Thinking about our mission as His people… the buildings we build and the in-house programs we run can inadvertently lead us to an all-out effort (on our best days) to get people to come join us in our “box.”
When in truth, God clearly told us to “go”… you can’t “go” in a “box.” You’ll run into the walls… which is where many of our churches find themselves.
“Boxes” are not bad. But we spend so much time in our “boxes,” that we can forget that we (His people) are the church… and not the “box.”
We are praying and planning how to get more people into the “box,” when what we need to do is start thinking “outside the box.”
Better yet, we have to think as if the “box” didn’t exist. Seriously.
A poet helps answer the “why?” question:
“Before I built a wall I’d ask to know; what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall. That wants it down.”
– Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” in North of Boston (1915)
In a church parking lot one Sunday I passed a small truck that had a new bumper sticker on it I had not seen before. It said, “Stop World Whining.”
I stifled a laugh as I thought about the many times pastors have to handle dissatisfied members in their church. Have you ever felt like saying, “What do I look like? God’s complaint department?”
Complaints, problems, and disagreements will always erupt in our churches when we least expect them to. They can be threatening and discouraging to the forward movement of the church. But hang in there.
When I played football years ago, one of the drills we used to run required us to hit a line of defenders, spin off and around the line, and continue running down field. The early church was like that. When they encountered complaints in the church, they addressed the issue head-on, spun off the problem using a Spirit-guided solution, then continued to grow and expand in a dramatic way (Acts 6 & 15).
“Stop World Whining”? It would be really be nice wouldn’t it? Yet, the Lord seems to use even whining to propel His church forward.
He is risen!
In 2003 my wife and I made a run down to Yazoo City, Miss. for the funeral of her grandmother. A wonderful believer born in 1916, she lived her entire life in the hills just above the Delta cotton fields with a simple faith and an unconditional love for people.
Conducting her funeral in a little Methodist church near her home, I was reminded of something often lost to congregants of newer church buildings: the cemetery next door.
When the old timers built their churches they didn’t worry about parking or a premium location. They didn’t have a website with streaming audio of the most recent sermons. Nor did they have projected images for sermon outlines or song lyrics.
But the old timers who built their churches with the cemeteries next door lived with a stunning, weekly reminder that death was near and life was short. Each time they entered and exited the church building, the markers of the dead stood before them as silent messengers of a very real eternity awaiting all of us.
As I stood before family and friends and reminded them that “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54), I looked out and saw that cemetery. To emphasize Christ’s victory over death in the face of a constant reminder of death was a little easier there–with a cemetery next door.
You may not have a cemetery next door anymore, but the need for that weekly reminder remains–as much as ever.
About 10 years ago my wife and I were driving through Houston, Texas during rush hour when I realized that I could jump over into the High Occupancy Vehicle (H.O.V.) and miss most of the congestion. It was wonderful! Passing all of those other vehicles snarled in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
As we cruised by our fellow drivers, my wife and I began talking about the H.O.V. lane as a descriptive analogy of growing churches in America. Why do churches get “stuck in traffic?” What would a church have to do to move into the H.O.V. lane?
After a little research, I was able to make two basic observations about the requirements for moving into the H.O.V. lane:
1. you may not enter the lane alone; and
2. you must stay in the lane until you have reached your destination.
Can we apply these observations to a church?
(1) you cannot go there alone – Moving a church off of a spiritual plateau or out of a numerical decline is not easy. You cannot do it alone. You need the Lord and His supernatural guidance and power. You also need a team of faithful brothers and sisters who will make the move with you.
(2) you must stay for the entire journey – If you begin leading change in your church so that it can become a “High Occupancy Vehicle” for the Kingdom, you must also stay the course until you arrive at your destination. Except for times of true revival when God speeds up the clock, time and tenure are critical requirements for successful change.
In addition, I never talk about leading change in a church without making it clear that you are not changing a program or an organization: you are leading a change of heart in the people you serve.
People can tell the difference too.