Pastor Mike Tatlock is a self-described "recovering church hater," so I didn't know what to expect from his new book on building church community, Faith in Real Life. I certainly didn't expect optimism–and I found loads of it.
"I believe," Tatlock says, "that authentic Christians want a faith that is more than just lip service to God and the world. We want to reconcile our faith with the realities of our daily lives… [this calls for] an ability to see the bride of Christ the way the Bridegroom sees her. Faith in real life captures the optimism of what it means to be the church — as in the community of God’s people … a vibrant group of Christians expressing themselves through a community of faith that engages with the surrounding culture."
You probably noticed Tatlock's double-edged emphasis: Christianity is a faith lived in community and lived by us everywhere, every day in real life — not just behind the four walls of our church.
That's more or less the thesis statement of Faith in Real Life. From there author/pastor Tatlock shares stories of success and failure in four areas:
1) the New Church, a.k.a. moving the center of importance from "services" to relationships
2) the Park, a.k.a. connecting with the larger community around your church
3) the Coffee Shop, a.k.a. people you know who aren't ready for small groups
4) the Living Room, a.k.a. small groups
I haven't finished the book yet, but I wanted to share a passage I liked. My unofficial title for this section is "Being Hip Didn't Work." It really got me thinking about what I desire from my church. If you'd like to read more of Faith In Real Life I recommend you check out the excerpt on Scribd. -Adam Forrest
Folks in our community had a heightened affection for pets, particularly dogs. It was not uncommon to see a significant number of people out each day with their furry friends. On Sunday mornings, at the exact same time we were having church, a handful of men and women gathered by the school tennis courts with their dogs. After several Sundays, I made an observation about what was happening there: Each of them owned a member of one of the smallest dog breeds in the world, named after a state in Mexico. I had to know what inspired these folks to get up out of bed early on a Sunday morning to meet. Perhaps they wondered the same thing about us. On my way home from church one day, I approached the chain-link fence that enclosed the tennis courts and addressed a young woman who was throwing a tennis ball to her little friend. .
"What's with all the Chihuahuas?" I asked.
"Well, a lot of people around here are nuts about Chihuahuas," she answered.
"Yep. We're a little obsessed over them, and we enjoy meeting together. I love this Chihuahua Club."
At first I thought, To each their own. But within a few weeks, the club had grown in attendance. They were experiencing more growth than we were.
"My ministry sucks," I told Bernadette. "A little rat dog has more significance in this community than I do." She laughed and said it wasn't true, but deep inside I think she also knew the bleak reality.
" It doesn't get any lower than this," I'd mutter as I floundered in self-pity. "I rate lower than a dog."
Being hip didn't work.
We had a great Sunday morning service. We put everything we had into it, hiring some of the best musicians in the city for our worship team, offering relevant messages, using creative arts, brewing gourmet coffee, and giving away really cool gifts to our guests (the few that came). Many of my pastorfriends would attend our services because they heard about some of the cool things we were doing. They were surprised we were not busting out of the doors and suggested a supernatural restraint may be standing in the way of our growth. In retrospect I believe that if we had had instant success, exploding from day one, we would never have experienced the real lesson God had for us. No matter how hip our Sunday service was, it had a serious flaw. It wasn't connecting with the community in which we found ourselves. I came to realize that it wasn't so much the Chihuahuas that motivated people to gather, but the desire to be in community. Their gathering reflected a universal, innate, divinely created need to belong. In spite of the rivalry, this group became an inspiration to me – which gave me a more complete picture of what incarnational ministry could look like.
We had made a fatal assumption that what our services offered was just what people in our community were searching for. It wasn't that they weren't interested in spiritual things – quite the opposite, actually. They were hungry for spiritual enlightenment, but they wanted to experience it in the context of relationships, not church services. Once we understood that they were looking for authentic relationships, we understood what we as a church needed to do.
About Mike Tatlock