The espresso is rich and so dark it leaves a smear of ground coffee beans in the bottom of the cup. The chocolate is heavy and just bittersweet enough to make you add one tsp of sugar. The milk is steamed to perfection, creating the perfect swirl of espresso, chocolate and milk. I can taste it now. Every cup is just like the last one, even if the last cup was a year ago.
For four years, while I lived in Greensboro, I worked a part time job to support my Tate St. coffee habit. I’d roll out of bed in my yoga pants and rush by the coffee shop before class. In the afternoons, I’d pack my bag full of books and head over to Tate St. to nab the corner table next to the back wall. I’d stay there long enough that I smelled like coffee beans when I left. In the evenings, after a full day of people and classes and work, I’d stop by for a baked handpie and a plain coffee with a shot of non-fat milk and two pink packets and I’d sit at a table alone with Oswald Chambers and my bible.
Unless you’re a local or a college student, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Tate St. It’s a hole in the wall of a beautiful, crumbly old building that is so tiny, you literally stand or sit shoulder to shoulder inside the shop. It’s dark and probably dingy if you’re into looking for grit, but it’s oddly inviting and homey and warm. The baristas are a ramshackle bunch of tatted up, pierced up, caffeinated twenty-somethings who sling drinks faster than the line moves and the line is a group of tenured professors and liberals and Baptists and druggies and monogrammed sorority chics. Art covers the walls and the tables and the chairs. It hangs from the ceilings like chandeliers.
Tate St. Coffee is a landmark in Greensboro. It is planted into the landscape of the city and it flourishes among the colleges it serves. Its hours of operation match the life happening right outside its doors. Aesthetically, the shop mimics the liberal arts community that fills its tables. Newspapers and journals and every piece of paper stapled to every surface in and around the shop speak life and family and community involvement back into the very community that Tate St. is committed to serve. This business knows its customer base, its surrounding neighborhoods and the area’s natural rhythms of living.
Tate St. Coffee is a stable, integral part of a particular community in downtown Greensboro that seeks to serve the people it has been planted among and love the city that gives them life.
And because of their commitment to their community, this girl right here has an entire chapter of her life written on coffee stained paper that smells like Jesus.
We serve a magnificently creative God whose entire mission on this earth is about redeeming and reconciling a broken world to Himself. All of creation points to a Creator whose creativity knows no bounds. No other place on this earth is exactly like another place. No other people group is just like another people group. The way God chooses to make Himself known in Syria is not necessarily how God is going to choose to make Himself known in Nebraska.
The spirit of God is active and moving in and around us, in our own unique places and in our own unique churches.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, the disciples took the Gospel to unique places and planted churches that were Gospel centered and reflective of the people that lived there. Communities of people that were already in relationship with one another now gathered together to grow in Christ. The church emerged because the Gospel was shared among a people who were already committed to belonging to one another and to the place that they lived.
The church grew and flourished because the church was wholly committed to Jesus and to the people and to the place in which He had planted it.
The church looked and smelled and sounded just like the people and the place it was located. Its worship reflected its people. The church’s rhythm for gathering together and breaking bread and studying God’s word was uniquely designed to fit the natural rhythm of their everyday life. Decisions were made together so that everyone benefited. Creation was cultivated. Hungry people were fed. Naked people were clothed. Widows and orphans were cared for. The church was intrinsically involved in making sure the city flourished and grew and that its people were holistically well cared for.
The church flourished because the church was deeply rooted in the place that Jesus had planted it and its sole focus was redeeming and reconciling its small, front yard world to Jesus.
We forget that Jesus has strategically planted our churches in particular places among particular people groups and that we have a responsibility to redeem and reconcile those people and those places.
We don’t read the Great Commandment and consider for one minute that Jesus might actually be commanding us to love our literal neighbors because our world has gotten so big that the word neighbor means everyone on planet earth.
Our churches no longer reflect the communities they stand in. They reflect the people that attend them.
Our churches no longer consider the welfare of the communities around them as equally as important as the community within them.
Our churches no longer holistically care for the people outside the church building because those outside the building are not seen as part of the greater family.
Our churches are no longer well planted trees in the landscapes of our cities. They are seedlings with shallow roots so as to be easily blown into a better neighborhood or onto a cheaper piece of property or tossed about by whatever the elusive other church deems is the best way to grow a church.
Somewhere along the way, we have lost The Way.
We have forgotten that the body of Christ is the present day manifestation of Christ and that it is in these local communities of believers where Christ is made known to specific people and places.
We have forgotten that to be Christ means to be in the very small, very specific world that He has placed us into.
And we have forgotten that to be in the world He has placed us into means that we must commit to be rooted deep enough and long enough that we produce fruit.
Healthy churches are deeply rooted churches, committed to the welfare of the place they have been planted and the people they have been placed among because their sole purpose is to redeem and reconcile their community to Jesus.
Questions to ask yourself:
Is my church committed to the community we have been placed into? Do most of our congregants drive in from locations further than 10 miles? How many people have left our church for another church in the last year? Does my church have plans to build a bigger building in another location further away?
This post is the first in a loosely crafted series called Healthy Church.