A Church for People Who Don’t Like Church:

A Reflection on the Praxis of being Church.

I have been involved in an organization that decided to plant a church here in Austin. We as a group sought to form an identity in this shared call to serve God’s mission in this area.

We began with informal planning sessions in late January 2008. We got together and in prayer we sought to figure out what God was calling us to and what our identity would be. This produced many thoughts and ideas.

Early on we sought to address a few thoughts that kept creeping up from friends and family that have left the church or that have never really joined a church. Judgmentalism, Dogma and Authoritarianism were common words we heard. One of the folks stated, “Who voluntarily joins an organization that takes an unhealthy interest in who your sleeping with, what movies you watch, whether your word choice remains at a constant PG rating? Why would I want to hang out with people that I could never be good enough for. Let alone go and worship their God and be vulnerable to them?”

We sensed a lot of distrust from people we spoke to. Not just from the secular people. Many existing churchy folks were suspicious as well. As this company of riff raff and hurting souls that are seeking to answer this call have come from mainline denominations.

In these meetings we came up with our mission statement.

Who We Are

We’re a group of folks in Austin who come together to worship, share a meal, and give of ourselves. Some of us were raised Baptist or Evangelical and speak of the saving power of Jesus. Others don’t self-identify as religious, but are drawn to something larger than ourselves. Still others identify as Catholic, Methodist, Presbyterian, that love our traditions, and come here feeling for something new

But we’re drawn—all of us—to Jesus’ command: love God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and might, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Our Common Ground

Community– It’s not good that people should be alone. We’re called to love our neighbors, and you need neighbors for that. You need people who will visit you in the hospital, and make a casserole for your family. You need people with whom to mourn your losses and celebrate your victories.

Charity– Whatever we do for the least, most vulnerable among us, we do for God. Pure religion is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress. We have been sent to bring good news to the poor, to let the oppressed go free.

Inquiry– Loving God with your entire mind is serious business. It means understanding our world, our selves, and our traditions through a critical, unflinching lens. But it means also thoughtfully pursuing and naming those Truths which we cannot quantify, reckoning no less rigorously with our deepest human longing and hope.

Spirituality– Meditation, prayer, fasting, the Eucharist—these are things which shape us from the inside-out, things which make space for a sacred encounter. People are at their most wonderfully dangerous when living out of a centered place.

We decided that we needed to form this community around mission in service to the community. We looked around for a “mission expression” that we could participate with. We discovered that there is a dire need for service to the homeless population.

Not with food or shelter but with those that are wrestling with addiction, specifically folks that are injecting drugs. They are at major risk of sharing needles and transmitting blood borne diseases such as HIV/Aids or Hepatitis C. The National Institute of Health estimates that in the United States, between fifteen and twenty percent of injection drug users have HIV and at least seventy percent have hepatitis C[1]. The presence of needle exchange programs has been attributed to a reduction of high-risk injection behavior by up to 74%[2]. Presently it is illegal to operate a clean needle exchange program in Texas. The only exception to the law is a pilot program in San Antonio. There is one that operates a “harm reduction” operation. This is the organization we sought to partner with.

I sent a letter to the director, asking if there was a way to partner with them in their endeavor to reduce harm in Austin to IV drug users. It was our hope to partner with them and provide financial and physical support by way of counseling to people in the program that desired to get clean.

As of today, just a few days before our first worship service, we have not heard back from this organization. We have decided to move forward in mission on our own and seek to reduce harm in the area. It is our hope that we will be a blessing to our neighbors.

I have never been a part of started a worshiping community before. I love that we got an opportunity to form a worshiping community around service to the neighborhood. In the formation of the church we were able to really ask the deep theological questions of our identity and purpose is in the area.

I really felt like we were answering the call on our lives. Sadly; I will be moving soon to Louisville, where I hope to continue this idea of church being church to serve the community in their needs. I am convicted that this is where I am called to serve.

We are called to be active in communities through out the world. We are to be the voice for those who have no voice, to be diligent in protecting the oppressed. To be engaged in communities in this missional posture is essential in engaging the current religious climate of today as we seek to be agents of change and vessels of transformation by the way of relationships. If we engaged the culture we will be allowed to serve as missional Christians ministering to, providing for, and walking with those that are part of the unchurched and wounded churched populations.

Christianity is more than a religion. Christianity is the voice of radical transformation, an uncomfortable quest to encounter the divine and when encountering the divine to be transformed by that encounter. Wither it is other religions or secular movements that we encounter throughout our culture, just doing church keeps an intimate investment to community at bay.

In my practice of praxis as a missional church I seek to embody the ways of being church. I seek to embody the Love of God, the call to love my neighbor in a deep and passionate way. I want to “sell out” to Jesus Christ and the radical transformative message we read in the gospels.

This is the mindset that we sought to model as we begin to minister, to evangelize, and serve the Austin community. What can we possibly offer to a world that is so full of information and answers? We must live missionaly in order to be accepted and welcomed in an age of rabid individualism that has destroyed the communal value of life. It has become a notion of “us & them”. This is why being church is important. It is more important than doing church.

In this worshiping community we seek to be church without being the church. We endeavor to be able too adapt within the pervading culture and to be counter cultural in the same breath. We seek to redefine the paradigm in which we educate, proselytize, minister, serve, love, accept, and gather, going into the world prepared to face a barrage of mistrust and a pluralist religious climate. As well as seeking to be wounded healers to those that have been hurt by the church. We are called to become “missionaries” within our communities. We seek to synthesize the traditions of our past and offer them to a generation hungry for a gospel of reconciliation to a generation proliferated with information, technology, and skepticism. We seek to be church.

[1] United States. National Institute of Health. 2002. Consensus development conference statement on the management of Hepatitis C. Conference held June 10-12, 2002.

[2] Dolan, K, et al. (2005) Needle and Syringe Programs: A Review of the Evidence, Australian Government Department of Health and Aging, Canberra.

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