This is part of a series I’m writing about My Dream Church. My Dream Church is a Cafe Church (not a church with a cafe). See the Introduction here.
I have been thinking about My Dream Church, a cafe church called Perkatory. This series is allowing me to think and rethink church, and update my understanding of what a church is and what it does. Perkatory would be a coffee shop with a connected community of seekers and disciples. I am thinking about Perkatory specifically as an alternative/non-traditional church, since I am envisioning such a church in a particular neighborhood which is largely un-churched/de-churched. How might disciples be formed in such a context? What would a church need to do to invite and nurture people into a relationship with God and into a lifestyle of following Jesus?
As I am thinking about discipleship in this context, I am thinking about it in relationship to the principles of Perkatory. I have outlined these principles here. In summary, My Dream Church would be about Grace (expressed as hospitality and gentleness), Generosity (expressed as regard for the poor and service), Connectionalism (expressed as partnering and diversity), Devotion (expressed as striving for perfection and relying on God), Justice (expressed as bridge-building and solidarity) and Compassion (expressed as pastoral care and reconciliation). If these are the principles of Perkatory, how do they shape the manner by which we invite people into loving God and following Jesus?
Discipleship ought to be user-friendly. There should be a clear understanding of the goals of discipleship. Most simply, discipleship is an ever-deepening love for God and an ever-deepening love of neighbor. Loving God and loving neighbor is the point of the faith. And yet, it is not easy. Jesus ups the ante on discipleship. It’s not enough to love people like me. Jesus calls me into loving enemies as well as neighbors (Matthew 5:43). He also defines loving neighbor as showing mercy (Luke 10:25-37). I live in a narcissistic society that hates the poor and has found a way to get rich from enemies. Even the context in which I envision My Dream Church, disdain for the poor is a hallmark of their recent history. Finally, this neighborhood is also known for good food, trendy shops and a relaxed atmosphere. I’ve often told my current congregation that our #1 on Sunday morning isn’t secularism, it’s brunch! If churches are to introduce people to God and invite people to follow Jesus, we have to get creative.
Discipleship at Perkatory would happen on three levels: Engagement, Commitment, Perfection. But since, people aren’t just jumping into church, Perkatory by design contains multiple entry points: gentle ways in which people can get a feel for the congregation. Mostly this would be through experiencing the cafe. People can interact with Perkatory the same ways they would interact with any other cafe: drink coffee, meet friends, take in various events (music and films on the weekends), partake in social groups (senior groups, play groups, etc.). We would also host events to create entry points. For example, I would love to have a rotating artist-in-residence who would bring their gifts for art and create within the Perkatory space. And I envision Perkatory being a venue for music, film and even comedy. With our principle of grace and our practice of hospitality, Perkatory would embrace entry points as a major part of our mission as a church. Entry points become on-ramps for discipleship.
Engagement is any interest in discipleship. It is any step beyond coming in for coffee or just meeting friends. It may mean taking in a film or musician at Perkatory. It might mean a conversation with the artist-in-residence. It could mean signing up for a Saturday service opportunity. Perkatory would offer multiple opportunities for engagement: from worship to various study groups to community forums. Worship would take place in the cafe at appointed times and be seeker oriented by design. It would be simple but smart and open-ended. I envision Taize worship, morning Eucharist and Sunday evening praise being the basic worship structure. Engagement would also happen through service. Service teams would go out on Saturdays to do various good for others. Sign-up for service and you are considered at engagement level. Engagement would also be in the form of various studies. I have long imagined a non-believers’ Bible study whereby I engage with atheists, agnostics, etc on the Bible. I have experienced this online with various results. But I think an incarnational conversation would be much better. A comfortable atmosphere and a respectful conversation would be good. Finally, engagement would be offered on a community level. I envision a monthly Community Forum, not unlike a neighborhood meeting, but geared toward topics of justice and peace. People care about these matters for good reason. But they need a responsible and non-threatening manner through which to engage. And actually, a coffee shop is a good place for these conversations, if they are done well. A coffeeshop that happens to be a church can do just that. Engagement is crucial for discipleship and My Dream Church would be good at engagement.
Commitment is a basic desire to follow Jesus. It is a conscious choice to love God, love neighbor and love yourself. A Committed Disciple loves God through study, prayer and worship. A Committed Disciple loves neighbors through service, humility and fellowship. A Committed Disciple loves themselves through self-reflection, confession and reconciliation. The Methodist class meeting would be the basic structure for Committed Disciples (note: this link is to a magazine with a strong ideological bias with which I disagree. But this article in an excellent introduction to Methodist class meetings). Class Meetings would be covenanted times for studying God’s word, working on one’s own faith and discovering God’s presence and will in one’s life. Committed Disciples would also become part of the leadership of Perkatory. They would help design service opportunities, fellowship opportunities, new entry points and worship materials. Committed Disciples would also enjoy fellowship and faith-development opportunities to enhance their love of God, others and selves. Committed Discipleship is the basic goal of Perkatory. In many ways, it is a very traditional matter: getting people together to talk about deep matters. The rest of the cafe serves as an entrance ramp or an expression of this basic purpose.
Sanctification is a level of commitment above and beyond the previous level. Whereas Committed Disciples may be working out how to love neighbor, Sanctified Disciples are working on loving enemies. Sanctified Disciples love God with freedom and trust. They also love other people with open hearts and gentle spirits. They finally love themselves by continuing to root out sin in their lives and developing ways to use their gifts. They also gain a certain expertise in engaging others in matters of the spirit. A Sanctified Disciple also takes on additional leadership responsibilities. They might help with the church’s prophetic presence or the church’s pastoral presence. They may take on leadership development tasks. Ultimately, a Sanctified Disciple has developed in their faith and is ready to use their gifts. Their gifts would determine their service. I envision the ongoing leadership of the church to be largely team-driven, imagine a church that is a laboratory for the experimental church (see this article on its necessity in the Pacific Northwest).
As I envision discipleship, it has to be user-friendly. It has to be easy for the user to navigate, with clear goals and parameters. On the leadership side, discipleship is guided by the church’s principles and the realities of the potential disciple. Multiple entry points and engagement opportunities are vital to such a church’s success. Perkatory, My Dream Church, would be a place of great comfort and hospitality. We would also be a place with a well-developed sense of discipleship. While we would love and appreciate cafe customers, ultimately we would be judged by how well we engage people in following Jesus. In a tough environment, such as Portland (and increasingly, the rest of America), getting creative and having clear principles are vital to inviting people into loving relationships with God and each other. I believe it can be done.