It’s not often a tweet stops me in my tracks.
A few weeks back, doctoral candidate, Joy Clarkson, wrote,
“When someone hasn’t read a classic book, I always try to say ‘Oh! What a treat you have ahead of you!’ rather than ‘I can’t believe you haven’t read this!’ because no one wants to be shamed into reading.
We should lead with our delight in literature, not our pretentiousness”
Clarkson discovered in the field of literature what I have found true in starting fresh expressions of church. I’ve seen how ugly the church can become when we seek new members through shame and I’ve tasted the sweetness of a church swept up in delight.
I live in the South, the land of “saving souls.’ Everyone I know who isn’t connected to a church has a story of someone trying to convert them. Some Methodists I know have such stories. I’ve attended more than one funeral that failed to mention the life of the deceased, instead moving straight to the altar call. Nothing dries my tears quite like a preacher fishing for converts. It’s the symptom of a faith that prioritizes saving over savoring.
We’ve forgotten that salvation begins with delight. From our mother’s womb, God looked at us with delight.
Samuel Wells defines delight as, “the recognition of abundance where conventional engagement is inclined only to see deficit.” God, knowing our proclivity to sin, chooses to see our capacity for goodness.
David sings, “[The LORD] rescued me because he delighted in me.”
Let that sink in for just a moment, the Creator of the Universe delights in you. God looks at you the way a mother looks at her sleeping baby, with perfect love.
More than that, God delights in the Church. In Isaiah, God names the people of God Hephzibah, meaning ‘my delight is in her.’ God looks at the Church like a groom standing at the altar, seeing his radiant bride walking down the aisle.
My intern recently attended the wedding of a couple who is living at the homeless shelter where one of our fresh expressions meets. After a kiss that lasted so long the pastor had to cut it short, a young man sitting next to him said with a smile, “Now that’s how you kiss a bride.”
Our relationship with God is not a transaction, it’s a romance.
When you realize God delights in you, the world changes. No longer do we have to chase after approval or success. All we could ever hope for is freely given to us. Our delight is in the God who loves us.
Knowing this, we’re free to delight in the world around us, the world that God created. We’re free to look at our neighbors not as targets, but as children of God to be enjoyed. We can cherish them for who they are, not change them into someone we think they should be.
When this kind of delight is experienced in community it is incomparable. In King Street Church our delight in God leads us to celebrate as often as we can. Whether one of us is having an anniversary, a baptism, a wedding, or has successfully made it through probation, we never miss an opportunity to throw a party.
We also never miss an opportunity to laugh. One week in the county jail, we sat around the stainless steel table in the ‘B Pod’ for our bible study when TJ emerged from his cell. TJ is a jolly man, known for his contagious laugh and for living in the woods, hunting groundhogs with a spear. What we expected to be a powerful time of studying scripture together became TJ comedy hour. He had us all belly laughing at his stories that had nothing to do with our study, one involving grabbing a bird with his bare hands. In an expert-level ministry maneuver, Ken, the leader of our jail ministry closed in prayer, “God may we reach out and grab you like TJ reached out and grabbed the little sparrow.” Laughing together was far more important than any topic we had planned for that morning.
We’ve lost our focus when our neighbors become potential converts, when our faith becomes an attempt to please God, when ministry becomes a scorecard we can hand to God. There is no statistical data that can describe the delight God has for us. There is no measurement tool that can deduce a church that cherishes its neighbors fully. Delight cannot be measured, only tasted.
When your neighbors who are not connected to a church taste the delight of Christian community, they will come back for more.
Where do we go from here?
A church saturated in delight is magnetic. Focus less on making converts and more on delighting in those around you and you might see a beautiful fresh expression of church take shape. After all, the sweet taste of beloved community draws far more than any altar call could.
Luke Edwards is the Associate Director of Church Development for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and a trainer for Fresh Expressions US. He was the founding pastor of King Street Church, a network of fresh expressions in Boone, NC. Participating in local, regional, and national levels of the Fresh Expressions movement has given Luke a unique perspective into the future of the mainline church in a post-Christian society. You can follow him on twitter at @lukesedwards or check out his blog A Way in the Wilderness (http://www.awitw.org).