Thursday, June 09, 2005

How In The Heck Did I End Up Here? (part six)

This is the sixth post in a series of posts about my history in ministry. This time around, I'm just printing portions of the two "e-things" that I sent in the month following the dissolution of the church @ hickory hollow.


The Artist Formerly Known As...

For a long time at the church @ hickory hollow, we joked about changing names if we changed locations, a la Prince (he of "Purple Rain" fame): "Why don't we call it the 'the church formerly known as the church @ hickory hollow?'"

Well, now we are the church formerly known as the church @ hickory hollow...and the joke's not nearly as funny as it was before. (Some jokes are like that - the old "you had to be there" principle in action.)

Oddly enough, though, we are still the church. Those of us who claim Christ as our Savior & Lord are parts of the body - even if we're not sure exactly which part of the body we're going to be playing this time around. (Sounds like a bad school science play: "I'm the tooth, Dad. A molar.") So our assignment now is to find our what role we've been cast in...

Church Hunting 101

1. Don't look for "the church @ hickory hollow".

There are a lot of great churches in the Nashville area, but none of them are going to look or feel "just like" tc@hh did. So start out by realizing that it will be impossible to locate 'another' tc@hh. It doesn't exist.

Here's why: church is NOT, despite our tendency to feel & act otherwise, primarily about the builiding or the music or the nursery or whatever. Church is about the people God brings together to be His body. Since you won't be with the same group of people, no church will ever feel exactly like tc@hh.

2. Don't rush to experience the same "feeling" as tc@hh.

Most of us who are searching for a new church home have been at tc@hh 3+ years... so it's going to be very easy for us to dismiss a church we visit because it doesn't "feel right". Of course it doesn't! We've been a part of authentic Biblical community for 3+ years - and we're comparing the warmth of that experience with the edginess of visiting somewhere for the first time.

Those kind of feelings will come in time as we commit & get involved in the life of a particular church. Prayerfully consider your emotional reactions to a church - they may be warning of you something wrong - but they may also be you trying to compare apples & oranges.

3. "What's in it for me?" is a lousy way to look for a church.

In fact, it's a lousy way to live. (But that's a topic for another e-thing.) In church hunting, it's that tendency we have to compare church "features" (music, childcare, personal comfort, parking, etc.) like we're shopping for a new car. In the whirlwind of comparison shopping, we can lose sight of the spiritual dimension of this kind of decision.

Note: I am NOT saying that you shouldn't make informed decisions about the quality of childcare or any other aspect of a church. I'm simply advocating that you approach church hunting with a healthy dose of humility & servanthood. Your primary question should be: "What can I contribute &give?"

4. You need to be praying like crazy.

This is like every other issue we've raised at the church @ hickory hollow - you aren't good enough or smart enough to do this on your own. You need God to be a key part of this search. So ask Him - He loves to do stuff like this! (Matthew 7:7-11)

5. Don't delay.

You don't have to choose a church this week - it's not like a bomb you have to defuse. But... don't need to "take a break" from being a part of regular worship, either.

With the emotional & physical exhaustion that most of us have felt over the last few months, it would be easy to decide to "take some time off" of church. The logic is tempting: "I'm tired and jaded - it would be really difficult to make objective decisions about a church right now - I deserve a break after all the work I've put in - etc., etc., etc.")

But the logic is flawed. We've spent the last five years of our lives building a church... because we believe that God uses the local church to build his Kingdom. To cut ourselves off from the church would be a mistake that denies the very things we've stood for.

There's a second problem: if you choose to take a long break, it will get more & more difficult to start going again. It's the physics principle of inertia: "bodies in motion tend to remain in motion; bodies at rest tend toremain at rest."

6. I know this isn't easy.

I don't want to pretend that the process of finding a new church home is simple. Or painless. It's likely to be complicated, emotional & a bit draining.

But ultimately, it's gonna be worth it. While nothing will replace tc@hh, God has some incredible things out there for each of us - stuff we couldn't anticipate and never would have experienced without this painful process. (1 Corinthians 2:9)


Father, This evening, as we celebrate the church @ hickory hollow,
we celebrate You because

You made it possible for us to have authentic Biblical community.
You gave the original vision for a church of this kind in Nashville.
You enabled this church to begin and take root, even though we had little more than a direction to go and an urgency to go there.
You brought together people like me who were tired of hiding behind masks and longed to know more of You.
You gave us a safe place to express how we hurt and struggle.
You gave us each other to carry our burdens, to share our hopes, and to celebrate our joys.

But most of all You drew us closer to You, to live more fully and to grow more deeply than we've ever dared before.

We've seen You do so much in and through the people of this church;
Which makes us all the more perplexed why You seem to see fit that this church should disband.
We don't understand. We don't know what lies ahead for us.

Calm us, Father, because sometimes we grow anxious and worry.
Steady us when our faith wavers.
Strenghen our hearts, because when things are uncertain it's easier to doubt and fear than to trust.
Father, protect our tender roots as You replant us into new soil.
Hold each one of us close to You. Let no one be forgotten or neglected.
Help us to tune out the noise in our lives so we can hear Your soft, gentle voice.

We can't see where You're leading us, but we count on You to take us there.

Thank You for Your undying love for us.
Thank You for community and for families that model our love relationship with You.
Thank You for forgiveness and for restoration.
Thank You for giving our lives meaning and purpose.
Thank You for the promise of eternal life.

Help us to share the hope of restored life today and eternal life after death with those who do not yet know You.

God, You are our everything.
We thank You
And we praise You
In Your Son's name,

written by Dennis Mills and used as a part of the closing service of tc@hh on 9/21/02


What If...?

Marvel Comics had (maybe "has" - I haven't followed comics too well lately) a series of books titled "What If?"... one-shot stories that explored odd questions about the Marvel Universe:
  • "What if Daredevil got his sight back?"
  • "What if the Incredible Hulk was cured?"
  • "What if Professor X was evil?"
DC Comics mined some of the same territory with it's Elseworlds series... placing classic superheroes in different historical contexts:
  • "Gotham by Gaslight"... with a 1800's Batman fighting Jack the Ripper
  • a Civil War story with Clark Kent as a Union hero
  • a Wonder Woman story set in a Victorian England gone wrong
And a bunch of historians got together to write two best-selling works of historical speculation entitled WHAT IF...? Each book is filled with essays about critical moments in history:
  • what if the Normandy invasion had been stopped because of weather?
  • what if George Washington was captured after the Battle of Long Island?
  • what if Alexander had died before he conquered most of the known world?
I love this kind of stuff... graphic novels like Mark Waid's KINGDOM COME, works of fiction like Harry Turtledove's THE GUNS OF THE SOUTH, historical books like the two I mentioned above. It's fascinating to play "what if" wonder about what might have been.
Unfortunately, that same tendency in my own life has the distressing side effect of paralyzing me, rendering me useless to family, friends & Christ.

Yep, "what if?" is fun on the fictional side, but can be devastating when it's plugged into reality. It's all too easy to speculate about how good it would be not to be married - "What if I'd married that girl I dated in high school?" - and then plunge into a full-blown fantasy of how much better my life would be.

The problem? I didn't marry Ann Henderson. I married Shari Becknal... and for 12 years, through the good, the bad, the ugly AND the beautiful, we've followed God hand-in-hand. Even on Shari's worst days - heck, even on MY worst days, God put us together. Playing "what if" is the worst kind of emotional lust... there's no way to satisfy it (because I can't go backwards and do something different) and it sours the goodness that is mine right now.

The same thing goes for tc@hh... all of us involved in leadership at the church @ hickory hollow have flirted with the "what if?" game in the last couple of months:
  • what if we'd moved to South Gate back in the fall?
  • what if we'd convinced Robert/Stephen/whoever to stay?
  • what if we hadn't spent $3000 on the movie slide? (OK, we've been playing"what if?" on this one for a couple of years) :-)
But "what if" is futile... the church @ hickory hollow is disbanded, the equipment is getting ready to be handed on to a new church plant (more on that in a minute), and all of us have to keep following God.

I am not suggesting that we stop evaluating what's gone in our lives, our jobs, our church - healthy self-examination & evaluation are vital to further growth. I am suggesting that going from evaluation to spinning gossamer webs of "what if" fantasies is flat-out stupid. And not very Biblical.

Let the "what if" scenarios go... and lean into God.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
Giving It Away...

Our church constitution called for our assets to be distributed to other church starts in case of dissolution... and that process is beginning to happen. If it all works out, Keith Adams, pastor of River Community Church in the University of Memphis area of, well, Memphis, will be coming to pick up most of the sound & video equipment, along with a good bit of the Kid's Place & food table stuff. (That could be as early as Monday!)

We've got two more established 'innovative' churches looking at the big board, and any money we receive from selling it will be channeled into helping church starts.

Please be praying for Keith & his church - their first 'preview' service (a rehearsal for their actual launch) is in November. This, as some of us can remember, is an exciting and scary time. I'm just glad our loss is their gain in the process of following Christ.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Bigger than Me said...

Mark, I just wanted you to know that I am still here, following your story with great fascination! Thanks for telling the true tale of how He has worked in real matters to me.
Katie Michel