Years ago when The Pastor and I were helping to plant a local church, a small group of us had a discussion on what it takes to truly experience God. We were planting this church in a town that really needed something. It was a town known nationally for things like underage alcohol consumption and strippers. A lot of things were suffering in this town and we wanted to help bring hope and light.
We knew that the hardest thing about bringing the church of our dreams to this town would be getting people to experience God in a place that seemed like such a spiritual desert. We had a lot of things going for us, though. The lead pastor was creative, outgoing, and open minded. The lead musician was talented, current, and very serious about his craft. The building was a large blank slate. The whole thing was really a church planter’s dream. So what could we do to ensure that the people truly experienced God? Also, what were things that most churches were doing that were really unnecessary for a God experience?
We started stripping things away in our conversation. Was a bookstore necessary to experience God? No. Bookstores are nice, and can hold a lot of good information for people who have questions, but you can experience God in a building that does not have a brightly lit bookstore with inspirational bookmarks and clever coffee mugs. What about a state of the art coffee shop? Are fat free soy lattes needed to experience God? Brace yourself, the answer is no. Caffeine may keep you awake for the sermon, but if you need any type of drug to experience God, it’s probably not God you are experiencing.
We started looking around at other churches. Churches that were offering everything short of a free oil change with every communion. These churches were getting people in the door. They had a lot of members that were staying there for a while. They were bringing in plenty of money to sustain both the sate of the art building and all of the people who worked there. However, there didn’t seem to be any real evidence that people were experiencing God there.
I remember having an epiphany, turning to The Pastor and saying “Maybe… if you can’t find God in an empty cardboard box…He’s just not there.”
It was a huge moment for me.
I realized that a lot of churches were offering a lot of things to get people in the door. A lot of these things even kept people in the building. The focus, however didn’t seem to be having a current experience with God. The focus seemed to be more on sustaining and growing the institution. The more they tried adding things to the “experience” the more they were distracting people from God, the only real reason to go to church.
It turns out a different approach works better.
Are you ready for the formula for experiencing God?
Step one: Find people.
Step two: Love them where they are at, for who they are.
Step three: Help them get the things they need to improve their situation.
Step four: Let them get to know you.
Step five: Bring them with you as you start again on step one.
It’s kind of like my garden.
For years I have wanted to grow potatoes. Potatoes are a simple thing for most farmers to grow and there are many ways to grow them. Most people who plant potatoes get tons of potatoes. A small plot of potatoes can provide most families with enough potatoes to last for the rest of the year.
Not my garden, though.
I have planted potatoes every year. First I tried the “plant them in your garden and keep covering them with dirt” method. I got zero potatoes. Next I tried the “lay the potatoes on a pile of leaves and keep them covered with straw” method. Zero potatoes. Finally I tried the “plant the potatoes in a stack of old tires and keep covering them with dirt” method. Not a single potato. Not only that, I never even grew a decent potato plant. There was just nothing.
This year I decided to go a different route. This year I decided to just buy potatoes from the store, rub a little dirt on them, and tell my family that I am an expert potato grower.
It was very freeing.
Everything in my garden is growing like crazy. My tomatoes are huge. The arugula is fabulous. The beans are climbing incredibly fast. Not a thing is disappointing me. It’s awesome.
Then I discovered the craziest thing.
I went over to the compost pile to get some of that amazing compost for my cabbages and I found… potato plants. They were everywhere. Huge healthy thriving plants that I had absolutely nothing to do with. Enough big vigorous plants to provide my family with all of the potatoes they can eat.
Did the potato fairy come?
Nope. It turns out, there isn’t even a potato fairy. It turns out that the compost pile had everything potatoes need to grow. They needed lots and lots of really loose soil. They also needed a lot more moisture and shade than I thought they did. Finally, they needed the freedom to just be potatoes and not some delicate thing I worked on every day.
All I really did was throw a few old potatoes in there, but since they had what they needed, they thrived. By trying to force them to grow somewhere else, I was denying myself potatoes.
It turns out this is a big part of something called permaculture. Instead of trying to force something to grow how and where you want it, find where it’s already growing, nurture it there, and in no time at all, you will be harvesting something amazing.
And that is how The Pastor and I treat people. We meet them by accident, we love them where they are, and we help the best we can. The next thing you know, they are asking us about things like church and God. They are growing in health, mind, and spirit. They are surprising us as they go out on their own and help others.