Friday, February 25, 2005

a pleasant surprise

My conversation with the pastor at Zarephath Community Chapel surpassed my expectations by light years. It was positive, productive and deeply encouraging. Rob Cruver, the pastor, leapt several points upward in my estimation from this meeting.

One of the biggest things I carried away from this was Rob's genuine humility. I started off the meeting by saying essentially (but politely) that I was genuinely unsure of whether Zarephath is even the right place for me to attend. He didn't try to convince me that it was, not even once. That's virtually unprecedented in my experience.

He also didn't get defensive when I critiqued his sermons as shallow. He was a little taken aback, but he also admitted that I'm not the first person to tell him that he's not providing much for people to think about, and that he's going to have to put more effort into giving his sermons more oomph in the analysis and application departments.

I also mentioned that I got a little soured on the church by some of the political attitudes I encountered before the election. I've mentioned the one, where Eowyn's Sunday School teacher told me I shouldn't bother going to church if I was planning to vote for Kerry, but there were others. The political action bulletin board also has a ton of GOP campaign literature for the taking, and the Sunday before the election there was a reminder (not from the pulpit) that it was our Christian duty to elect professing Christians to office, because God's blessing is on such people, and they actively seek God's guidance, blah blah blah blah blah.

Well, Rob was disappointed that someone actually would be crass enough to link faith and the GOP to that extent, and apologized for it. He also explained that they had asked both political parties to provide their literature but the Democrats never came through, and what's more, he agreed with me that Christians often get one-sided in their allegiances when they try to infuse their faith into the political process. And it wasn't just a polite thing either; apparently the head of the Pillar of Fire Bible college on the church campus, when he came to the area a few years ago, was of the opinion that you couldn't be a Christian and vote Republican.

Rob said he would have to introduce the two of us, since he's sure we would hit it off fine.

Also nicely, we talked about our visions -- in Rob's case, for the church; in mine, for the sort of ministry I'd like to be involved with.

I used to head a drama ministry at my old church. There's been talk of starting a drama ministry at Zarephath as well, but nothing else public but talk. Well, apparently they've hired someone to head the drama ministry this August, and the guy they've hired has pretty much the same vision I'd had for our drama ministry back at Community Gospel Church. He wants to have dramas during the church service each week to lay the groundwork for or build upon the sermon, and he wants to do other things in the community. First is some sort of open-air evangelical outreach via drama -- the mere thought is enough to make me cringe, given the caliber of most evangelism through drama -- but he also wants to bring something to the community in terms of theater, by performing honest-to-gosh plays like "The Crucible" or "Death of a Salesman" that deal with eternal issues honestly without being distinctly Christian.

Wow. That's *exactly* what I would have loved to do at my old church, if we had been granted the breakthrough in numbers that we would have needed. (And in an area like this part of New Jersey, a theater presence would be a tremendous asset. We're an hour away from Broadway, and the two Tony-winning theaters outside New York are here in the area as well.)

So since it's evident that the two of us have similar visions for what it means to be serving God, I shared with Rob my vision for a community where the believers share all their possessions in common and use their freed-up wealth to reach out to the needy around them. He was visibly impressed with the vision, and said he'd love to see that happen, although he's uncertain how that would play out in New Jersey, where people drive 30 or 40 minutes to get to church, making community fairly difficult to cultivate. (My response was that even with that distance, there would still be pockets of church members who live fairly close together, and one goal should be to encourage a sense of community within those pockets, and to get people to view the church as a place we gather for worship on Sundays, and not as the place where all ministry and spiritual activity is centered.)

Anyway, it went well. So well in fact that he told me his chief goal right now is to get more people actively involved in discipleship relationships, where one person is committed to discipling three or four other men.

He asked me to consider being one of those leaders. I'm considering.

So. I'm impressed, and I was really pleased at how well this went today. I was bracing myself for a huge disappointment and a need to plunge back into the waters to find a church, but as I told my wife today, "If you want to keep attending this church, I'm a lot more open to it now than I was last week."

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