SDB Chicago

The Community Church

I have to be honest. I don’t like writing these. It’s not that I’m not excited about what God is doing. I am. It’s not that there aren’t things to share. There are. It’s because I feel like most of you are expecting something very different than what God has called us to. I would love to start these by talking about the twenty-five people who showed up at an event we planned. Or tell you about the six people we are meeting weekly to study the Bible with. But those things aren’t happening. Yet.

My call to church planting happened in undergrad. At the time I was struggling with being a Christian away from my local church. I was close enough that I could drive to church every week, but it was far enough that being engaged in any real way was difficult. I began asking God what church looked like and what It meant for me. I was blessed to be attending a Christian university and so I attended chapel three times a week. It was at one of these chapel services that I clearly heard God tell me that this was my church.

That statement has stuck with me over the years and just like most things that come from God, it’s meaning has only gotten deeper and more complex. I will not talk about all the facets of what that means to me. This is not the time for it. The part that is important for today is that I realized that to truly reflect the God we serve, the people of God need to be a people of community.

One of my favorite theological texts is Theology for the Community of God by Stanely J. Grenz. The premise for the title of the book goes something like this. God in Godself is a community: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Humanity is created in the image of God. Therefore, to truly reflect that image, humanity needs to live in community. This is clearly seen when God creates Adam and Eve.

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

We are specifically told that God created humanity male and female. God didn’t do this so conservative Americans could make points about gender ideology or marriage laws. God did this because to truly create us in His image we needed to reflect the diversity and unity present in the Godhead. The most basic form of that is human sexual dimorphism.

The fulfillment of that unity in diversity is seen in Revelation when people from every tribe, tongue, and nation come to worship God; proclaiming in unison that salvation belongs to God alone. What is remarkable about this picture from Revelation is that it doesn’t require uniformity to be united. In fact, it goes out of it’s way to show us that the only thing that unites them is their worship of God.

At this point I hope you are starting to see where I am going. If not I have one last passage that I think will make things much clearer. It comes from Acts chapter 2. This passage comes right after Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has come down and God has filled all the believers in Jerusalem. The church at it’s very conception is taking care of each other. Men and women are giving what they have for the greater good of the collective. This is not some government mandated requirement. Nor is it some utopia brought about by sheer human will and altruism. This is the people of God reflecting the One who created them.

When I put all of this together I come to one specific truth. The church is a group of people, united in their worship of God, who seek to live out the image of God through love and care of others. There are many outcomes of a people marked by this. But the details of that are better shared elsewhere. This blog is about my hesitancy to talk about my participation in the church God is building in Chicago.

As I hinted at in the introduction, I fear that my understanding of church plants is not typical. Caring for the community and living out the image of God requires intention. It is done slowly and with much prayer. Certainly God can bring miraculous growth over night. But sustaining the kind of community I see in scripture means investing in people.

My wife and I moved to Chicago knowing that the first few years may not see any kind of growth as is typically understood. Our first job is to reflect the image of God. That requires us to be untied in our worship of God. It requires us to care for the community in which He has placed us. It requires slow, deliberate investment in our neighbors. That investment cannot be with an agenda. God cares for and loves all his creation whether or not they worship him.

This leads me back to events and Bible studies. I love studying the word of God. One of my favorite things about being a pastor is digging into the Bible while I prepare a sermon. Yet, I’m not sure a Bible study is the right place to start with a church plant. Most often this is seen as a low cost, low impact way to start a church. It creates an event that you can bring people to and it centers on the word of God. But what if people don’t want to come to the Bible study? Do you give up on them and find someone who does?

Perhaps the better question is what is the goal of a church plant? Is it to get as many people as possible coming to a weekly worship service? Or is it about building disciples of Christ who seek to share God with their neighbor? I would take twelve disciples of Christ over six-hundred church attenders. And I suspect so would most everyone else. But making disciples is not an easy task. It takes time and intention.

I guess what I am really saying is that I think the church as an organized body is a byproduct of making disciples. Not the other way around. That means that my first goal is developing deep relationships with the people in my community. And in my community there are more places and events than I count. I don’t need to have a Bible study to meet people. I know that in building those relationships I will have numerous opportunities to share Jesus.

My wife and I want the official events of our church plant to be intentional and about growing together. We firmly believe that Christian’s cannot thrive without the rest of the body of Christ. That is why we have made the effort to travel every month to the nearest Seventh Day Baptist church. But we also feel that the church is the community of believers and not some building or event. When we imagine the church here we imagine people in our home sharing their lives and talking about how God is working. We imagine conversations of life events. We imagine a group of people who we can share victories and struggles with. Yes, there will always be studies of scripture, but that study without application is just education. We want to be disciples who live out those teachings. We want to help others become those disciples too.

So for this update I don’t have news about the success of events or the people we invited to a Bible study. What I do have is a promise to stay committed to the vision that God gave us. A promise that the church we are helping God build will be a place where people are not only cared for, but are also held accountable to live out the image of God.


Here’s how you can pray:

  • Pray for the neighborhood of Roger’s Park specifically the block of Greenleaf and Wolcott
  • Pray for those who are seeking to find what their hearts are truly looking for
  • Pray for us as we seek to live authentically, transparently, and openly as we go
  • Pray for “godpertunities” with our neighbors and those we come in contact with

 

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Pastor Phil

Pastor Phil

Philip Lawton received a Masters of Divinity from North Park Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minster in the Seventh Day Baptist Church. He is currently working on a church plant in Chicago.

5 thoughts on “The Community Church

  1. May God bless you both as you continue to hear his leadings. May Rogers park be fertile soil for the work of the Holy Spirit. May peoples hearts be open and receptive. May you live authentic lives that draw people to you as you reflect the love of Christ! May God show you many opportunities to speak to others in the community and be his hands and feet!

  2. So, I’m a little late in reading this, or responding I should say.

    Thank you for this and your openness. I have no doubt that you and Bethany are making a difference in the people’s lives that you are coming in contact with. God is using you. God trusts you to do the work that He has planned for you. Tom Davis’ message on Sabbath Day was titled “Shouldn’t it be Obvious”, basically the way we live our lives should make it obvious that we are Christians. God should shine through us! [My words, not his :)] You and Bethany live your lives in such and way that it is obvious that God is at the center of your lives!

    I pray that you are blessed as you bless others.

    Love ya,

    Sandy

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