Aleem Ali February 14, 2019

I have long admired Nadia Bolz-Weber. Not only for her stunning liturgically inspired tattoo’s but for her work in founding and developing House for All Sinners & Saints. Their foundational understanding and application of the inclusivity of grace strongly resonates with my reading and experience of scripture, faith, and community.

Four years ago, I went through a process of exiting a mainline Pentecostal church and denomination, both as a congregant and Pastor. I had become increasingly uncomfortable with a model of church (especially on a Sunday) that informed an ‘entertain me’ culture. We decried a consumer mindset and constantly urged people to get involved and be more than ‘pew warmers’ yet we were perpetuating that very behaviour. As innovative and responsive as we endeavoured to be we were operating within a structure and institution that was fundamentally prescriptive.

My increasing unease with church models was matched by a deepening discomfort with church values. My personal observation was that institutional church had become more about absolute certainty and being ‘right’ than it was about unconditional grace and love. Institutions are vastly more interested in maintaining order, a prescribed morality and the appearance of good, than the actual common good. It’s why people from the LGBTIQ community have long been excluded and vilified, while behind closed doors violence and abuse has been perpetrated and covered up. Institutional church resembles empire significantly more than Jesus’ passion for the community table or the Apostle Paul’s description of “the priesthood of all believers”.

This was my journey and experience. Consequently, I chose to leave and then spent almost 12 months transitioning out. Part of the reason for the long transition was my cognisance of other people’s journeys. I have many dear friends who continue to be part of a vast array of traditional churches, and it is never my intention to impact their experience negatively with my own. However, I also came to realise that there were many people on a similar path to me — some much further down the road, others taking their first steps.

Hence, FOUND. A faith community whose primary objective is to be known by their love and to welcome and include all who wish to be welcomed and included.

Inclusion was, and remains, a core value of FOUND. To quote the Gospel of Matthew quoting Jesus, “Come to me ALL…” The principle of ‘all’ is explicitly communicated throughout our description of who FOUND seeks to be.

Jesus’ prayer was that His followers would be one and united in love. Though we are different, we seek to discover and understand each other’s unique stories and shared humanity, even when it’s difficult to do so. We build community through humility, service and embracing each other’s successes and struggles. We make room for what God is doing. We make room for each other. We make room for faith and doubt, science and mystery, conversation and action.

We Make Room, FOUND

Inclusion should be evident in who we are. People of diverse ages, races, sub-cultures, education, profession, status, genders, sexualities, experiences, and beliefs.

Towards the end of last year, I communicated with our community a nagging concern that we were halfway between where we began and where we should be. This concern prompted some in-depth conversations about the future of FOUND, and we invited people to share their thoughts and ideas via a survey.

Over the end of year break, and while waiting for the survey responses, I began reading a book titled “New Power” by Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms. That book encapsulated and framed my concerns about FOUND in a way that I had been unable to articulate.

FOUND, in a similar vein to many emerging churches, is a community of new power values, but old power models.

Heimans and Timms describe old power as closed, inaccessible, jealously guarded and leader-driven. New power is open, participatory, peer-driven and made by many. However, it’s possible and often necessary, for the values that underpin old and new power to be framed by different models. New power values can be driven by old power structures, and vice versa — the New Power Compass maps this concept.

FOUND is currently a ‘cheerleader’ (bottom right). House for All Sinners & Saints would also sit in the same quadrant (new power values, old power model) because they continue to have a traditional leadership structure.

To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this approach. I disagree with old power values, but there is no single ideal model. The world desperately needs more cheerleaders for new power values. And I’m confident that traditional churches would not be experiencing a decline in membership or even shutting their doors if they retained an old power model but embraced the values of welcoming and inclusion.

As far as FOUND is concerned, our values are non-negotiable. New power is the entire of our existence. Our models, though, are entirely negotiable.

As I see it, FOUND has three options:

  1. we identify someone/s to lead the current model;
  2. we determine how we shift to a new power model (top right) and how that would work in practice; or,
  3. we ‘close the doors’.

Perhaps hypocritically, I would be happy to be part of option 1, I just know that I can no longer be the primary leader, or Senior Pastor (in the traditional sense).

Option 2 excites my entrepreneurial and creative spirit. It also resonates with my preference for flat, decentralised structures and a belief that ‘church’ should be less about Sunday and far more about our vocational, day-to-day lives.

The suggestion of option 3 fills me with grief. Based on the survey responses (to date), and my heart for FOUND, it’s the least preferred option but it’s a possibility.

If you consider yourself a member of this community, your ideas matter. Thank you to everyone who completed the survey. Responses are being collated and will soon be distributed. The question that remains is where to, from here? And how might we realise our preferred future?