Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit and chat for a couple of hours with one of the guys who has recently started worshiping with Bedford Road Baptist Church. He had been a part of Grace Baptist Church several years ago and had become what we call a “spiritual wanderer” and Michael Frost calls “Exiles”. Although his family attended worship and participated in programs at a large church in our region, they never joined and in his own words never felt “a part of it.”
During our conversation, I found myself hearing my own voice except that my journey took place while I was involved in full-time ministry, even pastoring a church. It occurred to me that people like this guy were the very reason we wanted to start a church back in 2003, and the reason that we became so radically unorthodox during our time as Heritage Baptist Church.
It is easy to forget that Heritage Baptist Church did things that most congregations could never imagine doing. We completely redesigned our worship space around the ideas of relationship and the simplicity of a vision.
We radically changed the way we took offerings, sang songs, preached messages. The leaders learned how to say no to people who tried to turn us into every other Baptist church on the planet. We became unusual, even unexpected, and we loved it. In about a year, we became almost entirely different from what we were before.
But all those changes came about because we decided that if we were going to be a church, a congregation – if we were going to be a spiritual community – then we needed to be one thing above all else: REAL.
We needed to turn our backs on the expectations of what church “should be” and become what we were made to be. That meant some radical changes in thinking and methodology. For me, it meant a lot of attacks on my role in the ministries of our congregations.
But more than those things, it meant that people did not have to change in order to fit in. They did not have to “put on a Sunday face” for worship. We became comfortable in our spirituality, and walls came down.
This exposed sin in the lives of some people – pride, fear, doubt, hypocrisy, adultery even – and they left. It is amazing how easily people can hide their sin in a traditional, “Sunday best” church. Since people are not allowed to be real in church, they actually learn how to fake spirituality and let their own lusts and sins run wild outside of the confines of worship. And churches, focused on maintaing the illusion the fake spirituality of many creates, are unwilling to address sin as long as it stays “private.”
It is a sad thing, really.
In 2007, I almost left the ministry. I could not maintain the illusion anymore. As Rob Bell puts it, I took Super-Pastor out behind the barn and shot him. During the latter part of that year, God called me to something higher than being Super-Pastor. He freed me to be myself – to relish the joys of life and abandon the stereotype. Through His Word, I can know righteousness in Jesus without the strings attached of the unsaid but implied manual of conduct that most churches have and so many of us struggle to understand.
Over time, my own embracing of freedom has freed others to embrace it. People put down their Sunday best and became normal human beings, stumbling through life and faith together. The Church became something more than just a religious thing. It became a life thing.
And in the end, isn’t that where reality is? In life? Shouldn’t that be where our spirituality is at work? In life?