Churched

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  • October 25, 2007

One of my biggest fears about planting a church is that church people will come to the church.

Hear me out.

For the most part, 2nd generation Indians (whose parents are from the southern part of India) grew up in the church. For cultural and theological reasons, not all, but a ton of these folks have left the mainline Indian churches, often in frustration, anger, and disappointment. Unfortunately, many of these guys have been wounded by the church and carry a deep bitterness towards it.

After they leave, some plug into local ‘American’ congregations and become woven into the life of their new church. Awesome. But for a large number, they’re sort of like driftwood, floating from one place to another hoping for something to bring them aground. And so they’ll visit one church cause they like the preaching but leave cause they don’t like the music. At another church they’ll love the music, but not find the teaching they’re looking for. It’s like no matter where they go, something is missing.

Now, part of this is because we’re sinful, 21st century, American, consumeristic, individualists who are trying to order up church like we do a sandwich at Burger King. “Hold the sermon, supersize the worship.” We need to repent.

But perhaps another reason for the restlessness is because deep down, what these folks are so desperately looking for is community. I thought about this during our ‘Open House’ this past weekend in Philly. One of the guys that showed up talked to me about how he was currently searching for a church in Philadelphia where the Gospel was preached and his family could sit under correct teaching. I’m guessing that this search is what brought him to us and to hear what we were going to be about. But as I heard that, I thought to myself, “Searching for a church in Philadelphia that faithfully preaches the Gospel. Ok, how long could that search take? One Sunday? Two? Three at the most.” I mean there are a ton of great churches in the area. There are three Acts 29 churches and a bunch of solid Presbyterian churches among others. It’s not like our group has an exclusive copyright on the Gospel that these other churches don’t. We’re not going to do church any ‘better’ than these guys. So then, what is this brother still searching for?

I could be wrong, but I think, maybe even at a subconscious level, what many 2nd generation Indian Christians are looking for is not just a church that faithfully preaches the Gospel, but a church that faithfully preaches the Gospel with an Indian community.

And therein lies my fear.

I don’t know if I want to plant a church that becomes the home for restless Indian Christians who are looking to hang out with more Indians. I don’t know if I want to pastor a bunch of disgruntled Indians who are mad at the churches they grew up in and will come to this church expecting it to be the solution. I don’t know if I want to lead a group of churched people who have preconceived ideas about how to do church and opinions about everything. “You should have liturgy. You should sing Chris Tomlin. You should dress casual. You should dress up. You should preach 30 minutes verse by verse. You should preach for an hour topically. You should have a weekly Bible study, a Sunday school, a youth group, and a couple’s fellowship…you need a couple’s fellowship.” Man, I can get excited about planting a church to reach people who don’t know Jesus. But I don’t know if I want Christians.

And then it hit me. (I think the “it” was the Holy Spirit)

The guy I’m so nervous about is exactly who I was less than 4 years ago. What if 7 Mile Road Boston didn’t “want me” because I was an Indian who loved Jesus but had a ton of Christianese baggage? What if 7 Mile Road hadn’t forced me, over these last 4 years, to relearn grace, and the Gospel, and my entire faith? What if there wasn’t a church that welcomed me where I could learn what it meant to be missional? Part of why I want to plant this church so bad is because I want people to taste and experience what I have tasted and experienced over these last few years. So then why would I hang a big “Closed” sign over my heart and over this new church?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Indians should leave their churches and come to this one, not at all. But if there are folks that are just coming along in their understanding of what the Gospel really is, then shouldn’t I be pumped about them coming to this church? Sure some will weed themselves out as we stick to our guns in our commitment to the Gospel and to mission. But we’re staring at a huge opportunity. Who cares if they have a hundred opinions on what church should be? I did. But for 4 years, I was at a place where I could shut my mouth and listen and learn…and I did. Wouldn’t it be awesome if people could say the same thing 4 years from now about our church? And, who cares if their primary motivation is Indian community? Wouldn’t it be awesome for them to experience community among us and realize that what they were longing for all along isn’t found in a shared ethnicity, but in a shared experience of the Gospel?

And moreover, have I become so proud as to think that I don’t have so much to learn from these folks. I’m walking the 7 Mile Road, just like them. Perhaps God wants us to walk together.

So then, we are planting this church to reach:
› 2nd Generation Indians
› Anyone who doesn’t know Jesus that God gives us access to
Churched people who are coming along in their understanding of the Gospel

Sounds good to me.

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About Ajay Thomas

Ajay lives in Philadelphia with his wife Shainu and their kids Hannah and Micah. He is responsible for preaching and vision as a pastor at Seven Mile Road. He loves God, family, food, and football - in that order.

2 Comments

  • Saju says:

    That was like reading Ajay unplugged.

    Thank you for opening your heart and being so transparent and honest in sharing your worries….and then what a kool demonstration of using the lenses of grace to sort it all out.

    I think there’s alot of wisdom in what you said. I loved the way you put it: “Wouldn’t it be awesome for them to experience community among us and realize that what they were longing for all along isn’t found in a shared ethnicity, but in a shared experience of the Gospel?”

    There is a longing in all of our hearts and we try to fill it up with everything else but God. What a privilege to walk down that 7 mile road with Christians who’s eyes open and hearts burn when they experience the gospel in a much deeper way.

    Grace & peace out!

  • cibil says:

    I think I might fit the category of “disgruntled Indian”. I’m not angry at the church exactly… just frustrated because it hasn’t fit “my idea” of what a church should be.

    And when Ajay wrote “30 minute sermon”… the first thought that entered my mind is “What’s wrong with that?”. Any longer and he runs the risk of people falling asleep on him (me). And I think I had a whole bunch of other ideas that I’ve developed along my life of what church would look like.

    But I do remember Ajay and Saju talking before and they said… this church will do a lot of “erasing” as to what people’s idea of church will be. And I think that’s what it’ll take for a lot of people… especially myself.

    I just hope I’ll be able to stick through it and not be ‘weeded out’ because church isn’t what I expected it to be.

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