Yesterday’s church service was a celebration of what God is doing in our community. For those who don’t know, I attend a church plant called Harbor Mid-City. It’s an effort to do the impossible task of bridging cultures in one of San Diego’s most diverse communities. Mid-city is home to roughly 60 language groups and it’s socio-economic demographic stretches nearly as wide. In short, it is a place which embraces the awkwardness that these people don’t normally come together for the sake of living out the Gospel message of justice and equality while being surrounded by injustice and inequality.
No church has ever challenged my way of thinking more. In theory, I love everything Harbor is about. But in practice, I’m a wuss and have to actively fight my tendency to make church about my kind of people worshipping in my kind of way. I thank God for His challenging our to invest there for now.
For the last few weeks the church– and a hodgepodge of other ministries in the neighborhood– have run what they call The Urban Project. Essentially, this is a justice in action project. I don’t know all of the details of everything that was done but I do know that for these few weeks the whole church put forth an effort to do really cool stuff. They fixed stuff that was broken. They pointed out to local government injustices in our working class poor neighborhood. They employed high school students and taught them leadership skills. They ran a free day camp for the children of the community. I’m sure they did a lot more, too. But that’s the stuff I know of.
Here’s the point of this post: The church couldn’t do this if they didn’t operate lean and mean. Here are three ways they operate lean and mean that are worth thinking about:
1. No property. I think a lot of churches would be wise to sell their property. They have no idea what a distraction an office is for the staff nor how much time/effort/money is wasted simply by maintaing a building. It’s a gross inefficiency that most ministries don’t truly need. By not having property to hang at, maintain, or pay for… the church is able to focus much more attention on their actual ministry.
2. Low-tech service. If you are used to high production church you’ll be shocked to see how simple the services are at Harbor. Seriously, shortly after arriving at Harbor a couple of staff asked me to get involved helping them catch-up. My counter-point to them is that a pretty, produced service has little net gain for the amount of time invested in making it great. I’d rather them stay focused on what makes the church great than get distracted in trying to get pretty. It’s 90 minutes of people’s lives each week… to people in the pews it’s not nearly as significant as people in church leadership think it is. I’m glad to see that Harbor continues to keep the worship service in perspective and keeps it simple. (Yet powerful in its simplicity!) Moreover, I think a lot of churches think their worship service change lives and over do it. If there is one area of regret from my time in church ministry its that we wasted so much time producing a worship service. I kick myself for that all the time.
3. Preaching rotation. This is something I greatly appreciate about Harbor. You see, the lead pastor is very gifted. I’d put him on par with most of the people we bring in at YS events. And yet Stephen’s main ministry is not preaching. It’s leading the church and ministering to the people. If Stephen concentrated on preparing 50 sermons a year the churches overall ministry would suffer. A major reason we’re seeing so much success is that when he shares the pulpit with other qualified people he essentially has created an additional part-time position at the church! I wish more preaching pastors gave up the pulpit at least once per month for the sake of the church ministry. At the end of the day, life-on-life ministry has long-term impact while up-front preaching ministry tends to have short-term impact.
What are ways that you could re-evaluate your ministry to get lean and mean in the ministry season to come?
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