I wrote what follows a few months ago in response to a request for writing submissions to a specific prompt. My 800 words never saw the light of day in the end, for lots of reasons. Yet last weekend I remembered again that this piece of writing exists and so I thought that I might post it here instead!
Our baby was born on my twenty-fifth birthday.
The pregnancy had been months, of course, as it always is. We’d felt excitement and trepidation, joy and panic, all tied up in an incoherent jumble of emotions. Everything was going to change. We knew that.
We’d spend hours dreaming about the future, hoping and praying that everything we thought God was saying over this child would come to pass. And we’d talk with others over endless cups of coffee about what we should be doing during this period of waiting. Using our time well to prepare for the responsibilities to come.
It wasn’t just the two of us having this baby, you see.
It was eleven of us.
Well, more like eighteen if you counted all of the children.
All of us were in on it. All of us had had the same dream, the dream of planting a church. And it felt like a baby, you know. A baby that we carried for six long months of planning and praying and dreaming and hoping. A child that we were bearing. A child whom we had not yet seen, not yet known, but who was, nevertheless, still so very real.
And yet, despite the eager expectation, we never meant to plant a church. It was really never on the agenda. When we first met that time in one of our front rooms, it was to process our pain at the loss of relationships in a previous church. It was never about starting something new but always about deciding what other church community we might join together.
Have you ever noticed how much God can do with a ‘but then’? You think you know exactly where you’re headed, what you’re going to do next – until God comes in with a ‘but then’ and everything changes.
I don’t really know at what point the ‘but then’ happened.
It was early on, I know that.
At some point, everything changed. Someone started asking about the people ‘out there’. Where would they go to church? Who’s doing church for them? And so the idea was conceived. Quietly but irrevocably. Our little church owes its life to that question.
What about if we built the church for those who don’t do church?
Thus, we embarked on our six month pregnancy. We knew so little about church-planting. Goodness only knows why God chose us. I know I wouldn’t have! And like any newly-expecting parents, we tried to prepare for the due date, the day when our baby would be brought into the world. We prayed and envisioned and strategised; we did everything the manuals tell you to do. And we didn’t tell anyone from the previous church what we were doing because we didn’t want to make things worse there than they were. We didn’t want Christians to come and join us anyway; we wanted the lost and the broken and the ones who were never going to walk into a traditional church.
Maybe it’s time to make a confession now.
I could never imagine where these people would come from.
Why would they come to our church gatherings if they were the kind of people who ‘don’t do church’? We were largely a middle-class group of professionals aged from our mid-twenties through to fifties. Why would the people come to us?
And I still don’t know why they came. But come they did, the Sunday we launched and the Sundays after that. Londoners who had lost their way, who were looking for a family who would love them. Londoners who had known church in their childhood but never the God who reveals himself in Jesus, who had given up on the whole thing as a bad job. Londoners who felt too sinful to fit in with other churches. Londoners who couldn’t get on with pews and robes and rules about not drinking and not going to nightclubs and not wearing trousers. Londoners whom God so loved that he sent his only Son.
I still don’t know why they came, how they found us. But I know why they stayed and why so many of them came to faith.
It wasn’t because we’re great or super-gifted or a megachurch. We’re not.
It wasn’t because we have amazing children’s ministry or slick worship music or world-class teaching programmes, or indeed any of the things that the church growth movement told us we had to have. We don’t.
They stayed because they were welcomed and they were loved. They stayed because they found a place to belong in a city of transience and loneliness. They stayed because in their belonging they also found believing and were baptised. They found Christ and in him they became family with us.
This was the baby born on my twenty-fifth birthday. A child born of God. A child of promise.