A vision of a Church in the 21st Century

The following is something I wrote in January of 2002, while in the midst of my own crisis of faith and career. I offer it here as grist for the mill. It’s sort of a mission and principles statement for a congregation I envisioned. At the time I wrote it, I believed that I was being led by God to start this new congregation, or at least explore it. Nine months later, after several attempts at careers outside the local congregation, I found myself called to be pastor among the people of Forest Grove. If there remains anything of value it in, I’m grateful.

Congregation Shalom-Shabbat
Disciples for Peace and Wholeness

Shalom is a biblical understanding of peace which is deeper that an absence of expressed violence. Shalom is an abiding peace and harmony within all creation and for creation in relation to God.

Shabbat is a biblical term meaning rest. The common usage relates primarily to the 7th day of the week, the day of rest, or Sabbath. The true meaning is far richer however. Shabbat is that rest and ease crucial to the cycle of living in wholeness which then opens us up to experience and worship God. When we offer a cup of water to a thirsty woman, this is Shabbat. When we rescue an abused child, this is Shabbat. When we break bread together and exclude no one, this is Shabbat.

A congregation committed to biblical principles of peace/justice (Shalom) and wholeness (Shabbat) as both calling and gift to humanity from God. Shalom-Shabbat seeks these principles by faithful approximation and application of the faith practices of Israel and the early followers of Jesus.

We are committed to:
1. Loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength
2. Loving our sisters and brothers as Christ has loved us
3. Loving our neighbors as our selves
We Seek to grow continually in understanding and faithfulness in the living of these principles.

In expression of these principles, we will strive for the following:
· To embrace Scripture, Reason, Tradition and Experience as equally necessary cooperative avenues of the work of the Holy Spirit in guiding the faith community.
· To allocate resources in accordance with the intended practice of Israel, particularly regarding the use and distribution of gifts, tithes and offerings.
· To limit our congregation’s ownership of property which serves only to secure and promote our own existence as a body. Any property must ultimately serve those outside the body.
· To not accept payment for ministerial services as far as is reasonable.
· To remain open to all people who are genuine in their search for truth and willingness to grow in their commitment to the three principles.
· To welcome into full communion those who pledge full commitment to the three principles and who are willing to submit to mutual accountability in the body.
· To the extent possible, the local body should be served by elders who are otherwise gainfully employed. For each local body to pay a full-time salary to one or more elders places an unnecessary burden on the body, promotes notions of the church as a service industry with members as consumers rather than servants, and drains resources which would otherwise be available for ministry.

The Finances of the Body
Scripture speaks of many different tithes and offerings. At the very least it is suggested that first the tabernacle and later the temple building was built with gifts, not a portion of the tithe or offerings. The offerings were expressions of gratitude and/or repentance and/or petition, and primarily served the needs of the priests and levites who “served the Lord”, i.e. administered the sacrificial system and were keepers of the tradition and enforcers of righteousness. The tithes were brought from the first fruits of each harvest or birthing, and were consumed by the entire community in a celebration of God’s goodness during one festival. Once every three years the tithe was distributed to the poor for their support.
Biblical economics further requires the fair administration of personal finances and the community economy. A workers wages are not to be held over but paid at the end of the day. The poor are to be loaned money without interest and anything taken as collateral is not to be kept. Personal debt is forgiven in the Sabbath year, when the land is to lie fallow and livestock are to rest. Land is to be leased and returns to the original owner in the Jubilee year, when all captives are released and all debt forgiven. While it seems impractical in our society to entirely follow these rules, we seek to discern the fundamental principles and to live by them.

The Functioning of the Body
Shalom/Shabbat is a congregation that seeks to live as closely as possible to our understanding of the earliest communities of followers of Jesus. We will be led by the Spirit in all that we do. We believe that the spirit leads us to love and serve others before ourselves. Therefore our primary emphasis will be ministry to those outside the body. All members of the body are encouraged to pursue employment which is a form of ministry serving the real developmental and life needs of people: to teach, to practice medicine, to counsel, to pursue justice for the poor and oppressed. While we do not turn away others, we challenge them to seek a full integration of faith and vocation, using their work to glorify God and further the Kingdom.
As a congregation, we worship together, break bread together, learn together, live in mutual accountability, and serve as primary expressions of our communal faith. We share the responsibility of passing on the faith to all seekers, both children and adults.
The community embraces Sabbath. We seek as fully as possible to have one day out of seven when we rest from all the toil and work of life. We may work like the dickens the other six days, but come the Sabbath, we rest. This means that as fully as possible our worship and other activities should not prevent anyone or any group from experiencing Sabbath rest. If it does, then we should find a way to share this responsibility, as the Levites served one month out of twelve. Perhaps we rotate on a twelve-week cycle or some other such system.
The community worships together in ways that are mutually satisfying for all. We embrace ancient forms of worship, including the public reading of scripture, ancient prayers, psalms, hymns and spiritual songs from all periods. We also believe that worship must be relevant to our cultural context. This means that we utilize contemporary forms of communication, including multimedia and modern music. As the community meditates on scripture in openness to the Spirit, it may be appropriate to remain in silence and listen for the Spirit to speak through one present, rather than for the pastor to present a rehearsed exegesis of the text. The exegesis might be part of that to which we listen and then respond. So, we pray and sing and pray some more and hear scripture and exegesis and then listen for the Spirit in the Church and then we respond to the stirrings of the Spirit and then we break bread and are blessed and sent.
We reach out to seekers. We believe that this means entering into relationship with people from all walks of life who are open and desiring deeper meaning in their lives. Our method is to share who and what we are as individual disciples through open dialogue, and to invite seekers to join us in ministry. Therefore, we might host “Thomas Cafe” on Tuesday nights at a coffee shop where a group comes together to discuss contemporary issues or literature and engage in theological reflection. We also might ask our friends and neighbors to come with us to visit a nursing home or a hospital ward or to organize a neighborhood cleanup. Worship is not the fi
rst or primary place of introducing seekers to Shalom-Shabbat.

The Founding of the Body
Shalom-Shabbat is being formed under the leadership of Ken G. Crawford, an ordained minister in the Disciples of Christ. The church is an expression of my understanding of God’s vision for the church. Our intent is not so much to compete with or replace other congregations as to provide an alternate view of the church as a manifestation of Christ’s incarnate Body and God’s Kingdom on earth. At the point where Shalom-Shabbat becomes an entity requiring considerable energy to serve and maintain itself, the congregation should be dissolved or radically altered.
I do not know what I need to do for the church to have formal incorporation and legal recognition for tax, liability and other financial purposes. The Office of New Church Establishment should be able to answer that for me. Area ministers might also have that information.
Initially S-S will likely meet in our home, or in borrowed space from an office or restaurant that is not open on Sunday Mornings. Money will be spent on advertising, hospitality, and equipment for worship and education, i.e. instruments to accompany singing and such computers and other equipment needed for teaching religion to children, youth and adults. It may also be that our worship moves to public parks, to the lake or other locations conducive to communion with one another and the Spirit.
I wish to be in covenant with several area pastors/congregations who support this new ministry with their prayers. S-S should be self-supporting from the beginning. (It may be acceptable to receive the initial gifts “for the building of God’s house” as it were, though these too came from those who were to worship in the house.) At present I wonder about the benefit of attempting to birth S-S in another congregation; the visions are so different that I fear such a partnership would create strife in the mother congregation and distract S-S from our purposes. So, how specifically to be in covenant relationship remains to be seen. I also wish to be in covenant with the Denomination, and to work with the Office of New Church Establishment to the degree this seems practical.
Initial contacts, besides Disciple congregations (for prayer only) will be social service agencies, colleges, book-stores and those places where “justice-minded” folk and seekers are most likely to gather. I will also seek to have a regular (weekly/monthly) column in a local paper and to find radio time somewhere. At first this may even just be 30 second PSAs or 1-5 minute topical presentations, sort of thoughts-for-the-day. I may also need to personally embrace some local ministry or group in need.
I have no idea how attractive this type of church will be. I do not believe that the answer is very important, as “attractiveness” or similar measures do not indicate success. I do need to determine some measurable and attainable goals for this work that will help others and me to evaluate the ministry.

Myself as Pastor of Shalom-Shabbat
I am a child of God, and am called to know God through the revelation of Jesus of Nazareth, called the Christ and son of God. I am to personally draw closer to God through prayer and the other spiritual disciplines. Second I am responsible to my family: Laura my wife, Camille and Russell, and then to my parents, siblings and others. With my family I count those close friends of mine who are family in the spirit if not in the blood: Steve and Kelly Beasley and Otis Thornton. Third I am responsible to serve God by loving those others as I can without forsaking my first two obligations.
Therefore, my time in developing and leading Shalom-Shabbat will remain in healthy balance and not overwhelm my self or my family. If it should get out of balance, I will radically re-focus or walk away, as I feel led.
I believe that it is important for my salaried career to be outside of a congregation, so that I am not bound by financial constraints in carrying out that which I believe the Spirit is leading me to do. If others wish to help finance the birthing of this congregation, all support must go to the ministry, not to me.
While this is my vision, I am not in isolation. All decisions are made in consultation with Laura as my companion in life. Anything I do affects her. All decisions regarding the church will also be made in consultation with an external group of advisers, most likely Disciple and other clergy and friends in the area where the church will be formed. Among these I hope will be Bill Pennington, Jeff Gehle, Andy Mangum, Susan White, Dawn & Joe Darwin/Weeks.
I do not believe that the church must by necessity compromise either its vision or its calling simply because we are broken and frail. Yes, we will make grave errors at times, but we must embrace both the grace and the courage to confront brokenness in and among us. Mutual accountability will help us to maintain this continuity and commitment to pursuing the ideal, while acknowledging that its fulfillment is incomplete in this life.
I will seek to be as fully open and accountable with the congregation as I call them to be with one another and with me. That means that I must feel free to say “I don’t know” or “I doubt it.”
Jesus sent the disciples in pairs. Moses had Aaron and Miriam. I believe that I need a partner in this journey other than Laura. I pray that she too will feel called to this work and embrace it. Yet I do not believe that she will be the partner of which I speak. I do not know who the partner might be, or if it is even someone now known to me. I simply believe that I should not do this alone; that would begin an unhealthy pattern that would then be very difficult to reverse.
I will not sacrifice principle for respectability or stability or even survival of the congregation. Better to allow the congregation to die a martyr’s death than compromise the principles upon which it is founded. (c.f. “Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery”)

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