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February 25, 2014

Contemplations on Personal Spiritual Development

For the entirety of this year, I’ve been considering starting my own church.

Last year, Micah 6:8 nailed me to the wall, giving me simple instructions on what I should be doing, how I should be living. It gave me actionable goals: to determine what is just, to practice compassion, and to seek a closer walk with my creator. Never the diligent student, ojal√°, I made progress in these areas regardless.

But toward the end of the year, and particularly through a re-reading of the book of Genesis, I began to connect to the stories of Abraham, Issac and Jacob in a new and unusual way. Theirs was a relationship that was direct and relatively solitary—they had no church to attend and no pastors to consult. They were not missionaries, nor was proselytizing anywhere close to their focus. Abram relocated based on a conditional promise given by God, but the nature of his work and living did not change. His son, Isaac, grew in the knowledge of that covenant and patterned his life around the God of his father. And while Isaac’s son, Jacob had a much more deviated life path, his relationship with God was no less direct, and his prayers were to the God of his father and his father’s father.

I found myself developing sympathies with the context of their relationship with God. I, like many these days, have moved away from my “homeland” and find myself and my (very small) family at a distance from my relatives and kin. This holds true from a spiritual standpoint as well. San Francisco has Adventist churches, but what they offer, to be kind, differs from what I received back home; I find myself operating my day-to-day as usual while accepting a greater requirement to make my faith personal, less dependent upon external supports. Perhaps, I realized, there was still a model for me in the patriarchs that operated in a way that the early Christian churches tend to provide for more traditional frameworks.

I feel very unqualified to start a church.

I’m consistently shirking leadership responsibility, for various reasons, so it came as no surprise that I’d not want to be and Abraham even if that was to be my new model. What did surprise me, however, was the feeling of unpreparedness. I have been Adventist my entire life, without interruption, have spent time abroad as a missionary and worked (off and on) for the denomination, accumulating about seven years of administrative employment. For many, my experiences would already qualify me for a career as a pastor of some sort.

Ever dependent upon my POSIWID meter, I quickly conclude that my denomination’s organization—the system—is not designed to output church starters. Much to the smug satisfaction of most detractors to organized religion, it seems my organized religion (and perhaps others) is more designed to create—and more dependent upon—church members than church leaders. This was unfortunately confirmed when I shared my considerations with my pastor, who applauded my willingness to follow God’s calling but suggested directing my willingness to pre-defined roles within our existing church. She, unwittingly, confided that to lose Fru and I would be to lose something that the church really needs. This was her greatest concern.

I wonder if Abram experienced similar. It is very clear that he and his progeny were nomadic for a considerable span of time, but it isn’t so clear that the community from which he was from was at all nomadic. In choosing a wife for his son, Isaac, Abraham directed his servant back to a specific place—which I construe as meaning a permanent location. Certainly some family or friends expressed concern for his leaving the familiar and starting something new.

But there is always something tremendously enriching about seeking out your own. I admit to being inundated by this here in the heart of American speculation. From the Gold Rush to the Silicon Valley to the new tech/startup culture, there is no better place to see people facing the risk of failure in the hopes of attaining new, better, more. To be perfectly blunt, the lessons this provides are almost invariably harsh, with the few stories of success shining bright enough to keep the machine going. Ultimately I believe, tangentially, that at some point (perhaps already passed) the general denizen population regresses to a mean which is not unlike the our forefathers: working a plot of the digital landscape that sustainably provides just enough for ourselves and our small families and (warning: romance) we become wiry and persistent and conservative but deeply faithful and appreciative of what’s just, whats merciful and what is deliberately honest, crafted and well-intentioned.

So I can’t say I haven’t been influenced by San Francisco. In fact, I blame this city for affecting me in a way that has me asking, for the first time in my life, “Why would I pump my personal efforts and resources into a large, dying system when I, with that same amount of input, could potentially create a viable replacement and see things persist beyond the old forms?” The idea of starting my own church is rife with parallels to creating my own startup—perhaps as many as there are parallels to the experiences of the Patriarchs.

This could all end up badly.

One point worth noting: startups these days are often built with at least one of two goals in mind. They’re interested in an end goal that either sees them successful enough to be publicly traded or compelling enough to be acquired by a larger company. I have no interest in being the face of a new religion (or style of existing religion—in fact I’m mortified by the idea of “splintering” or being considered a kooky cult), so my clear option is to make a small product compelling enough that it attracts suitors. I’d see my end goal as a SF Adventist church adopting the model—perhaps as a standalone product that supports its main offering. I guess I could also see it being taken into consideration by a forward-thinking administrative body as a way to augment or pivot to accommodate for the future ahead.

That is if I’m successful. And to be fair, that’s a huge “if.” I’m not a pastor or spiritual leader—I’m not even, by my standards, a particularly good person. I’m just a guy with his own hangups trying to do right (which is pretty unnatural), appreciate mercy (perhaps through my own failures) and humbly be intentional about my faith. My minimum viable product (startup talk) would be the development a deeper personal relationship with God and deeper personal faith in my own covenant with God—which, when manifested, is strong enough to allow me to persist in a way that isn’t unlike Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

So I’m prepping. I’m talking with a friend who’s a current bible worker for guidance, and he’s pointed me (appropriately) to 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus. He’s also pointed me to a book that covers the topic I see as being the “selling point” of my endeavor:

We’ll also be doing some small group training, which should come in handy when I’m ready to take this to the streets.

Finally, I’ve written this. I hope you’ll ping me on Twitter (or write your own blog post!) with comments, concerns, ideas and suggestions.

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