On Sunday afternoon, when the afternoon began to move towards the dinner hour, the Man stacked pallets in the fire pit in the backyard and set them ablaze. It was cool and just damp enough to want to be near the fire, but still warm enough for the kids from the neighborhood to choose the swings and the side yard basketball court.
I baked brownies and then cut them into small squares, trying to make them feed as many mouths as possible. I had already counted 19 children in the yard and we still had a hour to go before the kids were scheduled to arrive. Schedules mean nothing in my neighborhood and I’m learning that fliers with time stamps are just mere suggestions. I’m learning to be okay with this.
At a little past four, Audrey’s teacher pulled up in front of the house with a grin the size of Texas and rolled down her window to greet me.
“I’ve brought some things,” she said. “Extra plates, utensils, and some groceries. I also picked up some to-go boxes so the kids can take leftovers home to their families.”
It was my turn to grin and I tried my darnedest to meet the size of hers. “Thanks Marie. You’re the kindest,” I said. Those last words have become my default response to everyone who moves to love my neighbors. What else is there to say?
She pulled the car onto the side of the road to park and then followed me into the kitchen. We had bread to slice and dishes to wash and from the kitchen, we heard the kids from the neighborhood as they began to arrive.
“Mr. Thomas and Mrs. Sandra are here!!” Isaac, my rowdiest boy, hollered from the front porch all the way through to the back of the house. “She needs help getting the spaghetti out of the car!!!!”
“Well help her, man!” I called back. “We’re coming out!” Marie grabbed the pitchers of Kool-aid and I grabbed the bread and we met Thomas and Sandra on the side of the house.
And after a few introductions, we rounded up the kids and circled up around the fire. I counted 28 kids, 5 adults.
“Alright kids,” The Man began, “What’s been the best part of your week?”
“Chilling wid my cousins!”
“Seeing my daddy!”
After a few long minutes, after each kid had said their name and age and their favorite thing, the Man broke in through the quiet snickering. “Anyone remember what we learned about Jesus last week? What did He do?” he asked.
And the one kid who is not the same kid he used to be, raised his hand and responded.
“He calmed the storm,” he said.
And when the Man grinned, Mr. Thomas turned to look me in the face and he said, “Amen. Now that’s church.”
I’d be lying if I told you I love planting a church because I don’t love it, BUT I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world. It’s the hardest kind of work that forces you to strip your definition of church all the way down to its barest bones. What is church? What does church smell like, feel like, look like, taste like, sound like? What does it do and how does it do what it does? Who makes it up?
All of these questions coupled with every previous experience of church and every established church in our view, creates this heightened sense that the church I see Jesus planting isn’t enough.
Never in my thoughts about church have I once considered that 40 kids around a camp fire in my backyard would be the church that Jesus would build.
Bob Goff says a church is a vibrant community of people consisting of 2 or more, of varied backgrounds, gathering around Jesus.
I think he’s right.
And Thomas is right, too.
Jesus is building His church and man, oh man, are we vibrant.
We’re also a little spicy and some of us like to cuss a little and fight a little more.
But Jesus has called us a church and I’m slowly beginning to be okay with that.