Recently, I alluded to a change in direction for Elizabeth and I. For the past year and 8 months, we’ve been living and teaching English at a language institute, and have been learning what it means to be a foreigner, or guest in a foreign culture. We’ve experienced the wide range of emotions during our stay in Korea. We’ve worked our way through culture shock, and through our time and experiences, we have grown to love this country and the wonderful people who call it home. (though, I cant say I will be leaving with a love of K-pop)
Over the next few posts I want to share with you the new changes that will be transpiring, but before I do so, I want to share my heart and where I come from. I want to not only share my ministry passions, but I also hope to explain the journey I’ve traveled to arrive at this present place. Over the course of these posts, I hope to show why I care so deeply about our journey to St. Louis, and why my heart beats a little faster when I think of Missional Communities, and about how the Kingdom of God is moving in the city of St. Louis.
Disclaimer: Normally, I try to keep my posts short, but I must give fair warning that these will be longer in length, but I hope you find them worth reading.
Promise Keepers and Mentors
I remember, years ago, going to a Promise Keepers rally with my dad in St. Louis. It was at the T.W.A Dome, and in attendance, were upwards of 30 thousand men searching out what it means to be men of God. It was powerful. In a culture filled with failed examples of fatherhood, and men unwilling to accept the responsibility given to them, it was an early and visible showing of men desiring to become the men they were designed to be. At one of the sessions, the speaker gave time for the men to tell one another who they were most impacted by. We were supposed to tell of a mentor or a friend who invested in us in a deep, and powerful way. Someone who helped us to become a person we’d never have become without their direct influence.
I remember my dad telling me about his mentor, and how deeply influenced my dad was by this man. He explained how this person shaped who he was as a man and as a pastor. I heard in his voice the ripples, started by his mentor, that had continued in my fathers life, and spilled out of his mouth as he implored me to find a mentor in my own life. Someone who I would be able to learn from, and talk to about life and ministry. He said he hoped for me to have that strong influence in my life, and his wishes (and prayers) came true in the form of a man named Donnie Miller; the pastor of a church plant in Gardner, Kansas.
While in university, I was involved in a Ministry program designed to give aspiring pastors (ministry majors) a chance to collect practical ministry experience (through a high responsibility internship), and rewarded them with lower debt when they graduated (in the form of a forgivable loan). In my first 3 semesters in the program, I interned with 2 different churches. I enjoyed my time serving in each ministry, but when I chose to study for a semester in Europe, I decided I would select a new church to intern with when I returned the following Fall.
As that Fall semester began, and as I began my internship responsibilities once more, I began my work with Trinity Family. Trinity Family was a small church plant located 30 minutes south of my university. It was unknown to me before starting at this church that Trinity Family, in it’s young life, had already made a name for itself as the “liberal” church in the Nazarene World. It had even managed to make a large number of the more established churches in our city uncomfortable.
That September I met with Donnie, and we worked on finalizing my internship responsibilities; one of which was a weekly meeting to talk about life, ministry and how things were going. I think these meetings had a greater affect on me than a large number of my ministry classes. It was in these meetings that my ministry paradigm began to shift.
The cornerstone ministry of Trinity Family, also the one that made people most uncomfortable, was their “Love Wins” ministry. Love Wins was a ministry designed to be a bridge builder between the Church and those who are not normally welcomed within the Church’s walls; Strippers, and others within the adult entertainment industry. For this ministry, the people of Trinity Family would spend the first part of the month putting together gift baskets, and at the end of the month, a few women would go and drop off the baskets at a couple of the nearby strip clubs. There was no motive other than friendship behind the gifts. The church women didn’t witness to the girls. They didn’t ask them to quit. They just showered them with gifts and love; and they did so with no strings attached.
Then, after a great deal of trust building, the club, and the girls began to feel Trinity Family’s love, and this had a profound impact on them.
The club even threw Donnie and Erin a baby shower at the club (everyone fully dressed, of course).
So, as a good ministry student, and as a part of my internship, I tagged along with Donnie, his wife Erin, and another lady as they delivered the gifts on those Friday nights. Of course, Donnie and I didn’t actually enter the clubs, but we would hang out in the parking lot, and talk about how much trouble I’d be in if my professors drove by and saw one of their students in the Bonita Flatts parking lot.
Sure, I had other responsibilities at Trinity Family, but in my bi-weekly reports handed into the MNU religion department, I found myself talking primarily about my experiences in the Love Wins ministry. It was in the parking lot of a strip club that I began to really wrestle with “church” as it had become, and began to see how closed off we, the body of Christ, had become to the world outside our walls.
The church invites people to come, but if we’re truly honest, we have to understand a stripper’s hesitance in entering a church. Why would they? Had a stripper acknowledged her real occupation at many churches, she’d be given a scarlet letter, and in the form of “concerned prayers” and well-intentioned, yet pointed comments, she’d be run out of the church.
(Think I’m off base? Our first time taking a package to the club, the bouncer nearly didn’t take it. He told us the last time they got a gift from a church, it was loaded with firecrackers, and it exploded.)
But this did not happen at Trinity Family, and I began to see the possibilities of what the Church could be.
The relationship between the clubs and Trinity Family had become so trusting, that the owner of the club would refer the girls to Donnie when they had spiritual questions. Donnie even officiated the wedding for Bonita Flatts’ bouncer and bartender.
Before I finally left Trinity Family in 2010, the church had started a second Love Wins ministry in Downtown Kansas City focusing on people in the Homosexual community. Again, it wasn’t to change minds, rather, it was to rebuild badly burned bridges and to foster real, and lasting friendships.
When Elizabeth and I came to Korea, we left a church filled with people from every imaginable life situation.
And, considering what I was when I began my internship back in 2007, I left a deeply changed person.
When I left, I saw that the place the church comfortably put its roots is worlds apart from where the desperate need of the world is found. I don’t believe this is because Christians don’t care- I really believe they DO care. I just think church has become comfortable doing things a particular way, and that way is not welcoming to those on the fringes.
My passions are for the fringes. My passion for the Kingdom is a place where people can come, without any expectation, and find:
1.) unconditional love
2.) unconditional acceptance.
I dream of a community where anyone, from anywhere can come and belong- irregardless of their religious and political views, or sexual orientation. A place where people are allowed to be themselves- completely- and where they know they will be welcomed with loving arms.
I also believe deeply in a community of people where the Holy Spirit is at work in the hearts of the people (whether they know it, or not), and a place where people come, and once there, are captivated and changed by Christ’s irresistible grace; a grace that transforms in a way only possible by a deeply engaging and trans-formative Christ. I believe in a body of believers actively participating in the bringing together of these two worlds.
This, to me, is the Church. This is what I hope to be involved in.
I have come to believe that this ever-moving Kingdom of God does not exist within the confines of man-made walls. It exists somewhere between Strippers and Saints, and in the beautiful eyes of my God, there is no difference.