If you’ve been in churches for long, I bet you’ve experienced a church building program. You know, the way a small church adds physical space to become a bigger church. If not, it goes something like this:
First, the pastor announces that he, or a group of leaders, has had a vision. You know, a great idea about how the congregation can reach the world. And it completely depends on space. And money. This vision encompasses loving the unlovable, reaching the lost, and saving the world.
Next, there are brochures, catch phrases, bulletin boards, and pledge cards scattered through the congregation for a few weeks. Talk of stepping out in faith, digging deep, trusting God with finances, etc. Again, there is talk of the vision, how God is behind this, and if everyone simply sacrifices, God’s works can continue.
Often, there is a subtle threat that if the congregation can’t pull off the funds, God’s kingdom will come to a screeching halt.
After this, regardless of how deep anyone has dug, loans are procured, paint swatches are shared, and the new building happens. It’s beautiful. Now the church can reach the lost. Whew. Thought we almost lost our purpose there. Good thing we have this new building, because we know without the best of everything, Christianity will simply fail.
You might think I’m opposed to building programs. I’m not. Honest. But Christians all over the world meet in packed, crowded, dumpy places, sometimes hiding their very existence, and the Kingdom thrives. Just sayin’.
I currently attend a very tiny church that doesn’t have a building. As a quick aside, I want to say that property-free church bodies rock. I never realized that most of the fighting among church members has to do with paint colors and pew fabric. Take away the building, and everything changes.
However, that’s not the point. A couple years ago, the pastor of this tiny church said he wanted us to find space of our own. We couldn’t purchase–he never asked us to sell our houses or children to fund a building of our own, because even that wouldn’t have done it. We are not a wealthy body. However, he wanted us to have a morning service, since we have a lot of kids, and our afternoon service (required because we shared space with a church) was hard for parents. Also, he wanted space we could use 24/7 for Bible studies, meetings, things of that sort.
He pointed out we would likely end up with a storefront or other non-churchy space, because there are no rental churches out there in the world. And then he did something I have never, ever, in my many years of church attendance, heard a pastor/leader do.
Our pastor asked us to pray. Okay, that’s not weird. But he asked us to share with him the results of those prayers. If God gave us ideas or answers to the building dilemma, he wanted us to share it with him. And he would listen to us.
In other words, in case you missed it, he wasn’t offering his vision and then forcing us to pay for it. He wanted God’s vision, and he figured God was going to give clues to someone. He didn’t think it had to be him. The least person in our body might have had the answer. And he wanted the answer more than the power of seeing his vision happen.
So happens, God looked at our list of building requirements and tossed them straight out the window. No clear answers came, and we waited. We waited a long time. And then, the answer came from left field one day. I don’t know the details, but someone in our body was talking with someone who runs a meals program downtown. And they wanted to be linked with a church.
For some unknown reason, God seemed to think our white, middle class, suburban body might be the church to partner with them. Made no sense, although usually that’s a good sign God is involved in something.
We would get to use the building Sunday morning. But that was it. No evenings or weekdays. We would have a small closet for our equipment. Almost everything on our wishlist was axed.
Nobody in our body had the vision for what we have now. Nobody. But we waited. The pastor gave up power and waited with us. And when this opportunity came, he again asked our opinion. Again he asked us to let him know if God was giving any of us words of discernment or wisdom over this decision.
Long story short, we now meet in a building that serves meals to needy people six lunches and three(four?) dinners per week. It’s not a wealthy area, so we don’t attract wealthy, middle class families to our services. And we love that. (Okay, the other day when I was caught in a conversation with a schizophrenic guy who thought we should all be locked up for not being vegan, I wasn’t feeling the warmest, fuzziest love. It was educational, though, and I did my best to be kind and friendly.) After that, I can safely say we open our arms to anyone who comes through our doors. I may have nothing in common with some of the people who enter, but we’re all learning that loving someone doesn’t require common ground. A smile, a kind word, and listening with compassion can close a lot of gaps.
I am thankful to belong to a body whose pastor isn’t the source of all power. I am happy to be part of a body willing to let God toss the wishlist. I am happy to belong to a body that never threatens to stop the kingdom because it doesn’t meet our expectations. I wish everyone could do that.
So. This started as a mini rant and ended as a PR piece for a church I love. I don’t know if this has any universal lesson, but if I had to sum up my feelings on our church move, I would have to say I’m thankful. I wouldn’t have chosen this. I’m glad God chose for us. I’m glad we let him do it. And if he asks us to move again or points us in some other direction, I suspect we’ll go. We’ve grown in trust. And that’s a very cool thing.