A little over a year ago, Zion Church—that beautiful old building right around the corner from our house—burned to the ground. Renae and I had been there the evening before for a lovely wedding, the kind of wedding that you should see in a building like that. The following morning, our neighbor woke us up with the most surreal phone call imaginable, and we spent the next few hours staring in confusion, sorrow, and shock as flames gutted the stone, brick, and stained glass.
And so that phase of Zion came to an end. A few months later, a new phase began, as we moved into a new building of our own (and in some ways, found ourselves in much better condition than we might have been had the church never burned down—odd as that seems). And this past Sunday marked yet another phase, as Zion held a commissioning service for Redeemer, a new church plant that will be making its way back to the corner of 9th and D, and the rest of downtown Lincoln.
Renae and I, along with a number of friends, are part of the Redeemer launch team, and we’re very excited to be part of it. Nervous and anxious, of course, but excited.
There are still a good many details to figure out, which we’ll be doing over the next few months leading up to the “official” launch of Redeemer. Until then, we’ll be holding a number of “exploratory” services, as we figure out how we, as a body, will both worship God and communicate the Gospel to downtown Lincoln.
Downtown Lincoln is an incredibly diverse area. Within a few square miles, you have low income families, college students and professors, immigrants, business owners, artists, and so on. Just driving through the area surrounding our house is proof of this. You drive down one block, and it’s full of lovely apartments and gorgeous old homes that contain young, fairly well-off families. But one or two blocks over could easily be a completely different story, a row of rundown houses and duplexes that may be home to prostitutes and drug dealers. But as Redeemer, we feel that God is calling us to these areas, both the good and the bad, so that we can minister to city of Lincoln, and make it even better than it is right now.
Which could entail any number of things. It might mean providing services to those low income families struggling to get by; providing after school programs for youth who may have a scarcity of positive influences in their lives; reaching out to college students who, for the first time in their lives, are asking life’s “big questions”; working with business owners to make Lincoln a more prosperous place to live for all of its citizens; and sponsoring the artists and musicians who are seeking to beautify this town, to name but a few.
I suppose every church should have the obligatory Bible verse that sums up its mission. All sarcasm aside, I’m especially fond of Redeemer’s, which comes from Jeremiah 29:4-7:
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
When taken within its historical and Biblical context, this passage is rather shocking. If there was ever a people who had every reason to hate the place they lived, it was the Jews who had been taken captive to Babylon, to live in exile from their homeland. And yet, God tells them to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile”, to build homes, plant gardens, and raise families. And if this is God’s command to those who were living in a foreign city as part of His judgment, what does this command say to us who have chosen to live in a city like Lincoln, and who enjoy the benefits of living in such a town? How much more might we be asked to “seek the welfare of the city”?
And while such a thought fills me with hope and excitement, I’d be lying if it didn’t fill me with anxiety. Such a mission will no doubt challenge and stretch me. It will force me out of my comfort zone. It will require me to step outside of my relatively well-off, white, middle-class lifestyle. It will require sacrifices—of finances, time, and comfort (and probably of things that I can’t even imagine right now). And sacrifices aren’t sacrifices if they’re pleasant and easy.
But even in the midst of my nervous fidgeting, I know I can take hope. I need only look back to a year and a week ago. When the church burned down, there was fear and anxiety. What had God asked us to give up, and how much more might we have to give up? As a church, we lost much. We lost a beautiful building. We lost comfort and security. We had to scrap plans that we were so certain were right, only to have them go up in smoke, figuratively and literally.
But now, I don’t know if there’s anyone who would really want to go back. Sure, there are twinges of nostalgia. I still find myself wondering “Why?” when I look out our back door and see nothing where there used to be red brick and stained glass. But where there was once one church, there are now two. One is thriving in a new location, with a new mission and a new place in which to serve. The second is returning to the old location, chomping at the bit to see what happens.
So, is it sad to leave Zion? Of course it is. It’s where Renae and I were married. It’s the church that surrounded us with love, encouragement, and support during a difficult pregnancy. And Zion is where Simon was baptized. We leave behind friends and people whom we love and respect. But I reckon that to be one of the first sacrifices, the first movement out of our comfort zone. (Which is not to say that we’ll never see those folks again. We’ll be using Zion’s facilities for awhile. Plus, there are always bowling leagues!)
But, just as so much good has happened already, there’s still so much more ahead. And it’ll be exciting to see all of it unfold.
If you’re the praying type, than your prayers would be most appreciated. Please pray for, among other things:
- Wisdom and guidance for our pastors and the overseeing elders.
- Encouragement and community for the launch team. There are bound to be sacrifices and challenges along the way, and without God’s Spirit, they could easily overwhelm.
- That God would work powerfully in our lives to draw us into accordance with His will and plans, and that that would cause us to actively reach out to those around us.
- That God would work powerfully in the lives of those we are seeking to reach, and prepare their hearts and minds for the Gospel—regardless of whether they hear it from us or not.
And if you’re a Lincolnite, than you’re more than welcome to join us (but please excuse the bumps and hiccups—we are, after all, just getting started). Sunday nights, at 5pm, at 5511 S. 27th (for now).