A second look at the One Project
by Nathan Brown
The One Project came to Australia this past weekend (www.the1project.org). Having had the opportunity to participate in the gathering in Seattle in February, I was excited to recommend it to many of my Australian friends and contacts, as well as curious as to how the One Project “formula” might be received in my home country. It also gave me the opportunity for a second look at the One Project, and further reflection and interaction with its impulses—and impulsers.
And they came. Hosted by the Kellyville church in suburban Sydney, 225 people joined in the One Project–Australia from across the nation, particularly coming in large numbers from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, together with participants from England and the United States.
And it worked. Generally, participants worshipped meaningfully, resonated with and applauded much of the presentations, experienced a “safe” environment for exploration and questioning, engaged in discussions with enthusiasm and a healthy openness that extended beyond the programmed timeslots, and went home with a desire to somehow share what they had experienced with their home churches. Of course, there were both the contrarians and those with legitimate questions to be wrestled with but there seemed a general enthusiasm for the experience and focus that had been shared.
(You can check out my news report of the One Project gathering in Sydney on the website of Record: https://record.net.au/items/jesus-all-at-sydneys-one-project.)
I’m glad it happened. I’m glad it was a success. And I’m glad I was there. If anything, I was more engaged with it second time around—with mostly the same presentations but a different group of participants and discussions. I am impressed by the chord it has struck with such a cross-section of people and the positive direction the One Project is moving in and calling the church toward.
We need more of Jesus. We always need more of Jesus, personally and corporately. And while the leaders and presenters of the One Project do well at raising questions, they also do a good job at shutting up, stopping talking and creating a space for interaction and response, as well as worship and communion.
Yet, while “Jesus. All.” sounds like a worthy motto—and it is in so many ways—the risk is trying to talk about Jesus without a context. Even God couldn’t do that—thus, the incarnation, a particular expression of a real-person Jesus in a specific time, place and culture. Neither can we follow Jesus without a context because it is only in a context that we function as disciples.
A theologically or practically disembodied Jesus is simply a nice albeit amazing story—and risks a disembodied faith. Jesus in a bottle to be admired might still blow our minds and touch our hearts but might do little more. Rather, He needs to be splashed all over our lives, into the darkest corners. As a living Saviour, He needs to be lived and He needs to transform our lives and world. I only follow Jesus by faithfully living life in my family, my work, my church and my community.
As such, acontextual conversations about Jesus are unsustainable and soon become something less than promised. That’s why, in a such a heavily Adventist setting as the One Project gatherings, the default context becomes the church, with a frustrating tendency to feel like a re-hashing of current church issues and past church grievances. (Perhaps it also reflects the few available “safe” gatherings for this kind of collective venting.)
So, given the necessity and inevitability of context, what we need is a bigger context. We become frustrated with our church-ness sometimes getting in the way of our Jesus-following but restrict too much of our conversations about and expressions of Jesus to our church contexts. The incarnated Jesus described a much broader context for who He was and His mission: “For God so loved the world . . .” (John 3:16), encompassing the everyday and mundane of our lives, as well as the planet-sized beauties and tragedies.
The One Project has a context—the Adventist faith community, with its theology, history and culture—and many people have found and served Jesus in that context. But one important way to discover, experience and live more of Jesus is to see and serve Him in other and larger contexts. That’s where most of us live most of our lives—and they’re also contexts in which Jesus calls us to follow Him.