I just finished reading The Tangible Kingdom, by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay. I loved this book because it reminded me why I wanted to be a church-planter. Hugh (who wrote most of the book) and Matt are two of the leaders of Adullam, a community in Denver. From the very beginning, the book exudes a love for being with the people Halter calls “Sojourners” – the un-churched, de-churched, spiritually-seeking, spiritually-not-seeking, or anyone else who hasn’t already fallen in love with and decided to follow Jesus. That love for Sojourners is contagious.
Halter identifies two processes in the missionary life: “living out” and “inviting in”. Chapters 14 through 21 each talk about the practices of living out a missionary life, of which “leaving, living among, listening to, and loving with no strings attached” (p. 124) are practices for “living out”. I identified most with this portion of the book because that’s where I see God most clearly at work in my life right now: living out my calling as a barista. Three or four times per week I head up to 61C and spend the evening serving coffee. In the process I get to have conversations with people I never would have met otherwise. I talk with coworkers about whatever comes up (which, joyfully for me, turns toward theology whenever I work with Jamie or Dana). Customers talk to us as though to bartenders, sharing stories from their lives and welcoming us into their worlds. And (fitting for the title of the book) this is where I feel like I am most tangibly engaged in ministry – far from anything that resembles a typical church service.
And this is what’s starting to happen: One of our regulars goes by “The Colonel”. He’s a retired military man and lawyer with a dirty sense of humor who comes in every evening for 16 ounces of coffee in a 20oz cup. I never quite know what to do with him. Sometimes we chat about golf, the weather, his friends, his life. Other times I have to stand between him and my female coworkers so that he doesn’t pester them with lewd comments. He was surprised to learn that I was a pastor, but quickly told me ministry was a holy duty that I should be revered. Now he calls me “Reverend” when he comes in and then tells me dirty jokes while I get his coffee.
Two nights ago, the Colonel asked me where my church held its worship services. I told him it’s a house-church right now, but that we were working towards gathering in a larger worship space sometime next year. He asked a few more questions, before finally saying “Well, I’d like to come sometime, Reverend.”
This was a milestone. But now it begs the question, how do we at “The Upper Room” handle the “inviting in” portion of living out the missionary calling? Halter and Smay talk about the importance of sharing food, friends, and life, and The Upper Room does this. But the natural context for sharing food, friends, and life for the Colonel is 61C. How would the Colonel feel joining us for one of the Sunday evening house-church worship gatherings we’re talking about beginning in a few weeks? Or wouldn’t it be better to invite him to a meal sometime? What are the next steps on this journey?
I don’t have answers to any of these questions yet, but I’m excited to be at a place where they’re coming up. My guess is that the retreat we’re taking next weekend will help us as a community think through some of them. Either way, I rejoice right now to be where we’re at on this journey. Pray for wisdom for us, and pray that the Spirit will keep blowing through Pittsburgh, making the Kingdom more and more tangible here everyday.