Rai King September - 2 - 2011 UncategorizedComments Off

I told myself I’d give myself until today, and then I will be detaching myself from all things Courageous Church.  For the sake of my family and my own sanity, we’re going on hiatus.  But first, I have to release the tension of these last few months.  I’m afraid I’m full of frustration. If you don’t want to hear that, you should stop reading now:::::::

I’ve tried to write this several times already, and am really struggling with finding the words to say.  I always shoot for clarity and a level of elegance in my writing, but I’m thinking I’m going to miss the mark on this one no matter how hard I try, so I’m instead going to shoot straight from the hip.

This past week,-as Shaun has gone back and forth in considering his resignation-has been emotionally trying on so many levels.  I have been hurt for him, hurt for us, but mostly, I’ve been hurt for the people of Courageous Church.  I think I’ve known for a while now that he needed to resign.  But the reality of it has been way more difficult that I ever anticipated.  Here’s why:

I have never loved leading this church.  Ever.  I didn’t want to plant it and have had just a hand full of days since planting it that I felt like it was worth it.  Shaun, however, has loved this church with his whole heart from the moment he conceived it. Before one person set foot in anything called Courageous Church, he dreamed about it, prayed for it, and worked around the clock for months getting it off the ground.  He contacted church planting organizations and sought their financial support. He went through their assessment centers, filled out their paperwork, went to their meetings, emailed their leaders.

**I will never forget laying in the bed of our little townhouse dog sick and pregnant with Savannah while Shaun sat on the floor of our room and built the very first Courageous Church website.  I remember when he held a contest for a designer to create the Courageous Church logo.  I remember him asking my opinion and me telling him that I liked the one with the simple cross in the middle-the church’s logo today. 

**I’ll never forget when he first started using facebook and twitter to reach out to hurting people.  One of his first acts as the “facebook pastor” was mobilizing people to lend their support to a man who had decided not to commit suicide just because he had been ministered to by Shaun through facebook that day.  Our church as a social media church, was born right then- and we hadn’t even held one service.

**And I remember me, Sophie, and Jason ordering, collecting, and wrapping Christmas toys for the kids of Stanton Elementary.  I remember us scouring the Internet looking for just the right toys to meet each kids wish list.  I remember the news was there.  I remember Willis performing a Christmas rap for the kids.  I remember Avril filming a beautiful video of it that went really viral on the net.  I remember being so proud of my kids because their excitement at watching the kids of Stanton open their gifts was palpable- even though they would be receiving nothing for themselves.  We did all of this before ONE service was held.

**I’ll also never forget our first launch team meetings.  They were really sparse.  They basically consisted of me, Shaun, Jason, Sophie, our kids, their kids, Willis, and Jinean.  I remember Adam Beane even came randomly to one and I thought ‘he is never coming back because there are only like 3 other people here.’  But 2 1/2 years later, he’s still here.  That’s so funny to me.

**And I will always smile at the memory of Antwon dressed up as a super hero along with one of my co-workers at the Morehouse/Spelman homecoming.  We gave out HUNDREDS of free buffalo wings to any student who gave us their contact information.  I’ll NEVER forget that!

Shaun had a very distinct vision for the church God wanted him to plant.  It would be a church that did more than provide weekly lip service to people who already knew God and were content with just that- they knew Him.  They’d heard about Him all their lives.  Couldn’t say they’d ever done anything bold in His service, and couldn’t say their lives resembled anything Christ-like (unless Christ to you is the blond haired, blue-eyed picture of meek Jesus holding a lamb…because Christianity is about being nice, right?).  Shaun thought that if people witnessed courageous leadership, and listened to edgy, courageous teaching, they’d be inspired to get out and be the hands and feet of Christ themselves and provide life changing power and solutions to a dieing and hurting world….Um, FAIL!

Instead, you know what we quickly became?  We became the COOL church.  We were the hip city church that was predominately African-American, but with some sprinklings of white folks, and even 1 Asian.  Our pastor was ethnically ambiguous, so that provided a little mystery.  We often rapped during worship, and our leaders wore jeans and collared shirts with the funky crosses on them.  We even had a dj who scratched tracks instead of a band.  We were so damn cool! We had former drug dealers attending our church, and rappers who still talked about getting high showing up every Sunday morning because they liked Shaun’s preaching.  Does it get any cooler?

Truth is, we liked being this church.  We had t-shirts made, created a twitter handle, ran advertisements on facebook.  We even started serving a free breakfast to get folks out to this cool church.  And guess what, it worked!  People actually came.  Our kids ministry went from 2 adults in a room with their own kids to having 2 directors and teachers in individual classrooms for kids of every age.  By the end of our first year we were up to 2 services.  Shaun preached, Dorothy sang, Willis rapped, I taught, Jason set up chairs, Sophie sang, Shaun preached, I taught, and then we all sang some more.  And some more.  And some more.

And then at some point we looked up and realized, hey, you know, we haven’t done any outreach in a long time.  People are here.  They come and listen every Sunday, but we haven’t done anything outside of these walls in a while.  So then we started an initiative called Choose Your Own Adventure.  We dedicated several services filled with funny skits and quirky videos getting people to sign up for an outreach program of their choice.  And yes, people signed up, but a couple of months into it the outreach consisted of little more than offering water to folks who didn’t want it and wrapping peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and passing them out to homeless people who could do better than that by themselves...Fail!

At the time I thought it was just poor leadership of the programs.  I thought we probably weren’t organized enough and strategic enough in our efforts, and that’s why people didn’t support these outreach initiatives.  So, we tried harder.  The ATL floods came and Shaun and Jinean and Jason mobilized a huge effort to get people to the church to volunteer.  They collected donations, helped clean out houses, provide meals, etc, etc.  They created schedules, and work teams.  We were on the news for it.  Shaun used his handy flip camera to film a video about it.  We really made a difference.  But you want to know the hard truth about that?  Most of the volunteers were random, unsaved people who didn’t even go to our church.  For the most part, Courageous Church folk were nowhere to be found.

Still, Shaun preached, Dorothy sang, Jinean prepared service scripts, I taught, Shaun preached, Dorothy sang, I taught some more.  And some more.  And some more.

Then came the Haiti earthquake.  A Home in Haiti was created.  We collected tents.  We raised and sent money to Haiti.  Actually, WE meant Shaun, Jinean, Jason Woody, and 2 or 3 other consistent volunteers.  By this time church attendance was at an all time high. We were packing it out.  But volunteers for A Home in Haiti could be counted on one hand.

So 2 years into it, after 300+ sermons, who knows how many songs, people coming, people going, stressful lead team meetings, raising money from outside sources because the people who attended the church didn’t actually give enough to support the church, Shaun got frustrated, a few leaders got tired and left, and Jinean got sick of being the only “crazy” person in the room and started serving God on her own in Mexico.

Thus Shaun had a vision for “the shift”…as it has come to be known.  After searching the scriptures and seeing Christ’s ministry for what it really was we decided we no longer wanted to participate in the spectator sport we Christians call CHURCH.  So we said, let’s stop meeting every Sunday.  Let’s instead, meet in small groups in each other’s homes.  Let’s share a meal and learn how to be true disciples of Christ.  Let’s all serve together.  Let’s have each small group belong to a cause group that addresses a need in our city.  We talked about it, met about it, argued about it, preached about it, sang about it, and read books about it for months.  And for the most part, people were buying it.  As a matter of fact, the month before the shift, when Shaun was preaching the hows and whys of what were about to do was our highest attendance and our highest offering in all of 2011.  We thought that meant people were actually ready to be radical and courageous.  4 months later, it’s clear that what that meant was that people love HEARING about being radical and courageous.  It gets our juices flowing and makes us feel all powerful.  Then we leave the service, get in our cars, pick up some chicken for lunch, go home, and watch Basketball Wives until the T.O. Show comes on, and then the Falcons game.  Then there’s work, and depression about our sucky job, and disdain for our sucky marriage, and then Sunday comes, and we get to be happy again-even if for just a few hours.  And then……..you know the routine.

So we said, let’s do less of that so that we can create time to serve God instead of serving ourselves by getting high off of church services.  If people aren’t in church every Sunday, maybe they’ll serve instead.…FAIL!  What most people did after “the shift” is go to another church on the Sundays we didn’t meet.

I thought the problem was that we weren’t organized enough.  Maybe people weren’t serving because we’re not organized.  So this summer we went into super churchy, extra responsible, grown-up church mode.  But after months of church meetings, and the ridiculous antics of electing a board, and forming ministry teams, we’re the most organized we’ve ever been, and STILL, no one shows up to the cause group meetings and outreach initiatives.

Here’s what we’ve learned this summer: It’s not organizations with boards and secretaries who record the minutes that change the world.  It’s not even dynamic leadership that successfully leads the board with the secretary who records minutes.  It’s PEOPLE WITH HEARTS BROKEN FOR CHIRST and His people. Before we had 1 service we stopped a man from committing suicide and bought 500 toys and uniforms for school kids in the inner-city.  We didn’t need dynamic leadership, by-laws, and committees to do that.  We just needed to care.


Am I frustrated?  CLEARLY!  Am I overstating the irrelevance of the Sunday morning song and dance?  Probably.  Did people come to Christ and renew their relationship with God because of what Courageous Church did for so long on Sunday mornings?  Absolutely!  But, then what?  Glad we baptized you, glad we helped you believe in church again and feel all warm and fuzzy about your creator, but I’m sorry we failed to actually make the vast majority of you into disciples.

We’re leaving because we will not go back to the stress and relative lack of actual disciple making of the every Sunday model.  Sunday morning has its place.  I too missed the gatherings, but I will never again participate in a model that replaces the real work of Christ with the mundanity of 2 songs and a feel good sermon.

I actually feel I owe Shaun and apology.  For so long I have put all of the church’s problems off on him as a leader.  I complained that he wasn’t organized enough.  So time and time again he devised and implemented strategies to make the church better organized.  Then I complained that he didn’t spend enough time on his sermons.  So he’d hunker down and study more and preach more well thought out sermons.

Time and time again you shape shifted, made adjustments, bent, folded, and worked yourself crazy into the leader I and everyone else told you you needed to be.  I’m sooo sorry for this!  My heart aches when I think on this.  The truth is, there are churches with pastors who preach like TD Jakes and are as organized as all the Andy Stanley ministries, but are still making disciples out of a good 1% of their attendees (just using those preachers as examples…don’t really know a thing about who does what in their churches).  It’s not about any of that!  It should not be this hard to motivate people to serve Christ.  It’s not about you, Shaun.  For me to have pointed the finger at you and say you and all of your flaws is the reason we didn’t catch the vision takes away people’s own responsibility in their faith walk.

The truth of the matter is, Shaun is simply exhausted.  Pastoring people has been 10 times better than my best hopes and 100 times worse than my worst nightmares.  Unless you’ve done it, you will NEVER understand it.  It looks one way from the outside looking in, but trust me, you don’t know the half.  Pastors are the sickest, loneliest, most depressed people in church.  That’s why they have affairs, that’s why they die at the age of 42 from heart attacks and drug over doses.  That’s why every time you turn on the TV there’s a new scandal, and a fresh news story about the latest greatest to fall from grace.  Taking criticism day in and day out from people who swear up and down they know better is exhausting.  Having people leave for stupid, selfish reasons is exhausting.  The divorce rate for pastors is among the highest of any other group in the country.  Shaun and I have decided we’d like that to not be our story.

For those in Courageous Church that are hurt and blind-sided by our decision to leave, I’ll say I’m truly sorry.  You are the reason I haven’t slept well in several weeks.  I’ve thought about everyone who truly believed in our ability to see you through this transition, and I’m sorry we either couldn’t or are simply too exhausted to make it work.  It’s so hard to fight against cultural norms and what’s comfortable, but some of you have really tried.  You’ve lead the cause group, hosted the small group, and shown up to do “outreach.” You’ve given your tithe, and attended the meetings.  A handful of you have done all of these things, and I’m sorry if you now feel abandoned and hurt by us leaving.  I’ve cried many times over the last few days thinking about how our decision would affect you.

And if you’ve found yourself angry about us stepping down (which very few people have expressed, actually) I can tell you to kick rocks.  Your anger is rooted in selfish self-righteousness.  You’re mad because you “stuck around” and now we aren’t.  But truthfully, your sticking around meant next to nothing.  Most people who are angry can’t name one thing they did to be active in their cause group or support their discipleship group.  You were content to take and take and take, and never give, and now you’re mad that we’ve decided not to play that game anymore.  Your anger is misguided and you’ve diluted yourself into thinking that you care more about this church than we do because we’re leaving and you haven’t.  If you’ve stayed, but never really bought into the principles, you’re hurting the church, not helping.  And you should repent right now for being unable to muster one ounce of compassion and concern for the man that has put all he has on the line to lead you closer to God over these last few years!!  This paragraph is only for a select few.  YOU know who you are.

I hope you don’t receive this as me putting all the blame for the failure of Courageous on everyone else.  Shaun and I and our team of leaders have made enough mistakes to write a “church planting for dummies” novel.  If I could turn back time, oh, the things we would do differently!  We were just a few really crazy people trying desperately to follow God’s heart.  We got lost in the shuffle of being cool, and by the time we realized that the church was watching 3 or 4 people be courageous instead of joining them, it was too late to fix it.

It looks like the church will go on.  And at first that was my hope- which is why we asked our best friends to remain and help lead it.  But now, I’m actually very sad.  What the board has decided the church will become bears little resemblance to the church we intended and now wish we had planted.

To close, I want to be clear that Shaun and I haven’t given up on “church.”  We’re just finished with church as usual.  There must be churches out there getting it right.  Evidenced not by how big and cool they are, but by the fact that they’re actually making disciples who are recapturing the world for Christ.

As I stated at the beginning of this, I never really wanted to plant this church.  I’ve been in church my entire life, and had an idea of the stress that would come with it.  But even though I didn’t want to lead you, I actually found it very easy to love you (well, most of you anyway).  This whole thing probably sounds angrier than I mean it to, and I’m sorry for that.  What I actually feel when I think of most of you is love and appreciation.  We’re all just flawed vessels trying to see our way through. I’m going off the grid for a while.  I hope Shaun plans to do the same.  We both need a time of refreshing.  I will be praying for each of you in the days and weeks to come.

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