Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of the church I pastor, Bethany North. Technically we are a satellite worship service of Bethany Community Church located near Green Lake. But as the last year has unfolded, the community has emerged as more than merely a worship site. The people of Bethany North have become a church, God’s people that gather together to fellowship and connect and represent Christ to the world.
A year ago, we hadn’t even launched yet. A team of volunteers who had been gathering and praying and planning for about 6 months met at the Richmond Highlands Recreation Center (which was our first meeting spot) to set up the equipment, pray over the space, and basically perform a dry run to ensure things would go smoothly on our first Sunday worship service which was just days away. On this dry run evening last September, as the team of about 25 people busily rolled out microphone cords and un-stacked chairs and unwrapped children’s ministry materials, a fear seized me deeper than almost any I had ever known. I shouted a couple of quick instructions and then I snuck out the side door and outside near the playground of the Rec. Center. Even though this was just the dry run, I was scared spitless. I dropped to my knees and prayed, “God, are you sure I’m the right guy to lead this church? Are you sure?” All my failures and insecurities were at the forefront of my mind. “I don’t know enough. I don’t have enough experience. I’m too this…not enough of that….way too much of this…etc.” I was flooded with self-loathing and uncertainty. A pastor? Are you kidding? I can’t do this God! And real tears filled my eyes.
If any of my volunteers happened to look outside the Rec. Center they might have been filled with some serious doubts! ‘Why is our new pastor outside on his knees crying out to God? What is wrong with this guy!?!?!’
And as I prayed, God’s peace descended on me, and a deep certainty arose from God Himself: “Scott you CAN’T do this out of your own power or might. But I can. Let me live through you and follow Me and I will lead this church.” I stood up, my knees still damp from the wet grass, and I wiped my tears away, and I said, “I will follow You God. Give me the strength to follow.”
That first Sunday, I didn’t think anyone would come. I paced nervously around the gym as we set up and wanted to tell everyone to go home. “Forget it everyone! Clearly no one is coming!” But they did come….by the time we began we had a gym full. And the journey of pastoring a church began. Not by any strength of my own, but Christ in me, leading us forward.
For the past year, we have all continued to follow. We have had moments of joy and other moments of struggle, disappointments and great joys. Moments of chaos (I won’t even tell you about the Christmas Eve service!) and moments of peace. But through it all, we have followed. We have a group of tremendously close-knit and devoted individuals that continue to show up and work hard and invite their friends and pray for our church. And real lives have been impacted in real ways. Small stories of transformation and life-altering baptisms.
This Sunday we had this huge party and all throughout the gym where we gather people were talking and playing and connecting. Kids bounced on the Incredibles Bouncy House, other kids were unleashing their “inner Rambo” on the laser tag course, and adults were CONNECTING. Young and not so young, new friends and old, pouring out their lives around tables as they talked and connected and shared their stories. There were almost 250 people in that gym. By all accounts, it was an awesome way to celebrate our one-year birthday, or anniversary, or Birth-Iversary. But it all started on that soggy ground outside the Rec Center when I was on my knees. Most days I still need to get down on my knees and cry out again. I hope I never forget that it will never be me, or the force of our human actions, that empowers a church to grow. It is the spirit of God moving through us. It is His power and we are His church.
All Sons and Daughters sings this great song called Alive that reminds me of our little church:
“We are soaked in all the grace we’ve been given.
Unchained from all we have done.
Your mercy is rising like the sun on the horizon.
And we are coming home.
We’re coming home.
Cause we’re ALIVE and WE ARE SINGING.
We’re alive and we’re shaking.
We’re alive in you.”
It is an honor to pastor this church. After one year, we are alive. And we are shaking. And we have plans to continue to impact our homes and our streets and our schools and our workplaces to spread the news. Happy birth-iversary everyone!