I was having a conversation recently with our pastoral intern and he told me with some frustration on his face,“Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to push a product that no one wants.” (He was referring to the Church).
During his internship with us in the DC metro area, he’s gotten a taste of how time-consuming, life-changing and exhausting the work of community making is when you are “in charge.” He’s learning that as much people say that they want something, they don’t have the time and energy to actually follow through unless personal priorities are there already. He’s learning that as much as people tell you, “Pastor, I’m going to be there on Sunday,” often times other things get in the way. He’s learning most of all, that in the end, spiritual community is no longer something that people seek out of obligation — at least not in this neighborhood.
No, regular engagement with a church only comes from a desire within – God drawing the person into the church and a readiness in the individual to respond to this calling. It’s not something even the best of pastors can make happen. It’s God’s story every local church is writing, after all.
I understand this intern’s frustrations because I came to Washington Plaza with a dream, a really big dream, about what God could do in this place for the good of the neighborhood, for the good friendships built in diversity, and with the instruction of sound theological teaching. Yet, no matter how big your dreams are, there are days, weeks, even months when the hard work of building community must go on even when the results aren’t what you’d hoped them to be.
Sometimes community doesn’t seem to work. The cause seems lost and even some pastors wonder if they are better off pastoring 100 percent outside of the walls of the church instead of inside. Sometimes even your most faithful and committed members need a break that involves “a church by the bedside.” And, you feel discouraged.
But, still I believe deep down somewhere, and I’m encouraging our staff to keep believing, too.
I believe because the church seems to be the only way I know to live out the Christian path I’ve found my life on.
I believe because often when I need it the most a card, an email or a guest shows up on Sunday with eagerness to be invested in the ministry that God has given us in Reston to carry out together.
I believe because no matter how much I fight it sometimes, I need a faith community. And you need one, too.
There are countless sparks I see all the time within this local church of people caring for each other in meaningful ways, seniors and young adults feeling emotionally and spiritually nourished because of opportunities to be together, and resurrection being practiced in simple and profound acts.
Just as I was about to post this blog, my phone rang. A woman on the other end had a lot of theological questions for me and was skeptical that a welcoming church like ours was real. “A welcoming an affirming Baptist church in Virginia? A community of people who would want to get to know me?” I shared some good time with her and she promises to visit soon.
So though my colleagues and I continue to offer (I like this word better than sell) a product (a.k.a Christ-centered community) that many might not want (right now, at least), I hold out hope daily that the church might be one day understood as what people truly need, but didn’t even know that they were looking for. Washington Plaza, for one, will be waiting with open doors.
What about yours?