From Guest Writer: Susan Rogers, a Jacksonville, FL MM Cohort Member and the Pastor of The Well At Springfield.
The church is a local expression of the kingdom of God. And, Jesus talked about the kingdom this way: “The kingdom is like “a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches” (Luke 3:18-19).
Mustard seeds are small and yet when planted, they produce something wild and unmanageable. Their branches don’t even look like branches. As they grow fuller, what emerges appears more like a shrub than a towering canopy. Perhaps Jesus would have fared better had he chosen a cedar or an oak, but he chose a mustard seed.
Instead of the kingdom being an impressive and overpowering monument, Jesus described it and embodied it as a surprising and subversive movement. Like light and salt and flavor, it can be found in everyday places.
What if the church looked like that, I wondered as I left seminary and started a pastoral residency? What if instead of managing people and programs, we moved out into our neighborhoods and began to unconditionally bless those who live, work, play, struggle and hope there?
It was that vision that led my husband and I to move from Atlanta back home to Jacksonville, Florida so that I could plant a new church there. This new church was given so much to help its initial formation. We were guided through a discernment process, encouraged, prayed for, supported financially and connected us to others doing good work. We were birthed by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, but set free to be and become what God would have us be. Then, like the seed, we were scattered.
Being a sent, scattered, local expression of the kingdom of God has meant many things. Namely, it has required us to look to the common good of our neighborhood, not just what will help us add to our numbers or longevity. It has caused us to see our church as a means, not an end. It has looked like gathering in the places where people live their lives, instead of trying to attract them to our worship services or Bible studies. In parks, a local elementary school, prison cells, hospital rooms, restaurants, local non-profits and gardens, seeds of peace and love and hope have been sent into soil. Through collaboration and partnership, it has led relationships to form that bring people together from different walks of life and build up a sense of unity.
Perhaps the most challenging part of this way of being church is that almost nothing about our community seems permanent: people and resources flow through, we do not have official membership and we meet in rented space. Yet, because of this, our mobile church is able to connect with people in ways we otherwise may not. We are able to watch as the boundaries that separate us from one another and from God are blurred beyond recognition.
Many days, our church does look more like a shrub than an oak. Its branches are a mess most of the time, but they’re reaching further, and deep roots are forming that seem to be making an impact in subtle and subversive ways – ways that can’t always be measured or neatly planned out.
I pray that as we look to the future, we will never stop being a scattered, sent church.
I pray that we will continue to search for and find ways to
weave the kingdom into the community,
ways to be love & light in dark spaces,
ways to do less managing & more scattering,
ways to make unlikely connections that change both the church
and the world for the glory of God.