By Dan Hyun, The Village Church, Baltimore
I recently sat in a local neighborhood café having lunch with “Jim” and he described his history of being raised in a mainline Christian denomination where he experienced some religion, but didn’t hear much about Jesus. As a result, he had quickly grown disinterested in Christianity at a young age. This led him on a path of discovery, following Buddhism and other forms of spirituality, which all left him unfulfilled. When he heard about our new church, “The Village,” Jim was curious and came out to a worship gathering to hear about Jesus.
So in the middle of this lunch, I’m sharing that though we are condemned by our sin, God desires to save us through the work of Jesus on the cross and that he can repent of his sin and trust Jesus for salvation. In the back of my mind, I’m already planning a follow up meeting with him when to my surprise he asks me if we can pray right then and there! And that’s how in the middle of a crowded, hipster cafe, Jim was seen discovering his salvation in Christ.
It would be disingenuous to convey that experiences like this happen every day, but it is an example of why we started The Village Church as a core team of 11 commissioned by Grace Life Church in Baltimore. Our core team began meeting in January 2008 and after months of prayer, planning and outreach, we launched publicly this past September. We continue to be humbled by the many new faces God brings our way. Though we are obviously open to anyone connecting to The Village, we have specifically been focused on leading our generation into a thriving relationship with Jesus.
When we speak of our generation, we’re addressing more of a mindset than age, though age may realistically have much to do with it. The mindset is one described in books like unChristian by Kinnaman & Lyons with words such as “eclectic, anti-establishment, skeptical, diverse, relational and creative.” What burdened us was that many of these characteristics described those we knew who would be classified as “unchurched” and who often harbored negative views of the church. In their hearts, they sense that they would not fit in with the churches they know or knew when they were younger.
With this knowledge, we started The Village with a very clear purpose: not to be another cool alternative for Christians already looking for a church, but rather a countercultural movement of the ancient message of Jesus, drawing a lost and hungry generation to Him. And so far, we’ve been blessed to experience a majority of people who have connected with The Village either as seekers or folks who are “de-churched” – they may have grown up in the church but have not been connected to Christ or a community for different reasons. It’s been a thrilling journey, seeing this community come together and humbling to witness God move in our midst.
That’s not to suggest the work is easy. The combined forces of being a city church with all the unique challenges it brings, in a neighborhood with a reputation of heavy spiritual darkness, add complexity to our efforts to focus on a generation of people for whom “commitment” is not always the strongest value. These are additionally compounded by the normal difficulties of a new church and continually challenge us at our deepest core. We have been engaging in an intense spiritual fistfight with the end of each day signaling the bell has rung and the next round is coming upon us all too quickly. Even as many have joined our community, we have also experienced a few who have fallen away in the battle. Yet, in the midst of the often-challenging journey, there have been some practical lessons to take to heart:
1) Present the Gospel
There is an admitted temptation for me to research and implement the latest and most innovative methods to reach people and I agree that these need to be utilized as a successful missional leader. But as we engage with more of our unchurched generation, we are witnessing a deep hunger for truth and not merely a “glitzed-up” program or entertaining presentation that can be easy derided as phony. One of our convictions is to be clear in presenting the whole Gospel of the Kingdom, especially from the pulpit as we seek to teach Scripture without pulling any punches. We have found that folks are actually curious about the Bible and are often waiting for someone to explain it to them in a clear, intellectually responsible and relevant way. We make sure that every sermon or Bible study is centered on Jesus and state clearly that He is why we do what we do. In the end, if we truly believe God is the One who saves, we want to trust in the proper communication of His Word and the saving, transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus rather than our methods. The question I ask myself at the end of every sermon is this: “Did folks learn more about me and how great our church is, or are they did they leave declaring how great our God is?”
2) Be Honest
After some of the discussions or sermons at The Village, we often hear, “Are we allowed to talk about that here?” We try to keep it unflinchingly authentic and raw in our community. Sometimes this may be understood from the outside as a church trying to be intentionally cool and relevant. The truth is, it’s not a matter of trying to appear cool – it’s survival. The people we are ministering to are coming from all different walks of life; but regardless of socioeconomics, education, ethnicity, age, etc., one commonality seems to be that our people have some real, deep brokenness in their lives, ranging from deep addictions to histories of abuse to destructive relationships. And if we’re not being fully honest with the messiness of life and how Christ speaks into that, people will not experience a Gospel that relates to them.
I’m also finding that starts with me. I fight a constant inner battle, desiring to be that respectable leader in whom others see such admirable qualities that they can’t help but want to follow. But in being true to myself and the identity I have in Christ, I need to put out there who I am in all my own messiness (with certain obvious discretion). It’s humbling to see that people are not looking to follow perfect people, but those who seem to have found a hope they’re lacking.
3) Be Missional
Many church leaders I know are sick of this word, since “missional” for some has become the latest lingo for “evangelism.” For The Village though, missional is more than a program; it’s a shift of perspective on why God has saved us and given us these lives to be lived for His glory. I continually stress to our people that I am not just their pastor called to take care of them. Rather, I view my role as equipping them to be missionaries to our city and world in their various spheres of influence.
Part of the challenge is to keep from creating awkward, unnatural programs so we can say we’re being missional. Instead, we’ve been challenged to figure out how we can have a missional focus within the natural rhythms of life. One example comes from our Christmas party last winter, where rather than create an event that we could tag as our own, we intentionally planned to combine our efforts with an annual party one of our newer people hosts every year. It turned out to be a great success, with her house filled with people not only from The Village, but also many of her friends and co-workers, most of who do not belong to a church. Times like this are great teaching points for our folks to learn that “missional” is not a program but just living life with purpose.
Dan Hyun is the church planter and founding pastor of The Village Church in Baltimore, Maryland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (443) 534-4593.