world upside down within a few decades. The tendency within groups such as ours (within the “simple” or “organic” church movement) has been to try and devise a solution for growth after things grow stagnant. Truthfully, I think most of those solutions fail not because they are strategically wrong, but because of the subconscious fear of losing what has already been attained. After all, most of us came from situations where we had something great but lost it, or maybe never had it at all. Perhaps we underestimate the power of the Body of Christ. Maybe within our rhetoric and criticism of what has been, we forget that what we have now came as a gift, a grace of the Spirit. We should believe with confidence that whatever comes next will carry with it the required Provision.This may seem cryptic (especially for those who are local and experiencing what I’m writing about) and not practically helpful. But as I said above, I’m attempting to tie a thread between what was before and what will be. There are ways forward, but they will require imagination and some risk. Amber and I are committed to this place and the calling God gave to us almost ten years ago. I do believe in the staying power of Christ’s Body – his Big Bride as John Wimber used to say. He’ll figure out a way to keep his people on track, as painful as it can be sometimes. However, like everything related to life with God, it will be better if we can learn to work with him, rather than against him.More to come. Good to be back.