I could probably write an entire book about our six month experience in church planting… from a perspective few have shared. Jamie and I weren’t staff; the church planting lingo would refer to us as part of the “core team,” or “leadership team.” This translated to being full-time volunteers. On the weekends, we focused on K-5 programming and during the week, I helped with childcare at the church building for staff and new families. I also met with women during the week, teaching them about the tenets of the Christian faith. I look back on the time with such sweet fondness. During that season, I learned about the importance of discipleship, the need for ministries supporting single parents, and how easy it is to let the “business” of church completely suffocate the work of the Holy Spirit. Despite our earnest desire to live out the Acts Church, our naiveté would eventually, over the next two years, come to head-on collisions with several manifestations of the Western Church… aka: the Modern Institution of 501(c)3 Church, or what I like to refer to as the “Business Model Church.”
So, before I go any further, I want to say this: I LOVE the Church. LOVE IT. I run the risk of sounding hyper-critical and judgmental when I voice my frustrations, definitely not a reflection of my heart. It also becomes increasingly easy for others to become acutely sensitive to comments, critiques, and criticisms when they are hardly buffered with equal amounts of encouragement and almost completely void of grace. I would soon become painfully aware how easy it was for leadership to avoid accountability by accusing others of being divisive, or my personal favorite, “refusing to submit to authority.” But, as I started taking classes in seminary, I quickly began to see that so many of my “issues” with the Church weren’t just mine. I also began to appreciate that wasting time and energy on placing blame for the current state of the Church in America was neither fruitful, nor healthy. (I wish I figured that one out sooner!) But, neither is ignoring the problem(s). So we find ourselves at an impasse as we try to answer an extremely important question:
How do we address the problems of the American Church in a way that honors the Lord, sifts out the lies and deceivers, lovingly corrects those who have strayed from the truth and gives testimony to the lost?
Well… I don’t have an easy, definitive answer to that questions, but I think the first step is all about sticking to the basics: discipleship. Ironically, writing this in 2019, over five years removed from our time in Rhode Island, discipleship has become a focal point in many Christian circles. But, that wasn’t the case prior to our church planting days. And, unfortunately, that was never a part of my upbringing in the church. I knew how to show up on Sunday (and Wednesday nights), how to serve, and how to read my Bible. But, ask me to teach someone else about the Bible… ANYTHING in the Bible…. forget it. I had absolutely no idea where to start, which led me on one of the greatest adventures of my life: seminary.
Interestingly, our pastor gives this pronouncement to the congregation every couple of months: You don’t need a seminary degree to do this thing. In theory, that might be true. But, in my case… I DID have to go to seminary because no one in my life could teach me how to study my Bible and I had absolutely no idea how to teach myself. Another interesting fact: osmosis isn’t the greatest method of Bible study. Sure… I was able to remember most of the 10 Commandments, differentiate between Noah, Moses, and David, and explain some elementary elements of the gospel. But, no way in the world could I walk someone through grace, sanctification, and a life surrendered to Jesus, something I was now expected to do. And, I would soon confront these crucial principles in my own growth and faith as a believer… because I was about to confront the obstacle of sin in the lives of others.