by Kenon Neal
It has been a year now since our ‘homecoming’ to Santa Barbara Community Church. For more than a decade we were actively involved in the church and watched God use so many of you to work in our lives as mentors, prayer warriors and friends. As He took us to Arizona, we stayed in touch through summer vacations in SB and work travels, and enjoyed visits from dear friends while in the desert. Yet when we came back last August 2005 the sheer goodness of being back in the SBCC body felt almost overwhelming. Tears of joy were not unusual, especially during communion… watching musicians and prayer teams serve as the whole body moves “toward the cross” in a steady flow of confession and forgiveness. Amazing…
Friends would ask, How is it to be back? to which I would regularly reply, Like a big slab of chocolate fudge cake everyday! Believe me, I was not exaggerating. The warmth and confidence in the Spirit exuded by our body is truly unique. The ‘priesthood of the believer,’ a founding premise, is being lived out… what a privilege.
What was the dynamic of SBCC that we missed? Were we lonely and isolated in Arizona? Did we not have friends and give up going to church? Actually, quite the opposite on all points. We had a wonderful small community of neighbors north of Phoenix in a “planned community.” The majority of our relatives lived within an hour’s drive. We hosted Thanksgiving with 20 relatives and a 25-pound turkey each year. Our cul-de-sac planned celebrations with food and fun on nearly every holiday. We were even asked to be part of a planning team that launched a church plant from a 7,000-person mega church. Within a year we had at least 700 attendees each week. So what was it that made coming home so very good?
An analogy came to mind while visiting Santa Barbara when we had been away about 3 1/2 years; SBCC felt like being inside an Olympian’s body. When an athlete is well trained and competing in his/her best event, it is a wonder to behold. SBCC’s involvement heavy structure produces pulsating ‘life blood’ and Spirit-sensitivity that is clear when watching the body in action. The contrast with a very well meaning, ‘top-down’ style leadership was striking. Despite the best of intentions, a church with a ‘brilliant brain’ can still produce a ‘couch potato’ body! After living in an athlete’s body, it felt incredibly strange to only occasionally stretch our legs.
In our earlier years of Santa Barbara Community Church involvement we were forced to fight diligently for community. Shared living situations, creative childcare solutions, even sitting on the floor (for years) as we overflowed our rented space; all of these were regular parts of going the extra mile to stay together. As we grow up and grow more comfortable, it is encouraging to still see perseverance toward God’s direction for our church. Prayer teams, home group missions adoptions and a budding women’s ministry are all new efforts since we left and returned in the past five years. New homegroup leadership, hundreds of childcare volunteers, and Spirit-sensitive Sunday services still show the grace of God and willingness of our body to fight for real community.
Consumer style church — showing up to a pre-planned event where each person is assigned a task — is popular. It appears safe and there are generally no surprises. We show up, sing, listen, eat a cracker when passed one, and shake a few hands. We can write out our shopping list on the back of the program without bothering anyone. The SBCC difference? We have the opportunity for ownership, belonging, responsibility, freedom and trust in the Holy Spirit. While these differences are more risky to a sense of control, they open doors to humility and growth. The key is, will we continue to embrace the offer of ‘priesthood’ among our fellow believers as we engage in each other’s lives? It is an exceptional gift- and one that is definitely not offered in all churches.
Santa Barbara Community Church, Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith… (Heb. 12:1b-2a) And, Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. (Gal. 6:9-10) May we enjoy the ‘Olympic workout’ and continue to offer one another chocolate cake community life along the way!