(In the Life of the Church)
June 15, 2014
(While Josh is away on sabbatical, Craig will be writing the newsletter. Which means you should expect less Harry Potter and more Hank Williams.)
Unique Challenges of Being Church in Waco
(The thoughts expressed in the following post were inspired by conversations I've been having with Michael Laminack, a Truett student doing his mentoring at UBC this summer. And before I even begin writing, I'm guessing that by the end of the post I will need to have this disclaimer, which I'll go ahead and write at the outset: The opinions expressed in this section of the newsletter are those of its author, Craig Nash, and may not reflect those of others within the leadership of UBC.)
In the beginning, there were those who walked with Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, who went out into the world proclaiming a message of hope, redemption and transformation. Wherever communities accepted this message and chose to follow the resurrected Christ, they began meeting regularly. They prayed, shared the Holy Meal together, heard words of edification from their Scriptures and sang a hymn or two. As these communities grew and endeavored to be the body of Christ in the world, they would occasionally receive instruction, guidance, and, sometimes, correction from the apostles scattered throughout the Middle East and Europe. (Later, bishops would take the place of the apostles.) But for the most part, Christian formation was fleshed out primarily within the context of the local community.
Fast forward to, say, "Little House on the Prairie" days, and things looked much the same. Walnut Grove had their own church and minister, located in the center of town. Christian life and formation of individuals happened primarily among those who worshiped with each other on Sundays. Even in urban areas that had more denominational options, people had "their" church, located in close geographic proximity to them, and this was the context from which they became disciples.
Then the automobile came along and changed everything. Individuals seeking Christian community could now not only choose from a particular denomination of church, they were no longer bound by geography and could drive across or out of town to be part of a particular church.
But through all this, one thing remained constant: Christian formation occurred mostly within the context of one local church body for each individual believer. Like minded churches may have formed (or were formed by) larger bodies to help facilitate their "like-mindedness" and to work together on endeavors that would be difficult to do alone. And certainly those who could read and had access to the writings of other Christians could learn new things from books. But still, individuals fleshed out what it means to follow Jesus primarily within a local church.
I believe that for the majority of the Christian world, this still is how people receive Christian formation. But, as in many other areas, Waco, TX is not like the rest of the world.
In most of the rest of the world, Sundays are when Christians gather in their local expressions of "church" for worship and times of formation. Throughout the week they may meet on another night for prayer, or in someone else's home for a meal or Bible Study. These times with the "church family" are small islands of proclamation and formation in a sea of living out faith through careers, hobbies, families, etc. Life is a weekly series of ebbs and flows between being sent out into the world and gathering together as the church.
In Waco, especially if you are a Baylor student (the dominant demographic of our church,) these ebbs and flows are often reversed. Opportunities for proclamation and formation between Sundays are legion. To be sure, this brings about many advantages, but there are challenges. I don't have space to go into each in depth, but I'll touch on two of these challenges in hope that it will invite thought and conversation.
1. In our particular context, the lines surrounding what is considered "my" church are blurred. It is not uncommon in our city for someone to attend services at one church on Sunday morning, a Bible Study with another church on Sunday night, participate in an on-campus worship service on Monday night, and attend a small group for a third church somewhere else during the week. Throw in a Wednesday night service here and a public prayer session at a coffee shop there, and you've got a lot of devotion, but little identification with one distinct group of people that helps shape your faith.
Some may say this is a good thing, and it certainly can be in many ways. But it begs several questions: Which community am I going to be most shaped by? When I need guidance, which church or ministry am I going to go to? If I go to more than one, and they provide me with different answers (or a whole new set of questions) from each other, which will I defer to?
From the church's perspective, it begs other questions: When we seek the "voice of the people" on a particular matter, who do we give our ears to? Those who tithe? Those who attend somewhat regularly? Someone who visited us a couple of times when they first moved to Waco, decided they like us, never came back but still call us "their" church when asked?
2. Among pretty much all the churches and ministries in Waco, there is at the very least a spirit of cordiality and, sometimes even, of cooperation. We are all trying to figure out how to best be transformed by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But having the same goal does not mean we have come to the same conclusions on important matters of faith.
For many years UBC was accused of being defined more by what (and who) we are against than what (and who) we are for. This accusation was fair and accurate, and I am thankful we have taken positive steps in eliminating the snark and negativity that we were known for. With that said, in a town such as ours it can sometimes be necessary to point out our differences with how others approach faith. Because while those differences are often important, they are rarely immediately evident. It is only fair to those who have a sea of options of how they will be formed to know the distinctives (i.e., what sets it apart) of a given faith community. The challenge is figuring out how to do this clearly and deliberately, while also retaining the cordiality and cooperation with other churches and ministries in town who are also ministering to people-- sometimes the same people we are also ministering to.
Sundays and Wednesdays
Things around the church have been especially slow this summer. One exception, however, has been our summer Sunday School and Wednesday night enneagram conversation. We've engaged in very meaningful conversations about formation, discipleship, and understanding ourselves in light of how God has created us each individually. We've had great response to both of these times of formation. There's only a few weeks left in the summer, but it isn't too late to join us! Sunday School is on Sunday (of course) at 9:30am. For Wednesdays we meet at 6:00pm for dinner and begin talking about the enneagram at 6:30.
Garage Sale Sorting
The next Garage Sale Sorting day will be Sunday, July 27th after church. Put it on your calendar!
Work is Worship, July 20
Coffee Makers: Sarah Joyave and Vince Cooley
Mug Cleaners: Crystal and Dylan Adams
Greeters: Still needed
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