A little over a year ago, I was approached to be a part of starting a new church, a plant from a church that I had attended for a few years and which I still worked with in their singles ministry. The hook being that the-man-who-would-be-head-pastor wanted this to be a multi-cultural church and if the church truly wanted to be multi-cultural, it had to begin with its leadership structure. So after talking with my wife and a few friends who were in full time ministry, I signed on. Maybe it would be better said that I held on, since it has been quite the roller coaster ride.

The plant started in earnest almost six months ago, when it was just the head pastor and myself. Over the next few months, we pulled together a launch team. It began with casting a vision for a church. After an exhaustive process, we finally chose a name (The Dwelling Place) and assembled the core values of what we wanted to be about as a church. Part of making sure the launch team was on the same page meant exploring things together, concepts that we may have taken for granted: what it means to become a disciple, how we view the Bible, what it means to be a part of community, eating meals together as a part of building community, thinking through the children’s ministry, and finally, what it means to be a missional church.

We’ve covered a lot of ground, yet lately I’ve been feeling rather discouraged. Though the subject of much discussion, we decided not to simply strike out on our own, partly for practical reasons (like support and even identification) and partly out of loyalty to our mother church. Our head pastor had been there for over ten years and wanted The Dwelling Place to be “birthed’ by the mother church that had nurtured so many of our launch team. We saw this as a way to continue on the mother church’s work in a way that it couldn’t because they were a large modern church. There is a whole culture and mindset that they can’t reach simply because the church doesn’t get them and doesn’t speak their language.

We came to realize that we risked falling into the same trap.

It’s easy to lose focus on what we should be about and instead get caught up in battles of “us vs. them,” even when the “them” is another church. To get caught up in the hubris of thinking that other churches don’t “get it” and that after a couple thousand years of church history, suddenly we have the right answers. It seemed like we became “about a building,” raising money, and playing at church … all the while forgetting to be a church. Our time was disproportionally spent on things other than reaching out and building relationships.

All the while forgetting about the lost.

You’ve got to wonder if the Holy Spirit has been directing people away from some of our churches. You know which ones. Those vortexes of religiosity more concerned with maintaining or growing their personal empires rather than having a vision for church planting and growing the kingdom.

Sure, things are a little tough, but I look at this as an experiment in doing church. Things don’t change unless people take risks. Being a multi-cultural church plant sounds nice, but the reality is that we’re building a church on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised, without denominational support. Too often, we don’t like lost, messy people. We want nice, “fixed” people a lot like us. We may struggle with sins, but they’re sins that sound nice to be struggling with, like “pride” (which would be great if we really struggled with them as opposed to paying them lip service). Basically, we want a comfortable church. One where others provide the service, we get spiritually entertained, and then go home. I can’t blame folks for wanting to be, and stay, comfortable. However, the lost aren’t being entertained by such services.

The other thing that we had to re-remember was that instead of waiting to “buy a church”, we already were a church. We were a group of people who come together for corporate worship, learning, and spiritual formation. We came together learn how to love God and love each other a little more. There are many ways to “do” church from the high church (the traditional, liturgical expression of church), to the house church (the small groups model) or even “fringe” church (like people who regularly hang out in coffee shops). Having deep ecclesiology means embracing all of these forms of church. We were simply looking for a place to serve since we have outgrown the house that we meet in.

The biggest take home lesson? Watching how a church operates, especially one of the larger ones, is much watching sausage being made: you don’t want to know how it’s done. The key is to realize that the church as an institution is like the people who make it up. Flawed. Broken vessels building and running broken institutions. And I try to extend the same grace I hope is extended to me when people notice just how screwed up I am. I echo C.S. Lewis’ sentiment in that rather than ask how Christians could behave that way, I wonder how much of a mess they would be if they weren’t Christian. Because I’d surely be a mess.

Well, messier.