I am sitting in Panera Bread Company on Cherry Street in the urban core of Tulsa.
I’m surrounded by students from nearby University of Tulsa and Monte Cassino School, business professionals, artists, the urban poor, bohemians
I’m about a mile southwest from the church community I lead, Mercyview.
Cherry Street is a microcosm of urban America. It is a melting pot for cultures, races, ages, socio-economic classes. As for Tulsa, this is one of the most eclectic and vibrant spots in the city.
So I’m here. To be a missionary. Yes, a missionary.
In times past, folks would say that if you preached to Christians, you were a pastor. If you preached to not-yet-believers, you were an evangelist. If you needed a passport to preach, you were a missionary.
I'm not sure that description was ever helpful but in our postmodern era, it surely is not. For those of us who are Jesus-followers, we are missionaries wherever we are standing. Whether is Tehran or Tulsa.
Most Tulsans – believers and not-yet-believers alike – know this as a evangelical hotbed of activity. The mantra “there is a church on every corner” is different here in, what my friend calls, “Tulsaruslem.” There are three churches on every corner here.
So one would think another church here is redundant. I get that. Yes, there is a lot of "church" happening in Tulsa, but not a lot of gospel change happening. I'm convinced that one of the loops of the Bible belt still needs Jesus. North Midtown Tulsa needs Jesus. And I pray I can be a shining light here. I'm praying that Mercyview can be a city on a hill here.
I am painfully aware that after a year here that this task is a God task. To say that I underestimated the ebb and flow of promise and disappointment would be a tremendous understatement. Particularly in one area: relationships. But it's not what you think.
I had a deep conviction before I moved that the purpose of our faith community was to provide pathways for individuals to connect to God and to one another. In order to see this vision through, we took our time developing community when we began meeting regularly.
No worship services. No mailers. No servant evangelism outreach events. Just a small band of urban missionaries, sitting in a living room, sharing life and a common mission. Planting the gospel deeply in our hearts with the hope that God would plant His church in the north Midtown area of Tulsa.
The underestimation I had was not related to conflict. No, God has brought an amazing team of men and women around the mission and vision of our church who truly care for one another. It's been in the difficult and messy process of developing community itself where the ebb and flow exists.
For all the talk about small groups, missional communities, house churches – whatever you want to call them – it's rare to hear someone talk about how difficult it is. Relationships that form deep, lasting change takes time. We have to work through the uncomfortableness of talking to strangers, making ourselves vulnerable for the sake of the gaining trust. Earning respect. Answering real-life questions + doubts. Pressing the gospel into our souls. Enacting the gospel in our neighborhoods and city.
In community, there is no hiding behind a pulpit or in a pew. Let’s be honest, we like to hide behind our pulpits and in our pews, not to mention our blogs, our knowledge, our offices – rather than get out and put action behind our platitudes about missional living. Cred doesn’t come from talking about it. It comes from doing it.
That’s why I’m here. That's why we are here. We are here to "do it" -- not talk about doing it.
I have no illusions that missional living is gritty. I can feel the residue already on my soul. But this is where the rubber meets the road.
Jesus was a friend of sinners. He went to people. He didn’t expect them to come to Him. Jesus embodied lived theology. It isn’t enough to just know these things. They must be lived.
That is what missional community is. A group of individuals “going” to one another in the context of community, in word and deed. In the living room. And then, enacting the gospel out into the city, calling more and more into this gospel community.
So I’m praying for the Lord to move. To move me. To move us.
And I'm praying for those not yet with us.
I’m praying for the gentleman sitting in front of me reading the Tulsa World.
I’m praying for the trio of business professionals sitting to the left of me planning a restaurant grand opening.
I’m praying for the young female student behind me who is engrossed in her studies.
I’m praying for the four young African-American ‘skaters’ sitting to my left.
I’m praying for the homeless man sittting behind me who is eating bread and butter – probably his only meal today.
My heart is broken for our city. The opportunities to “be Christ” are endless. My spiritual eyes and ears need to be opened to see where God is at work.
I pray I have the courage to speak and the words to say. This is His work. May His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.