6.19.07 from the refuge blog….Can Church Really Be Church if We Don't Listen to Someone Talk?

Well in typical Refuge style we tried something a little out of the ordinary this past Sunday and at first glance it felt like a disaster. I realize, yet again, how foreign it is to not have the safety of a sanctuary with padded chairs, a perfectly timed worship set and a 30 minute inspirational message. We are all so programmed to think that is what “church” is that we forget that really none of that has to do with the original thought of living out the gospel.So our little experiment scared the hell out of me. (for those who perhaps think we have become too liberal, notice the subtle way in which I have included a theological word!) And it really shouldn’t have. Honestly, it was no big deal but it felt like it was this big crazy thing because we are so not used to doing church this way.

We actually didn’t meet for a regular service this past week. Instead, we gathered in the parking lot—no chairs, no music, no signs (we don’t have any anyway), no nothing. We didn’t even take an offering—now if you have ever been on a church staff, you know that is the cardinal no-no (please, oh please God, don’t forget how much we need the money!) We were just a group of people showing up for “church” together. Karl and I lamely shared our hope for the night (please, friends, forgive us for our lack of any sort of clarity but rest assured, in our heads it sounded good!)—that instead of sitting together in one large group we’d actually scatter and spread a little love, a little Jesus in some small way in the community. It was not to “serve” in the typical way we think of serving—serving has come to mean signing up to serve a meal to the homeless, go volunteer in the church nursery, or be on the greeter team (no greeter teams at The Refuge, sorry, we know some of you probably miss that smile at the door a little but it’s just really not our gig).

Our hope was just that we’d pass on some love to the least likely, in the least likely way.

We were wondering, what if “serving” was just “noticing” people? Who around us might need a smile, a little help, a little hope instead of making it so complicated or disqualifying ourselves because of time, perceved lack of spiritual maturity, or a myriad of other excuses? So we split up in teams, grabbed some bags of random stuff we put together to use in whatever way anyone wanted to, and we met back at Karl’s for dinner and conversation. Some people went home and didn’t feel like joining in, that was so okay (of course, my first reaction was feeling like we had let them down, disappointed them, they were expecting church and got this instead. Then sometime later today I was like “why am I thinking all of their thoughts for them, who knows what they might have done on the way home????)

There were some fun stories afterward..some people brought flowers and a card to a woman who had cancer, others brought thanks and cold drinks and toys to children’s hospital and blessed all of the nurses & staff there who serve the Broomfield community, others went and visited a co-worker who barely makes it every month and is trying to get some healing in her life and gave her some groceries, others played with kids at a park, payed for someone’s meal at Burger King, brought toys to a family with little kids and not too much resource…all different ways that we passed on, in some random tangible way, Jesus.

Why do we always think it has to be in the big things? And why are we so hooked on having to go to church for an hour and a half every week instead of just hanging out together? This experiment was a little contrived, no doubt. But I think that was the idea—we’d probably never naturally do any of those things . We’re just so caught up in the whirlwind of life and all of our inadequacies that we miss all of these opportunities to offer a cup of cold water to someone who is thirsty, feed someone who is hungry, visit someone who is in some kind of prison, love the least of these.

So it seems so simple, so natural to the way of Jesus, so why was it so risky? Because church has become known for being a place where similar people gather instead of scatter, a place where we are supposed to get fed (and inspired) instead of give hearts to each other. Do you think that’s what Jesus had in mind for church? Creating a community is completely different from building a church. Church planting advisors in the church growth model would tell us that was a pretty stupid thing to do, not meet, don’t take an offering, encourage people to get out of their comfort zones…. That is church growth suicide.

But I guess I am constantly reminded that really following Jesus means church growth can’t be the first thing in my mind. Learning how to be more loving towards people is. And learning to be better lovers requires practice and it also means we will have to risk. It means risking an offering, risking offending, risking numbers of bodies in seats, risking my pride. I want to be a person who is more willing to risk. I want The Refuge to be a place where people are more willing to risk. I want to be part of a community that is committed to Jesus and each other first and foremost and doesn’t really care if they are entertained or inspired. They just want to live a new way, a real way, a risky way, the way of Jesus.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

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