This blog is a follow up to one which was published a few days ago. That article had more to do with our personal life, and here, will be a little more about the "called" side of our ministry.
Before even starting there let me backup to the word "called". Ministry, in all of it's calling or ordination, could be perhaps noted as professional. When someone asks me here what I do for a living, I say that I am a pastor - this is of course a chosen word.
I wouldn't use the word missionary, but I'm not even sure the word pastor is even a good word. How, for example, can someone be a "pastor" as they plant a church which isn't even in existence. Paul, for example, was not "The Pastor" of the church in Ephesus before anyone was a part of it. Anyways. That brings up the first point of evaluation.
A desire which we had before coming was planting a church. What we didn't have a clear image of was what exactly it means to plant, or what exactly it means to have a church. Integration, at least the definition I found, means bringing separate things or people together. The first challenge is to bring the Gospel to the world. That means to actually MEET the world WITH the Gospel. It cannot mean to IGNORE the world where the Gospel comes... a songwriter said "Heaven meets earth with a sloppy wet kiss/unforeseen kiss" (depending on which you prefer). The Gospel is an unmerited, unforeseen, unknown rendez-vous of God with people.
Too often we try to bring the Gospel without caring about what the world is saying around us or we do things in spite of the world around us. We would be wise to give space for every person in the church and the guests who want to be a part of it the space and time to observe the world around them. We realised, for example, that sitting around a table is incredibly important in our setting.
So we gave a higher value to that then we did at the beginning. In a space it meant moving chairs or tables around. In a spirit it meant listening to each person, asking questions, listening to and accepting the responses we heard.
So we lived a tension from the very beginning. Yes, you need a physical space to meet, but to what end? Does a physical building make a church? That tension lasted from day one. We were fitting people already Christian with people who were pseudo-Christian (or those fooled by a false Gospel) and those who had never really heard the full Jesus message or read a Bible.
The tension was heavy. Which vocabulary should be used? Which Bible read? Which songs sung? What expectation for daily life? Which roles for each person?
Early on we made the observation that the price of doing church (in a building, at a given hour, in the form given) was quite a poor integration to daily life in our context. It's important to not skip steps. We had, in all good intentions, started a church but not planted the church.
So we stripped things back. It hurt. People got upset. Some people left. We stripped it back as a response to the tension felt in the integration of the Gospel to daily life. Leave the building aside. Allow people to leave who didn't agree with the vision or who didn't find the work to be Christian enough.
We still had public meetings, but invited each person, whether Christian or not, to play an active role in the work of God in and amongst their neighbors and family.
Rural church planting in post-Christian France is hard. Every little victory has to be counted and cherished while not overblown. Each person who picks up a Bible, each person who can articulate the Gospel, each person who says "when do we get together again", each person who utters a messy prayer for the first time, each person who confesses Jesus or is baptised into His Kingdom must be celebrated.
Rather than celebrating events, we started celebrating people. There was a lot of tension in this, and it was always at odds integrating it into a general French culture which has a hard time celebrating the individual.
Sometimes we celebrated these with the wrong words, "this person is showing great signs and could be a good leader" isn't the same as "this person is a good leader".
Of course the great victory to celebrate is Christ victorious over death. We came back to this all the time, it was the center of all things- some people got tired of hearing it, but we can't leave it until it's woven into everything.
So where is the "church" at Descartes today
There is no longer a physical building to find in Descartes. There is no longer a public meeting space in Descartes (for "Sunday service"). We learned that what people there, in that rural setting, were looking for was not a building or thing to belong to, but to belong to each other. There is still a public meeting, seemingly each Friday, with people who enjoy each other's presence. Those people then join each other at area church services on the weekend. Sometimes in Loches, where we also worked, sometimes elsewhere. Some new people join in, some come and go. Everyone deepens their faith and in all reverence and prayer we seek God to open hearts and doors for more people to join the Kingdom of Jesus.
It looks nothing like what we wanted when we started, most likely we were the ones who in all our zest and zeal painted a picture with our own brushes, rather than those of God. The years were not in vain and something new and fresh is there.
Leaving Descartes was hard for us and hard for the church. While we were called elsewhere by our organization and we realized ourselves it was time to move on, the church wasn't ready for us to leave.
It is, though, in steady hands. Several skilled teachers are there. Several skilled pray-ers are there. Several gracious hosts are there. Several savvy discerners are there. Whether it lasts 100 years or 10 years isn't for us to determine, we'll leave God doing his business there. Our earnest hope is that the truth of the Gospel continues to shine.
That's enough for today- for Fougères and Tomorrow, come back on Monday.