by The Rev. Dr. R. Leigh Spruill
Some years ago, I chuckled at a cartoon someone had posted on social media that showed Jesus knocking on a church door with the members seated inside worshipping. At first glance, the rendering seemed to suggest Jesus was trying to enter the door, presumably because the worship in the sanctuary was dry and bereft of his presence. However, a closer inspection showed that rather than trying to get into the church, Jesus was wanting the door opened to invite the members out! The cartoon was a humorous reminder that Christians do not truly understand the nature of the gospel if we spend all our time preaching it to ourselves. A whole world exists outside the church waiting to be blessed by Christ.
Our vision at St. John the Divine is about growing disciples to be lights to the city. We will know we are stepping into that vision as we experience a deepening connection between our fellowship within the congregation and our missional engagements with the city all around us. On the one hand, when new people show up at our door, we pray it is visibly apparent that the love of God is present among us, encouraging further inquiry about who Jesus is (1 Peter 3:15) and how one can belong here. On the other hand, we stress that the Christian life is not bounded by our own membership, rituals, programs, and campus. Rather, that life finds its fullest expression outside the formal fellowship of the church in all the various spheres of cultural, professional, and personal life in the city. Jesus desires not only to enter our doors, but to have us “go forth” with him beyond our doors.
I am tremendously excited about – and also feeling a bit daunted by – a daring new ministry initiative of SJD beginning in January that will bring together worshipful fellowship and evangelistic mission. On Sunday evening, January 14, we will launch a new invitational service called The Door. The Door will be held weekly in the Church at 5:30 pm and is primarily intended for people all around us in the city who may not have a church home, who may be spiritually open but not yet committed to the Christian faith, and who yearn for warm and welcoming community.
The Door will be held in a traditional worship space with modern, acoustic music and an accessible liturgy. We will offer simple homilies that connect Jesus Christ to the questions and issues of everyday life. We will also ensure holy time for personal prayer, healing prayer, and private meditation. Hospitality and belonging will be central values of the evening experience, so the service will be followed by a meal and fellowship in Sumners Hall.
Quite simply, the vision inspiring The Door is born of our desire for obedience to Christ’s Great Commission: we want more and more of our people going forth to invite others to join us in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. I wish to be clear that the initiation of this new service is not to have one more Sunday “menu” option for members who already worship with some regularity. Rather, the missional goal is to connect our gospel life with new people. His vision is not likely to be accomplished by marketing to the public as much as by our own members taking the personal initiative to invite friends, neighbors, and acquaintances to come. In fact, the “success” of The Door will depend on such personal overtures. Thus, The Door will be an opportunity for us to grow into one of our core strategic aims: to deepen an invitational culture. I encourage you to be on the lookout for further information about this new ministry in the coming days and to let me know if you are interested in helping. Mostly, I ask for your daily prayers that the Holy Spirit will bless this initiative in ways that surpass our expectations.
As you know, I have a keen interest in the history of those first New Testament congregations birthed by the apostles. One of the more dog-eared books in my personal library is The First Urban Christians by early church historian Wayne Meeks. It is a classic study of the mutually reinforcing nature of the church’s inner social life and external mission. “One peculiar thing about early Christianity was the way in which the intimate, close-knit life of the local groups was seen to be simultaneously part of a much larger, indeed ultimately worldwide, movement or entity. . . One of the most obvious facts about the movement associated with Paul and his fellows was the vigor of its missionary drive, which saw in the outsider a potential insider….”
While there is always room for growth, St. John the Divine is the most warmly welcoming parish I have been a part of. It is also the one that is most open to new missional opportunities for the sake of others. What a privilege and how exciting it is to bring these two blessed aspects of our character together as we “go forth” into a new year and into our mission of Changing Lives for God in Christ.
"Essential to a notion of community is a new recognition that the missional placement of a congregation lies precisely within the workplaces and multiple social worlds the people inhabit day to day. And with that comes a new appreciation that when separated to all those daily worlds, the community is still a community, bound the same way to each other and responsible together to be a community that gives expression to the gospel. The church that is truly the community will be one in which there is a seamless harmony between its gathered moments and its scattered ones."
— George R. Hunsinger, “The Church in Postmodern Transition”
Although this book was published more than five years ago, it is highly relevant for this cultural moment. The simple thesis of Jacobs’ book is that the capacity to think well through the complexities of life requires an act of will. Too many people in our ideologically driven day simply lack that will. It is easier to languish in lazy thinking that fails to examine one’s own assumptions and refuses to extend goodwill and an open hearing to opposing viewpoints. In our culturally, religiously, and politically divided age, learning how to think better about ourselves and others ought to sound like a very good idea. This book is an excellent resource and encouragement.