by David Parkerson
I guess you could say for a long time I have been a "searching" Christian. I always sort of liked and disliked church activities. I liked them because I had a sense of doing something for God. I disliked them because the programs never seemed to fill a need or a void in my life. I was unsettled. Fortunately, God gave me an incredible wife who understood this about me. And even more, she decided to embrace it and whatever path my pursuit for God might take us down; so both of us have been searching.
My favorite memories growing up are of church camp, spring and fall retreats, and long hiking trips. After high school graduation I remember college dorm life and working at a Christian camp during the summers. I now look back and realize why those were the most fulfilling times. It is pretty simple, I think - we lived together.
I see now that those wonderfully close times of fellowship set a standard for me. All my bucking the system over the years was coming from deep inside, from a desire to connect like I had in those earlier experiences of sharing life by sharing living space. Unfortunately, living together is rare outside of those specified and socially acceptable times, and even commonly held to be quite dangerous. (Or so I thought.) So I did the only thing I could: I challenged doctrines, broke traditions, and argued with elders, because I didn't know how to deal with it, or how to fill the emptiness.
I kept plugging along, doing more and more for God, and leading others to do more for God as well. In fact, I decided I wanted to become the very best "doer of things for God" I could possibly be. So I pursued Bible degrees and took courses in church leadership. But all this time a great tug-of-war between my mind and my heart was underway, an intense battle with two clearly opposing sides -what I was reading in scripture on the one side and what I was seeing around me on the other. I simply could not reconcile the many passages about unity, oneness, shared possessions, and met needs in the Body of Christ with what was constantly in my line of sight. I drove by a half dozen "church" buildings just to go to Walgreens! And it was eating me up inside.
I stopped reading the Bible for a while, it was just too painful. Acts 4 was the worst! At one point I almost gave up on God, or at least on seeing a church function like the ones I read about. It was at a point in life when I turned past several homeless people each day to get to the Graduate School of Religion where we studied the possibility of Source Q in the synoptic gospels. I was becoming really depressed for the first time in my life. I felt like both mind and heart were going to end the tug-of-war in the muddy middle. My only relief came when I dropped out of school and sold all my commentaries. But I was still empty and miserable and...still searching.
We tried cell churches for a few years. But I found the small groups to be just another program of the church, where certain perimeters and expectations were in place for relating to one another. It was closer to the fun and fellowship of church camp, but still so far away as well. I continued to challenge things, wanting to drop the canned small-group activities and the Sunday Sermon follow-up handout and just be together until God revealed Himself and moved our hearts to action. It didn't work.
We tried house churches for a while. I loved reading house church books: "being" the church vs. "going" to church. That was Bible, for sure! Relationships in a house church were indeed closer than any other we'd experienced. But our time was still limited compared to college life. And being across town still kept us from that Acts 4 sort of church. So we kept looking.
THE PHONE CALL
I'll never forget the phone call from Chashaq in 2003. It was our first year with HomeLife Academy, where we served 500 homeschoolers from an enclosed one-car garage. Rose Creek Village? Interesting, I thought. So we agreed to register their 83 school-age kids...and we visited. When we showed up our hearts were forever changed.
The love sort of takes your breath away at first. And your mind has trouble accepting it as real. So you have to come back a few times and keep touching it, and seeing and hearing it, until you start to believe that a people could actually live like this, that even the men could love one another like this. And the thirst starts to go away.
THE LIVING ROOMS
It was not the fantastic festivals and events; it wasn't the beautiful weddings, or the passages, or the gatherings, or the VillageFest. It was the living rooms. "Stop knocking," they would say. "And come on in! We don't knock around here." We would sit for hours, laughing 'til our sides ached and tearing up as we shared stories. Then we would go to another house and they would feed us, and the children would smile, and the young men would rock my baby, and the older men would talk to my boys, and the women would...well, they would take my wife right into their hearts. I cried at night. But, again, I could not believe it. I remained a skeptic. It just seemed too good to be true and every voice I heard from my past shouted in my mind, "There must be a catch!"
It really didn't dawn on us until the fall of 2006, when we started shopping for houses and for a place for HomeLife Academy, now serving 5000 students. We were so excited about finally getting to move out of our 1200 square feet, because we knew that more living space would be the answer to all our needs. But each time we drove through Fayette County, looking at property and walking through houses, we could not shake this feeling. I didn't know what it was at first; I thought we just didn't like that house or that location. But these were beautiful homes, so that can't be it. Finally, on a ride by myself, deep into the country, it fell hard on my soul - we were lonely. With every turn of the road I thought of Rose Creek Village.
There is no catch. This is truly a Community of God, but, even more, it is the Kingdom of God, where people dwell in riches this world cannot fathom. Treasure is laid up in heaven at such a rate that I think the Angels have to add on rooms. That's what they do on work day, make room for the Treasure.
Now we are privileged to be a part of this life. Yes, "We." And as I type this two-letter word, my face is flooded with tears because I have never seen my wife happier or my children more alive. My sons are singing, April has more sisters, and I have more brothers. Our family just grew exponentially; my eyes light up each time a child calls me "Papa."
It's amazing to me how you can have less square footage but feel like you have more. And it is more. It's more because we now live in the hearts and homes of over 200 Christ-followers. We made the choice to come here not because we liked the worship style, or the preaching, or the awesome gymnasium (which we don't have :)). We came to live here because each time we came here, we came to LIFE.
"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life."
"I have come that you might have LIFE, and have it more abundantly."
These are examples of the many scriptures about life which I did not understand while pursuing my ministry degree. As far as I could tell, Jesus saved people from their sins, but did not save them from their lives. Most church-goers around me still suffered daily. This suffering has created a great market of Christian books, Christian songs, and various gospels promising your best life now. But Life does not come from external programs and superficial preaching. LIFE comes from Christ, and from those who dwell with one another in unity. The Body of Christ is a literal thing, a place of belonging and usefulness and fullness. Each member of the Body has a place and purpose; and together - not alone - we have Life. We have Life because we come to know Him who is Life; we come to know Him through the Body.
Now I've come full-circle. A few months ago I had lunch with a great man of God with whom I graduated Bible College. I can see him searching. He and his wife and four kids are laboring in "church" work, running the programs to try to meet the needs of the congregation. And he is doing a lot of good in that church. But as we talked about the stress, the politics, and the "job" of ministry, he made a comment to me: "My wife and I have often wondered if there is a better way to live life." There is! We could live Life together.
This is the message of Christ; this - the Gospel of Life. From now on I'm telling everyone about the Living rooms here at Rose Creek Village, and of the Love and Life within. And I hope churches and Christ-followers everywhere will catch this vision and complete their joy.
"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched - this we proclaim concerning the Word of Life. The Life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal Life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete."
And, as our fingers loosen their grip on the things of this world, they are raised into the air in an open-handed praise.