To some, NRCC seems a strange kind of church. To understand why, you need to know our history (which makes this the longest page of the whole site). We think it’s an interesting story if you’re willing to hang in and read it. But to understand our story you need to consider some socio-religious context. The mini-story of NRCC is unfolding against the backdrop of the larger story of the Church in America.
In the last 25 years, there has been a lot of talk in Christian circles about ”culture wars.” The clash between value systems has been fought on fronts like abortion, gay rights, school prayer, etc. Many devout, Christian people have been energized by the rhetoric of battle, and have developed a mindset of ”us” (the good people) vs. “them” (the bad people).
When we founded NRCC we looked around and it appeared to us that the culture wars were over, and that church folks had lost. Mainstream culture hasn’t been informed by the traditional Church for a long time. At one time, the Christian message did influence how our society did politics, entertainment, economic policy, ethics, sexuality, marriage, and family. Now, in these areas, people refer somewhere else to gain their bearings.
Sadly, we believe the Church lost the moral authority to influence society long ago. We have behaved badly. We have strong-armed money from the weak and elderly to build media empires. We have abandoned our own standards of sexual propriety, but publicly insisted that others abide by them. We’ve abused children in the worst ways, and then covered up our shame with deceit and guile. We’ve drifted away from the love and grace that is at the core of Jesus’ message – and somewhere along the way, stopped being helpers in our society, and became harsh critics.
Consequently, people have deemed us irrelevant, and have voted their rejection with their feet. Over a decade ago, pollster and demographic researcher, George Barna, highlighted the demise of the Church in America. At that time, there had been a 92% increase of unchurched people, and the trend has only accelerated since then.
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Historically, when a group has been on the losing side of a major culture clash, it has had two choices. The group can embrace the dominant values of the culture that defeated it, or its members can regroup and rediscover their essential truths.
Our observation of churches today is that many have chosen the former. The values of American culture are strong and very attractive (consumerism, materialism, pragmatism, hedonism). To recover relevance, many Christians have taken on these values as their own, framing church as business instead of family. Church has become, for many, a provider of spiritual services to consumers, offering programs designed to meet the needs and desires of target markets.
And this would be fine… if it was working for us. But it’s not.
Studies show that our morality, our ideals, and even our calendars, mimic those of others in our society. We consume the same entertainment, suffer the same stress-related disorders, have adulterous affairs and cheat on our taxes with the same frequency. We live and operate the same way the culture does, but all the while claim the power of God to help us do better. This has earned us a public perception among many as hypocrites.
There is a second option for those on the losing side of a culture clash. It is to withdraw for a while, and rediscover their true identities, their true beliefs. In the ancient histories of the Bible, this is a familiar path. We could call it “the way of the wilderness.” Away from power, away from supremacy and authority, this is where the vanquished hammer out a new, truer, and more authentic spirituality.
This has been the path taken by NRCC.
For just this purpose, a handful of spiritual people gathered to form NRCC in 1996. We gathered to find God more authentically, and to rediscover our true identities as Jesus-followers.
Most of us had been deeply involved in churches; some deacons, elders, even a few previous senior ministers. Almost to a person, we had been chewed up and spit out by the empire-building, consumer-driven, culture-conforming values of church.
We couldn’t build another church like the ones from which we had come. We knew what not to do, but we were a little short on understanding what to do. In our disoriented state, we simply gathered together and became friends. We licked our spiritual wounds together, grieved our losses together, and found comfort for our grief, and solace in our confusion.
We began to ask how one truly follows Jesus. We relearned the art of listening for the Inner Voice. We began to challenge many of the unspoken assumptions we had absorbed about God, church, and spirituality. We began to see the pollution that had crept into our souls and practices, and discovered that in many ways, we had “dressed vice up” as virtue, and were ruining our lives with it.” (footnote)
We spent the decade from 1996 to 2006 rediscovering, reflecting, and re-imagining church. We did very little outwardly; had very few programs, did very little to care for our city. We were too spiritually spent to do much more.
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Along the way, we stumbled on to some ancient ways of following Jesus that have become life and light for our souls.
- We learned the beauty of quieted, simplified lives.
- We learned the ancient practice of Christian meditation.
- We learned to listen carefully for the interior whispers of the Divine Spirit, and to tenaciously obey them.
- We learned how imperative community and spiritual friendships are: That we do better on the spiritual journey together than we do alone.
- We began to walk a freer spirituality, divorced from the sectarian “ought’s” and “should’s” of our former denominations.
In exile we became quiet and began to relearn the ancient paths of our faith that so many other Christian communities are rediscovering today. Our souls began to heal, our perceptions of God were deepened, and our experience of the Divine was heightened.
We would have stayed quietly in seclusion, discovering, learning, and savoring being a spiritual community together, except that in 2007 we were surprised again by the whispers of God.
There began to stir within us a restlessness that would not be stilled. It was a restlessness of compassion for the people of our city. We began several months of community dialog, talking together, praying together, and together, listening for the Holy Spirit. After a while, we came to believe we had sensed Divine direction.
If it had been a conversation in words, it might have gone something like this…
There are some people in this city on the same journey you’re on, but they’re alone. I’ve assigned them to you, so open your hearts and your doors to them. Go find them, and invite them to share the journey with you.
But God, we can’t do that. We’ve been part of the “doing-good-stuff” church in the past. We tried helping people, we tried the whole “reach-out-to-others” thing, and we got sucked into a vortex of religious performance and exhausting labor. It burned us out! Frankly, we’re afraid the same thing will happen again.
There are some people in this city on the same journey you’re on, but they’re alone. I’ve assigned them to you, so open your hearts and your doors to them. Go find them, and invite them to share the journey with you. (Nothing if not persistent, God.)
God, we’re not ready to invite people to our community. Our facility isn’t finished, our parking lot is a swamp (it’s fixed now), we don’t have any literature for newcomers to read (we do now), we don’t have any groups to help people make friends (we do now). For goodness sake, sometimes we don’t even get the floors vacuumed (we do now).
And did we mention… we’re afraid we’ll lose our souls if we get back on that “work-for-the-church” treadmill.
Us: [lengthy pause]
Whatever you ask, we will do.
Wherever you send, we will go.
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And so in mid-2007, we began to talk together about how a community emerges from isolation. We began to talk together about opening our hearts and reengaging with our city. Once we overcame our fears, the vision of joining with you on the spiritual journey became kind of exciting. We’re looking forward to meeting you. We think we like you already.
In late 2007 we began to clean house and get ready for you (quite literally). We started working on our facility. (It’s still quite simple, but it used to be un-presentable.) We began to write down the good things we had experienced together so we could tell you about them when we met you.
We began to think together about how we could include you in the community and non-performance spirituality we have experienced.
We designed this website and a few others to help articulate our experience, and help you decide if our community would be a fit for you.
And now, you’re here. Now you’re reading this.
And now, we are inviting you to become friends with us.
If you are a church-leaver or a non-practicing Christian…
If you find yourself becoming more spiritual, but less religious…
If you are weary of empty religious forms, but hungry for authentic spirituality…
…we’d like to invite you to walk this journey with us.