Saturday, August 25, 2012

Greensboro does NOT need another church

There are a bazillion churches in my city. In fact, on the street where our current (until tomorrow) church is now has probably 14.  Greensboro was actually voted one of the most "religious" cities by some magazine a few years back.

So why in the world would we want to plant a new church HERE?

It is hard to answer that question without sounding like I am bashing traditional church. I have written and rewritten this post a million times trying not to sound bash-y. So let me just start by saying I am NOT bashing traditional church.  We've spent the last seven years in a traditional church and I have seen God at work there.  I think traditional church is reaching people, just not all people. So just kinda remember I'm not doing any bashing. 'Kay, great. Read on:

There is a way to reach people that looks a lot more like how Jesus did it than by the way we've been "doing church."  I think part of what the church is missing out on is engaging with people who don't know Jesus, getting to know them, entangling our lives together so that they can see who Jesus is.  We need to get rid of this "us vs them" mentality. God made it clear: there is no us and them. It's just us.

God has called us to do a heck of a lot more than sit in a circle in a pretty church building once or twice a week and discuss how the Bible applies to our lives. He has called us to much more important things than political standoffs. We are to be more than a great music service.  I fear that many Christians are so involved in "doing church" that they don't actually have time to go reach folks who are hurting and need Jesus. If all of our time is spent inside church walls, who is being the hands & feet of Christ in the city?

Think of it this way. When a missionary is going to go live in another country, he/she studies the culture, learns how the people there think and how they live.  And then that missionary explains Jesus in the context of that culture. The message never changes, but the presentation does.  Bringing "Western Christianity" into parts of rural Africa would be (and has been) a complete disaster. Right?

Well, culture here is changing. It's not the same as it was fifty years ago, or even twenty years ago. Yet we haven't really changed the way we "do church."  I fear that because of this, the way we share the message of Jesus is becoming irrelevant in our culture.  And I know a lot of people who are very turned off by "organized religion" and by church in general.  I have some friends who would definitely not step foot in a church mainly because it's just that: a church.

Our culture is increasingly post-modern and post-Christian. It boils down to this: when I was growing up, our culture was about increasing our knowledge. The thought was: know enough, find enough answers, and you'll be satisifed. For Christianity it meant learn your religion, know your stuff. Give lots of info to folks and they'll get to know Jesus. There's nothing wrong with any of that.

The problem is that post-modern culture isn't so concerned with how much you know. In fact, value is now placed on there being no "absolute truth;" how much you know is now not as important as what you do.  I think a lot of folks are looking at churches wondering why they aren't DOING anything (other than increasing knowledge).  Our youth told us years ago that they don't think Sunday School is an effective way for them to learn about Jesus. They wanted to do things like MSG (Mission to Serve Greensboro) instead - an opportunity they thought up themselves where they went out once a week to serve (dinners for the homeless, bingo at a nursing home, etc).  People want to DO, rather than learn the facts. I think lots of people in today's culture are going to learn more about Jesus by doing something (serving with us, doing regular life things with us) than by going to a church building and learning about Him.

I see this in my own children. They spent HOURS at church every week: Sunday School, AWANA, children's choir.  They have wonderful Sunday School teachers and they've learned some great Bible stories in that setting. But our family adopting Amani and the kids seeing what adoption looks like; and the kids coming along with me to the tent city; hearing me talk regularly about my homeless friends, investing in those relationships - those things have taught them more about what it means to live for Jesus than what they have learned within the church walls. That's not to say we shouldn't read our Bibles - it's just that my kids are hearing the Bible stories AND living it out at the same time.  That's how I want them to learn about Jesus.

And God has been tearing our hearts up about how American Christianity is missing the mark: focusing on ourselves, being a country full of rich people praying to get richer, trying to win "converts" by arguing with people over their lifestyles, focusing on politics over the grace and peace of Christ.  He's torn our hearts up so much that we can no longer serve him within the context of traditional church. We want to make disciples, not converts.  We want only to show the love of Christ to our city by serving them and let those folks know He loves them.  He can do the rest.  He's calling us to reach out to that group that traditional church isn't reaching: folks who NEVER want to set foot in a church. Because they've been hurt by the church, because they think it's full of a bunch of self-righteous hypocrites, whatever the reason.

So here we go. Tomorrow's our last day at the church where we've served for seven years. And we're starting something new.  Missio Dei is our new community of faith; where the "program" we focus on the least will be Sunday morning services and what we focus on the most is living out the gospel by serving the city. We want to be there for our neighbors, we want to love "the least of these," we want to live out what it means to follow Jesus, instead of "going to church." It's not that we have all the answers or that we think we've figured out the "right" way to follow Jesus. It's just the calling God has placed upon our hearts and the hearts of those who are joining this journey with us.

Greensboro doesn't need another church that's just like all the ones we have here. We have a bazillion churches but still have homelessness, still have racism, still have hatred, still have over 250,000 folks in the county with no faith affiliation.  I do think there's a place for Missio Dei and I'm honored and excited and humbled to get to be a part of what God's doing in Greensboro.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Saying Goodbye...

I cried when we left Texas. A lot.  Actually, I cried the day we committed to coming to Friendly Avenue Baptist Church so far away in Greensboro, North Carolina.  I knew it was time for us to leave Texas, for Rob to start working full-time in ministry, but I cried all the same. I loved our little Texas country church; the youth and families there were my world. It was so hard to leave.

Seven years later, I cry because we are stepping out from that church. I love our big city church; the youth and their families here are my world. It is going to be so hard to leave.

I haven't posted much about our church plant stuff mainly because it hasn't officially started yet. We have one more Sunday at our current church but last week was our last youth group.

I'm not sure I can even begin to describe what happened that night!  I knew they were planning to do something but I had no idea what.

One of the moms came into youth group and said that they needed everyone downstairs right away.  Rob & I were supposed to wait a little bit, then come. When we walked in, everyone was wearing t-shirts with Rob's face on the front and "10 things Rob Cassell says" on the back! And it wasn't just the youth - some of our old youth were there and so were more youth parents and friends. We were definitely surprised. They had decorated the tables in Wake Forest colors and put Castles (get it? Cassells?) on every table.  We shared dinner and cake from my FAVORITE cake-maker - Granny Brady!

Then lots of the youth had brought little gifts for Rob that reminded them of him. They each took turns coming to the front to give him the gift and explain the meaning behind it.  I really wish I had had my video camera with me. Some were really funny, like a piece of cheese because he's cheesy and a book full of random trivia because he knows tons of useless information. Others were really sweet. The kids told Rob over and over how much he meant to them and how much he'd taught them. I don't think he really ever knew just how much of an impact he's made. They gave him a book full of pictures of them along with letters and notes. Do I even need to tell you how much I cried?

On top of that, they'd put together a slide show of pictures. We've been here seven years. It feels like forever and the blink of an eye all at once. When we moved, we had no family here, no one we knew nearby. In seven short years, the youth families of our church became our family. They were there for the birth of our first two children and they carried us in their hearts through our adoption of Amani. They waited outside in the cold at our house for almost two hours just to be there when we drove into the driveway when we finally got him home. The parents of the youth have taught me so much. I watched them as they handled the "teenage years" and how they have allowed their children to go serve God when they were called.

And what a joy and an honor it has been to watch our youth grow up. Some of our youth are now married, some even with kids! Others are leaving for college in the next two weeks. The ones who have graduated have turned into church leaders, spent summers in Africa, are serving in the military, are amazing parents, are getting their PhDs. They are following their dreams, from teaching to hairstyling!  We've seen the ones still in school figure out exactly what it means to follow Christ; how to live for Him and are leaders on their sports teams, at school, in the band. We've seen them tackle their struggles with grace and persistence. These kids are awesome. Maybe I'm biased, but there is an entire group of youth that I hope my children turn out like. These kids are that incredible.

I know without a doubt that we are to plant a church. I know our next step is to be a part of a community called Missio Dei and that God is calling us to follow Jesus in a way that doesn't allow us to stay at our current church. And I'm excited.  But the hard part for me is leaving the youth and their families. We've been in youth ministry for 10 years, 7 of them with these families. We love them dearly.

Thank you, FABC youth families. Wednesday night was amazing. I'm not sure it's possible to feel more loved. And I woke up the next morning so thankful that we have not been called to leave Greensboro. We are still here - y'all know exactly where to find us. We might not get to play as active a role in your lives as we'd like, but I hope you all know we are always here for you.