Contributed by Adam Fox
We like our meaty sermons…
Two years ago my wife and I found ourselves feeling lonely, surrounded by 500 other believers. We had gone through the colossal effort of getting our three young children to church on a Sunday. But as soon as we arrived, we smiled at a few people we had come to know after seven years of attendance and proceeded to try to focus on God in a room full of mostly strangers. After the sermon, we only had a few minutes to interact with our fellow attendees before the building would be shut down. It was in those minutes that we desperately tried to make connections with other Christians- to build meaningful relationships that would allow us to find accountability, support, and someone to talk over the sermon with. But there just wasn’t enough time. We left there, seeking a new way to do church—a new way that took advantage of the time we shared with other Christians. A model that made the most of the “gathering” time.
Then we found L24…
We went to the second event the Courtney’s hosted and knew instantly it had the potential to be what we were looking for. L24 was, and continues to be, a work in progress. A chance to start a new model of church, from scratch. Since it is in it’s formation, we all have the chance to guide it’s direction. So when I get discouraged with something that I have found in this church, I know that I have permission to get involved and bring about change.
I have noticed that in this new model, the sermon is not the center of the meeting, like it is in most churches. And I have spoken with several members of the group that also observe this.
“I love the idea of L24, but I’m wondering where is the spiritual ‘meat’?”
“The teaching content seems kind of light.”
“My old church had its problems, but pastor always gave a really good sermon. I miss that.”
Can you identify with any of these statements? I know I can. Since joining L24 I have often noted that the theological content is not as “deep” as it was at my former church. I grew up going to church three times a week- hearing three sermons, or some version of a sermon, at every meeting. Now I go to church once a week, and only get a traditional sermon once a month (at Reunion)! What’s up with that?
I often find myself doing this thing when I think about L24 and I compare it to a traditional church. I tend to be glad it is unlike my former church in very specific ways (more relationally focused, more authentic) but at the same time, I expect it to be just like my former church in every other way (especially spiritual teaching). For example, I’m so glad that we are a “church around the table”, where we are all invited to gather, rest, be our true selves, and not feel pressured to “perform”- which is unlike my church experiences of the past. But at the same time I have a tendency to copy and paste all my expectations about traditional church onto L24. I want a good kid’s program, I want good sermons, and I want pastoral figures to be available to me for personal care when I need it. What about you? Do you do this too?
We recently bought a new (used) car. In deciding what kind of car, I decided I wanted a car that could seat seven people, but gets good mileage, and isn’t too expensive. But ya’ know what I learned? That doesn’t exist! I found I could not “have it both ways”.
We can’t have it both ways at L24. We are not well served when we copy and paste all our expectations from traditional church onto L24 and then wonder why L24 isn’t meeting those needs.
If you haven’t read Joe’s blog entitled “Burnout & The Big Machine”, now is a great time. I can wait. Go ahead...
L24 is a church that is prioritizes personal relationships over the “Evangelical Industrial Complex”. The EIC is a direct descendant of our consumer culture. We go to church, we receive “services”-- worship time, sermons, programs-- and we theoretically “pay” for these services through tithing and participating in programs the church is running. We show up as consumers to “get fed”, and understand what is required in terms of payment. This is basically a spiritual restaurant. (Is this a criticism of other churches? No! It’s an observation. No church model is perfect.)
But we have a different idea of how church can look. This model looks more like a potluck and less like a restaurant. At a potluck, you aren’t looking to the host to provide you with a meal, you are expecting them to facilitate as everyone brings something to contribute. At a potluck, you never know exactly what is going to be served. Things are much less predictable than at a restaurant. You are not a consumer; you are a partner (say it with me: “priesthood of all believers”). Can you see why you have to come with an entirely different set of expectations? The host is not some hot shot chef (like an untouchable, celebrity pastor). They are just the person with the capacity to organize the gathering, and communicate the details to those who would attend. The guests are there to share the food that they have made on their own, and to receive from what you have brought. But here’s the key to a potluck- the guests have to know how to feed themselves if this gathering is going to work.
In our potluck church, you can’t just sit in your seat, ignore everybody, and slip out quietly. You are going to rub elbows with people- literally. You are going to be invited to give a real answer when someone says “How are you?” And if your answer is a long one, you and that someone can go into the corner and talk about what’s happening in your life. You have time to do that here because we believe that those conversations are crucial to our spiritual health. In our potluck church, everyone shares of themselves. One person doesn’t do all the talking. And here you can ask questions! Did you know that you are not the only person that sometimes has doubts about your faith? Bring your questions! We can open God’s word together (our Gold Standard), and try to understand it more fully. We might not all see it the same way, but is that a requirement to fellowship together? What would happen if we disagreed? I can tell you-- we would both have the opportunity to develop our faith more deeply, because we are testing it.
So, if you come to L24 and you’re saying “Where’s the beef?” my answer is-- “You need to reset your expectations.” This is a potluck, not a restaurant. We can access fantastic sermons with a few taps of our phones (I have been blown away by the Woodland Hills Church Podcast). The same goes with worship music (I’m still not sick of singing “Reckless Love”.) And Amazon can ship you the collected works of C.S. Lewis in just 2 days! There is no shortage of accessible “meat”! I don’t need a live monologue every Sunday for that anymore! But, you know what technology can NOT provide? Accountability, belonging, discipleship-- those things can ONLY happen in the context of personal relationships. Jesus gave some amazing sermons, but it was the personal relationships that He developed that made His time on earth so effective. I have sat under pastors that gave me high quality “meat” week after week, but I ended up fat and lazy, because I was not learning how to feed myself. The lack of rarified spiritual content at L24 has caused me to take my personal devotional life far more seriously. And when I have a problem that I want to process with someone, or a sermon has convicted me about something, I can discuss it within one of the meaningful relationships I have found here at L24. You might say I am bringing a “dish” to share. ;o)
Speaking of Jesus, John 4:34 says: Jesus explained, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work.” How is Jesus fed? The verbs are “do” and “finish”! Action verbs! Maybe being fed has less to do with what goes into us, and more to do with our actions.
One last bit-- maybe you’re saying “But why can’t Joe give us a really good, meaty sermon once a month? Is that too much to ask?” No-- it’s not too much to ask, per se. But, everything comes with a cost. Do you know how long it takes a pastor to write a sermon? Would you believe 8-10 hours? Yikes! Now, add that to what it costs to perform administrative duties for our church (scheduling events, coordinating people, boring details). Add that to the individual spiritual care Joe provides (caring for members in times of personal crisis). Add that to vision casting for the future, and building relationship with the members. Don’t forget reaching out to new people! All that adds up to a LOT! Oh yeah, and he has a full time job! And a family! Including a baby! Nobody can do all those things!
To be clear, I wholeheartedly believe in the value of local spiritual teaching. Teaching is a valuable spiritual gift, and should be exercised here! A local teacher is best suited to speak to an issue affecting all of us. Also, there is power in gathering as a group and learning together. But at L24, we recognize the vital balance between teaching content and the other aspects of spiritual life.
The vision is for the work of L24 to be supported by many pillars, so that if one person is removed, the church still stands. Let me tell ya--- we’ve still got a long way to go. So, in the future, hopefully the workload of the church will be divided among more members. The goal is to NOT need L24 to feed us with sermons. The goal is for all of us to feed each other, in our personal relationships-to ALL work together as priests in this church. That’s a big reason why I believe in the vision of L24- to be a part of a community of believers where we can have authentic, productive relationships. But that takes work… a lot of work… and as consumers, we don’t always have the patience for that. But if you can summon that patience, invest yourself and your efforts into this church, and seek out those relationships at L24-- then we will all see this beautiful dream come true-- a dream where we are all at the potluck together, feasting, sharing, growing, laboring side by side-- and all leaving with our hearts full so that we can DO what we are called to do.