Healing in Community
About four years ago, the Lord gave Charles Morgan (MSMFT '08) a fresh vision for his 27-year-old church, Resurrection Life Fellowship in Westchester, California: to concentrate on building authentic community. "As a pastor, I needed accountability for my own marriage and for how I was balancing church ministry and family obligations," he shares. During his time at Fuller, he heard other pastors express similar desires, and he also realized this need for deeper relationships wasn't limited to ministry leaders. Convicted that "church isn't about hearing the sermon, worshipping, going home, and nobody connecting," Morgan began to guide his congregation toward healthier ways of relating.
As part of this process, the church's Wednesday night Bible study has become a prayer meeting at which congregants share requests that aren't just nebulous or external. Praying for each other's families, evangelistic relationships, and struggles with sin, church members are leading each other into the risky territory of real fellowship. The congregation has also dedicated more time in its worship services for members to share testimonies of hope, as well as continuing needs. As adults have become more open in revealing their hearts, even the church's youngest members have followed suit.
"I think that the adults' sharing creates an atmosphere for the kids also wanting to let people know who they are," Morgan explains. One Youth Sunday, for example, a brave 16-year-old talked about the difficulties of growing up without a father and invited the congregation to fill in the gaps she felt in his absence. This increased level of authenticity has allowed members of Morgan's church to better understand each other's vulnerabilities and to support each other in profound new ways.
In addition to pastoring Resurrection Life, Morgan works at the Kedren Community Mental Health Center in South Los Angeles, as part of his marital and family therapist licensure process. Morgan's bivocational experience has underscored his belief that there are a significant number of Christians suffering from deep pain, even mental illness. "We pray for people and hope for miracles," he says, "but miracles are the exception, not the rule. The rule is that people have to work through their issues, and we need people who are equipped by God to help them."
Morgan hopes that through authentic relationships with God and each other, his church will be a place where broken people find the healing and wholeness for which they pray. He also plans to eventually, like Kedren, offer more formalized services to surrounding communities through a separate nonprofit organization connected to his church. Among his priorities are shelter and counseling for the abused and permanent homes for kids in the foster care system. While Morgan's plans are contingent on the level of grant support the church receives, Resurrection Life is already leading seminars to encourage other congregations to take seriously the mental, emotional, and relational needs of their congregants and communities.
Morgan recognizes that the church's transformation must start with his leadership team's realizing that "the work of ministry doesn't automatically translate into meaningful relationships" and striving to model a healthy authenticity and interdependence. But that doesn't simplify his task: encouraging his church's growth in these values has been the most difficult assignment Morgan has encountered as a pastor. "I'm a voracious reader, and while what I've read has really helped, there is no manual for this," Morgan says. "This takes relational growth, dependence on God for direction. There are no easy answers, only a need for prayer and ongoing conversation." It has been worth the journey so far, but Morgan confesses, "It has taken about everything I know to continue this process."