Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Is United at the Cross Community Church Being Raised from the Dead?

There will be some who have no idea as to why the title of this blog, I challenge you to read on, others, will be struck by the title because you will have some idea and wonder what is going on, I know you will read on.

For a large part of my life I was not a Christian. In fact, I hated Christianity. You can read my book The Keystone Kid to learn more about my hatred and rebellion from the church. I grew up with specific attitudes about Christianity, Christians, and the Church. To be honest most of those were not positive, and truth is, much about them is still not positive. While I now love the Church, while I love Christians, there is much to work on not only for Christianity and the Church, but also with me.

I ended up getting saved a little later in life when I came to see Jesus for who he is, the lover and giver of my soul. I saw him as a judge but one who wanted the best for me. I also began as I got older to understand Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit better as I begin to read “The Ultimate Love Book”, the Holy Bible. I saw and understood things as I had never understood them before. It wasn’t long before I began to realize that if the God, the Savior, the Church presented in the Bible was practiced like it was in the Bible, Christianity would be a lot more appealing to those like myself who was turned off by what they had seen..

A few years after my conversion to Christianity, latter in my high school and early college years I begin to work in the Christian music ministry. There was a lot of learning to take place, and it is one of the reasons I am so keen on the responsibility of the church to involve its people in a concept called discipleship. Discipleship is the process where followers of Jesus become as much like Jesus as possible. I didn’t know, or understand this process at first but came to know how important it was later in life.

It was during these early years that I felt God call me into ministry. That is something hard to explain but I had multitudes of people reaffirm this. Over the years a lot of things happened, I would follow that call for part of the time, then for part of the time stray away from it. It was in 2001 that I realized my need to fully commit myself to ministry. I left my job associated with Mental Health Rehabilitation and begin to explore my involvement in full-time ministry. At first I volunteered for the church I was attending as a full-time volunteer, and from there, ended up taking a pastors job at United at the Cross Community Church in Wichita Kansas.

Early on in the search I felt drawn to the church in Wichita. It was a church that was doing ministry in the type of neighborhood I grew up. There was a mixture of races, it was poor, and it was a church that had as its mission this community. I loved this little church although I would later find out there were multitudes of problems. I turned down a church in Benkelman Nebraska, Willow Creek in the Chicago area, and a church in Merced California. United at the Cross paid the least, $18,000 a year which I later requested be moved to $15,000 a year, minimal benefits, and it was an upstart church started by World Impact in conjunction with the Mennonite Brethren. It was the most racially diverse church in the MB conference, and was to the far extreme in the style of worship in its contemporary style. With all of my years in music and worship, this church at its peak was among the best worship experiences, with one of the best worship teams I ever experienced.

There were many issues with the church during the time I was there. My main concern was what I perceived to be a lack of support in regards to assistance, not financially, although that was an issue, but mainly in the area of providing maturity to help with the issues surrounding the church. Issues like most of our people coming out of backgrounds other than Christian that involved homelessness, gangs, prostitution and I could keep on going. In fact, it was the people, their backgrounds and the life transforming power of Christ that led me to this church. Yet, with those issues, the need for maturity was needed, as well as a continued financial support. Things were tough, and one of the mistakes I made was allowing people with little knowledge of these groups be involved in the leadership of the church. Truth is I didn’t do the training of some of these individuals I needed to do and when I did realize what needed to be done, it was too late. There was a lot more than that, a lot that I don’t take blame for that just made it difficult to survive.

There was a plan in place, a plan I felt would enable me to continue at the church, but one that would allow an inner city, multi racial, poor church to survive. We were looking at the incorporation of a team concept, which would allow me to better use my strengths and some within the church to better use, theirs. I have no doubt the process would have worked if we could have gotten the support we had requested from other churches. For whatever reason those churches didn’t see the need and didn’t help in the ways we had asked. I still have regrets about that because now, a little over a year ago, United at the Cross Community Church shut down. It shut down at the pain of me and the number of others who were still attending. I knew I needed to do what God was calling me to, and that I couldn’t do that, and do everything necessary to continue to pastor this church full-time. It was with that in mind, that the church closed its doors.

There are a number of the people associated with United at the Cross that I still maintain contact with, some on a weekly basis through either face to face, telephone, or the Faith in Film group I host here at my house. A number of them still ask about starting up a new church, with me being the pastor. In fact counting those from United at the Cross, and others there are around 25 – 30 who ask this. It is something I will continue to explore but for now am content in doing what God has called me to. I know God still desires ministry, but I am also sure God’s desire for the community of which United at the Cross was in never weaned. God gave an organization a vision of ministry for that neighborhood and community, I am confident that God still has those very desires. I believe now, looking back, it would have been best to fight for United at the Cross, to stay in existence with a few changes and continue. I have struggled with that since the church closed its doors. There are all kinds of reasons for those struggles.

With all of that said, with all of my concerns for this neighborhood, I have maintained a love and involvement in the South West Neighborhood of Wichita where United at the Cross was located. I have maintained The Virtual Pew address there because that is an area I still do ministry. My responsibility to that community did not end when United at the Cross closed its doors. That is part of what being a pastor is, you care about the relationships that have been built, despite those that walk away for whatever reason, despite those that didn’t follow biblical guidelines for whatever reason, despite whether I still live in the community or not, I made a commitment not only to the church, but to the community. Those who are not Christians see Christians do enough running away, it is time some of them saw Christians doing some running towards. I am reminded here of the parable of the Prodigal Son, in the end, love is illustrated initially by the desire to run to the one that was lost. I just don’t understand why churches, and church organizations don’t always see this.

God is good, God has a way of saying forget those who don’t honor commitment, if people don’t care then I will bring up a new people. God has a way of putting the call of ministry into the hearts of those who really are into ministry for ministry. It is with that being said that I was somewhat shocked, and even confused within the last few weeks. I was reminded by a prophesy one of the members of United at the Cross gave one week at church. That prophesy the individual gave came to be true, yet at the time people just ignored it, didn’t take it seriously. I honestly think that right now God is proving his word, and that prophesy to be true.

I have been attending a church plant named Mosaic as of the last months. Mosaic is a church that has been doing little things like going out of their way to show The Lost, The Last and The Least that they want to be Jesus to them. They have been doing things like feeding the homeless, providing hope to people hurt by the church and so much more. At a recent activity in Wichita, The Wichita River Festival, individuals were handing out stickers that said something like, “Forgive us as Christians for being such judgmental, hypocritical jerks. Mosaic a church for people who have given up on church.” I was blown away by this, it describes exactly the type of church that United at the Cross was, they are practicing the very things I believe in, in trying to be a church that ministers to the very people Jesus did. They are a church who seems to fully understand the vision and mission of The Virtual Pew.

I have plugged in at Mosaic, I am a part of the worship team, Nathan is going to youth group meetings, and Mary Jane starts teaching children’s church this month. The church has also supported The Virtual Pew and the ministry I am involved in. Recently they provided about a months worth of funds and they continue to offer prayer support for the ministry. In some ways you could say it has been a good marriage. That don’t mean things are perfect, they aren’t but they are good, and I am amazed at how this one church is carrying out the mission of what church is supposed to do. They have the support financially from other churches that have helped as well as help via people from those churches making commitments to help in leadership. Hope Community Church and others in the area have helped; I would encourage more, as I am certain this church is filling a need within the city of Wichita.

Now this is where God has been working on me, it is where he is working from the perspective that in some ways he is raising United at the Cross from the dead. Mosaic has been meeting at a local school, Robinson Middle School. There have been issues with that school, but good things as well. Recently due to some undue difficulties that were coming up, Mosaic decided to look at another location for church. I sill long for the day the church has its own space but for now, they decided on a place to start meeting this next weekend. It was to my astonishment at church a couple of weeks ago when I heard that Mosaic, at least for now, and until God says otherwise, is going to start meeting at Truesdale Elementary School. A school in the South West Neighborhood of Wichita, only a few blocks away from where I lived, and United at the Cross was located. God is in fact, placing this church, and placing me and my family once again, into the community he called us into when we first moved here in 2002.

Through all of this process I have struggled a little, struggled about going back into my old neighborhood, going back into an area where I saw so much promise but was hurt so much by an unwillingness of some to do things right. I could go on, but I am simply amazed, that in some form, the mission, and ministry I longed so much for in this community may be ready to take place. I can still be pastor to those involved with The Virtual Pew, as well as those seeking pastoral guidance, leadership, and help from the relationships over the years. I can see a ministry do the things I wanted, desired and prayed for in this community while at the same time, taking my own ministry desires to a new level. I can’t explain it, and the dead aren’t walking yet, but there is promise, promise that God still lives, and don’t abandon those he loves.

There are several things this week I can ask for, among the top of those is prayer. You can pray for The Virtual Pew, for Mosaic, and certainly for those who cared about the ministry that once existed with United at the Cross Community Church. There is also the ongoing need of financial support, not just for myself and the ministry of The Virtual Pew but also the ministry of Mosaic. I would ask individuals, churches and organizations to also pray that God continues to build the marriage of ministry between The Virtual Pew and Mosaic. Then I would ask, for those that supported United at the Cross Community Church to consider ways you can support this rebirth. Maybe it is by becoming involved in Mosaic, maybe it is by something else. I used to have a friend that walked the community with me, showing love to the community. I am still willing to do that but need partners. For those that are not a part of a church, or are maybe a part of a church who realizes that there is need for ministry that wasn’t fulfilled consider becoming a part of Mosaic as they take on this new area of ministry. Be a history maker, not one who just sits back and expects others to make it.

I could go on, but will leave it at that for today. It is a new week, a new day, and a new moment in ministry. I am pleased with the fact, that like I said earlier, God still has a special place in his heart for The Lost, The Last, and The Least. Now the question for you is what are you doing to serve those whom God cares so much about in your community? I know he cares, and I also know that if you care, he will raise up workers to get the job done. It is time for all of us to get off our buns, and make a difference, if not in South West Wichita, then where ever you may be located. It is time for the church to be the Church and quit making excuses. Are you listening?
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