Pastor’s Corner July 1, 2018

Divergent Church
 
I recently read an article about Tim Shapiro and Kara Faris’ new book Divergent Church: The Bright Promise of Alternative Faith Communities. The book focuses on doing church differently, and, even though the ways seem unconventional, they are rooted in deep faith practices.

The typical Christian life is going through changes. Our country has changed. Communities of faith need to take risks and be innovative in making Church relatable again. This book explores some possibilities for offering several ways to experience God at work in the world.

Two quick lessons I learned in my first church internship involved unconventional church and fear around risk: The first involved an existing contemporary service on Sunday morning. It was decided to try the service downstairs in the fellowship hall to help with interruptions by the other two services and to have worship in a space that wasn’t the typical “church” feel in hopes to reach people uncomfortable in a church. After about a month, the senior pastor had received so much anonymous criticism letters he moved the service back upstairs to the sanctuary. The contemporary service continued to be the “middle child” of the congregation, never receiving the support or respect it deserved.
The second involved my intern church reopening a closed UMC in a neighboring town. The church sat in a Hispanic neighborhood with Spanish as the primary language. A team was put together to lead Sunday worship and then cook and serve a free dinner on Tuesdays. Over 120 people ate on Tuesdays. Families who may have otherwise gone without were given food. Sunday worship did not grow. Soon, the elaborate home-cooked meal turned into cheap alternatives and quick meals with little prep time. Sunday worship did not grow. The new church shut its doors. I overheard the original team talking right before it closed, and their reason for stopping was because they were fixing nice meals, and all “those people wanted was food” and didn’t come to our church.

Traditional church is still very needed. Also, new, innovative ways of doing church are still very needed. Just as we all learn differently and through different means, we all experience God in different ways. These divergent churches explored in Shapiro and Faris’ book are nontraditional, possibly unusual, but are serving as people’s main congregational gathering, providing spiritual formation, connection, and a sense of identity.

I share these stories not to point and scoff, but because they have shaped my ministry and affected my theology. I will never forget that conversation I overheard or the drastic effects those decisions had on that church community. I also learned the importance of holy risk-taking, or also how we like to say, following the holy spirit. It can lead us down paths that seem not worth our energy, money, and time. But, introducing someone to God’s love is the name of our game.
Come talk to me about your holy risk-taking ideas!

Pastor Sami