I never thought answering the conversational question, “So, where do you go to church?” would be so awkward. It used to be that I would name my church, reciprocate the question, and immediately the other person and I would form our snap judgments about each other:
“Crazy, chandelier-swinging charismatic.”
“Stoic, boring, stuck in traditions that may or may not retain their once-intended meaning.”
“Likes the ear-tickling, watered-down message that appeals to large crowds but leaves few people changed.”
“Probably thinks everyone else is going to hell.”
“Solid in beliefs while remaining safe and comfortable.”
“Interesting . . . I’ve heard about those guys.”
“Oh . . . one of those.”
The conversation might have continued nicely, if somewhat guardedly, depending upon how similar we assumed our beliefs to be.
Now, when someone asks where I go to church, I don’t feel I can answer the question adequately without a detailed explanation. (Funny how I took a career path that puts me in that same position . . . but I digress.) I mean, what would the reply “Oh, we go to Cre8” mean to anyone else anyway? It would be met with a blank stare, and probably all kinds of thoughts about what kind of a church is named “Create” (although that could open up the door for further conversation).
I, along with my husband and three little boys, experienced Cre8 for the first time on Good Friday of 2012. We immediately knew we had stumbled across something unique and truly special. We walked through an interactive “Journey of the Cross” that night and attended the Resurrection Celebration service on Easter Sunday. It was different, to be sure, but it was also the same as every other church we had been a part of in the most important ways. I was drawn to the leaders, obviously passionate in their love for the Lord and people; I was drawn to the friendly people from all different situations and backgrounds; and I was drawn to the very simplicity of the message that might feel too basic, too elementary to some “seasoned” believers. I guess I’m at a place in my life when I want the basic, simple truths to sink down deeper into my soul than ever, and I really don’t think I can hear them too often or understand them so well that I don’t need to hear them again. After all, a passage I read in my Bible a year ago may take on a whole different meaning today because of the growth the Lord has done in me, an increase in faith and understanding, or even a life experience.
Wherever we go to church and however long we have been there, I think it is good to stop and ask once in a while, “What are we doing here?” I think it is a valid question no matter where you are, and I hope my simple words can somehow convey why Cre8 has become such an important part of our lives.
I had heard about Cre8 a few months before we attended from a friend I am almost sure will be the first person to read this post, but we were hesitant to show up on someone else’s property to attend a service in a barn, especially during the colder winter months. I am not sure we ever would have gone if it hadn’t been on its own property, and now that property serves as a location not only for weekly worship services but also as a place where people feel safe to bring their needs, prayer requests, and fellowship seven days a week. Mike and Ami have worked hard to make the house not primarily their home but a place of ministry where they also happen to live, homeschool, and welcome anyone. We have seen them host addicts and wanderers who had no one else in their lives who would take them in while they got back on their feet. We have heard the stories of people in dire need, trapped in dangerous situations or addictive sin, feeling they had nowhere else to go, being welcomed into the Cre8 home. And we have seen Mike and Ami truly love these people, counsel them, pray for them, encourage them, and let them know they matter. They have been the hands and feet of Jesus countless times in the short couple of years since Cre8 was birthed from a vision they held deep in their hearts for years before it came to fruition. They didn’t know how the Lord would fulfill this vision, but they took one step at a time. Today we are seeing the words in the Bible come to life through this little ministry as people realize their one life really is important, that God gave them purpose and loves them dearly, and that they, too, can change their world by sharing His love with others. I have heard them say they have helped more people abandon sin, seek true relationship with God, and go on to help others do the same in these past two years than they had in several years of ministry combined when they were in the church camp and church ministry settings.
I have wondered why and how this can be. My husband and I both grew up in church and were raised in Christian families, but Mike and Ami’s passion for following God’s Word, showing love to people, and giving practical help to those in need has been almost unmatched in my experience, except on the foreign mission field and at inner-city missions. It is simple, really: Most of our churches revolve around programs instead of people. The people can come and go, but that is OK as long as the programs that may or may not help them stay intact. Also, church is set up with an expectation that people who want to seek God will show up at the door. Sometimes people in need are even turned away or sent to the local ministry or government agency that is “designed” for their particular kind of need. Either way, the fact is that people who desperately need God and may also have desperate physical situations often do not feel comfortable showing up at the nearest church. It may be the last place in the world they would think to go. Even if they are brave enough to show up during scheduled services or office hours, they may be rejected, turned away, scorned, or ignored. Many of our churches aren’t really places of ministry anymore. They are places where services and programs happen on a schedule that cannot be interrupted. Cre8 is a place where real life happens and real needs often interrupt anything and everything because people matter more than programs and schedules. Sometimes it is really messy, and often it isn’t pretty at all. Most churches don’t do messy and ugly. “You may show up in your Sunday best and put on your happy face or stay home” is the message many unchurched people hear. Yet in spite of a lack of advertising, flashy signage, a fancy Web site, paid staff, and shiny building, people are hearing that Cre8 has a different message — and they are showing up, needs and baggage and mess in hand, hoping to find someone who cares. They are not disappointed.
Within my own family, the messages we see and hear at Cre8 have found their way into our home as we talk about them around our table. My seven-year-old who was too shy to recite his memory verse in front of his peers at the Wednesday night church program he attended previously now feels comfortable to share what God is doing in his heart and life in front of both children and adults at our Cre8 worship services. (Sometimes he may even feel too comfortable as he breaks out some of his unique dance moves during the music!) One Sunday he said God designed life to be “glorious” and designed us to be “His,” and I think he really understands what that means and what it looks like because of the conversations we have in the integrated services. He isn’t sent to sing children’s songs and be entertained in a dumbed-down or high-energy service with lights and puppet shows (as much as those things are fun and may have their occasional place in children’s lives and spiritual formation). He sits and listens, stands and sings, along with children and grown-ups of all ages, and he gets it. My five-year-old wasn’t interested in spiritual things at all, which may have been perfectly normal for his age but had not all been our experience with our oldest. Now he regularly talks about God and Jesus and Satan and sin. They are as real to him as the food on his plate, and he asks questions daily in his quest to understand. My three-year-old is also understanding deep truths and surprises me with his understanding of God, and he couldn’t be happier that he doesn’t have to sit in a nursery and play with toys so my husband and I can go off to learn hear a sermon in peace and quiet. My children see their mommy freely playing her flute with worship music (which just wasn’t appropriate or needed at our previous church), and they often sit on our laps while we all talk about how God designed us to live. Last Christmas, all three of my boys helped me pick out clothes and toys and other gifts for a single mom and her three daughters who are a part of the Cre8 community. We had picked names off an angel tree before and bought gifts for nameless, faceless families, but last Christmas the activity was more memorable and exciting. I didn’t let the boys know exactly who the family was, but they were thrilled to help me shop and wrap the gifts and pile them into the car to deliver them to the house. I was so thankful God had moved on my heart to do something, which resulted in several families contributing gifts and money and gift cards to help this mom and her daughters see that God has not forgotten them. They received gifts and got their family van repaired, but more importantly, they realized God loves them enough to bless them and provide for their needs. And this outpouring of love, not just from us but from the whole community, led to a beautiful miracle that I was honored to watch unfold first-hand. I can’t get into details because of the private nature of it, but it was one of the most wonderful, difficult, beautiful, and heart-wrenching experiences I’ve ever been a part of, and lives were changed forever because Cre8 was there to support everyone who walked through it.
Mike and Ami have a huge vision for what Cre8 can become and the activities, ministries, and worship experiences that can take place on the property. They are working hard without taking a salary from any monies donated to the ministry, even though they had to risk everything to do so and in fact may not be able to remain on the property they have worked hard to restore (since the rent-to-own agreement they had made with the owners went south when the owners backed out and/or filed bankruptcy and the bank put the property back on the market, leaving Cre8 hanging and Mike and Ami’s faith tested once again.) Families and individuals across our area are so thankful for Cre8, whether they came one time with a need that was met and that helped them get back on their feet and resume their life (or start a new one) and never came back, or because they are compelled to stay and be a part of the Cre8 community long term. I have no doubt that Cre8 is going to make a huge difference both here and around the world because it is already impacting so many even with few resources and few people to help. Addicts have abandoned their addictions, families on the brink of disaster are getting their lives back, marriages about to end are on the road to repair, and people are finding life and love and Jesus, even if their situation can’t be changed or fixed easily. Even families like mine, which wasn’t falling apart and didn’t come with huge needs, are being changed as we see church and ministry and living out the Word of God through a new set of lenses. It may seem too different, too crazy, too untraditional to some, but isn’t that exactly how many people saw Jesus when He walked this earth? He was radical, and His love is still changing people radically. We want to be a part of that, and we are so grateful to have found Cre8.
My hope in posting this is not that a bunch of people will show up at Cre8 this Sunday. You might be disappointed with what you find in contrast to my description because so much of what I’m describing can’t and doesn’t happen on a Sunday morning between the hours of 10:30 a.m. and noon. I really don’t have any expectations from posting this other than to share something on my heart, but if there is a take-away here, I think it is this: Sometimes we need to look at our community of faith and ask some hard questions about why and how things are being done and if those things are fulfilling the call of Christ. It could be that the only change needed is the one that’s often hardest to make: the one in our own lives — the change in our hearts that can lead us out of the pews and into lives of active, exciting, what-will-God-do-next ministry, whether that’s in our own communities or on the other side of the world. What I love about Cre8 is how often we are reminded that true ministry and tests of faith and character happen first in the home when no one on the outside world can see what’s happening. My goal is to become first and foremost the kind of minister in my home who truly glorifies God and fulfills His highest purpose for my life and helps other members of my family do the same. If each member of my family does that, then we as a strong, healthy, cohesive family unit can take the love of Jesus to our neighbors, our town, and wherever God leads us — without pretense, without resentment amongst ourselves, and without having to be separated from each other to do it. I don’t believe God would have it any other way.