There aren’t any Christians that wouldn’t cheer the idea of another church. It’s like a rallying cry that the kingdom is advancing, taking ground away from Satan, the enemy of God. Even more so, when a church gets planted in a major city, it feels like a pinprick of light, in the middle of a sea of darkness. That small church is planted, and hopefully over the years, cultivates a unique identity to serve in that particular area. That’s always the hope.
That’s our hope for us at Epiphany Church in NYC.
We’ve gone through our share of changes as we cultivate our identity, continue to set down roots, and be what we need to be for the people of Manhattan, and specifically in our neighborhood. We’ve been fortunate to see success, as a steady number of people now attend our little pinprick of light in the heart of the big city. Locally, people are beginning to see the benefits of being a part of this community and they have a desire to invest in its future.
So here we are, another church. Another place of worship for most people to hurriedly walk by on their way to their busy “any place else.” I witness this firsthand from my usher’s spot in the back of the church. But it’s here now, Epiphany, and we do have the curious, who on occasion hear the music and peek in, and sometimes they stick around long enough to have a conversation. That’s a connection right there, maybe one we can build upon if they’re a regular passerby. We are a local church after all, and we want people to be familiar with us and our church. We want to be a part of the fabric that makes up the local community here.
We want to be here for the lost. We want to be here for the broken. We want to be here for the sinner that needs to hear words of absolution and forgiveness. We want to be here for the unbelievers when God does His mighty Gospel work and births that mustard-sized faith in them.
So here we are, just another church. Through a recent experience, I was reminded of an additional reason another church is needed.
It’s needed for the Christians as well.
Whether we care to admit to this or not, we Christians struggle with our own identities. We find it hard to believe God would accept us, love us, take us as we are, even when it seems to take forever to be a little bit different, or get little bit better. It’s the reason we push ourselves, sometimes too hard, to live up to God’s standard. Not because it’s not a good thing, but because we think this will make us better in God’s eyes.
So, we spend our time in our local congregation teaching, and working, and serving, and loving others. All good things. Until we burn out. We put so much effort out, and we forget to sit and take it in as well. Let’s be honest, we’re all a little closer to Martha than Mary, who sat at Jesus’ feet taking it all in. I’m guilty as well. I am an usher, preacher, treasurer, chairstacker, stagehand, and whatever else you’d like to throw in there. Feel free to pat me on the back. I’ve done a lot of the same things in other churches as well, and while it gets wearying, the difference now is knowing my worth is not found in that, but in Christ and his work alone. When I left my last church and began attending my first congregation, with my current pastor, before we ventured out together into the glamorous world of church-planting, I just sat and listened. I learned in that time about my worth in Christ, now completely untethered from the rusty, barnacle-covered anchor of some form of, “Are you living up to God’s expectations?” For the first time, I floated free on the steady waters of grace.
I heard, “I am loved… I am forgiven…”
After years of doubting my salvation, struggling to be sure if I was a legitimate part of the body, it came at just the right time. To be honest, I was a pain in the butt in my old church, I’ve never denied that. That was partly due to my changing theological views on certain things, but also because I needed help, real encouragement, not placebos of, “do more, believe right, and things will fall into place.” I needed rest. I needed a place that was ok for me to be broken, with enough grace to allow me to mend slowly. Sometimes that means walking away from one congregation for another. In a new place, I could leave the “do more” switch off, and turn the “rest” switch on.
Sometimes Christians leave churches for good reasons. Sometimes the reason is as simple as needing rest. Sometimes it’s because they need to sit, listen and just take it in. That was me, I needed it. I needed a pastor’s care to work through some things, and I got it. I needed to recharge, and I got that too.
And now… I serve.
I serve with better perspective. I serve with a better understanding into the hierarchy of where my work stands in light of God’s love. Don’t get me wrong, I still get tired. It’s hard work. All of it. But I don’t rest my hope on it any longer. It’s not my measuring stick for acceptance.
That’s a good thing.
So here we are, just another church. A church planted here in NYC to preach the freedom found in the Gospel of grace, to both unbeliever and the believer. To give the uninitiated, the message of mercy and grace untethered from a law that demands production. To the initiated, a reminder that in Christ, we came not seeking work, but rest for our weary souls.
Come one and all…