Those of you who have looked into imagine/northampton, either through the Prospectus, website or Facebook group page, are aware the by-line for the church is “Discovering the God who is far more than you can imagine.” We picked it for reasons more substantial than the “hipness” factor, although admittedly, it is hip. We are well aware by-lines should capture something of the essence of an organization by definition. In our case, we think it does. More importantly, we did not just hunt and peck for a scripture (Ephesians 3:20), that would fit the name of the church and then paste it on.
Before I get more into this, let me take a step back and first aver that through the by-line we are not meaning that we will be in constant search to uncover who the real God is among the many options out there. We have settled that as Christ-followers. The triune God of the Old and New Testaments is at the Alpha and Omega of imagine/northampton and will always be.
Nor will we be perpetually “Waiting for Godot,” hoping beyond hope that he or she will show up in a way recognizable to us. We have a pretty clear idea how God shows himself to people earnestly seeking him. We also recognize how he surprises people by being many times hidden in the ordinary and unlovely. Then there are those remarkable moments when he shows up even when we aren’t looking. Our God is near and can be found as such.
Lastly, we will not be about the business of inventing our discoveries in order to fit an agenda or program. We never want to manipulate a discovery to serve a preconceived notion of how they should happen at imagine/northampton. While doing so may be clever, even superficially effective, it woefully misses God’s mark and betrays the trust placed in us by people he has gathered in our midst.
With those things having been said, exactly what are we trying to communicate with the by-line we have chosen?
We want to know and follow God on his terms always. We realize we will constantly need the help of the Holy Spirit to do that. So, under his guidance, we will always be exploring how we should understand him and looking for ways to relate to him as he desires. We never want to deliberately pigeon-hole God into stereotypes or categories comfortable for us, but missing him in the end.
We will work to create an atmosphere in the church, whether in worship, caring for each other, or serving Northampton where the freedom to discover him is paramount. Sometimes that will be very focused as in studying the Scriptures together or teaching about certain life realities and how he calls us to walk in them with him. Other times, it will be in the midst of taking action together and then reflecting on how we encountered him, or where it appears we might have missed him. Regardless of the venue or means, we are committed to being open to discovering this God who is infinitely beyond our conception of him and yet reveals himself to those who persistently seek him.
We want to create a fecund culture of surprise and delight where, even in the midst of trial or setback, we will be freshly captured by wonder because of God’s magnificence, beauty, compassion or faithfulness. We will strive to never settle into a ho-hum, “business as usual,” life together where predictability, and human control underwrite laziness, cynicism and cowardice. We want to upend complacency. We want to provoke courage and hope. We want to unsettle spiritual myopia and traditions of men which mute redemptive imagining.
We will poke people to open to and follow this God who can do far more than they imagine because of the death-beating resurrection power animating them. We will look for possibility, and dream for more than seems to make sense at the time. We will invite innovation, and listen for new thinking about old truths and well-worn paths. We will always be asking: “What if?” and “Why not?” Sometimes that might even sound like: “Who says we can’t?” We want the greatness of our God never to be far from our hearts or lips.
We will seek to discover the hearts of the people God sends to imagine/northampton in order that we might ignite in them this same hunger for going beyond their safe conceptions of God, especially when those conceptions prevent them from knowing him better. We will also seek to discover how we can learn about God from how they have experienced him, never assuming that we have a lock on him because of our experience. Discovery for us will always be about learning and growing into more of him and more of how he desires us to serve in Northampton or wherever. People we do not know yet will help us all do that.
Lastly, how we will push past thread-bare imaginings into new discoveries will come through how we worship, create art and music. Art and music have unique ways of opening eyes to possibility and break people out of being set in lesser means than God would have for them. We know art provokes and can free people into discovering truth they might ordinarily miss. We want to push back the darkness and expand the boundaries of encountering God through these means. Also, every new idea about how to do ministry or teach or serve the poor or expand our service to the community will be explored that we might know more of God and what he desires for us.
Now I expect some of what I have said may be unnerving to a few of you who love the traditions of the Church, and deeply respect what has gone before in relation to how church is supposed to be church. We do too. So while we may not look much like what you have been used to, at core of imagine/northampton is a deep dedication to living as the Scriptures and Spirit reveal is the Way. Rest assured that by God’s grace, discernment, prayer and diligence we will labor to never “throw out the baby with the bathwater,” when it comes to the essentials of the Christian message or life. We want to obey God on his terms, but we have been given the freedom to discover uncommon ways to seek after him.
We also are resolutely committed to revealing this God to people far from him and skeptical about church or Christians. We need to help them discover him in ways that will unlock their hearts, and shatter their prejudices about him. We have been given the task of connecting them by the way we live. We think growing an imagine/northampton culture which catalyzes redemptive discovery, fearless creativity, and innovative imagination is worth the cost of heading into the frontier of new ideas, even ones which might make us uncomfortable at first because they blow our church culture categories.
Our question to you remains: Want to come along and see for yourself? We hope you do.