By Caleb Jones
For as long as I can remember, I’ve spent my Sunday mornings attending a worship service with only two notable exceptions. The 1st stretch of “no church” came when I moved to Lynchburg, Virginia, and for a good 3 months I just didn't go to church on Sunday. I wasn’t rebelling or anything like that, I was actually suffering from option paralysis. A friend of mine said the same thing about moving to Nashville: “Where do you go to church when everybody goes to church?!?” There was even a campus church in the gym, but I wasn’t interested in attending a service -- I needed a church. I moved to Lynchburg without knowing anyone, so I didn't have anybody close at the time calling me out on skipping it. Everybody was going to a million different churches. The attitude wasn’t far off from a youth group being dropped off at a mall food court: “Get something to eat from wherever you like, but be back on the bus in 45 minutes or we are leaving you!” It really wasn’t until I started dating Crystal that we, together, began to hunt for a place to worship.
The next stretch of missing Sunday morning worship came out of necessity. I had resigned from my job as a children’s minister to pursue learning how a church that met in a school cafeteria and in peoples’ houses worked. I went back into working as a cook at a local restaurant (something I enjoy), but because I was the new guy I didn't get to pick my shifts, so I was the Omelette guy for Sunday brunch for a while. I gotta tell you, there is nothing funnier than people that knew you in a ministry context trying to figure out what to say to you when you are making them a western omelette and banana pancake. They immediately feel the need to justify why THEY aren't in church, and also assume something terrible must have happened for me to fall so low as to be serving them food! The horror! (The tips were good though.)
Well, now we’ve entered a new season as a church, and for the last 4 weeks I haven't been going to bed early on Saturday night and when I wake up Sunday morning I haven't really had any place to rush off to. We are gathering at 4pm AND IT IS WONDERFUL! We don't have to do set up and tear down of our equipment. We have truly entered into a season of rest with our gatherings, focusing on the essentials (devoting ourselves to the teaching of the Bible, fellowship, dedicated prayer, communion, and music that weaves it all together), so that we can give all our energy during the week to the pursuit of local mission for the good of the City. So when someone began talking about meeting at Treaty Park EVERY Sunday morning as a way to be together, to love one another, and to live this life of faith on display, immediately the voice in my head said “Noooooooooooo!” I just got this time freed up! I was completely fine with the idea of THEM doing something at the park every Sunday, but I wanted the freedom to go do other stuff (or nothing at all). Plus, it wasn’t really my idea. I didn't come up with it, so I didn't have to be that involved, right? It’s THEIR mission, not mine. I, me, one of the guys desiring to lead our church in local mission, was having a problem with giving of myself to this group wanting to be on local mission!
Before we moved our service time and location, we had a well defined goal for this missional community. We meet for Sunday service at 10am and were home by 1pm for lunch and naps, then 6 families with roughly 20 kids would gather for a meal on Sunday evenings. We jokingly called it OMC, Organized Mass Chaos, and its mission was for us to fellowship and provide a place where anyone who visited our Sunday service could immediately connect with us. Now that our worship service was in the afternoon, we had to rethink the mission. The first trap we had to avoid was doing the exact same thing we were doing, just at a different time. We realized that we would be wasting an opportunity if all we did on Sunday mornings was gather to share a meal at our houses. We were now gathering at a time of the day when, anywhere we went, we would be around people not connected to a local church. We couldn’t hide away in our houses and keep it to ourselves, we had to give ourselves to the city. The second trap we had to avoid was the one I discussed above. Someone in my group had identified a place and a people where we should go and be the light of Christ. I couldn’t hide away by keeping my own schedule all to myself, I had to give myself to my church family.
So we are doing it! For the next 8 weeks, we will gather at Treaty Park to play basketball, baseball, skate, play on the playground, and share food, all with the goal of hopefully meeting people who will know that we are Christians by the love we have one for another. We’ve got a few weeks until Easter, so we might be able to invite some people to join us as we celebrate the day Jesus defeated death! That is what we are praying for in faith. The urging of Ephesians 4 is unity in the body of Christ, and I think living our lives on mission, spending so much time with one another, is all but impossible without the spirit equipping us in humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love eager to maintain the unity of the spirit and the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:2-3). Jesus made this life possible and he gave us the apostles, the prophets, the evangelist, the shepherds, to equip the saints for the work of ministry , for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-12). The idea that everyone has not only a gift that they are to offer the rest of the church and our city, but they ARE the gift, makes my once weak understanding of Ephesians 4 so much more robust!