My Mountain Town Church Trek | The Praying Church, Part 3.
I didn’t expect the answers I got. Turns out, the praying church doesn’t believe gays are going to hell for being gay. And they’re pretty clear about why they exist even though there are so many other churches in town.
Before heading on to the next faith community on my local expedition, I sat down with one of the pastors for the praying church. We sat in the coffee shop section of the prayer facility and I recorded the following excerpted interview questions. The tall affable pastor has a loud laugh and easy smile. He is also a worship leader, musician and associate senior leader. I enjoyed chatting with Garrett and was both genuinely inspired and surprised by some of his answers. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
During one of the Sunday services I attended, the dynamic female pastor at the praying church inadvertently answered my first question. During her sermon, she described one defining trait of her faith community this way: “That we know God. We expect encounters, prophetic words. We are carrying something profound, needed, not found everywhere.”
I continued this line of thought with Garrett …
Why is [the praying church] necessary when there are so many other churches in town?
The reason God has called us into existence … We are a church about encountering God, finding our purpose and destiny in him, and honestly, helping people become whole.
I’ve helped plant or lead or grow 3 different churches [ in general, most ] were more about agenda. I personally felt like there was the sense of putting God in a box. “This is how He looks, this is how He works, this is what He expects … ” We don’t always know that.
Yes, we are based on Bible as the Word of God. We try to do everything we can to live according to the Word of God. However the rules or the regulations, or what we would call ‘religion’, have gotten so steeped into some churches that people come and they feel like they have to be molded into who the church is rather than having the church take who they are and kind of build them up and breathe life into them, and try to build them into who God wants them to be. One of the things we’ve been called to is not to be a traditional church. We have a Sunday expression but our goal is to be a place of prophetic or encouraging prayer/ speaking over people’s lives — for people to see how God sees them.
What people or denominations would you describe as having a similar DNA to your faith community?
Bill Johnson, (the Senior Leader for Bethel Church in Redding CA), says that God is always a good mood. He’s not an angry God up in heaven that’s waiting to zap you because you didn’t do what He said. That’s a perspective we also share. There’s a writer named Graham Cooke who would also be in the same ball park as what we believe. But most of the places we are really close to or pull on aren’t really affiliated with a denomination.
If you have to use church language: We’d be charismatic. That term is more about the character of a person and their ability to be social … but the church uses that to describe people who are flowing in the current gifts of the Bible. We are genuine people learning and growing and communing with God. Most people I know want to know that God actually does something. Rather than sit in the pew of a church and hear a message and leave and not ever experience any thing that God is doing. What better evidence than to experience the five fold gifting of God? I don’t think any of those things have gone away. Some people might argue that they have. We see the miraculous things. I’ve seen too many people get healed when people pray for them. Or I’ve seen someone prophesy over a person and they begin to weep because that person is, “reading their mail.” That’s what I mean as far as charismatic.
I feel like people who aren’t Christians are almost able to appreciate that more than people who have been Christians and have been in Christian settings and they’ve developed biases about that.
We aren’t discounting what others are doing. God put it all together. We try to make room for every conversation that’s out there.
What About Homosexuality and the Church?
We’ve prayed God would bring gay people to our church.
I don’t think homosexuals are going to hell … I don’t see anything recorded in the Bible where Jesus speaks directly to someone with that specific issue. But I can tell you when he knelt down and wrote in the dirt next to the woman who had committed adultery * — which back in that culture was seen in the same light as what conservative Christians would see a gay person or homosexual – Jesus chose not to condemn her. In other words, the religious leaders that were there wanted to condemn her, he told them “Those without sin should cast the first stone.” And they were silenced because they knew they had sin inside of them. We all do. And maybe that sounds like I’m calling gays sinful or something like that. But that’s not my point. What I am trying to say, is Jesus instantly forgave whatever was going on inside of her. He said, “go and sin no more” basically, don’t continue to do things that are harmful to you, or go against Gods best.
All I know is God so loved the world and he gave his son and I feel like God wants everybody to be saved. He’s not up there wanting anyone to perish. His heart is that everyone would be, quote, “saved” if you will. The reason he sent his son was so that the world would be saved. And that’s everybody.”
[ I read that statement back to him. He pauses and says … ]
There’s so much you could read between the lines in there and make that mean whatever you want it to mean. Our goal is to love. The church appears in general to the world as a place that judges and condemns. But we are trying to be what we perceive to be more like Jesus, and say:
“We’ve come to love you right where you are. We are not going to judge you, make you change the way your dress or ask to change you. If at some point you choose to do that, that’s between you and God. That would be your choice.”
[A Quick Aside]
In response to the above answers, right now my more conservative reader friends are shaking your heads about “not asking gay people to change” – or the loose use of the word “saved” without inclusion of some variation of the words “believe in Jesus” in the same sentence – or the even looser description of who is or isn’t going to hell.
Stay with me.
At some point in my highly religious protestant life, I got this crazy idea that a doctrinally perfect church was possible. I adopted the idea that any Biblical or theological “inaccuracy” nullifies the credibility of a speaker or even a community. Either a person or group is right, or wrong. Good or Bad. In or Out. Binary. Dualistic. Black and white.
I like to think I’m in recovery from that way of seeing the world. But admittedly, there were certain details that that didn’t settle well with me at the praying church. Like intermittent hints and whiffs of prosperity gospel, and the fact that the whole congregation was at one point collectively reading a book by a Korean pastor with arguably one of the largest churches in the world, and was recently indicted for embezzling millions of dollars from church funds. And, I wouldn’t be able to 100% get behind a place that hosts a Creation Science Academy for children. I am conflicted about those things. And this all begs the same question: Are these isolated points of preference or principle reason to reject the whole?
My formerly fearful and hyper-religious self would say yes. But here’s the deal.
The further along I travel, the more I find God’s perfect love and truth embedded in imperfection.
This idea continues to repeat, place to place. There is no such thing as a perfectly “correct” person or group of people. And that feels like the middle of the ‘good news’ Christians preach. The whole point of the ‘gospel’ is that God comes near, and even pours himself inside imperfect containers. We are faulty jars poured full of powerful love, mercy, justice, grace we could never conjure up on our own. As a result, I’m starting to think of the ‘church’ as the Spirit of God embedded in a whole fleet of curiously flawed vessels.
Sure, the praying church is flawed like every other ship in the fleet. Even so, I am inspired by Garrett’s words about seeing ourselves the way God sees us. And I love the praying church’s posture of expectancy for God to move outside our preconceived boxes. Like canaries in a coal mine, I think this sensitivity makes them open to invisible things of God that the rest of us boxy people might miss.
Since moving on to the next next local community in this project, I honestly miss worship at the praying church. Some Sundays when I am scheduled to visit and take notes at a different sanctuary, I find myself longing for a quiet Lazy-boy rocker in the back row of this openly loving and supernatural little mountain church. I agree with the short-but-mighty-and- thundering preacher woman when she says that her people are “carrying something profound, needed, not found everywhere.”
And I carry that with me.
Unexpected Encounters at the Praying Church
Like Fire and Water
Going Local: My Mountain Church Trek
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* The story of Jesus writing in the sand can be found in the Bible, John 8:1-11.
Fractalius Flying Dove image by Bahman Farzad