It’s really important that we see the bigger picture though before we head into our new adventures. If we don’t understand together how the vision behind what we do fits into the kingdom, we’ll miss the opportunity to flow in the power of the Holy Spirit together and partner in what God is doing in the neighbourhood.
If we miss that, The Local risks becoming a church that simply aims to be different from the mainstream, perhaps a more creative or postmodern way of doing church. Different for the sake of being different (and vulnerable to pride if that becomes our identity).
However, if we can grasp this together, we become so much more than that – we have the opportunity be one local expression of God’s advancing kingdom in this world. A part – no more, or less, important than any other part – of His awesome church in this world as we all work together to invade the kingdom of darkness and revoke the hold it thinks it has on this world. Let’s aim for that together…here’s the foundations I’d like us to hold on to as we head down this next adventure:
We’ll spend the rest of the year on this in one way or another, so I’ll stay brief: everything is about God’s kingdom. His presence. His way of life. He created this world to fill it with His presence and his infinite quality of life. He created us to share, celebrate and extend that life with him.
It’s not about sin. It’s not about avoiding hell. It’s not about bringing God’s judgement. It’s about life: God’s life!
Religion says, “The end is nigh!”
Jesus said, “The kingdom is nigh!”
Once you get this you see that anything that promotes life, real life, is the work of the kingdom. Anyone can set up a café but in the kingdom a café gets transformed into something that adds life – connection, nutrition, employment opportunity, work experience, and fun – to a community.
It’s not about getting people to come to church, to convert to a religion. It’s about using the creative talents and gifts and abilities God gave each of us and working alongside Him as he continues to extend His life to this world.
Whatever we do this year, it must be about the kingdom.
To quote Metallica, and paraphrase scripture: Nothing Else Matters!
(Matt 6:33 & Metallica's Black Album).
With the sale of the community house, we needed to think about operating from somewhere else this year…Carl and Maureen in particular kept coming back to the idea of the empty restaurant that sits between the Merton St dairy and fish and chip shop. As we talked about that Kelvin, Veronica and Karla picked up the idea and kept adding more legs to it and it grabbed hold of all of us. “It seemed good to the Spirit and to us” (Acts 15:28) so we decided to put the wheels in motion.
The simple idea is to establish a community co-op style café that serves affordable and healthy lunches and drinks, inviting (and hopefully even employing as funding grows) members of the community to be trained to serve in the café – gaining real-life work experience as they learn to prepare the meals, serve customers and run the cafe with us.
Initially, we plan for the café being open for lunch Monday to Friday (10am for coffee, 11-1pm for lunch), with other events and activities (boardgames, quiz events, cooking classes) added as best suits those who wish to attend. We may extending the meals to other times depending on demand and the availability of volunteers as the venture grows, but let’s start small.
We also anticipate using the venue for regular activities such as boardgame afternoons, quiz evenings, and other small scale social events that might be suggested by members of the community. As well as our own regular gatherings as The Local.
We’re toying with a working title of “The Small Change Café” as a play on words – promoting meals that you can afford with ‘small change’ but also the idea that small changes have big impacts in your life. We’re still thinking about the name and also how to clearly represent The Local in there as well – perhaps with an additional line that says “And the home of The Local” or something like that. Alternately we could also just call it “The Local Café.” Something to pray about – we welcome any thoughts!
It feels exciting. We’re hoping it will have a number of impacts - including changing what it looks like for us when we gather as The Local…
It’s been on my mind for a few months that we need to make a shift again in how we allow the community to perceive us and interact with us. It’ll be an ongoing battle of course as there is war involved in this and I think the kingdom of darkness is constantly at work to misrepresent Christ’s bride – both to others and itself.
Having said that, for many we have become another charity in their life – a place you can go for free food (did you notice our numbers tended to double just before lunchtime last year?) and free baby sitting. I don’t regret any of that – we served the community as we knew best then, but I believe God is after something more.
Reggie McNeal who I quoted from earlier gives a wonderful description of church (again from his book Kingdom Come). It reads like this:
“Jesus did not establish the church to start a new religion called Christianity. He established the church as an expression of the kingdom for the people of God as they partner with him in his redemptive mission in the world,” (p83).
Coming back to work this week, one of the leaders where I work has been circulating some inspiring clips and quotes to kick the year off. He made this passing comment in his discussion of Martin Luther King that really caught my attention:
“Martin Luther King appealed not to the discontented and disgruntled but to a hopeful brother- and sister-hood.”
Rather than providing sympathy to those who have disengaged and given up, he called to those who still had an ember of hope that things could change and helped provide a catalyst for them to act on that growing hope. That’s what I feel we’re called to do in the community.
We always need to care for the poor and downtrodden, but I feel we need to shift our emphasis more towards those who really want change but feel alone or trapped or don’t know where to start. That’s what the café idea is about.
To reset things and disrupt the patterns and perceptions a bit, when we kick off again this year we’re planning to do so with evening meetings – a bit more like the Demonstrate environment for those who were part of that. We’ll keep all the interative elements that have become a core part of who we are – creating shared meals together, interactive reflections, interactive prayer, scripture wrestling, and interactive dialogue sessions. That’s part of our DNA now.
One of the main things our new venue will change is that we will keep the children in with us – we won’t be doing a ‘kids’ programme or ‘children’s church’ this year. Partly, the venue doesn’t facilitate this, but we also suspect the Holy Spirit is leading us in this too.
Here’s a handful of thoughts to consider – it’s a significant change, and yet another move away from conventional church, so give it some thought and let’s discuss it together when we meet. Here’s some food for thought:
The history of ‘Sunday school’ is fascinating. Sunday School began around 1750 AD as a literacy campaign for kids who were forced to in the industrial-era factories. You can read more about this on Wikipedia here, and on the Christianity Today site here.
Before our modern labour laws were established, and before education was compulsory for children, the heart of the industrial revolution saw thousands of children working in the factories every workday. This would be illegal today, but it wasn’t then.
The Bible was their main text to learn from, but it was about passing on literacy, not religion. Sunday School began as a service to the community and the common generation – not as a way of reinforcing religious instruction.
As later labour laws and compulsory education were introduced, Sunday School was no longer necessary and it evolved (devolved?) into what we commonly see today.
Wayne Jacobsen, author of So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore? and one of the collaborators of The Shack, picks up the question of whether children need Sunday School half way down his blog here. He writes:
Even sociologists tell us that the #1 factor in determining whether a child will thrive in society is if they have deep, personal friendships with nonrelative adults. No Sunday school can fill that role. I know of one community in Australia who after 20 years of sharing God’s life together as families could say that they had not lost one child to the faith as they grew into adulthood....it is far more important that our children experience real fellowship among believers rather than the bells and whistles of a slick children’s program.”
It’s a big issue so let’s keep talking about it, but the last thought that’s been on my mind is how different we treat the legacy of Jesus from the legacy of our ancestors.
Yet somehow when it comes to Jesus, we make it cute. There’s a tendency to "cute-ify" everything, essentially boiling the grittiness of the King and his kingdom down to quaint fairy tales that then, understandably, become harder and harder to believe or relate as our kids grow up. Let’s not do that.
Exactly what it looks like in stead we need to work out together. We don’t know of course, but I somehow doubt the first century disciples ran cute Sunday schools for their kids. I suspect they passed down the gritty stories much like we’ve heard about our ancestors, and then modelled their active faith for their children to catch.
But we really welcome thoughts on this one – let’s keep chatting about it together. Do give it some thought and prayer. In the meantime, hopefully this gives you a sense of what we’re about this year and the sort of adventure the Holy Spirit seems to be leading us all into.
Looking forward to riding the roller coaster with you all :)
Every blessing team!