As my family looks into returning to America and leading a church we consider returning to our home in Southern California as a favorable option (although we still have some other areas we are considering). We are grateful for the support and humbled by the kind words many of our friends have shared with us regarding our future plans. In my own selfishness, I would love to return to our area and serve in a gathering of people who connect with my style of teaching and thinking. If this option works out, we also know that there is an "elephant in the room" that I am hereby letting go.
The truth is that returning to an area that I have lived in for 8 years also happens to be the same general area where the church that I worked in for 8 years still exists. Unfortunately over the past 4 years many people have left that church for a whole variety of reasons and those reasons are not ours to speculate about. In that area my wife and I know quite a few people who no longer attend any church or they only attend and "hide" in the back because for one reason or another have lost hope in the Church. In fact, in my 13 years of working in churches I too have been hurt and have even seen some of my hope in the "Bride of Christ" diminish. I know that by returning to the area, a potential exists for some to see this as a move to "compete" with my former church. In fact one person from that church (not the leader so please do not rush to judgement) already asked that I do not return to the area because "that will stir up problems". For one, I do not believe that my return would have any effect on that church and secondly, my return would not include a "competition" mentality.
The truth is that my former church wants the same things I do and that is to help Jesus become a reality in the community. It also happens that my ecclessiology, my missiology, and some of my theology are not the same so our appeal is to an entire different person. The most important truth is that only through Christians modeling love and grace can we truly help the world to see the true power of the Risen Lord. I love my former church and the people there and I want them to succeed in all they do. They just hired a person to replace me there and I honestly wish him well and from what I hear he will be a great fit and probably do a better job than I could do right now.
The point is this. If I return to that area to serve in a church one goal is to provide a place where people can have hope restored. I want to be a part of a place that walks in love and grace and pursues justice and peace and the things Jesus spoke about. I want to be in a community where my friends who are not followers of Christ can come and truly feel the love of God through each person and where they can take a step closer to knowing the creator of the world. I want to live a life of reconciliation which includes walking in peace with all local gatherings of followers.
My possible return to the area is not a move to hurt any church in that area, but on the contrary, is to help make them stronger. If any would choose to journey with me and who harbor feelings of hurt or bitterness towards any other gathering, today is the day that I ask you to let it go. Let us forgive, let us love, and let us pray for those who persecute. Let us not gossip, let us not slander, and let us feel the weight of forgiveness and the joy of true community even if those sentiments are not reciprocated.
Today I thank my former church for the years we had together and today I pray for your future. I may soon be a partner in your community and you may even see some old familiar faces serving with me (you also may not). From this day forward the elephant has left the room. There is no need for feelings of competition or jealousy. Today we (me and all like-minded) choose to fight for those who have no voice. We choose to love those who no one loves. We choose to follow the God of the Bible who changes lives through a revolutionary message of love and not through manipulation. We take seriously the command to "take care of the alien and stranger (even if they are illegal aliens)" and we do not fear those who believe differently or act differently. We choose to be part of an ancient revolution.
Since I am slipping into "preacher mode", allow me to end with this quote from a Jewish scholar named David Flusser. "... I believe that the contents of his [Jesus] teachings and the approach he embraced have always had the potential to change our world and to prevent the greatest part of evil and suffering".
This is what I want to be about so all who want a competition or who want to live by making comparisons, you will journey alone because I will not be joining you.
There. The elephant has left the building.