Saturday, November 04, 2006

I'm home now, having returned from the first leg of the North American Mission Board's Task Force on Lay Church Planting, which I was invited to serve on. We're a combination of a group of 18 planters, practitioners and denominational equippers from all over North America with a passion to see millions of ordinary people begin to realize they can do simple, Kingdom-minded community-building and church starting. John Bailey, our former Director of Missions here and now a church planting enlistment director with NAMB, convened us together to pick our brains so that several months/meetings from now, there might be a book on the findings. There were representatives of all types of styles of church...traditional, multi-housing, house church, student house church, cell name it.

I was eager to be a part of this, because being invited meant that it might have been possible that my denominational brothers would be open to hearing our story. I felt like I had something worthwhile to contribute too. But even more so, to learn.

Some of you know that there have been instances of painful ostracization from within my own Southern Baptist fold over the last 6.5 years here. Not everyone was closed off to us, but those who were provided enough to last. It cut me because I have been Southern Baptist from the was a Southern Baptist church in Rogersville, Tennessee and who took me in and befriended me as a wayward, vagabond 15 year-old and they simply loved me as I was. They invested in me all the way, even when I sensed God urging me vocationally to something beyond my dreams- even at 15. They became the family I longed to have.

That's why it hurt to have experienced the rejection I have had. I knew back before I came to Oxford that it would come. I just didn't know how it would impact me. Though Christ has touched these painful places with healing, I wasn't sure what to expect this week. I had hopes nonetheless.

I was blown away. I hadn't quite expected to encounter God quite the way I did this week. I thought we were just going to be a task force, a think tank. I wasn't quite prepared to be overcome with the sense that God is laying upon us something potentially momentous and that he was going to unite us together like he had. I wasn't expecting (but I was hoping) to find such friendship and kinship and warmth and genuine open-heartedness in these men like I did. They heard my heart, my/our story, saw pictures of us feasting, laughing, baptizing, crying, worshiping and just living and doing church.

On the first day we convened and halfway through our morning session, we were dialoguing about barriers before us that we had to identify. One of the men just became weighted with a heart-heaviness, stating that whatever was going to become of our efforts it needed to be in line with God's heart. That's really when we hit our knees and faces and literally fell prostrate for the next half hour. I was almost sure that if I lifted my nose from the floor that I'd glimpse His face. There was just a rush of brokenness, humility and recognition of the Presence of Holiness in that hotel meeting room coupled with the sense that God wants to give us something fragile, something close to his heart, something other-worldly, imbued with immaculate and immense worth. I don't really know why or what all happened or what becomes of this.

I do know that afterward, it was my turn to do my presentation, which was me telling the story through pictures of God bringing us to Oxford, about Veritas and about what God's been doing. As I saw my fellow Veritasians, it stirred my heart to such fascination and love for the people with whom I journey (and have journeyed).

I shared my struggles and John shared with them some of the war stories from clashes with those in our own association who were in opposition to us and that's when the man above acknowledged the difficulty I had personally experienced and asked what they could do to come alongside me/us. They didn't even know, at that point, (and I said so) that just hearing my heart and our story and receiving me was more than they knew. Being there and hearing me was enough for that moment. You see, right before me, God had those men impart to me the affirmation the enemy had stolen from me early on. They all came around me- all but two were strangers before the previous day- and they laid their hands upon me, affirmed and encouraged me. It's not a question of deserving, because I didn't deserve that grace. But God saw fit, and that, six years later. I just wanted you to know how huge that was for me.

I hope to unpack some more of this a bit later.