Thursday, October 21, 2010

Should a church feel like a night club opening?

The Regent University Mission team was in New York City this week to serve on the streets and in the hospitals to give care and compassion in the name of Christ. To be fair, there is great debate as to what if anything a short term team can accomplish that adds to the work going on long term in a location. For that reason, I work to always come alongside existing ministries like NYSUM  or The Bowery.

But once the students get out on those streets, they discover the truth that ministry is draining. Jesus knew it... when the woman with a 12 year medical problem touched him, the Bible records Jesus' words "Someone touched me, for I perceive that power has gone out from me." That's why our groups always visit not one but several great, bible-believing churches to recharge spiritually. This trip, it just so happened that Hillsong NYC  was launching as a new church. We joined nearly 4000 other young people in making this first service a can't-miss event.  In fact, for the first time I can remember, we stood in line for church for over an hour and a half!

Going to a church service that felt like the opening of a new club was a novel experience. People walking down the street would stop and ask, "What's happening here?"  The answer would come, "It's the launch of a new church," to which there was an inevitable quizzical rejoinder, "What kind of church?" Answer: One unlike I've ever seen!

Couple of observations about this new church from a former church planter: 

1. Almost no money was spent on advertising/marketing. The push was through Twitter @HillsongNYC btw. (yes I follow) as well as Facebook. The result? A huge crowd of young, hip church goers.

2. The pastor/spiritual rock star @CarlLentz was on the scene giving a very distinctive flavor for the evening. Virginia Beach residents will know him as the hip Pied Piper of Soul Central at Wave Church. Others of us know him as the once-errant son of Steve and Kathy Lentz (also in attendance) and the result of much prayer over the years. God got hold of this guy in a unique way that connects with young adults like very few people I've ever seen. High energy for sure.

3.   Big guns @BrianHouston and @BobbiHouston, the dynamic duo co-pastors of the Hillsong Sydney "mother ship" were on hand, as well as their son @JoelHouston, the creative mind behind Hillsong United. Added into the mix was @JudahSmith from City Church in Seattle to give the service the feel of an All-star game of young, hip evangelical leaders in the US and Australia.

4. The young people who were there made it clear, however, that the unifying factor was not the pastor, nor the preaching, nor the "namebrand" church Hillsong, but the music. From the first chord, the crowd hopped, reached, sang and shouted in a familiar sway, demonstrating that it was the experience that mattered, not so much the personalities. Over three thousand people waited in a queue for hours to experience the chance to feel freedom and liberty.

So hop and sway and shout we did, drawing on the spiritual hunger and energy in the Salvation Army theater near Union Square. It replenished us, encouraged us, and sent us out to do more work for others. Do you think a church should feel like the opening of a night club? Let me know.

Pastor Judah Smith meeting Crystal from our team

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Who Are the Homeless?

Her bag could have been from Fendi, a chic accessory joining the crisp, cool air to give notice that fall had come to the corner of Fifth Avenue and 55th St. The crumpled papers in her hand might have been a playbill from the latest show that the most fashionable boots in the City had tromped by droves to see. The swirl of her conversation could just as well have been recounting her latest visit to Harry Winston’s or De Beers there on fashionable 5th Avenue.

But it wasn’t.

Instead, her conversation over coffee sitting on her bag in the shadow of 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church was an orientation of sorts. This, her first night on the streets of New York City revolved around overzealous policemen who kicked, fined or screamed profanity at her. Prior to tonight she had tried to resolve her “circumstances” by sleeping on the subway. With her bag and knit sweater primly tucked around her, she survived for months in this manner, by day the fiancĂ© of a Chinese pastor, by night a hounded denizen of the public transportation system.

I didn’t understand.

Why would this spirited, Asian woman be sleeping on the street? I began to ask questions, to discover the reasons behind her circumstances. Had she spoken to her fiancé the pastor? Did the church know she was here? How long had they been paying the fines levied on her for her nomadic public slumber? I needed a peg to hang this on, an entry point into her world.

She rebuked me.

“I could tell you more about my circumstances, but you couldn’t begin to understand. You would think you did, but you don’t. You would misunderstand and tell someone. And you’d be wrong. You don’t have the perspective of God. Would you like to know why I am here tonight?” Mutely, I shook my head. “I’m here in complete surrender to the will of God.”

She was right.

I needed a tidy explanation. I wanted her to fit into a category that explained her presence there across from the Fendi store, sleeping on the steps. As her rebuke sunk in, I knew I asked questions to discover how she was different from me. How she had fallen. Where she had chosen unwisely; who had failed her, harmed her, victimized her. So that she would be a “homeless” and I her encourager, rescuer, reaching down across the gulf to show my goodness.

Who is my neighbor?

A question asked of Jesus, that ancient sage, designed not to enable further outreach or care for a new friend, but to categorize. To place someone in a group different from oneself, and so to insulate from up close, personal love and care. And so Jesus told a story, about a man in need. A man treated roughly by life, robbed of his dignity and left alongside the road to rot. A man much like the lady I met. But wise Jesus told the story not to focus on a victim who needed help, but on the startling responses from those walking alongside the street. The fashionable, acceptable residents of that city walked right by the man. They knew he belonged to a different category, a man who had made poor choices. Given time, they might help, but circumstances dictated otherwise. But the hated Samaritan walked up and entered the world of the man by the road. Without judging his circumstances, he brought care, and according to Jesus, demonstrated that he was that man’s neighbor. And then I realized, it didn’t matter how she got there…

Eiku is my neighbor.