We will start the fire

Published 5:32 pm Monday, June 30, 2014

by Brandon Robbins

Recently, I have been getting a lot of questions about the new church that my wife and I will be leaving to start in just a few weeks. A month or so ago, this newspaper did a wonderful article highlighting the beginnings of our journey in embarking upon this exciting (and also slightly terrifying) adventure. But with each passing day, we have been refining our vision, realizing exactly what this new church will be like and what our purpose will be. Perhaps some of these things will continue to change in the future as God gives us greater clarity. But for now, I thought I would share with you the dream we believe God is giving us.

In a letter in the Bible written by a man named Paul (one of the original church planters) to one of his former congregations, he emphasizes to them the mission he believes God has for their church. He tells them that in a generation filled with darkness, they are to “shine like stars in the world” (Philippians 2:15). If you’re familiar with Jesus’ teachings, this particular phrase may sound familiar. Once, Jesus looked at his disciples and told them, “You are the light of the world.” Essentially, Jesus and Paul are saying the same thing: in a world filled with pain, evil and sin, these Christians are to offer hope, to illumine the path to a different, better life that can only be found in Jesus.

As we endeavor to begin this new church, this is who we believe God is calling us to be and what God is calling us to do. We are going to call this new church “INGITE.” The idea behind this name is that we exist “to IGNITE people’s hearts to change the city.” In other words, we exist to be the light that Jesus and Paul are calling us to be. We exist to offer hope to those who are hungry and hurting, beaten and broken, lonely and lost. We exist to ignite a flame that breaks the darkness and transforms the city of Norfolk (and wherever else God leads us).

Our plan for accomplishing this is three-fold.

First, we will inspire people to follow Jesus by boldly following him ourselves. We believe that the most powerful way that we can reach people is not by just telling them to follow Jesus, but, more importantly, by showing them what it looks like to actually do it. We want to be a church that not only says we follow Jesus, but evidences it in the way we care for one another and impact the community.

Second, we will desire to be a church for those who feel as if they have no place in church. This could mean being a relevant church for a younger generation who feels that the average church no longer relates to them. Or it could mean being a welcoming and grace-filled place for those who have been hurt and rejected by the church in the past. The point is, our purpose is not to steal people from other churches, but to reach those who have no connection to the church. And we’ll constantly be searching for unique and creative avenues that will help us to accomplish this, such as the way we worship, where we worship, the way we dress, the activities we host, etc.

Finally, we will IGNITE people’s hearts to change the city by encouraging people to use their unique resources and opportunities to serve others. In other words, rather than having large, church-run mission programs, we are going to focus on finding the opportunities God has placed right in front of us. For instance, a person who is a teacher in the city may have unique opportunities to impact the lives of the children, especially those living on the margins. A business person may have contacts and influence that could impact important policy decisions that provide greater resources to those in need. Students may have time in the middle of the day that allows them to serve in ways that few others can. The idea is not to start programs, but to utilize those that are already effective; not to fit ministry into our life, but to find the opportunities where it is already there. Because we believe that one of the greatest ways that God can change our own lives is when we commit ourselves to changing the lives of others.

I’m sure to many this plan sounds audacious. But would anything else really be worth God’s attention? Or ours?

I don’t think Norfolk needs another church. There are church buildings on every corner, many of them empty, many doing amazing things to reach the community. Yet with all of the churches in the area, almost 75 percent of people have no connection to a church. One in 10 children survive on less than $8 per day. On a crime index where 0 is unsafe and 100 is very safe, Norfolk receives a 7. Norfolk doesn’t just need one more church in the community. It needs a movement that truly brings change to the community that unites people and churches to bring light to the darkness. And that’s what we hope to IGNITE.

We desire to be a church that not only brings people in, but sends them out. Church that is not just a noun, but a verb. Church that not only exists in one congregation, but also IGNITES into an unstoppable movement.

We believe this is God’s vision for our new church. It’s big. It’s bold. But it’s incredibly exciting. And we welcome all who want to have a part in it!

Brandon Robbins is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or pastor@courtlandumcva.org.