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A Quiet Catalyst in the Arts

A Quiet Catalyst in the Arts

A Quiet Catalyst in the Arts

Christ Community has always been intentional about its mission and discipleship. A few years ago we began to think about how to be a more intentional influence on the culture of our communities and the world. What would it look like if we didn’t just observe culture but participated in its cultivation? What if, rather than critiquing or vilifying it, we became active participants; in redeeming it and creating redemptive work that influenced it?

Part of this shift in our thinking led us to the arts. We began to imagine using our creativity and talents to positively impact the world. We wanted to create art that was beautiful, thought-provoking, and redemptive.

What would it look like if we didn’t just observe culture but participated in its cultivation?

The Power in Art

Arts have the power to transform individuals and communities, and we were brazen enough to believe that we could impact the artistic culture in our city and around the world. Art can help us see the world in new ways, to understand each other better, and to connect with our shared humanity. 

We began to imagine using our own creativity and talents to create art that was not only beautiful, but thought-provoking and redemptive, and encouraging one another to embrace works of art and the artists who create them. The arts could be a powerful tool to actively engage and  steward the gifts of our congregants to influence the world for the glory of God by supporting artists, performance organizations, scholarship programs, and missional partnerships.

Looking at how far we have come in the past few years, I am grateful to see the fruit of those conversations. 

Serving the Artistic Community

The Four Chapter Gallery is a prime example of how we are putting these conversations into action. Celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, the gallery is a beautiful space in the Crossroads District that serves Kansas City’s thriving artistic community. With regular gallery hours and a rotating selection of art installations, it has become a beloved presence in the city, especially on First Fridays.

More than just a space to exhibit art, the Four Chapter Gallery is also a community hub where artists come together for encouragement, collaboration, and deep conversation. Under the leadership of curator Kelly Kruse, the gallery is helping to support a new generation of artists who are creatively renewing the world alongside God through the act of generative creation.

A Storytelling Mission

Inspired by a similar mission, two other Christ Community congregants set off on a venture to engage the arts by creating movies that make a difference. Stephen and Mary Pruitt, an economics professor, and an up-until-then stay-at-home mom, focused on crafting beautiful art through the visual storytelling medium of film. Despite having no prior filmmaking experience, the Pruitts set out to make movies that would shape imaginations and spark better conversations. Fifteen years later, their fifth full-length feature film, State of Grace, is making the rounds at film festivals around the country, including two highly acclaimed festivals in Los Angeles and New York City, along with a Kansas City premiere at the Glenwood Arts Theatre (coming October 13-15, 2023).

State of Grace is a timely and beautiful film about a young mother who loses control of her life and the custody of her one-year-old daughter, Grace, due to a growing addiction to fentanyl. Inspired by actual events, it is a deeply moving film about the power of community and the price of love. Another example of how Christ Community is quietly encouraging artists to create art that sparks meaningful conversations. 

Consider Engaging

Creativity is taking place all around us in closer proximity than you could imagine, and supporting the growing impact of Christ Community in the arts is as simple as taking the time to view exhibits and shows being presented. In a world filled with endless entertainment options, it is easy for artists to wonder if they are just adding to the noise. One of the best ways we can support the arts in our community is by taking the time to notice and appreciate this continued creation. Engaging locally, relationally, and intentionally moves this mission forward. And when we are relationally connected to the artists who created the work, we view and respond to it differently. 

In a world filled with endless entertainment options, it is easy for artists to wonder if they are just adding to the noise. One of the best ways we can support the arts in our community is by taking the time to notice and appreciate this continued creation.

Join Christ Community in our mission to engage in the arts and influence culture. Start by supporting the opportunities for engagement right around you. Two ideas for this month include visiting First Friday at the Four Chapter Gallery and seeing State of Grace at the Glenwood. Maybe next month attend an art festival in the community, find an artist whose work resonates with you, and start a conversation. 

 

So You Went from Scientist to Pastor? Please Explain!

So You Went from Scientist to Pastor? Please Explain!

It was January 26, 2023, the end of my fourth week as a pastor at the Downtown Campus. That month had been filled with endless meetings, some delightful and others…I’ll let you fill in the ellipsis. My favorite meetings were those I had with congregants over coffee, dinner, or just about every meal! That cold January evening, as I walked to my car after having coffee with a congregant, I stumbled upon what looked like a lovely place to grab some dinner; soup to warm up my Puerto Rican bones. A little while after I was seated and cozy in my chair, with my head buried in something, (probably the menu or a book), someone approached my table. She waved at my face so that I would notice her presence. It was a young woman from the Downtown Campus. “Are you dining alone?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied with delight. “May I join you?” she continued. I was filled with joy and gladness on account of such a wonderful “coincidence” (or shall we say providence?). “Yes, absolutely!” I replied. After some small talk and giggling over God’s gift to both of us that evening, my new friend blurted out a question with puzzled sincerity, “So you went from scientist to pastor? Please explain!” I bursted out laughing because I often see this question in people’s faces when they meet me for the first time, but no one had ever asked it in such a creative, pointed, and hilarious manner. Hence, here I am, explaining.


From scientist to pastor: when God’s calling makes no sense

I moved to the mainland U.S.A. right out of college in 2006. I was armed with a newly acquired B.S. in Microbiology, two suitcases, a handful of professional dreams, and tenacious determination. I was excited about my internship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, M.D., about the things I would learn from the world class scientists that worked there and, of course, about working with human blood and Hepatitis viruses! What’s not to be excited about? My two-year internship flew by. I loved it! My laboratory skills had sharpened, my spoken and written English had improved dramatically, and I was ready for graduate school. So, I enrolled in the Immunology Graduate Program at the University of Pittsburgh, where my love for the immune system deepened and I started an affair with fungi. Upon graduation, I moved to Madison for postdoctoral training at the University of Wisconsin.

Throughout all this moving around and training in different universities and government institutions, I was also learning how to “do church” in English and figuring out my place amidst the predominantly white evangelical church, which is, perhaps, the most difficult experiment I have ever handled! Over time, I became acquainted with my English Bible and the worship style of the churches I attended, although I must confess that I keep dreaming of walking into church to the beat of salsa music, but I suspect that will never happen! I also began to serve at church, although never to the extent of involvement I had engaged in back home. I had leadership and public speaking gifts that were underutilized. Hindsight tells me that during those relatively quiet ministry days, God was maturing my character: teaching me to listen, sharpening my cultural awareness, and shaping me into the woman that one day would bear the responsibility of shepherding God’s people. Those quiet days ended during my time in Madison, Wisconsin, when my particular set of gifts became evident as I participated in prayer meetings, served in prayer teams, and started preaching again. Eventually, I became an elder at that church and I could not run from God’s calling anymore. 

When the time came for me to decide what to do after completing my postdoctoral fellowship, there was turmoil in my soul. I had planned on a long teaching career at a small college, but something in my soul would not find rest in that pathway. I was losing sleep and focus, I was waking up to pray at crazy hours of the night, and I sobbed and had tantrums in the presence of the Lord because I could not understand why God would ask me to leave a career I had studied long and hard for in order to spend the rest of my life preaching his word and caring for his people. But he gave me no choice. He provided what I needed to go to seminary and made his calling crystal clear. So, I packed my bags and moved to the greater Chicago area to complete the M.Div. program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. 

I must confess I still do not understand why God chose to do things in this manner in my life. So, I cannot fully respond to the “Please explain!” of my dinner buddy. I cannot fully explain how Dr. Hernández-Santos became Pastor Nydiaris. However, I can offer a few insights I’ve gained along the way.


What does a scientist turned pastor do with her lab coat?

First, when a scientist turns pastor, she brings her lab coat to church. When I greet the congregants and guests of the Downtown Campus on Sunday morning, they will not see me wearing my lab coat, but they will surely encounter part of the skill set I gained while working in the laboratory. This can be hard to imagine, perhaps because most people do not personally know a scientist and what they do on a daily basis. Let me briefly describe the task of doing science for you. 

The duties of a scientist vary depending on where they work and what their position is, but at the core of our profession is curiosity about the natural world. We observe the universe, living creatures, the environments in which they live and ask questions. Then we attempt to answer such questions in a systematic manner, guided by the scientific method. Practically, in the academic settings where I worked, I would spend most of my time designing and performing experiments, which was always my favorite part, working with my hands and cool machines. Some days, I would be writing papers and grants, preparing presentations for conferences, public speaking, teaching the occasional lecture, and collaborating with my colleagues.  

Do some of those tasks sound familiar? Does that sound like anything I could use on Sunday morning? I think so. Sure, I no longer intubate mice (yes, that is a thing and I was really good at it!), but many of my observation, communication, project management, and people skills are still incredibly useful! So, maybe Dr. Henández-Santos and Pastor Nydiaris are not so different after all! Perhaps I should don my Sunday best with my lab coat one of these days. 

 

Lab skills repurposed not wasted

This brings me to my second point, namely that my lab skills have been repurposed, not wasted. How so? My “observation powers” kick into gear on Sunday mornings when I greet people. My brain starts gathering data: Have I seen this person before? Where? What is their occupation? Do they look distressed? How can I help? Betsy, she’s limping, I wonder what happened. When I go to someone’s house or the hospital for a pastoral visit, I am observing and reading the room, wondering what’s the mood and what questions I should ask, figuring out if now is a good time for a hug and some prayer. Observe, observe, and observe again! Good for science and, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, it is a super power! 

When I am writing sermons, blogs, or curriculum for theFormed.life, a conglomerate of the skills I honed in the lab come to the forefront. As soon as I am assigned a passage or a topic I start reading and researching, looking at the original language, making observations, asking questions, digging deep trying to understand the culture of the biblical text. Then I gather all the information and start thinking about how to communicate it, my favorite part! Just like I did when I worked in the lab, I think about how to tell a coherent and compelling story about the things I observed. This is when my writing and public speaking skills shine through.

Finally, when I worked in the lab, I had the gift of working alongside people from all over the world. They taught me about their religion, their food (a favorite part of mine!), and their culture. They told me about their families and holidays, their upbringing and their academic journeys. Oh what a precious gift! Few things have done as much for my cultural awareness than working in the lab. Being aware of other cultures helps us empathize with our neighbors by gaining understanding of who they are, which is a deeply pastoral endeavor and something that the church in the U.S.A. is in desperate need of.

I will be forever grateful to the scientific community for providing me with such a safe space to grow and develop, a space to try things and fail, a space to be myself and find my voice, a school of storytelling, a place for growing patience and endurance, a place for training a pastor! 

So, have you ever thought of a particular season of your life as a waste? Have you ever asked the question, “What were those years about? Why did I spend so much time studying that?” Have you ever said, “I have all these skills that are useless to me now?” Think again! Your skills may be on the way to being repurposed, even if you cannot explain the journey.

Seeing the Word: An Introduction to Illumination

Seeing the Word: An Introduction to Illumination

THE ACCESSIBILITY OF GOD’S WORD

Have you ever stopped to think how incredible it is that we are able to have such immediate and unrestricted access to God’s Word? It was not always so in the history of the church, and still isn’t for some believers today. While Scripture is not always easy to understand, we can engage with it in a myriad of forms whenever and wherever we want. We can choose from multiple translations, read it on an app that will give us access to the original language, and listen to recordings at almost any speed we want.

It is a massive privilege to have so many ways to access Scripture, especially to accommodate unique learning styles. But such privilege can create indifference. If we aren’t careful, the living Word of God can become just another kind of media consumed in the same manner as other information.

 

THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD AS A RARE WORK OF ART

As an undergraduate, I studied in Florence, Italy for a semester, devoting all of my learning energy to Renaissance Florence. I began to truly see the arts and sciences as deeply shaped by time and place, interconnected and influencing one another. I saw an illuminated manuscript for the first time in a side chapel of a cathedral in Florence. Illuminated manuscripts are a historic art form, and they comprised a range of texts from contracts and legal documents to poetry and Scripture. To be illuminated, a manuscript generally contains some kind of decoration in the form of ornate calligraphy or illustrations. Illumination has existed in various cultures from around the world. This particular volume was like a predecessor to a church hymnal, though it was at least five times the size of any hymnal I had ever seen. The letters were decorated with bright pigments and gilded with real gold. It was more beautiful than any other musical score I had ever laid eyes on. This manuscript was not made to be creased, marked and used, but venerated and treasured.

In the Middle Ages and early Renaissance, these manuscripts were handwritten by scribes, often on vellum made from animal skins. Even the most skilled scribes typically produced only a few pages per day. When editors found mistakes, they had to be painstakingly sanded off the page or creative notes had to be made in the margins to clarify or add missing words, because to start over meant discarding days’ worth of work. Entire workshops were devoted to the creation of a single manuscript, sometimes taking years to complete.

In the late Middle Ages, the largest library in western Europe included less than 2000 books. If a household owned even a single volume, they were considered very wealthy. You can probably imagine how rare it was to have a copy of the Bible in your household at this time in history. The Word of God was not nearly so accessible to them as it is to us.

The accessibility of knowledge in written form changed forever in 1450 with the invention of the Gutenberg press, and with movable type came the ability to mass produce books in the Western world. What had once been accomplished by human hands could now be done by machine at over a thousand times the speed. In fact, Gutenberg’s first project was to print a new edition of the Bible. But before movable type, copies of the Bible in a single volume were extremely rare. Instead, you’d find several books of the Bible grouped together, like the gospels or the psalms.

Because of their rarity, these manuscripts were precious, and so a lot of effort went into making them beautiful. These handwritten Bibles featured beautiful calligraphy–the words themselves were works of art. Detailed paintings, decorations, and symbolic imagery graced the pages alongside the words. Some volumes are so big that they take up to three librarians to lift. But not all of these books were created for ceremonial display; there were also devotional prayer books built around the passing hours of the day that were essentially pocket-sized and likely used in personal worship. Even these pocket volumes were lavishly decorated across the pages and margins.

Some of the images and symbols from these Bibles feel totally foreign to modern viewers, while others are awe-inspiring in their detail and beauty. The Bible stands as a living artifact, in many ways outside of time. Human beings continue to carry Scripture in their hearts and minds through time, which means that we wear a specific lens when we engage with it, and it takes effort to become aware of that. This is a beautiful reminder of the fact that God chose to partner with human beings in the ancient Near East who were bound to their particular time and place, too. They also wore a cultural lens, but by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, God used people to create something that transcends time and continues to alter the course of the future.

 

“IMAGISTIC” THINKING AND SCRIPTURE

The vast majority of Bibles from the Middle Ages were illuminated, and that speaks volumes about the way Western Christians in that time period approached the text. It doesn’t just mean that they valued beauty as a part of their practice of worship, it also communicates that images were valuable to their process of understanding and meditating upon Scripture.

Imagistic thinking means that when we encounter an image, either in a painting or in the pages of Scripture, rather than only evaluating it analytically or materially, we are looking for the connections and meaning behind it. John Walton argues in his book The Lost World of Adam and Eve that ancient Near Easterners were imagistic thinkers, and were “more likely to think of the world in terms of symbols and to express their understanding by means of imagery.” By contrast, in our culture we are more analytical and scientific in our thinking, and are “primarily concerned with causation, composition, and systematization.”

A great example of imagistic thinking comes in Exodus 14, when God gives Moses the power to divide the sea and makes a way for the Israelites to pass through on dry ground.

The image here is of water being divided and dry ground emerging. The first time we see this image is during days two and three of creation, when God orders the chaotic waters and makes a way for human beings to survive on dry land. If modern readers analyze Exodus 14 and focus only on the material possibility of separating water in the particular manner described in this text or focus on the question of the historical accuracy or dating of such an event, they miss the rich meaning behind the image: God orders chaos and makes a way for salvation, no matter how dire the circumstances, and he has been doing so since the very beginning of creation. This doesn’t mean we disregard questions that are natural for us to ask, like, “Did this actually happen?” It means we don’t only ask those questions.

Art can sometimes remind us that there are invisible meanings and connections beyond what we can see and understand, and if we develop our capacities to engage meaningfully with art, it can assist us in the more difficult process of engaging with the complex images of Scripture. There’s always another layer of meaning we can discover beneath any given passage. Art also provides a material means for us to meditate upon an image without needing to hold it in our imagination. We live in an increasingly visual culture and younger generations are filled with more visual learners.

 

PROLONGING OUR ENCOUNTERS WITH GOD

It isn’t just recovering imagistic thinking that makes illumination valuable. Contemplating illuminations with the text slows us down, beckons us to stop and look, and through that act of intentional seeing, it enables us to notice things that we may not have otherwise. Sacred artists spend time soaking in Scripture and the presence of the Holy Spirit, and they return from that in-between place, offering us a glimpse of their experiences through their work.

When I consider the workshops of illuminators from the past, I imagine artists and thinkers who spent their days contemplating the text and in this in-between, meditative state, they created places for the readers of Scripture to prolong the moment of being in the presence of the Living God.

 

WHAT WAS LOST AND THEN FOUND: IMAGE WITH WORD

With the invention of the printing press, the practice of illumination rapidly declined. Books could be mass produced and so they became less precious. The materials used to produce books changed with technological advances. Yet, though it declined, illumination did not disappear entirely. There were some workshops that continued to produce illuminated manuscripts. It was after the end of the Renaissance that the practice of illumination faded into obscurity.

Fast forward nearly four hundred years to Collegeville, Minnesota, a small town northwest of the twin cities. British calligrapher Donald Jackson was visiting Saint John’s Abbey and University in 1995. Jackson had encountered an illuminated manuscript in a local museum as a child, and his dream of one day creating an illuminated Bible was born. While visiting Saint John’s, he sensed the high value they placed upon aesthetics and faith. He invited them to share in his vision of a modern illuminated Bible, and Saint John’s University made the huge commitment of time and resources to commission one of the first complete illuminated Bibles since the invention of the printing press.

 

THE SAINT JOHN’S BIBLE

This project was a collaborative effort of theologians, scribes, artists, and craftspeople from around the world. It was created in seven volumes, with over 1,100 pages that are two feet tall and three feet wide. Each page of calligraphy took 7-13 hours to complete and was written on calfskin vellum using turkey, goose, and swan quills. The team of scribes used natural handmade inks, hand-ground pigments, and gold and silver leaf gilding. There are over 160 illuminations that grace the pages.

The project took over eleven years and cost 8 million dollars, funded by approximately 1,500 donors.

Though the materials and processes used to create the Saint John’s Bible mirrored the ancient practices of Medieval Bibles, the symbolism, art, and imagery of these Bibles is firmly rooted in the twenty-first century, a reminder of our ongoing participation in carrying Scripture forward, bound as we are to our particular time and place.

One beautiful example of this is that all of the symbolic illuminations that feature plants and animals in the Saint John’s Bible are native species to either the woods surrounding Saint John’s University or Jackson’s scriptorium in Wales. One illumination is of a monarch butterfly in various stages of transformation. The monarch was an endangered species at the time the Bible was created, and one of the donors was heavily involved in conservation efforts to save monarchs. At the same time, the chrysalis and butterfly are powerful symbols of death and resurrection. This reveals the many layers of meaning and significance that can exist within an image, some of them tied to time and place, while others are timeless.

The Saint John’s Bible is a gift to modern Christians. It speaks to the power of beauty as we engage with the truth of God’s word. As a visual artist and an arts advocate, it also reminds me of the role the church can have in encouraging artists as a community. When the Holy Spirit spoke the dream of creating an illuminated Bible into Donald Jackson’s heart as a boy, I doubt Jackson understood how many people it would take to realize such a vision. God’s provision can be seen all over the pages of this magnificent Bible, and it will be a heritage of beauty and truth for generations to come.

 

RESOURCES FOR FURTHER EXPLORATION

View the Book of Kells online. This is a gospel book from c. 800, and it opens with ornate visuals that demonstrate the harmony of the gospels.

The Black Hours is a worship book containing the office of the hours that was created on vellum that was stained black. You can view the manuscript online.

The Ebbo Gospels can’t be viewed in its entirety online, but you can see the stunning and unique portraits of the gospel authors, which are in a style that is energetic and unusual for the time period.

The Saint John’s Bible has an amazing website that you can explore to learn more.

Gender Dysphoria Issues | Dr. Julia Sadusky | POD 003

Gender Dysphoria Issues | Dr. Julia Sadusky | POD 003

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Hosts & Guests

Dr. Julia Sadusky

Paul Brandes – Host

Bill Gorman – Co-Host

Show Notes

We hope to challenge you to think deeply about what it means to follow Jesus in all of life. In this episode, we sit down with Dr. Julia Sadusky to talk about gender identity and gender dysphoria and how the local church can be a place of hope. As followers of Jesus, it is our desire to respond with grace and love to the many cultural shifts relating to gender identity while remaining tethered to a biblical foundation. Our special guest is Dr. Julia Sadusky joining hosts Paul Brandes and Bill Gorman.
 
This is Episode 3 of theFormed.life Podcast, where we hope to challenge you in thinking deeply about what it means to follow Jesus in all of life.
 
 

 

 

At Christ Community, we affirm with our Lord Jesus and believers throughout history that “from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female’” (Mark 10:6; Genesis 1:27). There is a good design to our bodies being sexed, and a beautiful diversity of women and men contributing in genuinely complementary ways in the church, the family, and broader society.

And yet, how do we respond both to a culture that is increasingly opposed to biblical truth and to individuals who are image-bearers of God navigating difficult situations related to their gender identity?

Facing these complex questions can be daunting, but humble listening and learning is always a good next step. This is why, with the encouragement of our Elder Leadership Team, we invited Dr. Sadusky to join us. She is deeply rooted in an orthodox view of the authority of Scripture and holds to a biblical understanding of gender and sexuality. And she models beautifully how to think clearly and love compassionately.

Implausibility of faith in our culture and Complementary alliance  |  POD 002

Implausibility of faith in our culture and Complementary alliance | POD 002

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Hosts & Guests

Melody McSparran

Tom Nelson – Senior Pastor

Paul Brandes – Host

 

Show Notes

We hope to challenge you in thinking deeply about what it means to follow Jesus in all of life. For today’s challenge we are talking about the increased cultural implausibility of our faith, particularly around male, female, gender, and marriage. When it comes to biblical teaching on male, female, and gender is our faith plausible? Special guests are Melody McSparran and Tom Nelson joining host Bill Gorman.
 
 This is Episode 2 of theFormed.life Podcast, where we hope to challenge you in thinking deeply about what it means to follow Jesus in all of life.
 
 

 
Overall gender confusion in our culture and exposure of unhealthy patterns in the church At the same time, increased tension between egalitarians and complementarians (Define terms). Complementarians tend to see men as leading in the church, while egalitarians see women and men as both leading in the church without distinction.
 
When you are stuck in a debate, perhaps a different question needs to be asked: Rather than starting with “Who’s in charge?”, we decided to ask “How are men and women designed to relate to one another?”
 
From there our team decided to embark on a biblical theology of male in female in the Scripture and here is what we found: Rather than an emphasis on human authority in Scripture, God’s creational design in Genesis emphasizes the relationship or synergy between male and female.
 
Now it is important to keep in mind that there are faithful, Bible-loving Jesus followers who disagree on this. So a humble and gracious posture is vital in this conversation.
 
As we did this biblical theology, we saw that men and women are designed to be in complementary alliance as members of God’s family.
 
 
“Complementary alliance” is a two-fold idea. God says in Genesis 2:18, “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper corresponding to him.” The Hebrew word translated “helper” here is a word most often used for God himself in Scripture.
 
The woman is the essential ally that is to come alongside the man so together they may rule and reign over creation. Secondly, she is corresponding to him, or complementary to him. They are both image bearers of God, but bear that image distinctly according to their gender. Therefore our team thought the term “complementary alliance” captures this fundamental ideal in the Creation account.
 
However, the consequences of the Fall fractured this design, and God clearly describes the consequences for the humans relationship; but male domination and female frustration were a result of the fall, not God’s original design.
 
With the starting point of understanding God’s design of Complementary Alliance, we are then in a position to ask how this looks in the church.
 
First of all, we need to grasp that the overriding metaphor to describe the interactions in the church in the New Testament is a family, where God is the Father. He is in charge and has given all authority to His Son.
 
In a family, all are needed and necessary members, but not all function the same. Fathers are not mothers and brothers are not sisters. Each is unique, and each brings a unique contribution.
 
Therefore as the church establishes leadership structures, it must always hold this family dynamic in mind. While leadership structures could look a lot of different ways (and do!) in churches, the importance of functioning as a loving family must always be foremost.
 
We have brief sketches in the New Testament but not a laid-out formula of leadership structures. That is why we need grace when we differ.
 
So, why do we have male-only elders at Christ Community? Elders serve as guardians or watchmen, bearing an extra weight of responsibility on behalf of the family. They are rather like the fathers of the church, protecting it and guarding it. That is not to say that all do not have a responsibility of protecting and guarding the gospel and the church. We do. It’s just that the elders bear the ultimate responsibility in our polity.
 
And like a healthy family, there are places of leadership for women in our church as well. Women should be seen exercising their gifts in all capacities, including pastoral ministry and preaching and teaching when applicable. Indeed, Christ Community has women pastors, women leading in areas of financial responsibility, in worship and many other areas.
The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

The Unhurried and Unstoppable Mission of God

For over two decades we have been committed in our church mission and organizational culture to narrow the Sunday to Monday gap so perilously prevalent in the American church. In the power of the Spirit and with biblical wisdom we have increasingly become a local church congregation with Monday in mind. As a church family we have never been more intentional or more committed to the primacy of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. Yet, I believe two of the most compelling realities for us to keep close to our hearts in narrowing the Sunday to Monday gap are gospel plausibility and proclamation, both of which are more important than ever in our increasingly secular age.

 

Seeing is Believing

The goodness of the gospel so often needs to be seen by others around us before it is truly heard from us. Taking the time to look back at church history reinforces this timeless truth. A particularly insightful church historian is scholar Alan Krieder. Like fellow early church historian Rodney Stark, the question of what enabled the early church to grow as it did against fierce cultural headwinds and formidable odds is one that captures their intellectual curiosity and disciplined research focus. In his excellent book, The Patient Ferment of the Early Church, Krieder puts it this way; “Why did this minor mystery religion from the eastern Mediterranean—marginal, despised, discriminated against—grow substantially, eventually supplanting the well-endowed, respectable cults that were supported by the empire and aristocracy? What enabled Christianity to be so successful that by the fifth century it was the established religion of the empire?”

 Kreider answers this question by pointing to several factors we are wise to emulate. First, he describes what he calls habitus, that is, the very down-to-earth reflexive bodily behavior exhibited in the mysterious mundane of daily life where the early Christians lived, worked, and played. Kreider writes, “Their behavior said what they believed; it was an enactment of their message. And the sources indicate that it was their habitus more than their ideas that appealed to the majority of the non-Christians who came to join them.”  The early church theologian Cyprian summarizes Christian habitus as a non-compartmentalized, comprehensive, and distinct way of life. What we might describe as an integral and coherent life embraced not only on Sunday, but also lived on Monday. Cyprian wrote, “we do not speak great things, we live them.” It was the early Christians’ distinct lives forged and formed in a highly relational community that spoke volumes of plausibility to a curious and watching world. 

 

A Curious Lifestyle

Kreider points particularly to the virtue of patience. At first blush this may be a bit surprising, but the early Christians viewed God’s sovereign mission as “unhurried and unstoppable.” The result was they placed less emphasis on bold strategies and more emphasis on morally and virtuously distinct lifestyles that would be organically and relationally influential over time. The early Christians were known and at times scorned and ostracized for their sexual purity ethic, sanctity of life ethic–particularly for the unborn and newborn, their diligent work ethic, their sacrificial caring for the poor, and for a lifestyle of non-violence. 

 

Working Together

The gospel and its transformational influence was primarily spread in the context of the marketplace. Ordinary Christians, not clergy, were the missional key. Kreider notes, “Christians followed their business opportunities.” Pointing out the witness of Christians, Kreider notes that non-Christians observed distinct Christian differences in the marketplace. Non-Christians “experienced the way they (Christians) did business with them, the patient way the Christians operate their businesses.” Kreider summarized the profound impact of vocational discipleship and vocational mission. “What happened was this. Non-Christians and Christians worked together and lived near each other. They became friends.”

 

A Distinct Lifestyle

While the early church was far from perfect, their pluralistic cultural context is in many ways remarkably similar to our 21st century western world. There is much for us to learn from the remarkable legacy they left behind in shaping the Christian church. Kreider’s helpful insights on the early church’s long-term impact resonate deeply with our church for Monday strategic emphasis. It is our hope that vocational discipleship will bring increased spiritual formation and with it a distinct lifestyle and bold verbal witness to our local, national, and global marketplace. 

While we desire to employ our best creativity and strategic thinking moving forward, we are wise to remember the early church’s patient ferment, knowing that in redemptive history as it unfolds in front of our eyes, God’s mission is unhurried and unstoppable. With a tenacious trust, an unhurried pace, and a patient posture, may we not only speak great things, but also live them before a curious and watching world.