Being part of a campus ministry congregation can feel like living by an ever-flowing stream, constantly welcoming new folks and at the same time, sending others out.
We’ve embraced the sending as a part of our calling and we’ve learned to send people well. On their last Sunday with us, we bring them up front and ask anyone who has hard part in their lives here to come forward, lay hands on them and pray a prayer of commissioning over them. Often there are more people in the prayer circle than there are watching from the seats. Usually there are tears. It’s beautiful.
Where is the Kingdom?
But, if I’m honest, it’s also exhausting. The last three Sundays we’ve sent away key members of our community to go to distant places. When new folks come, I refuse to hold back my heart in case they leave one day and I think that’s the right thing to do. But it makes it even harder when they do leave.
For staff and church members who stay, it wears down our hearts to keep losing folks we love. And it makes us wonder where we’ll find leaders to replace these ones we’ve developed (and, if we’re honest, how we’ll meet the budget). And it has a way of romanticizing the adventure of elsewhere. When the sending out prayer is over and the last piece of farewell cake is gone, those of us who remain have to go back to the same old, same old.
So today, after three Sundays in a row of going away parties, we had a “NOT going away” party. Not as a promise that no one in that sanctuary will ever move (we don’t want to quash the call of God) but as a commitment to be fully where we are. And if God wants to call us elsewhere, he’ll have to get our attention because we’ll be so busy being here. And together we’ll discern, as a community, the calls we hear.
In an effort to be a kingdom-oriented congregation, we’ve always chosen to celebrate the sending out. And we’ll keep doing that. But isn’t this place also part of the kingdom? So what does it mean to both celebrate other parts of the kingdom and our own? After three Sundays of going away parties, we had a “NOT going away” party. Click To Tweet
Jeremiah 29:5-7 has unlikely advice for the exiles in Babylon, these people of God who have been ripped from their holy place. God himself tells them,
“Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
A few verses later, He actually tells them they won’t be there forever but he also tells them to be fully where they are while they’re there, not only for their own sakes, but for the sake of the place where God has put them.
We can relate to the exiles. It’s easy for us to see what our church or neighborhood or city could be, to see all the things it’s not and dream of other places. But what if our sense of what could be is not an invitation to leave and find that elsewhere? What if it’s an invitation to shape our place? Anyone can complain about what is or pick up and move to a fully-formed place. It takes imagination and creativity and patience to be the ones who start making something new. It’ll be hard and we’ll need God and each other. But that’s okay. That’s why we have the Church.
What Frustrates God?
So, what if the things that frustrate us about our churches and communities are a glimpse of the things that frustrate God? If the things we’re longing for in our communities are a glimpse of the things God is longing for? What if we learned to long for them together? So that we can become a community of people longing for community. And maybe, even as we’re figuring out together what community can be, we’re already in it.
I’ve spent most of my adult life wrestling with the question of place. And I can’t say I’ve yet resolved all the questions. But the only thing that has stopped the constant mental packing of suitcases has been the choice to be fully where I am, wherever I am, trusting that if God wants me somewhere else, I’ll deal with that then. When we, as a family, chose to embrace this lesson a few years ago, we had a “Not going away party.” So today we did it as a church. Could our frustrations about churches & communities be a glimpse of what frustrates God? Click To Tweet
We drew a big map of the city and during communion, as people shuffled forward to take the cup and the bread, we also invited them to plot themselves on the map (their house, their school, their workplace, whatever), hoping they saw the commonality in “communion” and “community.”
We prayed the sending-out prayer of commissioning over the whole congregation, saying the same things we say when we send out one or two friends to a faraway place. We prayed: “Father, remind us you are here with us. Show us your heart for this place. Give us courage to stay. Give us what we need to be faithful to your call to be here.”
Then we had cake, decorated with the words “We are here.” Because being here is worth celebrating. Even if we’re still figuring out what that means.
For further reading:
The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight J Friesen.
Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus by C. Christopher Smith and John Pattison.
Staying is the New Going: Choosing to Love Where God Places You, Alan Briggs