Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Don't Play Church

With fear and trepidation Steve and I joined another couple to lead a small group of young adults. I do not say that lightly. The four of us realized there was a deep need and gap for the 18-26 year olds at our church. We kept hoping someone would step into that spot and fill it.
There were conversations and meetings to determine if it could be something our church could do. A young woman started the fire burning in me, and we then met with our pastor. The idea was shelved for a little while because we were still unsure of who was going to lead this group.
Be careful. If God makes you aware of a need there’s a good chance you are going to be the one he asks to invest and/or fulfil that need.
Guess what?
The Young Adult group started. And who was leading it? You got it. The Mohrs and the Rehnborgs.
We advertised. We would meet on Sunday nights in the Mohrs home. We wondered if anyone would show. What in the world were we doing? We were flying blind and by the seat of our pants. I’m serious we didn’t have a clue what we were doing. And the four of us met weekly at our local Mexican restaurant and often would stay past closing because we were so engrossed in the planning and praying for this group. We talked about fairy tales and children’s stories. We talked about how to reach a generation that we didn’t understand and certainly didn’t understand us.
But we moved forward. God just kept waving us forward. Every excuse we conjured, every weakness we employed He kept saying there’s a need. This group is being lost between the cracks. Do this. I will supply everything you need.
The first night came. My hands were sweating. My mind was blank. We prayed. And prayed. And we prayed some more. We knew if God were not present; if he did not come and intervene this whole endeavor would be lost.
But they came. More than we ever dreamed. And we looked around the room and thought God, God what are you doing? Who are we to be in the middle of this?
Then we had another meeting. And another. More young adults came. I don’t think it was what any one of them were expecting. And this certainly wasn’t what we expected.
God was doing a new thing. In us. In them. How do I know this?
At one point someone in the group boldly talked about the church. About people our age. They talked about how unhappy we always are. About how we are all about rules and regulations. And that we are judgmental.
And that’s when it happened. God knows what he is doing. God does call us to minister to others, but in that ministering we, too, will be changed. Jeff, one of the leaders, looked at these young men and women. I watched him scan the room, look at the faces.
He took a deep breath and he apologized.
He apologized for our generation (40-50+). He apologized that we had let them down. That we had not offered them something better. That we had made church about doctrine, dogma and discipline. We had made the Good News of the Gospel into a heavy weight. One that is too heavy and a constricting.
I wish you could have seen their faces. I wish video had been running unseen and undetected. We were all stunned. Even the leader who spoke the words. The three other leaders were hit full force with the truth of his words. And as we watched the students’ faces we knew. We knew that this apology had struck a very deep nerve. I watched their faces. Breath held. Tears sliding. Prayers whispering.
The room was silent. Slack-jawed. Then one young woman spoke up and out. She looked at him and then at the four of us and said No one has ever said anything like that to us before. No one has ever apologized. Ever.
And my heart broke into little pieces.
No, we haven’t.
That apology and response started a dialogue that hasn’t stopped. Questions like what is church? What should it be? What shouldn’t it be? What does the Body of Christ really look like? What is essential? Not only were the students asking these questions but the four of us have been asking them ever since.
That night’s meeting set the pace and the path for this group. Attendance has grown and waned. There have been nights that have been phenomenal and nights that were off.
But many of them keep coming back.
This group amazes me. I love people, but I have a particular fondness for this age group. They are on the cusp of so many things. They are at the edge moving both out and in. They still have an intrepidness and a lack of inhibition that is beautiful to see. They are becoming men and women—the ones who will lead and shape the future.
I’ve watched this group. They are a church. They are the called-out ones of Jesus. Never have I seen such a diverse group of people in my life. And that’s the honest truth.
They are trying to find faith. They are looking for purpose. They are hungry for something, someone, who is real. They don’t like pretension. They don’t like fake. They don’t like self-righteousness. They can be a somewhat arrogant. They can be a little apathetic. They can be a slightly argumentative. But aren’t we all?
But generosity? Taking care of the least of these? More than once I have watched this group take care of someone. Three instances come to my mind.
A young couple who are part of the group had to deal with a catastrophic health issue. It was a horrible situation. We sent the group out one night. Told them to put together a care package for the couple. They split into two groups, assigned duties and left. They came back and poured their bounty on the floor. And we, the leaders, sat up. We paid attention because of their thoughtfulness and generosity.  They packed that gift package with gift cards for gas, for groceries and for local restaurants. They picked out movies and little things just to make the couple feel better. Then they delivered it, and the group sang This Little Light of Mine and prayed with them. And the couple cried.
The second time they blew us away we had another young couple who were in financial bind. This group pulled their resources together and handed the couple over $300 to offset the crisis.
The third time one of the guys of our group had to work. He tried and tried to get his shift changed so he could come to group. He didn’t want to miss, but no one wanted his shift. His day had been horrible—the nightmare day in the food-waiting tables industry: people—hateful and stingy and demanding. The group decided the best thing we could do was pack up and head out to Cracker Barrel. So we did. When we got there one of the girls in our group went to the hostess and explained we needed a table for twelve and we wanted Nathan’s section. We were standing where Nathan could not see us, but a few of us could see him. When the hostess told him (an hour before he was to get off) he had a twelve-topper table his face dropped. Then hostess explained he had been specifically requested.
Wait a minute. What was the name they gave?
The hostess told him and he realized it was us. And his face broke into a smile.
They led us to our table. Nathan followed beaming. And we were beaming. This is what the Body of Christ does! When someone is having a bad day, when things are just not going right we come and be like Jesus.
That night I watched this group of young adults lay out a tip that was outrageous. Extravagant.
And our precious waiter was stunned. He who had had a bad day, who hadn’t reacted as he thought he should have, felt the blessing and favor of God. And his coworkers got to watch him transform and asked who we were. He told them.
How thrilled we leaders were to be associated with this group—that we got to sit at the edge of them and watch God work. We were privileged to see what the Body does when it is following in the footsteps of Jesus.
Now, is doctrine important? Yes. But doctrine without love, without action is just a harness that attaches us to the yoke. We watched these kids put a cloak of flesh on doctrine’s shoulders.
Jesus said love your neighbor as yourself. He said give and it will be given to you—pressed down, shaken together and running over. He said you will reap what you sow.
These young adults fleshed out the Gospel.
This is truly the good news of the Gospel:  Jesus loves us. He cares for us. And he calls us to live a life worthy of his calling.
And we do that not by playing church but by being the church.
Part of our Group at Cracker Barrel--Nathan is standing.


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