Thirty years is a long time, and forty-five longer still. At least it is in dog years or, if you live in California, church years. It was thirty years ago this month that Santa Barbara Community Church had its first worship service and forty-five years ago that Trinity Baptist Church began to meet. It seems appropriate, therefore, with these fairly round numbers, that I write a manifesto describing how we can, indeed, become the perfect church. Let me keep it simple. This is the Community News; you are a busy person, so I’ll cut to the chase. To move from good to perfect we need to be doing the following:
• We will always be growing in our faith. Never a lapse, never a period of stagnation. Always growing. We will experience the truth that, as the old chorus puts it, every day with Jesus is sweeter than the day before.
• We will always be excited. Excited about everything. Excited about Bible study, evangelism, the preaching of God’s Word. Excited about service. Excited about our marriages and excited about being single. We will sing exciting songs and drink our coffee excitedly.
• Our children will be well-dressed, playing quietly when not absorbed in their daily devotions. They will excel in school and do their chores around the house without complaint, while preparing for a life on the mission field.
• We will be joyfully sacrificial. Tithing will be but the beginning. Our giving boxes will have to be rebuilt to hold all the gifts, and our elders will be overwhelmed trying to figure out how to distribute all the money we bring in.
• We will always get along perfectly with one another. No fighting, no bickering. Perfect agreement. Our biggest problem will be trying to figure out how to stop serving the other so that the other can serve us.
• We will be growing numerically as more and more people, captivated by our contagious love for them and for one another, are converted to Jesus followers, yet our church will still feel as if we meet in a living room.
• We will never sin. Almost never.
• Our staff will always be happy, healthy, and productive.
• Our PowerPoint will always correspond to the actual song we are singing.
• Everyone will love every song we sing, whether an older hymn or a brand-new rocker. The music will never be too quiet or too loud, but always just right.
Hmmm. If the preposterous manifesto above is not what we are looking for as a church entering another year of life together, what are we looking for? What can we hope for? And how shall we get there?
How about this more modest proposal on the cusp of a significant anniversary? Let us keep on keeping on:
• Let’s keep on keeping on in prayer. A prayerless church is a powerless church. When we stop praying for God’s empowering presence in the life of our congregation, it will be time to board up the windows and call it a day.
• Let’s keep on keeping on in God’s Word. Without God’s Word, our ship will have no ballast and will capsize in the smallest storm.
• Let’s keep on keeping on with one another. When we fail to love one another, we are no longer the church. Let’s approach one another with grace and cut one another much slack when we stub our toes and bang our knees.
• Let’s keep on keeping on in our pursuit of God. If his glory is not our goal and his love is not our guide, our life together will amount to no more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.
I think it was John Lennon who said that Life is what happens when you are making other plans. Couldn’t the same be said of the church? Isn’t church what happens while we make other plans and dream other dreams? When we began this journey together, we were filled with hope and optimism regarding what the church should and could be. We were going to change the world! Change Santa Barbara! Change ourselves! We were going to be. . . DIFFERENT! And we found that we were the same. We were going to be REAL, and what we got was a great dose of reality therapy. Instead of saints with a propensity toward righteousness and unending service, we got surfers, soccer players, and struggling kids in their twenties—all of us with a proclivity toward sin. In other words, we began our church and found out, soon enough, that we were normal. Growing in the direction of Christlikeness, but also falling flat on our faces from time to time.
But, oh, the goodness of God! Santa Barbara Community Church, look around you! Who would have planned, thirty and forty-five years ago, for things to turn out like this? God has entrusted us with the rearing and discipling of about 500 young people. We are responsible for Christian mission and missionaries here, there, and everywhere, and we were able to give almost a half million dollars to missions last year alone. We are seeing people come to know Jesus and other people grow in their faith. How different God’s plans were for our church than our own—and how infinitely better!
C. S. Lewis married for the first and only time at age 54. Sometime thereafter, he wrote to his friend Arthur Greeves about the difference between a real and an imaginary marriage:
It is the very nature of the real that it should have sharp corners and rough edges, that it should be resistant, should be itself. Dream furniture is the only kind on which you never stub your toes or bang your knees. You and I have both known happy marriage. But how different our wives were from the imaginary mistresses of our adolescent dreams! So much less exquisitely adapted to all our wishes; and for that very reason so incomparably better.
Yes, Santa Barbara Community Church is a real church. We are a collection of people from many backgrounds, from many countries and cultures. When you put together people, sometimes you stub your toes and bang your knees. No surprise here. Didn’t God intend it that way? Greek-speaking Jews mixing it up with Aramaic-speaking Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 6). Jews and Samaritans (Acts 8). Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10). Gentiles and Gentiles (Corinth). Even Jesus’ chosen band of disciples had their differences. But it is in the differences that we find God. As Gary Thomas writes in Seeking the Face of God,
It is not a coincidence that Jesus chose twelve disciples who would naturally have problems with the beliefs, attitudes, or dispositions of others. If I were seeking peace and harmony, I certainly wouldn’t put a tax collector with a zealot—two natural enemies. But Jesus knew that real spirituality is proven in our relationships with others and He was willing to call people into relationships that would put them beyond their comfort level.
And so also Santa Barbara Community Church. Our church is a community where complainers, and mourners, and murmurers, the happy and the sad, are welcomed. We are a community of progressives and conservatives, elderly and young, sportsmen and book worms, teachers and students. We gather together on Sundays and during the week to worship God and love one another. We celebrate grace and then learn that we, too, are called into the world to do little and big things for the God who called us to himself. Let us, then, press on. Let us, as the Apostle Paul put it,Never grow tired of doing what is good (Galatians 6:9, NLT). In a word, let us keep on keeping on.