Finding Sanctuary: Embracing Authenticity in Small Church

Finding Sanctuary: Embracing Authenticity in Small Church April 21, 2024

Photo by adrianna geo on Unsplash. Finding Sanctuary: Embracing Authenticity in Small Church.
Photo by Adrianna Geo on Unsplash. Finding Sanctuary: Embracing Authenticity in Small Church.

On April 1, I celebrated two years as the pastoral leader at River Corner Church, a small church that meets near where the Conestoga River meets the Susquehanna River in Conestoga, Pennsylvania. While this is not a long tenure by any means, nor is it even the longest I have served as a pastoral leader in a context, it is an anniversary worth celebrating. After serving as a pastor for seven years in one context, and serving on the preaching team of a friend’s church for about two years, we decided to settle our family into the small church community of River Corner Church. At the time, River Corner Church was in a season of relaunch and reimagination after it had closed down. They have since entered into a story of resurrection, but more about that later.

Reflecting on our journey at River Corner Church, I’m reminded of the transformative power of faith and community. While my role as the pastoral leader here may not be the longest, it has been profoundly one of the most fulfilling. Transitioning from years of pastoral ministry in different contexts to settling into the simplicity, warmth, and authenticity of River Corner Church has been a remarkable chapter in my life. This community’s resilience against difficult times and its commitment to communal renewal have been inspiring, serving as a testament to the beauty of second chances and the power of a community’s collective faith. They are more than just everyday people, or a simple community of Jesus followers, they are a growing church community that represents deep honor for each other and a shared desire to lead quiet lives in the places they each live, work, worship, and play. At a season in which I am focusing on the same, I have been deeply encouraged by the way God has blessed us and brought our church new life, new families, new ministries, and even new expressions of community life.

We are okay being a simple community.

As we move forward, our focus remains on listening to the Spirit of God, doing what we can do to draw creativity and life out of our community, and cultivating a vibrant, inclusive community where individuals from all walks of life can find a safe and healing community for their spiritual journey, where they can experience solace, support, and spiritual growth. At our core, we are okay with being a simple community of Jesus followers and we want to be a place where others discover that same authenticity and simplicity in community. Rooted in our values and guided by our faith, we strive to be a beacon of hope and love in a world often marked by division and uncertainty. We desire to be a place of simplicity and an authentic and reflective approach to faith in a world that is obsessed with excess and noise. Together, in a world searching for the bigger and the better, we continue as a church community to embrace the simplicity of following Jesus and discovering together what it means to lead quiet yet impactful lives that reflect Jesus’ teachings and embody the essence of true discipleship.

The benefit of a simple church community.

This Lead A Quiet Life blog on Patheos explores what it means to lead a quieter life at a slower pace, to discover a simple life and faith that embraces downward mobility in a chaotic world and church obsessed with excess. This journey for me, and this blog on Patheos, is rooted in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12. It’s crucial to recognize that Paul’s words in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, were not just directed to individuals, but they were directed to a community of Jesus followers who were firmly rooted in a specific time and place, a unique context in a world obsessed with excess, and they were a church community of simple house church communities in a world of bigger and better, that were bound together by a shared mission, communal worship and sense of life together. They weren’t merely called to lead quiet lives individually but to do so collectively, but as a local church community to be not only true to the mission of the Kingdom of God but also to serve as a prophetic witness to the world. Paul’s instruction for the Thessalonian believers to lead quiet lives comes after his exhortation for them to maintain a church community characterized by their love for God and one another (1 Thessalonians 4:9-10). This shared challenge and mission of leading a quiet life is perhaps best embodied in smaller, simple church communities like those of 1 Thessalonians, and that is what I am finding true with my journey at River Corner Church. It is much easier for simple church communities, those with an unconventional and innovative ecclesiastical model, to embrace and model the vital role of the local church in embodying these principles and fostering a community that reflects the transformative power of faith lived out in unifying and purposeful simplicity. 

In our small and growing church community at River Corner Church, the challenge of 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 permeates our daily interactions and collective journey. This verse encourages us to lead quiet lives, mind our own affairs, and work with our hands—a sentiment that resonates deeply with our community’s values of simplicity and authenticity. In the hustle and bustle of modern life, our church offers a haven where individuals can find respite from the noise, focusing instead on fostering meaningful connections and spiritual growth. By embodying the call of this verse, we prioritize humility, service, and community over the clamor of worldly distractions, striving to live out our faith in tangible ways that uplift and inspire those around us.

The celebration of a resilient community.

Our community’s resilience amidst challenges and dedication to communal renewal stand as testaments to the beauty of second chances and the potency of collective faith. In a world clamoring for more, we’ve discovered the beauty of leading quiet lives together, finding solace and strength in our shared journey of faith. In a world fraught with noise and excess, our commitment to embodying the essence of 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 is not merely a personal endeavor but a communal mission—one that River Corner Church embraces wholeheartedly as we navigate the complexities of modern life with humility, grace, and unwavering devotion. I hope you will find yourself rooted in a simple community of Jesus followers, and that you will discover what faith can look like with it is stripped of its excess, and when the local church community looks more like a house church or family gathering together than it does a theatrical act of corporate professionalism. 

Jeff McLain preaching at River Corner Church.
Jeff McLain preaching at River Corner Church.

A growing church community.

These days, River Corner Church is a growing church community of everyday people who gather to worship God, follow Jesus, and journey through life together. At our core, we are a simple community of Jesus followers. As a church community, we have four values; (1) We gather to worship and experience God, (2) We study the scriptures to learn how to follow, live, and love like Jesus, (3) We are committed to journeying through life together, and (4) We partner with the Holy Spirit to bring healing and peace to the places we live, work, and play. You can learn more about us through our About page and Statement of Faith. As I said earlier, I have been deeply encouraged by the way God has blessed us and brought our church new life, new families, new ministries, and even new expressions of community life.

Our small church community of River Corner Church is uniquely caring, simple, laid-back, and intergenerational. As a church, we want to be a welcoming, safe, and healing community for those who are seeking, hurting, or need a place to belong. Our practices are contemplative (reflective), charismatic (Spirit-driven), conversational, and informative. The times we share are intentional and intimate, and a mix between modern and traditional. We want to be a place in which love and honor are lived out, where humility is central, and where hospitality is woven into the threads of our community. There is room at the table.

The journey of discovering and embracing a local small church community that embodies the essence of 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 in meaningful and prophetic ways is a transformative endeavor worth pursuing. As we seek simplicity, authenticity, and genuine fellowship within these communities, we not only find solace and support for our spiritual journeys but also become part of a collective witness to the transformative power of faith. In a world often consumed by noise, excess, and division, these small church communities offer a haven where humility, service, relationship, and mission thrive. Whether nestled in the heart of a bustling city or nestled along the banks of a serene river, these small church communities stand as beacons of hope and love, illuminating the path toward deeper spiritual fulfillment and purposeful living. So, let us open our hearts to the possibility of finding such a community— not something bigger and better or theatrical professionalism, but a place where quiet lives are led not in isolation but in vibrant communion with others, where quality is pursued but not at the cost of authenticity and simplicity. Simplicity is not a compromise but a catalyst for profound transformation, where faith is not merely professed but lived out in prophetic witness to the world.

About Jeff McLain
Through Lead a Quiet Life, Jeff McLain explores his pursuit of simplicity in a tumultuous world as he serves as the Director of Pastoral Ministries at Water Street Mission and as pastor at River Corner Church. Jeff's commitment to Jesus has been shaped by an unconventional journey from activism to hitchhiking, which is reflected in his academic pursuits and throughout his involvement with various initiatives. Residing in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Jeff, along with his wife and three daughters, embraces family moments outdoors, while his love for baseball, boardwalks, beaches, and books adds depth to his vibrant life. You can read more about the author here.

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