A year ago my church was still in our building on land where our congregation was founded in 1839, but we were dying. Six months ago we sold the building, bought some land, and prepared to build a smaller building, one we could afford to heat and cool while still paying our pastor. Today we’re still worshiping in a hotel room, though a sign on our new property announces us.
I have really struggled with the building project. Not only have there been endless delays and red tape – we haven’t even broken ground yet – but we have bumbled and stumbled our way through almost every step. It’s easy to say, “Do your best and trust God to bring the rest,” and I suppose those of us in leadership are doing the best we can. All four of us have day jobs and families, limiting the time and energy we can give. We’ve reached out to others in our congregation for help, but our bench is too shallow and much still falls to leadership to handle. It’s not like the project needs us to commit to it full time, but when it needs us, it demands all of our attention and more. I can’t always tear myself away from work and family at these times.
Part of my struggle is personal. I manage projects for a living. I see things that need to be done to successfully manage this project that we’re not doing. The other leaders are good men, and I look up to their spirituality, but I’ve had only occasional success getting them to see what I see. Maybe I’m worrying over nothing, because things always seem to work out, but until they do my anxiety shoots through the roof.
And so this project has been extremely frustrating and stressful. I have found no joy in this service. Frankly, on a couple occasions I’ve prayed to God that he release me and send me somewhere else.
When the building project isn’t consuming us, which isn’t often, we dream about reaching out to the neighborhoods around our new location. We’ve talked about some things we’d like to do, but soon we realized that we don’t know what our neighbors need. Sure, they need God if they don’t know him already. But Jesus sent the disciples out in his name with the instructions to heal them of their illnesses as they told them about the Kingdom (see Matthew 10, Mark 6, Luke 9). After all, why would someone who’s sick or otherwise in need care at all about the Kingdom? They are focused on their need.
So we decided to have a cookout on our new property and invite our neighbors. We would begin to get to know them and to learn about their needs. And so on a recent Saturday we set up picnic tables and gas grills and laid out a spread. Many of our neighbors came and we shared a good time.
I love to hear stories of how God powerfully answers prayer. I can recount a time or two when God’s done that for me. But for the most part the answers to my prayers have been like whispers in the breeze, and I’ve had to learn how to listen for them. I think perhaps I heard God whispering to me at the cookout, as I felt joy in my service for the first time in months. It was great to connect with our neighbors, sharing smiles and laughs and learning a little about them.
I reflected on how, as the building project consumed my available time, I had stepped away from my direct service to others. I realized that I wanted to refocus my efforts more along those lines. I’d been having thoughts about starting a Sunday school class for our teenagers, and about maybe starting a small group or a men’s group. It is time for me to make one of these things happen. The building project will have to do with that much less of me.
I think the church needs not to manufacture false community, but get out into the communities in which they’re planted.