Around fifteen years ago, our founding pastors Dave and Grace Schmelzer were sitting in their living room, chatting with their new friend Carl Medearis about faith and culture. We’d met Carl because he was maybe this country’s most prominent voice in imagining a new way for Christians to relate to Muslims. Carl has always insisted that he has no interest in telling Muslims to become Christians. And yet, he has loved talking with Muslims (and pretty much anyone else) about Jesus. His experience has been that Jesus is fascinating, and that if Jesus is alive and has something to offer people, then Jesus can take conversations about him wherever he wants them to.
That was intriguing to us because we started our church to relate with post-Christian, pluralistic, largely secular-background Cambridge and Greater Boston in this same way. We figure that people can be as interested in Jesus as they want to, without needing to assimilate to some kind of Christian culture that’s foreign to them.
So back in that living room, Carl says, “I’m a culturally Christian person who talks with Muslims and Christians about Jesus.” And Dave says, “Ah, I’m a culturally secular person who talks with secular-background people about Jesus.” It’s a clarifying moment for us all.
Conversations like this helped Dave and Grace develop our centered-set way of doing church. This means that our community’s life and teaching is focused on Jesus. It means that absolutely everyone, without exception, is invited to participate in the community. And it means that we’re all in the same boat, encouraged to move in the direction of faith in Jesus, no matter our culture, our beliefs, or our current mindset.
Centered-set means I can promise my Hindu friend who loves our church that we will always talk and teach about Jesus here, but he will always be welcome, whether or not he remains a Hindu for life.
Centered-set means we can all share a common vision, even while we all appreciated our varied humanity and culture.
Centered-set means there’s no us vs. them, only us. And it means I’ve never arrived, but I can always keep following Jesus, finding more hope, more life, more joy.
Carl Medearis has been a formative voice in our journey. His friendship with Dave and Grace influenced our philosophy. His relationships have shaped our partnerships in the Middle East. And his mentoring was invaluable when we had an actual team of people on the ground in the region, promoting friendship and peace in the name of Jesus.
So we’re grateful that when Carl was in town for a conference, he offered to come back and speak at our church this Sunday. And we’re grateful that Carl will lead a training for our leaders and partners on speaking naturally about Jesus, without agenda.
And even more so, we’re grateful for our community’s centered-set pursuit of Jesus, for all that we’ll find on our journey, and all the friends who’ll be able to come along with us.
One final note: this roots and branches series on the blog is an exploration of our church’s past and future by me, Steve Watson, our second senior pastor. As we approach our twentieth anniversary, in Easter, 2018, I’ll continue to reflect on where we’ve come from and where we’re going as a community, and on the many ways we’ve evolved as we try to stay true to our founders’ vision to be a healthy, Jesus-centered faith community, for both longtime and never-before churchgoers.