Which is it? Our proposed church plant? Hospital or Yacht Club? What is our objective at the end of one year?
Is it that we would have enough money to pay a Pastor full time? Maybe two Pastors and a worship leader? Open a coffee shop? Buy great crafts for the Sunday school?
I had to ask myself this question at the end of our first year in Long Beach. By human standards or even American church culture standards, it would appear that we’re exactly where we started one year ago.
Still outside with the homeless, addicts, and misfits. Still no building, no coffee shop, Kids corralled by orange plastic or perched more securely in mamas lap. Tables loaded down with food and cloths to give away to anyone walking a straight enough line to get to them. Still needing chaperones to take all ladies and kids to bathrooms with no doors, no toilet paper, and people bathing in the sink. And still, after one year, about 50 sober Christians short of running a summer Vacation Bible school.
As I contemplated where my lawn chair should go so I’d have the best view of my kid in Sunday school, I wondered if I should be upset?
When do we get upset as church planters? I don’t mean scared…I think we are scared from the start. Like kids standing in line for Montezuma’s Revenge, it seems the pounding of our heart just widens the smile across our adrenaline filled cheeks. I mean, when do we get upset at what church has become? And are we right?
I found the perfect spot and sat. Most of the other lawn chairs where still empty. A few people were joining in the open air worship. A homeless guy mistook the kids’ snack table for the free food we were offering, and had to be redirected away from the wide eyed Sunday school teachers. Behind the tree at the back a young man rode up on his bike and handed a package to a man who nervously wiped at his nose again and again. They patted each other on the back, then paused to hear the sermon begin. A tall, sun blistered drunk man shouted at the top of his voice, “Praise God” and lifted lanky arms in the air. He was received by a hug, pat on the back and sobering cup of coffee.
Slowly the empty chairs filled. Then back around the trees. People rode up on rusty, bag heavy bikes, talked, exchanged packages, bummed cigarettes, tried on cloths, ate freely, sat on the grass, hid behind the trees and I just prayed. I prayed my husband wouldn’t be distracted. That the man behind the tree with the jitters would stay and listen longer. I prayed that the girl with her pants hanging low on thighs hardly covered by her baggy shirt , would lift her shy eyes, hidden under her black beanie, and hear her Father in heaven loves her, no matter what her earthly father had done. And as I scanned each face, I began to get that Montezuma, adrenaline filled smile. Yes, I was scared, but not upset at what this church plant was, is.
This was Christ’s church. Not mine and my manicured toes. I pictured Zacchaeus in the tree, the woman with the alabaster jar, the tax collector with his pocket of stolen cash. Each person in this Park had their twin in one of the gospel stories. The Scripture struck me between the eyes. “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” Mark 2:17
Christ’s words are so logical, they almost seem sarcastic. Who told us church had to be clean? Sober? Safe?
Who goes to the hospital with their wounds already clean and bandaged? Their broken bones set? Who arrives at the surgeon already operated on and stitched up? As much as there was the pressure within me to “Grow up” and become a “real” church with a real building and programs, I’m growing into this idea of the “Anti-church” or church for those who don’t go to church.
So my revelation at the end of our first year church planting in the U.S?
A Hospital is for the sick. What a novel idea. It is not clean, tidy and safe. There may be less dirt under my fingernails than some, but cancer can still eat at my Christian walk just as fast as any other mortal in this broken world. So I’m content to be a part of this medical team, as long as The Healer is running the prep room.