Thinking About...*Our* Church

When I was a younger pastor I had a conversation with a more experienced pastor who is fifteen or twenty years ahead of me in ministry and life. He told me that no one would care as much about City Church as I do. It’s my job, after all. And because it’s my job, I spend a lot of time thinking about the church. Sometimes I can begin thinking about (and even referring to) City Church as “my church”. I’ve been thinking about how I can make sure that people inside and outside City Church understand that it isn’t my church, but our church.

Passenger and Engine

City Church Administrator, Val Catrow, recently attended a day of professional development focused on volunteer recruitment and retention. One of the things she observed is that at City Church, like other churches, our volunteers and "clients" (i.e. the people benefitting from volunteerism) are essentially the same group of people. When Val shared this insight with me, I immediately thought of bicycles (this may have been around the time of The Big Bike Race™ and I may be a bit obsessed with bicycles). City Church is a lot like a bicycle: the passenger is its engine.

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In the Church, the people who do the work of ministry are also the recipients of the work of ministry. The Bible talks about this particular reality of church life through the language of one another-ing. Again and again, Christians are urged to one another each other. Love one another (John 13:34); serve one another (Galatians 5:13); bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2); pray for one another (James 5:16); forgive one another (Colossians 3:13). You get the picture.

Our Church

A few weeks ago I spoke at a Missions Conference hosted by a church in Suffolk, VA. During the worship service I was struck by the repeated emphasis their pastor made in saying, “This is our church.” His word choice was intentional. He wanted to make sure that the congregation understood that the work of the church as whole depended on their individual participation in that work.

This emphasis is necessary, more so than ever, for several reasons. First, we live in a society that is more and more individualistic. From an early age we are taught to stand on independent, personal achievement. We define ourselves based on private choice not communal commitments. Advertising is targeted to us more individually based on our browsing history. Rather than organizing schedules around a fixed TV schedule, we decide which show to binge watch and when we will watch it. Our priorities have shifted from us to me.

Second, we are conditioned by societal structures that foster passivity over participation. Technology is one obvious example. We have grown accustomed to automatic software updates for our computers and our phones. We expect developers to make things better, to upgrade to the latest version, automagically including all of the features we most desire. We import this expectation to the rest of life, including church. We naturally approach church like a smartphone app—wanting to download the latest version and get all the updated features.

Bicycle and Body

But if City Church is our church, if the passenger of the church is its engine, then we must participate in the development of all new church software. Together we must debug the existing programs and together we must develop new features. City Church is a bicycle. Perhaps more like a tandem bicycle, or a triplet, quad, quint, or hex. It’s a ridiculous image, but one that proves a point: the church is a community of people, organized under the lordship of Jesus.

I hope that you know and feel like City Church is your church, that it is our church. While some of us are on staff and others have roles of formal leadership, the church belongs to all. We desire to have a church structure that reflects our reciprocal dependence on each other. We are a body, functioning soundly only when all parts coexist in mutuality. Over the next few months we will be running a series of posts on the website aimed at sharing stories across the broad life of our church, highlighting different ways people are serving, sometimes in hidden pockets or forgotten corners of the church. We hope that these pictures will help you better appreciate the varied beauty of our church.