Cara Jane and I were recently invited to the Soma Pastors’ Retreat in San Diego, CA. With the fast-approaching arrival of baby # 2, the selling of our house, fundraising, and finishing up the semester in Norman hanging over our heads, three days in southern California did not require much arm-twisting.
Soma is a family of churches under the umbrella of the Acts 29 Network. It began as a few churches on the West Coast, but now their distinctive theological and missiological emphases have spread across the country and has been, in many ways, the primary influence on our church planting journey. Last year, I was able to participate in a 16-month residency at a Soma church in Fort Worth (The City Church) with twelve other church planters. It was during that season that many of our theological convictions were cemented and our calling to Auburn was clarified.
Soma emphasizes gospel fluency, which says that if the gospel is the primary language of Christianity, then Christians should be completely fluent in it. The gospel affects how we talk, listen, work, and live. The gospel goes beyond religious categories and works itself into every area of life – finances, sexuality, recreation, etc. For example, a person might describe the official Christian position on sexuality as the total abstinence of sex outside of heterosexual marriage. While that doctrine is technically correct, a gospel fluent believer might see the exact same position not as an arbitrary policy of the Church, but as a symbol of the gospel – one that illustrates the relationship between Christ and his bride, the Church, and his faithful and patient love for her despite her many infidelities, a commitment He will continue in until the end of time when He ushers in the new heavens and new earth in a beautiful consummation of His love. This is a much more nuanced and sophisticated understanding of the good news that not only communicates orthodoxy but also the spirit and love behind it.
Another distinct feature of Soma churches is the missional community model. Missional communities are the primary organizing structure of Soma churches, meaning they receive the most time, energy and resources. These are small groups of 10-20 people, but unlike most small groups, they are not exclusively a Bible study or a sermon discussion group. These groups are essentially micro churches that are strategically planted in neighborhoods across the city. These groups are built to engage particular people groups in the city as unique missionary teams. In this model, the Sunday worship service is not the primary event of the week but serves as the gathering point where the scattered missionaries reunite to be encouraged through preaching, worship, and communion before being sent back to their areas of calling.
These ideas of gospel fluency and missional communities were emphasized in San Diego and reaffirmed in us our desire to plant this specific kind of church that is a people and not an event – a people who are primarily servant missionaries and not religious consumers.
Cara Jane and I were deeply encouraged by the testimonies of our Soma brothers and sisters in places like San Francisco, Seattle, and Fort Worth, and we were reenergized to be the first Soma plant in the state of Alabama.