Each person has a story. Or more precisely, each person is a story. The grand Story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption is played out, both in the details of our individual lives and also in the larger panorama of all the universe and time eternal. It is a story of sin and grace, trial and triumph, the heavens and the earth.
All of our stories are entwined somehow in God’s Meta-Narrative. It is part of the mystery that God moves in and through and in spite of us—a transcendent dance between God’s sovereignty and our free will—and we love, hate, live, and interact with one another and with God in this life and into the next.
Sometimes, when God pours His grace down upon a thing, we stumble upon something very Special. A fellowship of believers, a group of people with whom we are privileged to entwine our stories together for a significant period of time. And in the entwining, we love , laugh, grow, experience life, and further God’s Kingdom. When this happens, God calls it the Church.
I’ve had the privilege of being with a particular expression of the Church since 1985. Except for almost three years in another very special fellowship in Vancouver, I have been at Oak Hills Church in Folsom since the beginning. Now, on one hand, Oak Hills is nothing special. On the surface, all churches display a lot of the same traits, like children’s programs, Sunday morning services, and a building of some sort. But on the other hand, Oak Hills is extremely special. Because of our particular story.
Our co-senior pastors, Mike Lueken and Kent Carlson, have written a book describing the story of Oak Hills. And because of the uniqueness of our story, InterVarsity Press has recently published it. Renovation of the Church is the story of a seemingly successful, fast-growing, seeker-targeted ministry that came to rethink the role of the Church—specifically as it related to personal and corporate ambition, Christian consumerism, and spiritual formation—and completely reinvent itself from the inside out. The result is that we became a church centered around a larger view of the Gospel: Living in God’s Kingdom now.
I read the book in it’s raw manuscript form over a year ago, and later in it’s completed form, just a few weeks ago. As I read page by page, it took me back to the many successes and failures and lessons we had learned over the past few decades. Kent and Mike display a courageous transparency that you don’t often find in Christian writing, and they express their views with God-inspired grace and humility. Above all, you really get a sense that they love the church—not a building and not a program, but the flesh and blood church, the church that is the entwined Story. Each page reminded me again and again of how God was, and is, the Author of our Days.
I offer a word of warning though. For those of you who are committed to an attractional model of church ministry, this book will rattle you to your foundations if you take it seriously. And honestly, that’s what happened to us. We were the biggest “show” in town for over a decade of ministry. And in my own sin, I took a certain hidden pridefulness in all that we had accomplished. It takes a certain crazy commitment to dismantle that which, by all worldly metrics, seems to be “working.” In the words of the book:
“Attracting people to church based on their consumer demands is in direct and irredeemable conflict with inviting people, in Jesus’ words, to lose their lives in order to find them. It slowly began to dawn on us that our method of attracting people was forming them in ways contrary to the way of Christ.”
So the book serves as a necessary warning—and also a glimmer of hope—to those who may have lost sight of what it is God calls us to. And it may help you redefine what is “success” in ministry, from man’s perspective versus God’s. I think the health of our church today, as well as the spiritual depth of our people, are evidences that that our transformation was much more than superficial.
Obviously, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves and leads the church, no matter where you are. It is a story of the Bride of Christ, the entwined Story. It is the story of Oak Hills Church.