Monday, May 25, 2009

The End of Sar Shalom

There are no sects in geometry.
- François-Marie Arouet (Voltaire)
(Here is another blog essay I have had in draft form since January.)

Under God's guidance I led a Messianic Jewish congregation named P'nei Adonai from March 2004 until July 2007, when it merged with a second congregation named Sar Shalom.

At that time I became almost free of ministry responsibilities, which was quite providential so I could care for my wife during a difficult pregnancy and then adjust to my new role as househusband.

The non-profit named P'nei Adonai remains, but its purpose (and website) changed. The ministry is no longer a congregation. Instead, we teach local churches what we learned about Yeshua's first-century worship and worldview.

My family was part of Sar Shalom since the merge, but not always actively since the pregnancy and new baby, combined with my wife's extreme gluten intolerance, often made participation difficult.

In December 2008 my family left for a three week vacation to visit family. When we returned, Sar Shalom was no longer a congregation.

I have already blogged about some of the struggles and tensions that Sar Shalom faced during the twenty months of its existence. This essay will attempt to weave these pieces into a coherent whole so that others can learn from our experiences.

Let's begin with an institutional autopsy. A congregation can be "killed" in several different ways. Looking back, what happened to Sar Shalom?

Some congregations have a weak or abandoned vision. This was most of Sar Shalom's problem, as will be discussed soon.

Some congregations go bankrupt, but a lack of finances was never a problem for Sar Shalom. God provides for the work he has called his people to do, and Sar Shalom was deeply used by God.

Some congregations suffer a split, which was part of the problem at Sar Shalom. Usually a split happens when a group grows too large for its number of skilled leaders. At Sar Shalom a small split happened when a lack of clear congregational vision allowed a few families to be drawn into strange doctrine. These left the main group to worship together.

So the core problem was about the group's vision. Sar Shalom never had a focused vision, and without one could not withstand the stresses inherent in being so used by God. Families left, one by one, for a plethora of reasons.

Would enough families have stayed if the group's vision had been more focused, clearer, and held aloft more brightly? Perhaps. But had that been true, many of those families would not have ever joined.

The congregation fractured along four fault lines.

First, a Messianic Jewish congregation must know if it is a modernized first-century community or a transformed Rabbinic community. Sar Shalom was never sure, and this caused many families to always feel the group was slightly unstable.

Second (and probably most significantly), congregants must value having community. Over half those who attended Sar Shalom, when it was at its largest, were of families that had previously become dissatisfied with "the church", had left it, and had for several months or years been trying follow Yeshua as an isolated family. This is contrary to scripture, which states that the whole reason we are left on earth after joining the Kingdom of God is to form close-knit communities that demonstrate God's ways to all of heaven and earth. (Consider how often Paul uses the metaphor of community members are parts of a body!) But these congregants, having grown used to religious life apart from a congregation, easily returned to that model when congregational or inter-personal issues became stressful. How different from the perspective developed in a Jewish upbringing, which cannot imagine being Jewish apart from a Jewish community and expects (and braces for) the community to experience both the joys and tears of a large family.

Third, one member was secretly and actively planting division. She followed Ephraimite theology and convinced three other families to join her "camp" within the congregation. When the Autumn holy days arrived they left without saying farewell, intent to do things their way and not understanding that the community could have grown in wisdom and remained united if challenged to process the doctrinal differences together. Because Sar Shalom was small everyone had volunteer roles to help Shabbat services happen, and the three families that left were among those that did the most: the simultaneous loss of these families confused and temporarily crippled our weekly services.

Finally, the Messianic Jewish Vision understands that God is refining his people in preparation for the Messiah reigning on earth. Many at Sar Shalom were not willing to go through that refining. These left when they saw personal and painful refining happen within the congregation in Spring and Summer 2008 (even if they were not the ones being refined). Or they left during the many structural changes preceding Rosh Hashanah of 2008, or a few weeks later when Sar Shalom was used by God to do refining within another congregation.

During the years that I led the local Messianic Jewish congregation, I cast a focused vision and the group stayed small. Sar Shalom's leader attempted to create a more vaguely defined and welcoming community; it did grow large because it was more welcoming, but it also faded quickly because it was more vague.

Back in July 2008 I was pleased with the merge because I knew, through my own prayers, that its leader was called by God to his leadership role. The shutting down of Sar Shalom means one of two things.

One option is that God intended Sar Shalom to thrive but its leadership did not lead as God intended. I do not think this is true, but I will never know for sure. (It would be horribly rude for God to tell me!)

The other option is that Sar Shalom was destined to fail. This makes more sense to me. The twenty months of Sar Shalom's existence proved that in this location a welcoming and vaguely defined Messianic Jewish community cannot endure, for the reasons detailed above. In this place there is too much:
  1. tension between Jewish identity through first-century or Rabbinic Judaism
  2. readiness to leave the community rather than grow through family-like stresses
  3. abundance of harmful doctrines that are seductive to Gentiles who love Torah
  4. common human tendency to avoid situations intense enough to cause refining
Seeing this proved was valuable, for many people in this area longed for such a congregation and only now can rest knowing their dream is currently unobtainable.

Or perhaps what was really longed for, during the years when P'nei Adonai kept its focus and stayed small, was a place where people could either rest comfortably or shape the community to be what they wished. But the Messianic Jewish Vision has no place for resting comfortably, nor for leaders who are not leading by following God's specific instructions. Power from the Kingdom of God only comes to those whose authority is based on obeying God.

Currently Sar Shalom's leader and his family are enjoying some rest and recovery after being drained by holding up Sar Shalom. I have been greatly encouraged as I have seen this leader's growth in humility and patience during the past two years, and am sure that God has more plans for this man and his family.

Many families, including mine, are praying about what to do next. During the months of sunshine we have a nice park-like place near one family's home which is an obvious location where to gather informally to welcome Shabbat or celebrate Havdalah. I pray with eager expectation for what will be the next more-permanent development: there are many options but God has not yet favored one or revealed a hidden alternative.

UPDATE: In early August 2009 I heard from one of the "three families that left".

They claimed they did say farewell. This may well be true. However, the other congregational leader did not perceive this, and rudeness is in the eye of the receiver.

They claimed they were not "intent to do things their way" and left because of extremely hurt feelings from interpersonal issues (rather than a hesitancy to process doctrinal differences, as I wrote about). I must trust this account. Again, any rudeness they felt was real in their eyes.

In retrospect it is easy to see that the congregational leadership (which to some extent included myself) should have been doing more to bring more peace to interpersonal relationships among congregants. I can only apologize and say that I tried to do what it seemed I could do.


ElderChild said...

Who is a "Jew" today?

What of The NEW Covenant, and The New Covenant "Jew"(Believer)?
Jer 31:31-37 "Behold, the days come, says YHWH, that I will make a NEW COVENANT with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: NOT ACCORDING TO THE COVENANT THAT I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS IN THE TIME THAT I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND TO BRING THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT FOR THEY BROKE THAT COVENANT, although I was an husband unto them, says YHWH: (Thankfully no longer natural "fathers" but YHWH, "Our Father" in "the NEWness of The Spirit not the letter")

But this shall be the NEW covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says YHWH, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts(not in stone, but in their heart consciousness); and I will be their Elohim, and they shall be MY people. ("Come Out of her, MY people"! Come out of this world and it's systems of religion)

And every man shall no longer teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, "Know YHWH", for they shall all know ME, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says YHWH: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.

Thus says YHWH, which gives the sun for a light by day, and the ordinances of the moon and of the stars for a light by night, which divides the sea when the waves thereof roar; YHWH of hosts is HIS name:

If those ordinances depart from before ME, says YHWH, then the seed of Israel also shall cease from being a nation before ME for ever.

Thus says YHWH; If Heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done, says YHWH."

The NEW Covenant established The Truth that, "he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, whose circumcision is that of the flesh, he is a Jew who is one inwardly, whose circumcision is of the heart" as he was immersed in, of, by and through The Holy, Set Apart Spirit that is of The Only True GOD, Father(Creator) of ALL, and all gentile NEW Covenant Believers are "grafted into The Good olive tree".......

And The NEW Spiritual Israel?

"A Holy nation".......

"A nation of kings and priests" indeed and Truth, and all New Covenant Believers are "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" whose "citizenship (Life) is in Heaven".

They are not of this wicked, evil world and it's systems of religion because they have taken heed unto The Call of The Only True GOD, Father (Creator) of ALL to "Come out of her, MY people".......

And The NEW Covenant Believers are exhorted to "set their affections on things above, Heavenly things" and not be of those "whose god is their bellies, and whose glory is in their shame, because they mind earthly things".......

Sadly, there are multitudes who profess a belief in The Messiah with their mouth only for they are "friends of this world", "love this world and it's things" and "love their own life in and of the world" .......

All such will hear those woe filled words, "Depart from Me all you workers of iniquity".......

Thankfully The NEW Covenant Believers, The Brethren of The Messiah, have their "citizenship(Life) in Heaven" for they are "A Holy nation" of "kings and priests", all of whom are thankful that, that which was "decaying and waxing old" DID "vanish away" with the destruction of the natural, earthly kingdom centered in jerusalem.

At that time "THY Kingdom" DID "Come" for The Messiah delivered up The Kingdom unto His GOD and Father(Creator), and The Kingdom of The Only True GOD in Heaven WAS and IS, indeed and Truth.......

No longer old, natural, earthly and temporal, The NEW WAS and IS Spiritual, Heavenly and Eternal.......

And so it is that yesterday, today, and if there be a tomorrow, that the chosen ones, the elect, The NEW Covenant Believer, those Brethren of The Messiah seek and desire that which is Spiritual, Heavenly and Eternal.......

All Thanks, Praise and Glory Be Unto The Only True GOD, Father (Creator) of ALL.......

David V.S. said...

Um... I'm not sure whether to delete that comment for being not related to my post's topic, or if there actually might be sufficient connection in your mind.

ElderChild said...

The blog is under your authority.

Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it's systems of religion, for "the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one" indeed and Truth"....... francis

ElderChild said...

You could not "see" how my first posting applied to the dissolution of your "congregation".

Will attempt to clarify.

From the time The Messiah ascended into Heaven until the destruction of the earthly kingdom centered in jerusalem The Messiah ruled as Brethren were translated into "The Kingdom of The ONE and Only True G-D's Son, The Messiah".......

When that which "waxed old" did "vanish away", with the destruction of natural jerusalem, The Messiah, as Paul prophesied, "delivered up The Kingdom unto His G-D and Father".......

How then can Brethren expect Communion Union with Our Father, The Messiah and "Those gone on before us" when they can not "see" that which IS, and ALWAYS WILL BE?

Truth IS, "THY Kingdom" DID "Come", IS and ALWAYS WILL BE.......

You are very fortunate that a community ordered and created of man's desire dissolved.......

All Thanks, Praise and Glory Be Unto Our Father.......

"Set your affections on 'things' above", Heavenly 'things'......

Peace, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this world and it's systems of religion, for "the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one" indeed and Truth....... francis

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I believe we are allowed to have a fragmented fellowship so we can go out in smaller groups and reach more. Maybe this is so - or not - I'm not sure. Like seeds perhaps? I have no Messianic group where I am, but I attend a church in my area on Shabbat and I witness when I can to those I become friends with and speak with.
I have offered reading material so they can learn about the Feasts and the things that Constantine threw out, that were foundational with the Ecclesia. We should all do something as he leads us, and I do like to keep in touch with others of like belief.

yod said...


May Adonai richly bless you for posting such an informative blog on how communities that aren't based on The Rock will (and should) fall apart.

I see the Ephramites bringing confusion and seductive destruction everywhere they go. Many are caught in this web and don't realize their end.

I pray that the Lord would raise up a standard there in Oregon that will shine the light of truth.

Blessings to you and your family and your community, brother!