In recent years there has been a growing trend to name churches symbolically rather than geographically. While many of the churches that were started in the 20th century used names such as “First Wesleyan Church of Oakland” or “Beacon Hill Baptist Church,” many of the churches of the 21st century are relying less on that geographical identity.
For example, while attending college I did an internship at Epic Community Church in Portland, Michigan. Epic was a daughter church of Impact Church in Lowell, Michigan and subsequently planted Pathway Church. While we live in Halifax, Amanda and I have been attending Deep Water Church.
If you ask any of the people that planted these churches, they would be able to tell you exactly why they chose the name for the church that they did. They would have a reason.
During the entire planning phase for Calgary, I have consistently stuck with the name Manna Church, and I would like to take this post as an opportunity to discuss the meaning behind that name.
1. The Exodus Story
The first reason I chose the name Manna is because of how it relates to the Exodus story. In the Exodus story, the Israelites are out in the desert after being freed from slavery in Egypt. At this point in the story the songs of praise to God for salvation have given way to the harsh reality of life in a desert.
With no food and no water, the Hebrews start to grumble against Moses and Aaron, saying that it would have been better for them to remain slaves in Egypt than to starve to death in the desert. As a response God provides manna for them, which is like an odd flaky bread that comes with the morning dew.
Each morning the Israelites were supposed to go out and gather only what manna they would need for that day. If they tried to gather more than they needed, what was left over would just rot.
This story is a powerful reminder of God’s grace and provision. Like the Hebrew people, we need to rely on God daily to provide for our needs, both spiritually and physically.
As an extension of this story, we also realize that Jesus is the fulfillment of everything God promised in the Old Testament.
At one point in the Gospel of John, Jesus references this manna event when he says, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. […] I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
I love how Jesus takes this event that happened centuries ago and reveals a deeper truth about it. When they were eating the manna in the desert, it was a foreshadowing of what was to come.
2. The Fresh Bread Story
I read the following story a long time ago in a book, but I can’t for the life of me remember where. If you know who should get the credit, please let me know.
One day a poor, hungry man was walking down the street when he came across a bakery. The smell of the hot, fresh bread permeated the air outside as his stomach growled. When he stopped to breathe in the scent, he noticed a large sign in the window:
“Hot Fresh Bread only $1!”
Reaching into his pocket he counted up his change and realized that had just enough to buy a single loaf of what had to be the most delicious bread he had ever smelled. With eager excitement he ran into the store; he could practically taste the bread as he entered.
When he got inside however, the store was not what he expected. He expected to see bakers rolling dough into loaves. He expected to see flour and mixers. He expected to see bread, fresh from the oven, cooling on racks. But there was none of that. There were no ovens, there were no bakers, and most importantly, there was no bread.
Instead he found a small handful of people standing around talking about the fresh bread. They were talking about how good the bread was and how important it was to tell more people about the fresh bread. There were conversations about how they could get more people excited about fresh bread. As it turns out even the smell from outside was artificially produced, part of the plan to help get people excited about hot, fresh bread.
And there were flyers.
Flyers advertising the same deal that had enticed him to enter the bakery in the first place, “Hot fresh bread on $1!” In fact the people who were already there encouraged him to take some flyers to pass out to his friends. But nobody was eating any bread.
In the end the man left feeling alone and slightly betrayed. But most importantly, he was still hungry.
At Manna, we want people to feel free to invite others into the community we are creating, but it must be birthed out of our own experiences with the One True, Living God. We first want people to experience the fulfilling, nourishing grace of God, and have everything from our actions to our emotions pour out of that.
3. What is it?
The third and final reason that I like the name Manna is for its literal meaning.
When God gave the Israelites this odd flaky bread they called it manna, which directly translated means, “What is it?”
Here was this thing that they had never seen before. They had never even seen anything like it. They didn’t know what to classify it as. And as a result they called it “what is this?”
On a personal note, I really like that. I like doing church different. Not simply for the sake of being different, but for something greater.
I think that when we are genuinely connecting with God and he is really leading us to be the body of Jesus in our community, we will naturally look different. We will automatically look different than other churches (not that all other churches look the same either) and more importantly, we will look and act different than the world around us.
If we are supposed to be the incarnation and manifestation of Jesus in our community, we will naturally take people by surprise. Which means when people come to Manna, I’m sure they will take a look around and say… “What is it?”