December 26, 2019

Church: The Home Away From Home

I got up on Christmas morning to let the dog out for his obligatory wee and to my surprise, the front doormat was gone.

Not just any front doormat. A thick, woven, imported masterpiece of a doormat that offsets our house just nicely.  It’s the right height to step straight into the house.  It’s the right thickness to give your feet a proper wipe.  And it’s heavy!  It won’t blow away in a gale, and it’s not all that easy to carry off. Which made its disappearance all that more disconcerting.

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See what i mean?

More to the point, and more disconcertingly, the doormat had been replaced by another doormat. Replaced by this monstrosity.

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This was not just the work of evil.  This was the work of evil genius. An evil genius Grinch on Christmas morning.

We were much distressed. Where could our front doormat have gone? Who would have taken it?  Was there a doormat thief in the area driving around with a trunk-load of front doormats?

“I got that sent over from Sydney,” Jill lamented, as we got ready for church, “Who would steal a doormat on Christmas morning?”

Actually I had my suspicions.  Suspicions that were duly confirmed when we arrived at the school we meet in for church for the Christmas Day service to see this:

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No, this lovely couple, Glen and Emma, were not the thieves, nor were they indeed in league with the thieves (a joint effort between a congregant and our senior pastor Mark), but I had an inkling all along that it was an inside job. The prodigal doormat was returned, and there was much joy, merriment and mirth, and since it was Christmas, the fattened calf had already been killed, so it wasn’t much bother.

The doormat to my home had landed on the doorstep of our church.

Which all got me thinking. This week is the last week of my time as a paid staff member at Providence Church Midland.  Last year I changed roles and we put on a top young bloke, Mark, as the new senior, while I went part time and worked for an initiative of workplace evangelism ministry City Bible Forum, called Third Space.

I’ll be working four days a week for them this year, with a secular writing side-hustle the other day.  Oh, we’re staying on at Providence as a family, and I will be an elder and will probably preach a bunch of times, but it’s the end of an era for me.

What started as a one day per week role in a friend’s household model church plant nine years ago, which then took us to a household church plant in our own house, has now finished up in a church of about 160 people who meet in a school building.

And somehow having a doormat out the front of the building on my last week of paid ministry work seems important. Why? Because for me, one of the key components of doing church has been to create a home for people. A place that’s welcoming. A place that, when you walk in, does not feel like a conference, or a business, or a production line for ministry training, but a home for people who are looking for a new creation family.

Glen and Emma, standing on that mat in the picture above, were in our first household church plant that fell over after 18 months. They were gutted – as we all were – when it ended.  But like us, they gave a church plant a second crack, and ended up with us again at Providence, and are now integral leaders in our church, as are the other members of that first plant.

The line between Glen and Emma’s house and their church is blurry.  Just as it has been for all our leaders, who are families of great hospitality to outsiders, generous in time and giving.

We may no longer meet in homes for our church gatherings at Providence Church Midland, but the welcome doormat is always out for people.  I’ve wanted that to be in the DNA of our church since day one. And from all reports it has been.  It’s one of the reasons no one wants us to split the service into two, or have demographic, “age-appropriate” church, whatever that means.  We’re all in this together.

Now don’t get me wrong, household church is not the solution to the state of church in the early 21st century.  I’ve been in a household model that was so suffocating that it felt like we could hardly breathe. Conversely you can do big church in a way that is liberating, light and loving.

And that’s a reminder that just as much as a house can be a good place for a family, it can also be a toxic one.  A lot of bad things go on behind the walls of houses.  Without grace – and that suffocating model lacked it – household church becomes sectarian and cult-like.  It becomes something that you can join, but can almost never leave, at least not without some serious psychological damage being inflicted.

For me, that doormat outside our church building summed up the desire I’ve had that all should come and feel welcomed. All should have a place at the table. That the gospel truly does unite us with Christ and make us a family, and that we break bread together in a way that is rich and warm and true.

And costly! Just as in a household, relationships in church have to be fed and watered and nourished. Even when there is deep conflict.  Especially when there has been deep conflict. By God’s grace the conflict over the years has never run too deep. And by God’s grace we’ve been able to see the gospel salve wounds in the short periods of conflict we’ve had, just as much as it has grown the maturity of our congregation in times of peace.

I lugged our doormat back to the car after the Christmas service yesterday. A wonderful, warm and emotionally deep Christmas service at which Mark preached about the feast the prodigious father threw for his equally prodigious son upon his return home. Mark observed that the meal of Christmas should leave us wanting more, not less.

The Christmas dinner may fall short of our expectations, but then again, in the scheme of things, it should! It points to the ultimate welcome feast on the last day, when the King invites us into our eternal home, and lavishes upon us the grace that has been ours since our salvation.  Church is supposed to be the home away from home.

Two things struck me as I heard that wonderful sermon. First, it felt like the idea of home in our church was in safe hands – in an earthly sense. Our DNA hasn’t changed. Our pastors and leaders want church to feel like a taste of home. Long may it continue.

But secondly, and in light of that, only a taste of home. Church is not our final home. We can risk absolutising church and making it all about perfection.About well-oiled machinery.  In such a setting, people are watched. People are told “to be accountable to…”.

People become means to ends, not ends in themselves. Home becomes about order and strategy and vision. Always about vision. Who wants to live in a home like that? When that becomes the guts of what we are doing, and when we push it harder and harder, the less-than-perfect people either leave, or shut up.  

I put my doormat back in its rightful place yesterday morning after church, and went inside to help Jill get Christmas dinner ready.  And we both laughed about the doormat, and talked about how that little event was such a lovely picture of what we’ve tried to create at church.

And next week, with me no longer on staff at church, Jill and I and the kids will rock up to church and feel right at home.

Oh, and the imposter doormat found a home too:

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Don’t worry folks, I recycled.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Written by

stephenmcalpine

There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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