Before we proceed on this next topic, there are a few words that I want to define:
denomination – a distinct religious body within Christianity. Side note: Did you know that CHRISTIANITY is a religion? Your particular “brand” is not the religion, that the denomination.
theology – in its simplest form, it’s the study of God
doctrine – the set of beliefs taught by a particular church
missiology – an area of practical theology that specifically deals with the calling and message of the Christian church – especially as it relates to serving and reaching the world with the message of Jesus.
I need to share these with you because for those of us that like to use words like this, this part of my story is really important. There are many, even in my bloodline, that often question the inner workings during the next season of my life. To try and give clarity to the mystery, I am going to work hard to fully explain the why’s of the how’s.
When we left our church, Lucas and I both walked into the most usual time in our personal church history. Being raised as a United Methodist and marrying a cradle Lutheran, our denominational backgrounds had more similarities than differences. In the major issues of doctrine, our paths were very parallel. As with any expression of the local church, we experienced how unique people, places and towns lived into the cultural values. When we married, we did not hold fast to the church of our childhood. My background in vocational ministry led us to connections within the UMC, but when we moved into the next season of life, the exploration commenced.
In the months that followed our choice to step away from my job, we visited churches all over the Houston area. Lucas’s job was such that living in League City was not a requirement. We drove to churches in The Woodlands. We traveled to churches in Montrose. We went to services at night and in the morning. We visited churches where dresses and suits were the norm and those where people had more tattoos than children. It was a great few months. Time and time again, we prayed that the right community would be so clear and that we would know where God was leading.
As much as I prayed, I was never given the ‘go in peace’ message about League City. And honestly, I wanted it. I wanted to be able to start over. Most of the people that we knew in the area were from church. I was ready for a fresh start. But each time things began to move in that direction, the uneasiness was strong and so we pressed on. During the Spring of 2006, in the previously mentioned living room, I came to peace with the fact that I had not found what we were looking for in the Clear Lake area. DISCLAIMER: This might not have been the case, but in our genuine prayer and searching, we had not found it.
By this point, I had solidified a few things in my own doctrinal system. Things that I felt were key in being “all in” in a faith community. There were many, but the predominate narrative needed to include:
- a significant (time, money and staff) commitment to meeting the spiritual and physical needs of the poor, the marginalized, the uninvited and the unwelcome
- a place for gifted women to serve in every aspect of leadership
- the regular practice of The Eucharist and baptism (including the celebration of both infant and believer’s baptism)
What I found, time and time and time again was that for churches that could affirm these ideals, many had great reasons why one or more were not considered vital beliefs in their missiological model for ministry. I can remember sitting with a man who I have great respect for, personally and spiritually, and he said to me, “Lacy, I think you are being unrealistic.” I didn’t think so.
So week after week we sat with friends and we asked questions like: What makes church Church? Can you be a church if you don’t have a Pope or a Bishop? Does this whole Jesus thing fall apart if we ask really tough questions? Could we change the world if we gave the money we were spending on a new gym to build a homeless shelter? Do we need lock-ins to have student ministry? What would happen if we really lived out the call to come and die?
Some of these we had answers for. Some of them we did not. But what quickly happened, is that we all realized that the bread and the cup and the conversations that we shared were more life-giving and hope inducing than conversations about cutting budgets and evangelism and debt payments and attendance numbers. For each of us, coming from very different denominational backgrounds, we found the story of tradition-breaking Jesus to be a breath of fresh air.
One random Monday, over dessert, laughter and I’m sure some tears, someone said out loud what we all had been thinking. This IS church.