Moving Into the Neighborhood

I have a tradition.  It is a somewhat private tradition but I doubt it has gone completely unnoticed among my longtime friends.  Pretty much every time I gather with friends at dinner, I pause for a moment, take a small piece of bread and dip it in my beverage of choice (and eat it).  This is for me a touchstone, a creative linking of my dinner with friends with Jesus’ last meal with his friend.  As I dip the bread, I pause, breathe deeply and let my imagination take over enabling the sacredness of that meal to cover my simple dinner. Over the years, this has become an important element of my eating with friends whether at homes or in restaurants.

As I read David Fitch’s post, this image of friends gathered around the table connecting to an ancient–but ever-living meal—passed through my mind.

David, a church planter and author, takes his latest blog post to share another new model of doing ministry in the 21st century.  His model is that instead of sending one pastor to plant a new church (which we are finding is less and less successful) we instead fund 3-4 leaders (or 2 couples).  Here is the exciting part: we’d fund these two couples with health insurance and a housing stipend (for 2 years) and they would move into a community, get secular jobs and spend something like 15 hours weekly starting, building and deepening Christian community right were they live.  So no church buildings, no clergy salaries—all very local, organic and indigenous to each community.

I love this.  As someone who works with others on congregation development (Cal-Pac Conference UMC), I will take this to our next meeting to hear what is thought of this model.

I can think of a couple great 20 & 30 somethings who would do this well.  They like people, are good at connecting, and love God. They aren’t great at filling out forms, having someone older tell them what to do, or going to meetings and this kind of ministry won’t require what is often a challenge for many. So instead of  sending them to an outdated seminary, giving them an impossible ministry assignment and hoping for the best, we send them out in community to build Christian community.

I do think this is a workable model especially as I experience fewer and fewer clergy (young 20 & 30 somethings, but also 40 & 50 somethings) interested in doing a traditional church plant or sometimes even taking on a traditional church. This last appointment season I had several conversations where I was honestly asked things like…Why inherit a mess 20 years in the making?   Why become isolated & busy?  Why try and save the world while you loose your soul

So on one level there is the need to look at other models in this changing world.  But there is another part too—the part that says, people are looking for something different than a Sunday morning pick-me-up; they are looking to find out how to live everyday life.

This links up with a report I was reading on the spiritual life of young adults.  I have been reading up on what the UMC in the Western Jurisdiction is doing that is outside the box.  In “Berkeley Students Find a Home at Wesley House,” I read how UM Campus minister, Rev Tarah Trueblood wasn’t getting anyplace with student ministry offerings and she realized (and see how familiar this sounds!), “That model doesn’t work anymore.”

So Rev. Tarah (who the article says had a background in “corporate, finance and securities law before entering seminary”), found a way to build new student housing for 89 students who want to share an environment of “intentional living.” She sites the study done by the Higher Education Research Institute on Spirituality in Higher Education .  This 7-year study, which collected data from 14,527 students from 136 colleges, found that young adults grew spiritually (and see if this sounds familiar) when spirituality was more integrated with the totality of life.

Does this “moving into the neighborhood” (Jn 1:14) in both Fitch’s post and Trueblood’s campus ministry line up with the hungers in our hearts and the hearts of those in our world? I think it does.

Tonight, I gather with friends to raise funds for a worthy cause. I may have a chance to dip a piece of bread in the wine and remember the Last Supper.  I hope I do. But even if I don’t, I am certain that my joining together with others to raise money to fund cancer research is one way that I can take Jesus and his kingdom into the world. There are, of course, many others.

And, I think this is the kind of church experience people are thirsty for.