Traction: From the Medieval Latin tracti, tractin-, from Latin tractus, past participle of trahere, to pull, draw.], 1.e., Adhesive friction, as of a wheel on a track or a tire on a road.
Since the turn of 2012, I've found myself noticing and referring to the sense that imagine/Northampton is gaining a little traction with our mission in these parts. It feels as if we've begun to turn a corner of sorts. We are "adhering" to the city a bit; gaining a frictive foothold so to speak.
It's been three and a half years since our arrival - a tough three and a half for sure. This church planting stuff ain't for the faint of heart. I've not felt the traction of which I now speak.
So why do I say we're "gaining traction?"
Well first, it appears God is beginning to bless our perseverance in the face of trials, discouragements, pressures within and without, a myriad of spiritual attacks, and our own ineptitude being rookies at this church planting enterprise, to name a few. We still have serious financial pressures, but there are glimmers of relief. God seems to be showing us favor in that people, not just imagineurians, speak of us as a reality; they pray for us and refer people to our doors.
Also, in late 2011, we began to see folks sticking around. We've had people checking us out almost from the beginning, but they'd not stay. Now we have students from Smith, a few young families, and couples, talented musicians on the verge of becoming a Worship Team, a spunky survivor of woman in her 60's, a jazz trio of considerable potential, people with servant hearts, visual artists and a dancer, and kids full of life. We're beginning to bust out of our little space. We are also seeing a little multi-cultural diversity. We want more of that, Lord! Draw us further into your will, Father!
People who are adhering and have been so for awhile, talk of what they value in our church ethos and DNA. They refer to imagine as "our church," or "my church." Most thrilling to me is they're embracing (all at their own pace, of course), our mission of "helping people discover and follow the God who is far more than they imagine." They are taking it seriously, and working at deepening personal intimacy with Jesus while also striving to live out the Kingdom missional way of life devoted to loving and serving people who yet cannot see him. Their response is a dream come true for me. It makes my heart sing, giving refreshing grace to the burdens we've carried to plant imagine from a wisp of thought.
Another marvelous development is imagineurians are inviting friends to come to our gatherings, both Sunday mornings and the inward/OUTWARD Missional Cohort. They didn't really do that before - there were exceptions to that. Their willingness is a kind of "come and see" freedom beginning to settle into our hearts. When everyone wants others to experience what they've some to value, we're moving toward the heart of our Kingdom mission. By the way, I'm not saying we identify traction mostly by how many people "come to church" on Sunday. Far from it. We identify traction as imagineurians sacrificially loving and serving people in their families, neighborhoods, workplaces, schools, etc. We recognize traction when imagineurians love the least of God's people or the pariahs of American culture. We see traction by how deeply they are actually surrendering their hearts to Jesus, and offering him the best of their lives, not the leftovers. We confirm traction based on how much grace we actually accept, and how much grace we all routinely offer others.
I also recognize traction in the fact that many of the the homeless in town know who we are, and we remain committed to helping them find life in the Life-giving Lover of their souls. We long for the day when they will feel loved enough by us enough to join our community.
In sum, another of my hopes for this year is that this traction to which I refer will settle to a firm foothold, and then generate the sinking of a deep taproot from which we'll grow fruit full of seeds to be transplanted elsewhere.