The following was written as a brief reflection on a class “field trip” to a worship service of a New Day community, a missional gathering of individuals who currently find themselves in Dallas, even though they have come from all corners of the earth:
On Sunday evening, January 13th, our class had the privilege of visiting the New Day community that meets in the Amani House, an apartment in a complex that houses many refugees. I believe that the experience would have been different had I been attending individually, but I can only comment on my experience of having several people from our class visit at once, packing into the little home for a worship service. Despite the limited space, what we all experienced was an incredible gathering of God’s people breaking bread together, singing praise to our Creator, diving into God’s Word and enjoying genuine Christian fellowship in community.
In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer states that “the goal of all Christian community” is to “meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” One of the first things that I noticed as I entered the Amani House was the authentic greeting in the Spirit of God. Each person in that room was happy to be there, and the joy of their salvation was evident on their faces. It was exactly as Bonhoeffer had stated; the message of salvation was being passed from smile to smile and hug to hug, all in the context of community. From the moment I walked in the door to the last goodbye, it was clear that we were united by Christ. Even though I was meeting most of the people there for the first time, it was almost as if we were long-lost friends reuniting—a feeling that is oftentimes absent in many of our traditional, attractional churches.
I could not help but think to myself, “I wonder how congregants from my own church family would react to such a gathering?” Would they jump right in with the drum-circle worship, even though not everyone was on beat, and not everyone was on pitch? Would they be open to discussing Scripture so intimately with people they just met, even though the one leading the Bible study was an eighth grader? Would they be open to the community, even though not everyone in the room looked like them or fluently spoke their language? Would they be able to relax and worship in an apartment, even though it didn’t have an ornate cross, pipe organ or beautiful stained-glass windows?
Reflecting on these questions, I cannot help but think of Sara Miles’ description of her soup kitchen church in her book, JesusFreak. Miles shares about the motley assortment of individuals who dine together and share life together at the soup kitchen. She tells story after story about the sacred moments that exist in the midst of what others may consider profane. For Miles, the community that gathers regularly at the soup kitchen ischurch. She points out examples of Scripture in which God uses crazy situations to reveal God’s self:
“Just as the unmarried teenager Mary is the mother of God, so the madman John is the baptizer of God: both improper figures, completely unauthorized by the religious authorities. And just as a mucky feed trough is where Mary lays the bread of heaven, so the river Jordan is where John anoints the Son of God: inappropriate locations for something holy to occur.”
In much the same way, many in our church may deem the Amani house an “inappropriate location for something holy to occur,” but God has other plans. What I experienced in our worship together at the New Day service was completely holy and sacred and good.
We talked a lot about evangelism over the course of our class. What strikes me as fascinating regarding the New Day community is the lack of an “evangelistic program,” and yet the effectiveness of faithful witness. In Graceful Evangelism, Frances Adeney references Bryan Stone’s idea that the primary purpose of the church is to simply live faithfully. People will naturally be attracted to the character of the church if we embody God in the world. Tweaking Alasdair MacIntyre’s notion of goods that are internal to particular practices, Stone argues that faithful evangelism is good in and of itself. We should not need to look to resulting numbers to measure its effectiveness. In the context of the New Day community, there was not an “each one, reach one” strategy to obtain new members of the community. The participants simply lived out their faith in genuine ways. Evangelism was an orientation of their heart, as well as the lifestyle that emerges as a result. Worshiping unashamedly to the point where neighbors had to ask us to quiet down is something that people notice, and something to which people are drawn.
I would love for each member of our congregation to experience the New Day community. I know that it would pull people out of their comfort zone because it pulled me out of my comfort zone, but that is one of its strengths. Experiencing new forms of worship is so healthy for those of us who have grown up in the church, or for those who have only experienced a certain method of Christian worship during their life in the faith. I won’t pretend that I found myself immediately connecting to every element of our worship together. I caught myself worrying about the neighbors as we sung out our songs of praise while beating numerous drums. I felt bad that we didn’t have enough places for everyone to sit. I wish we could have heard more from those who were a part of the community, and less from those who were observers from our class. However, when I was able to push those trivial worries and discomforts to the side, what I experienced was the faithful evangelistic witness of a community who embodied the message of salvation in the midst of an inappropriate location. And I praise God for the opportunity to have been stretched in that manner.
Frances Adeney, Graceful Evangelism:Christian Witness in a Complex World (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2010), 83.
In reference to Adeney
In reference to Bonhoeffer
In reference to Miles