“Do you want to plant a church?”
It’s an odd question. It’s akin to, “Do you want to open a McDonald’s?” Or maybe, “Would you like to start a local chapter of The Lions Club?”
A friend and mentor lobbed the question my way. It came floating over my salad and struck me between the eyes. I had considered the question and wrestled with what God is planning for me but had not yet put my thoughts into words.
“Well, I know I don’t want to build a building and raise up an organization that ends up adding responsibilities to burned out, overloaded people,” I responded.
My mind bounced to the Scripture that says, “What does it benefit a man to gain the whole world and yet lose his soul?” I remembered reading that passage just a few days earlier and thinking, “What does it profit a man to build a giant church while losing intimacy with God? What does it profit a woman to be at church four nights a week doing God things while sacrificing sabbath rest with God.”
My friend knows me well enough to recognize that my mind was processing. He remained silent and sipped his water while looking me straight in the eye.
“But it bugs me that the American ‘church’ (I made the quotation marks with my fingers as though I was Chris Farley on Saturday Night Live) has not even kept pace with population growth over the past three decades. It’s like we sit in our comfortable pews and point a judgemental finger at the people who stay away and say, ‘They have a problem. They are blind. They are selfish.'”
“Um hmmm,” came the response as he took another bite of his sandwich.
My words were not able to keep up with my thoughts but I managed, “I think we have a problem, we are blind and we are selfish.”
His smile made it clear that he saw right through me. Good friends have the ability to do that. “So, you’ve been thinking about this a lot, huh?”
He was right. Sleep has not come easy. Books and articles have been devoured. My prayers are constant and my eyes have become sensitive to those “outsiders.” It is though God is giving me the ability to see us as they see us. And it hurts my heart.
I’ve been tossing and turning wondering how to love people as Christ would. How did he hang out with people and chat? How did he live that caused people to ask him questions? How do I live? How do we live?
“You still with me?”
My friend’s voice made me snap back to our spot in our window booth. I laughed, apologized and looked at my untouched salad. “Yeah, barely,” I chuckled.
“So, you don’t want to plant a church?”
“No, I don’t want to start another place that takes people from somewhere else. But, I do want
to build the church, if that makes any sense. I do want to do something that sets people free. I don’t want to be a recruiter, ya know?”
I could see from my friend’s puzzled expression that more was needed.
“It seems like we spend a lot of time recruiting people to come to this, come to that or join this group or that. We’ve got to recruit them because if numbers go down that makes giving go down and then when giving goes down, budgets get cut. Then you can’t pay bills and people lose their jobs so you recruit harder to get the people to do what you need. It’s like a vicious cycle. I don’t want to be a recruiter. “
“Then what do you propose?”
I don’t have the answer to that question yet. Now, two weeks past our lunch meeting, I have no answers of how to do what I want to do. Last night, I glanced at the clock at 12:59 AM and then returned to staring at the ceiling praying, “Lord, what are you doing with me? What do you want? What should I do? How do I do this? Where do I start?”
No booming voice … no still small voice … no direction-bringing dream… only an ache in my heart that “outsiders” come to see how very fond my Father is of all of us.
I looked at the clock again.