All the typical social pleasantries were exchanged:
"Some weather, huh?"
"Who are you waiting for?"
And finally, "So what do you do for a living?"
It was at that last one that the conversation started to take off. I told him I was the Pastor of Central Christian Church and his eyes lit up.
"Oh, the one that used to be on Macon Rd. The one with the Living Nativity!", I nodded and he looked overjoyed.
He continued, "I love the nativity! My parents used to take me, and this past year I brought my four year old daughter. It just wouldn't be Christmas without the Living Nativity."
This isn't the first time I've had this conversation. "The Living Nativity" a dramatic retelling of the birth of Jesus with bits from Matthew and pieces of Luke (with a few barnyard animals and classic carols thrown in for good measure), is the most widely recognized piece of public ministry Central offers. It is in fact, the only thing that we do that most of our community knows about.
"So what do you do for a living?"
I'm the Pastor of "That Church with the Living Nativity." That would shave a couple of seconds off of this encounter each and every time... And I will tell you, it's a good time. The people love it, the congregation loves it, and even here in Southern Georgia, it's the only exposure that many get to that old, old story.
As cool as all that is, it occurs to me. I don't want to be known simply as the Pastor of "That Church with the Living Nativity." I want to be a part of a group that is radically committed to following the teachings of Jesus- a group that exists in the bonds of love and humility; a group guided by the Spirit of the living God; a group that stands for something; a blessed community made up of people of all cultures, ages, genders, sexual orientation, income levels, political views, and levels of education- brought together in a spirit of mutuality and love; a group committed to providing care for the sick, help for the needy, clothing for the naked, and freedom for the oppressed.
I don't want to be just the Pastor of "That Church with the Living Nativity." I want to be a part of those people who are "Living the Nativity."
So, how does one do that? Frankly, I don't know. I have heard how other communities have undergone transformations like this. The problem is that I am not in any of those communities, and in every place this happens it's going to look different.
I know where we are, and I know where I feel God wants us to be, but how do we get from here to there? I've been reading, and studying, and living, and loving, and praying- and in my prayers a verse keeps coming to mind. "Jesus said to them, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'" (John 14:6).
That word, "way" in the Greek text means not only "way", but "road" and "method of conduct." In fact, it served as one of the oldest names for Christianity, "The Road" (apologies to Cormac McCarthy), and roads aren't made to be believed in, or sung about, or even dramatically reenacted- they are made to be traveled.
So we are beginning an experiment here at Central Christian Church. We are going to spend our Sundays from now, until however long it takes, reading and discussing every action and word of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, from Matthew through John, with an eye towards how we are to walk that road in the hope that instead of just believing in Jesus, we might "Do Jesus"- "Travel The Road"- "Live the Nativity."
So here, on "That Which is Central" I will be chronicling this process, writing about where I am in my studies of the Gospels, and how our community is growing, changing, and reshaping itself along the way. I don't know about you, but I am excited to see how this turns out.