Matthew 16:24-25 says:
Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves
and take up their cross and follow me.
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it,
but whoever loses their life for me will find it.
Thinking of all my attempts to save my life and make something of it, and losing so much, to find that life--abundant life--actually exists in surrendering...what a paradox. I have to smile at realizing the completely counter-intuitive nature of the life of following Christ.
This year is the year of new beginnings--of breaking out of old patterns. One of the patterns of our lives that Leland and I are breaking out of is our recent shift from attending and serving a mega church for what we believe is the Church as Jesus intended it to be.
Mega church Sunday goes like this: show up, sit in a row with thousands of strangers we'll probably never connect with, be entertained by highly produced, talented professional musicians, hear a great communicator, get up and leave to fight traffic. It's where the people go who want to be completely anonymous. There was a time for both of us when that was exactly what we wanted, having grown up in the Baptist way and having had many bad church experiences. We wanted nothing to do with anything that looked like church. We served in several capacities as volunteers, opportunities for which we are very grateful, one of which led to our meeting.
But a while back, the messages I heard began to fall flat. We had many questions that we could never ask because the lead communicator who gave those messages is so inaccessible. Something was gnawing at my gut; a desire for something more, and less. We needed small. A pastor who was accessible. I wanted to converse, not just listen. I wanted to grow, not stagnate. Deeper teaching. Less noise. More worshipful experience, even liturgy and tradition (gasp).
Leland and I had been on production team as video camera operators for almost 3 years, doing the same thing every time: be technically accurate, follow direction, get the cool shots, and we'd spend at least 30 minutes in a little room analyzing where we could improve. I asked myself, Is this what serving God is, really? How is getting that slow push on the BGV just right, of Kingdom value? It would make me think (often) of our 2 mission trips in 2009 and 2010 to a tiny church in the war-torn country of Bosnia-Herzegovina where jobs were extremely scarce, where people had next to nothing, had lost friends and family in the horror of ethnic cleansing--and they loved and cared for one another, worshiped like nothing we'd ever seen or heard, in a small building, huddled together, with a pastor who prayed over these people.
One day on Facebook, I saw a post about a new startup Church, called The Parish. I began asking questions, and I got answers. I told Leland about it, and we attended our first gathering in January. Instant affinity. We attended Parish 101 and learned more about the vision for this new body of believers. The pastor, Eddie Kirkland, has met with us twice over coffee at Starbucks. We had a conversation. As a result, and having attended each gathering since that first one, we've traded mega for mini, where fellowship, worship, and teaching actually resemble family time. And get this--we all meet at homes around North Atlanta for dinner once a month. Just dinner. Like families do, as I recall.
Relationships, bumping into each other, sharing our messy lives, caring for one another...the big "C" Church! Is it perfect? Seriously, we live in a fallen world, so no. Do Eddie and the launch team desire to make it a God-honoring, living, breathing body of Christ-followers? Most definitely.
The Parish has been an answer to prayer in this valley time for us. I believe it will be a major part of the process of restoration in our lives. We are so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the vision.
Happy Resurrection Day!