By Spencer Burke
For years, I’ve tried to put my finger on it—the reasons why I left the professional pastorate. And you know, more than anything, I think it’s this: I lost my first love.
The reality is that much of what we call ministry today is really administration. It’s about adding things—programs and strategies and rules. In my 22 years as a pastor, I often administered more than I ministered, if that makes sense. I’ve come to see that I was an add-minister more than a minister.
Even worse, I now recognize much of what I did in those years was actually about me—what I needed to do to feel safe and secure. It was about my needs more than the needs of the community.
Nevertheless, it seems I’m a pastor again. My friend Matt, and his wife, Krista are pastors as well. And so is my wife and my five-year-old son, Alden. Yup, we’re all pastors at Church.
No, really. That’s what it’s called: Church. Not First Presbyterian. Not Solomon’s Porch or Scum of the Earth or some other cool postmodern name. It’s just called Church—and it meets well, whenever and wherever we decide to meet. Last week it was the park; next week, it might be the beach.
It’s pretty wild, isn’t it? I mean, who would have thought I’d be starting a church with just one other couple and no budget? Who does that? Who says, “Hey, wanna start a church on Thursday?” and believes God could be in it?
Former add-ministers trying to unpackage ministry, I guess. I really don’t know how else to explain it. All I can say is that Lisa and I feel like it’s time. Time to try again. Time to start living out some of the ideas we’ve been talking about for years. Time to move away from the institutional church and toward a new kind of kingdom community—one where the voice of a homeless man is just as valid as the guy with the seminary degree.
As far as program goes, we don’t have one and you know what? I’m okay with that—well, not really, but I’m trying. Although some would say we’re taking the easy way out—planting a church overnight with no set plan—I’m actually finding it extremely difficult. I mean, where I come from, planting a church means months—if not years—of planning, 50 families and at least $25,000 in start-up money. At the very least, it means filing a 501C3 and declaring yourself an official religious organization. And yet, we have none of those things. In fact, we’re breaking pretty much every conventional church-planting rule I know. Why? Because we want to be ministers of the gospel, not “add-ministers.” We want to be of service, not just a service (i.e. Sunday event). But I’d be lying if I said it was easy to let go of the program; it’s not.
It’s funny, the other night we talked about giving. Would we take up an offering? Would we have a church bank account? In the end, we decided against these things and instead, determined that we would all just give to people when we saw needs. So a few days ago my son was out playing and decided to give away the five coins that were rattling around in his pocket. He saw a need, I guess. He literally gave his offering to another kid. He didn’t make stewardship the responsibility of the church administrator or some committee; he just did it.
A week ago we got some food and headed over to a nearby park where a lot of homeless people hang out. Over the next few hours we just talked with people. It was an amazing time. We got to meet Joe, a 50-year-old man who is a jewelry designer by trade. He showed us a beautiful Celtic design he’d done using the letters of the word “Jesus.”
Did I know Joe was going to be there? Nope. Did I ask him to “give the sermon”? Nope. That’s what was so wonderful about it. We just enjoyed being with each other in this organic, earthy way.
Ironically, even though I love this new idea of church, there’s a part of me that still wants to reign it in and box it up in a manageable form. It’s really weird being a no-name church. “But how will people find us?” I asked. “Well, they’ll find us as God leads, I guess,” came the reply. Hmmm. You mean we don’t need a marketing plan? We don’t need a vision statement and a mission statement and a formal discipleship program? What about an events calendar and a regular day to meet—surely we need those things?
It’s funny the stuff I’ve worried about in making this switch. What, for instance, will my biography say when I do speaking engagements? Spencer Burke, Creator of TheOoze and co-founder of Church? No, wait, not Church Inc., just church—with a small c.
I’ve worried about my children. What will happen to them without the safety of an administered Sunday School program. And yet, time and again, they’re wowing me with their grasp of the gospel and their ability to understand the heart and soul of Jesus. Will they miss flannelgraphs? Maybe. Only time will tell I guess.
You know, I’m not sure where this is all leading. All I know is that my story has taken a new turn. I’ve joined the 90% of the church around the world that doesn’t have a paid pastor or a building, but instead, meets in homes, under trees and yes, on California’s beaches.
I’ll keep you posted,
Spencer has also written a book, Making Sense of Church, FIND OUT MORE
If you want to meet up with others in your area and continue the conversation, then join theOOZE’s IndieAllies MeetUp groups. FIND OUT MORE