Our God is doing something really, really cool on the south side of our Bible class floor here at Central. He’s the only One who can be praised for what’s happening down there. He’s the only One who can receive any glory.
Frequent visitors to this blog know that we are moving slowly but certainly toward what we feel is a fuller expression of the Gospel of Jesus in our church settings and programs and gatherings here at Central. We’re trying to become more inter-generational. We’re attempting to break down the barriers beween the ages and genders, the walls between socio-economic classes and cultures, the hurdles between languages and race. Not everybody fits in to the nice and neat little categories we use to make up our Bible classes. If you’re not a certain age or enjoy a certain marital status or make a certain amount of money, you may not easily slide into one of our established groups. I’m not being critical; that’s just the way it is. And it’s not unlike the way it is at most Christian churches.
So nearly a year ago we began talking about a new kind of Bible class at Central, one that would chip away at the dividing walls and welcome all-comers to the one table of Christ we read about in the Prophets and the Gospels. We’ve prayed and planned, we’ve laughed and cried, we’ve been overjoyed and in distress — sometimes in the very same day! — as we prepared for the launch of this new endeavor a few weeks ago. It’s been slow go, painfully slow at times. It’s been challenging. Tough. Scary. Risky, even.
But it’s also been such a tremendous blessing.
We’ve got a little bit of everything in this class. Almost fifty saints, young and old, blue collar and white collar, educated and not, Christians who were baptized 60 years ago and Christians who were baptized last month, suits and ties and tattoos and orange hair. A few of our new class members know exactly how to act in church: they were born and raised CofC. And they’re coming to our class because they never felt like they fit in anywhere else. A few of our other class members don’t know how to “act in church.” One of them just spent a couple of weeks in jail for some offenses committed during her previous life. She’s in our class because she can’t believe she fits in anywhere!
Our class was way too big way too fast to accomplish what we believe our God is calling us to do. We believe discipleship is taught and experienced in close Christian community. We think Christian transformation happens in relationship. So even at Day One, we needed to become two classes. We were too large. And I worried about how we would do that. We talked about it. We prayed about it together. For a couple of weeks we challenged one another. Someone said, “I should choose to go into the class where I’ll be most uncomfortable. That’s probably where God wants me.” Another said, “We’re all brothers and sisters in Christ working toward the same goals; just put us in a class and let’s get on with reaching out to more people.” It was beautiful. Inspiring. But would it work?
Nearly fifty of us were in the room again yesterday morning. After we spent a few more minutes in prayer about our first “multiply” (coming in the very first month!) we lined everybody up against the wall according to the year they graduated from high school. Seriously. That’s what we did. It wasn’t quite like consulting the Urim and Thummim; it wasn’t at all like casting lots for Matthias. But it’s how we did it.
There they all were, stretched out along the wall from Ernie (class of 1949) to Blaine (class of 2006) and everybody in between. I wish somebody had taken a picture. And we numbered off. 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2 all the way down. All the 1s went to New Class West and all the 2s moved to New Class East. And both groups evenly represented the multi-generational, multi-cultural table of our Christ as described in Holy Scripture.
We studied each other’s name tags for a couple of minutes, made some connections within our new groups for a few more, and then spent some time talking about our goals for our classes. We talked about small groups, about people we know inside and outside Christ who would benefit from our Christian community, about next week and next year. And then we prayed again. Prayers of thanksgiving. Prayers of hope. Prayers of faith.
I don’t know what God’s going to do with these two new classes. I really don’t. In my wildest dreams, I’d like to think this kind of thing could change all of Central and ultimately the whole city of Amarillo. Busting out of the norms that society has established always raises eyebrows and stirs up trouble. A deep commitment to this kind of living and sharing, loving and serving together in ways that the world never, ever experiences would be a powerful testimony. This type of cultural abnormality would be an undeniable witness to our King and his power to change people and save the world. I see all the Bible classes and small groups here at Central, eventually, looking more and more like these two new classes. I see everybody in Amarillo who’s never known Christ being attracted to this radical vision of barrier-smashing and non-conformity in such a way that the whole city is turned upside down. I can see that.
What’s mind-blowingly awesome is that our Father promises to deliver more than we can ever ask or imagine.
It’s just a start. We don’t have any cool names for our classes yet or even any coffee makers or posters on the bare walls. We don’t have a leadership structure yet or even a finalized curriculum. What we do have is a common heart for the biblical picture of God’s one people around God’s one table. We have a united passion for leaning in to and working toward what our God has promised is the ultimate goal of salvation.
And now we have hard evidence of our faith in God that he is doing something really cool.