So after all the teasing and buildup about BIG change coming, I’ve taken two posts so far to
drag it on as long as I can take the time to explain what we’re dreaming of, and why.
I’ve shared about wanting to see a creative community be born, one that doesn’t look like “church” or “ministry” as we’ve understood it before, one in which the arts can be genuinely encouraged and nurtured, and one in which the love of Christ can be freely expressed in a natural manner, without agenda. And I’ve shared our conviction that it needs to happen organically, not by “starting” something, but by embedding ourselves in a community and doing what we do.
Here’s the most significant part of the Big Change. Are you ready?
It isn’t going to happen in Tulsa. We’re leaving.
We came (back) to this town nearly ten years ago with a similar dream of creative community and a head full of steam from our previous ministry “successes.” However, at that time, the dream itself was really based on the typical church subculture mentality–to “redeem the arts” for God, yield our gifts in worship, gather all of it into the church, and let it be a witness to the world that way. Although we had not initially intended to be pastors, we started a church because of our conviction that the local church needed to be foundational to the work.
In the past ten years, we have made a lot of blunders–some of them quite serious–and we also did a lot of things right, and paid a dear price for it. But through the entire experience, we can honestly say that we have done the best we could with what we had, and with what we knew at the time. We persevered, and we were obedient, in a religious climate that has been consistently hostile to the dreams in our hearts. And by God’s grace, we were committed to spend the rest of our lives swimming upstream, as it were, against this hostile current. If that’s what He wanted.
But like most things we humans dream about, or receive from the Lord…God has a way of bypassing what we think it’s going to look like. He has His own purposes, different from ours. Every time we did something here, expecting a certain result, a different result occurred that we did not anticipate (and often didn’t like at first), and God furthered His plan:
- We launched a church in the typical format; within three months, it had morphed into a house church–and stayed that way for the duration.
- With every public form of ministry we attempted, a few committed people would get behind it, but not nearly enough to carry it off. Many others came to sniff around, but complacency would take over and they would lose interest.
- When we presented opportunities to collaborate in ministry–with a couple of shining exceptions–the local pastors treated us with indifference at best, and suspicion and open hostility at worst. Again, not enough support to carry anything off.
But there’s one more thing we didn’t anticipate, the most beautiful part of this experience: we did not anticipate that in the process, God would completely deconstruct the paradigms surrounding our dreams of creative community. In commissioning us to start a church, then turning it into a house church (one that actually did well and lasted 9 years), He showed us the true value of faith community, and showed us what the church really was–and what it was not. In releasing us to attempt a 24-7 worship ministry–one He knew would fail–He showed us in that failure that the dream had been built on a faulty premise. God didn’t rip the veil of the temple so we Christians could build another temple. We were basing the entire thing on an institutional model, a work of man.
The Wild One puts it this way: We thought God was going to use us to help break religion off of Tulsa; instead…God used Tulsa to break religion off of us.
By consistently beating our heads against the dead-end wall, our own religious shell cracked and broke off, little by little. As we leave, from all appearances Tulsa remains pretty much unchanged spiritually, if not worse off; but we are completely transformed. Spiritually, we look nothing like we did when we arrived. We are free.
To me, this is such a witness to the amazing creativity and profound wisdom of God–that He would use the most religious city in America to free us of our own religion. What irony. You simply cannot tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.
So apparently, the breaking down of mindsets (at least for this season) is complete. The past couple of years, God has been slowly stirring the dream in our hearts, letting a fresh interpretation of the dream take shape little by little. We’ve been in a season of rest as we detoxed from our experiences, but a reformation has been happening. This blog continues to be part of that process. As the dream has taken on more substance, it is apparent to us that we need a more fertile breeding ground for it–a place where it can incubate, and a place where we can more fully implement the things God has been showing us. There’s a time for swimming against the current, and there’s a time for being wise about where the dream can live and thrive.
And for us, the season has changed. God has released us. I still believe God has a plan for Tulsa (as He does for your city as well); but it is time for us to leave Tulsa in God’s hands.
So…where are we going?
I won’t leave you hanging on this one. We’re moving to Denver, Colorado.
In less than three weeks.
More about that in the next post.