Recently I have had the urge to begin writing more about my experience over the past ten years.
When I say “experience,” I’m not referring to an existential play-by-play. I mean experience!
Knowledge or practical wisdom gained from what one has observed, encountered, or undergone, this kind of experience. In the current marketplace of ideas related to missional church, there are a plethora of ideas. I’ve had plenty myself. In fact, I’ve written about a lot of them over the years. But something has soured me on ideas. Maybe that’s because I’m not 28 anymore and being stupid. At least at 38 I know when I’m being stupid. What I write below is not stupid, and if you are considering starting a missional church (or have already started one), I suggest you listen. Forgive some of the salty language, for those who have ears, you will hear.
10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW TO NOT BE STUPID WHEN STARTING A MISSIONAL CHURCH RIGHT NOW:
1. GET A JOB.
I list this first because it really is that important. There has been a lot of discussion about whether people should consider bi-vocational ministry instead of traditional paid positions. This should not even be a consideration for you. First of all, if a church or ministry organization is paying your salary, unless they are willing to deal with years of uncertainty and very few tangible results, they will not tolerate you long. So go ahead and fire yourself from paid ministry right away. Put on your big boy underwear and go find a job. I’m sorry you have a Bible degree from Jesus Loves You Christian College. Many normal people with worthless degrees somehow manage to find good work. You can too. (Note: One of my friends actually found a job at a church. See, you are qualified for this.)
2. FIND A MODEST HOUSE IN AN OLDER PART OF TOWN THAT YOU CAN AFFORD.
First of all, if your ministry is to billionaires on Palm Beach, then go read somebody else’s list. If you’re ministry is to average post-Christian urban or suburban people, then you don’t need to live in the coolest flat next to the kick-ass bar down the street from the eastern meditation center, or the five bedroom jaw-dropper in your local monument to new-urbanism. Find a house you can afford (rent at first, no more than 30% of your salary) in a part of town where normal people live and work. Don’t try to be cool when you’re not. I mow my own grass. My neighbors do too. This is normal.
3. JOIN WITH YOUR CO-LABORERS AND PUT DOWN ROOTS.
I do hope you have some trustworthy friends with you. Not a “church planting core team.” You need friends, comrades, co-conspirators. Did you listen at all during missions class at Jesus Loves You Christian College? This is missionary work, dammit. Get your head out of the clouds and stop thinking about your two year plan. Find friends and move into the same neighborhood together. Get jobs and eat lunch at the same restaurants. Shop at the same grocery stores. Take your kids to the same parks. Go to the same dentist. Know the names of every neighbor on the street. Dig into the soil of this PLACE God has given you and own it. Don’t analyze it like some heartless sociologist. Put down roots. These people need to know that you’re not going anywhere. You need to know you’re not going anywhere.
4. ONLY READ BOOKS BY AUTHORS WHO ARE OLD OR DEAD.
I’m truly sorry that you think [insert popular author’s name] latest book kicks ass. It’s not going to help you survive what you are about to endure. Think of all the latest and greatest books like eating twizzlers to carb up for a marathon. You need pasta, son. Heavy duty pasta. Something with calories. All my favorite authors are old enough to be my grandfather and have no idea how to use Posterous. But they understand A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. Find four or five that will become your friends during this time. Read everything by them. Read deep, not wide. My friends are Eugene Peterson, NT Wright, Dallas Willard, Richard Foster, and Wendell Berry. Find yours.
5. FIND A RHYTHM OF BEING ALONE AND BEING WITH OTHERS.
I don’t care if you are Mr. or Mrs. Extrovert of the Year and love hanging out at Starbucks until they close with the barista and her buds from English Lit swapping theses about Melville. I also don’t care if your idea of a fun night is closing the shades, putting a 12-pack of PBR on ice, and watching nine straight episodes of Glee on Netflix. Jesus had a rhythm to his life. He was alone with the Father in prayer getting his soul restored. But then he was walking through Gallilee, doing what the Father was doing. Be and do. If it worked for Jesus, find a way.
Note: I hear you saying, “But Mike, this is supposed to be a list about starting a church. None of this is about church.” Oh…look who’s so smart. Not about church, huh? Honestly, I don’t know if I should give you the rest of the list. I don’t think you’re ready. You’ll get a chuckle, post it to your twitter, and go back to planning next week’s Core Team Action Meeting. You suck, okay? Just stop reading now and get back to your Cory Doctorow novel.
Okay. Now for everyone else, here’s the rest of the list.
6. IT’S REALLY AS SIMPLE AS THROWING A BBQ.
Damn I wish I could market this. This stuff is an absolute gold mine. Genius. So you want to be all like missional and stuff in your new neighborhood? Invite some friends over and throw a BBQ. One of our friends just started a meetup group called Jesus, Ice Cream, and Beer. Twenty random people have signed up. We’re going to have a BBQ. It’s really the only strategy that I have. Think about it though. What’s the one thing that transcends the American cultural milieu? Other than Gaga and that awesome Asian guy from The Hangover? Grilled meats. Urban hipsters to feed? Marinated bison burgers stuffed with spinach and feta. Ten suburban familes with 24 children between the ages of 2 and 17? Get whatever hotdog is two-for-one and Bubba Burgers. The Holy Spirit shows up at meal times people. Don’t forget that.
7. BECOME A SOFA-PREACHER.
A shout-out to my friend T Freeman for this one. Since you will not have a pulpit or radio ministry, I suggest you find ways to channel all those homiletical ninja skills into language and stories about Jesus and the kingdom that make sense to people who will be sitting next to you on the couch at your BBQ. You will have less than five minutes talking with Brian before he has to get another Miller Lite from the cooler or stop his kid from pulling your dog’s tail, so make it a good one. If you want to blather on for 50 minutes about your wicked exegesis of Nahum, then start a YouTube channel or go talk to the Acts 29 people. Jesus told parables because people had short attention spans back then too. This is a skill that people who have been trained in ministry do not understand. Listen first, then speak. And when you speak about Jesus, make sure it’s something you have lived.
8. TAKE THE HOLY SPIRIT SERIOUSLY.
I know. This is the 21st century, right? Everybody’s a skeptic. Or, if you come from a charismatic background like me, now everybody’s talking about “Tokin’ the Ghost”. Please. What are you going to do, skeptic-boy, the first time your neighbor’s teenage daughter starts manifesting demons on your kitchen floor because she’s been secretly reciting incantations off the web in the middle of the night? Are you going to ask her to stop because it offends your sophisticated world-view? No, cast that sucker out! And are you really going to have Holy Ghost ha-ha meetings yuking it up with your new neighbors? Seriously? They aren’t going to be a tiny bit weirded out by your Puffing the Magic Dragon? Please take the Holy Spirit seriously. If you want to walk in power and see tangible evidence of the presense of God’s kingdom in your neighborhood, then learn how to work with the Spirit, not against him. Believe me, this is possible. It doesn’t have to be weird and offensive. It doesn’t have to be pushed to the side. Learn, young padawan.
9. DO NOT FORSAKE THE ASSEMBLING OF YOURSELVES TOGETHER.
I might have stolen that from somewhere. Yes, now that you are rooted in your ‘hood with your sweet job, killer (affordable) pad, tight group of spiritual friends, bitchin’ BBQs, and flowing in the Presence – all thanks to your Uncle Mike – you may be tempted to not actually have what might traditionally be called “church meetings”. After all, you’re free, right? You’re a missionary! Your whole life is ministry. Congratulations. That’s wonderful. But don’t forget that the most powerful missionary force on the planet is comprised mostly of relatively insignificant groups of people that ecclesia together. Church. Have it. Personally, I like to have my church at home, but there are some of you that will have yours out in public, at a park, a restaurant, or even a church building. We actually had ours in a space for a while that was a coop with two other churches. Worship. Take communion. Pray. Listen. Teach and be taught. Prophesy. Exhort. This is all stuff you do when you’re together. When your neighbors ask you what you are doing together, tell them. We’re having church!
10. ENJOY YOURSELF, BECAUSE YOU WILL DIE EVENTUALLY.
Ecclesiastes should be the only book you’re allowed to study in seminary. Dude, all your plans are dust in the wind! Time is short. Five years ago, I lost two comrades who were doing exactly what I’m talking about here. They had dreams, plans, hope. They wanted to see their neighborhoods impacted for the kingdom of God. They had passion. When I think about some of the hardships I’ve been through over the past ten years, it’s helpful to remember Mark and Chad. They deserve my sacrifice. But I think they also would want me to throughly enjoy this life as well. Live in the freedom of the kingdom and invite others to come along for the ride. That is our resistance. That is how I want to honor my fallen brothers. Ministry is taken so seriously in this country. People strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. What if Jesus is simply waiting for us to trust him? Take him seriously at his word.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” – Rev. 21:5