I have greatly enjoyed reading your blog. Very exciting stuff! My husband and I and our children live in [a small, growing town]. We want a church here in our community like the one you talk about.
We have a Church of Christ here — a very small, old congregation that is in a time warp.
Last year we visited local churches: the Church of Christ I already talked about, a Christian Church and three Baptist Churches. Most meet in schools because they are so new. We ended up going back to our church back home because of our friends there, not so much the church.
How could we go about starting a church more like University? Or should we just get over the rock and roll bands and join a fellowship of Christians in our community that is already established? Just interested in your opinion.
Without knowing a lot more about the churches in your new town, I really don’t know the answer. But let me offer some thoughts on how to pick a church. This is actually from a lesson I taught, oh, 30 years ago, shortly after graduating from Lipscomb.
In my years in Nashville, I found it hard to pick a church as there were so many! Do I pick based on the best covered dish meal (I was in college and this seemed very important at the time)? best preacher? convenience?
Eventually I decided that the overriding question is: which church will best help me and my children become like Jesus? To be more concrete —
* Which church will best encourage me to serve like Jesus served?
* Which church will best encourage my children to serve like Jesus served? Will the church help them choose a life of vocational ministry? to be part of a church plant team? to be missionaries? full-time ministers?
(That’s a lot different from: which church do my kids enjoy? or which church has the most dynamic teen program?)
Now, ironically enough, sometimes a small, struggling church is exactly what a family needs. It might push the adults to get involved, to lead, to press for change. It may encourage the children to rely on Jesus rather than the youth minister, to serve rather than be catered to.
Of course, some small, struggling churches are small and struggling because they teach a flawed gospel and care little about God’s mission to the lost.
Then again, a larger, better led church may well be exactly right — as there are more places to fit in, better teaching, and more opportunities to serve. It may be large because it takes God’s mission seriously.
Or it may be large because it teaches a consumerist Christianity than appeals to the members’ self-interest.
I know men who have been made great servants of Christ by their struggle to change a struggling, spiritually weak church. I know men who’ve been destroyed by such churches. And I would never risk a child’s soul on the hope of fixing a spiritually sick church.
In short, which church will best push and cajole and equip and motivate me and my children to serve in God’s mission to the lost and the hurting? This outweighs all questions of music, classes, preachers — and even covered dish meals.
Now, doctrine matters, but no church has perfect doctrine (except University, of course 😉 ) Doctrinal perfection is nothing compared to servanthood. Nonetheless, there are limits to what even I can stand. I mean, I don’t think I’ll be taking my kids to a church that teaches snake handling! And I think we in the Churches of Christ have turned “sound doctrine” into an idol, making it more important than being like Jesus. Nonetheless, there are limits. I’ll be trying to sort this out in a future post or two, if I can.
Finally, I would not start a new church unless no existing church adequately met the spiritual needs of my family. I mean, there are already far too many churches. Philosophically, I like big churches because they reflect actual, meaningful unity and they can bring immense resources to Kingdom work. Therefore, new churches need to have a very good reason for being started. And a cappella music definitely isn’t a good enough reason to divide God’s people.
PS — I place this post under “The Future of the Progressive Churches of Christ” as this is a question that will come up more and more as we become less sectarian, worship Jesus more and doctrine less, and find our options expanding.