It’s got to have good humor, readily able to laugh at itself and its own goofs and quirks and gaffes and screw ups and oddities. And it must not take itself too seriously—that’s far too wearying of an existence for someone who has come to Jesus and discovered the easiness of yoke and lightness of burden and wonderful rest freely given to those with weary souls because of religion-gone-bad.
It must be quick to admit it does not have all the answers—never did and probably never will—on this side of eternity. It believes saying “I don’t know” is always better than pretending and preaching something not even fully believed by the pretender, the preacher. It knows there’s humility and strength in being honest about what it cannot be sure of. It has realized trust is given to someone who does not lie when they don’t have a full answer.
It keeps a balance of prophetic fire and gentleness. All fire all the time will burn everything down and leave nothing behind. The fire comes in letting that which is real and alive and resident in one’s own life and experience flow freely. This is not bluster or salesmanship. It’s like the forager talking about mushrooms, the woodworker talking about his favorite type of wood, the chef talking about his best knife. This passion is obvious and yet it is never aggressive or belittling or damaging.
It is playful and creative in its approach to Scripture, its storytelling, its messaging, its music, its teaching, its programming, and its way of interacting with the community outside its doors. It has good art and believes aesthetics matter. It is not pretentious or stuffy, it is a greenhouse for good ideas and songs and artistic expression to flourish.
It is not concerned with creating a whole separate Christian ecosystem to live safe and apart from the rest of the world, but rather, it plants itself within the community as a valuable resource to serve anyone who comes. In this way, it’s like a library… changing and evolving as culture and technology and demographics do, in order to best meet the needs of the community. The never-ending love of the God who created us is what it shares in many different ways and creative expressions.
As it is planted in the community, it is unique and local rather than being a franchise or a knock-off of some other “successful” church.
It views success, not in terms of numbers of attenders or dollars coming in or buildings being built, but in light of loving and serving people to the best of its ability.
It values real life connection over hits or views or likes or follows. It never aspires to famous or mega or televised or viral.
It goes with grace every time. In every situation. Mercy triumphs over judgement. Always. Its role in people’s lives is to bless and not curse. It remembers that it’s the kindness of God that leads us to repentance. It chooses to not coerce, manipulate, police, or guilt its people into conformity. And it knows that all the law and prophets are summed up in these two great commands: love the Lord your God… and love your neighbor as yourself.
That’s the big deal and everything else is just human meddling, morality policing, and varying attempts to control people (which is bad religion).
It looks like its community in demographics and diversity… it is rich and poor, black and white and latinx and pacific islander and east Asian and south Asian. It’s never a social club for one type of person at the exclusion of others. It celebrates culture.
It sees the gifts of women and empowers them to lead, teach, preach, have authority and agency. It is egalitarian and believes in equality and works for justice. It rejects power trips and authoritarianism and patriarchy and violence.
It is careful and diligent in untangling itself from bad religion – religion used as a cloak for a political party, religious nationalism, religion entrenched in -isms (liberalism, conservativism, Calvinism, fundamentalism, racism, legalism, etc.).
It has only one hero, Jesus Christ. It has clergy, but they are not celebrities or heroes. The clergy preach Good News: all is forgiven, Jesus said “It is finished” and it really is… no more shame, no more condemnation, no more sacrifices, no more separation from God, it’s done, it has been done for you, this is God’s gift to you, so please take it! Receive it. Believe it. Walk in it. It’s yours.