I wrote the following article for our LCMC NW District newsletter that just came out (Aug 2019).
I serve as the pastor of Living Word Lutheran Church in Puyallup, WA; a congregation that is known as “a church in a box”. That is just a fun way of saying that we have a large covered trailer that stores all our equipment; a trailer we unload and load every week for worship. You see, for 10 years, this congregation has been renting space; most of which has been at a county community center in a park. The building used to be a church building, so it is perfectly suited for us, except that it is not ours. So, for 10 years, this congregation has been searching for a home of their own. Well, our search may be over.
A 5-acre property with a church building, about 15 to 30 minutes away from our current location, has been presented to us. Currently, we are in a 60-day feasibility study phase to determine if this building will be “feasible” for us. It is nearly move-in ready (with some upgrades and minor repairs to be made) but eventually a sanctuary will need to be built. In the meantime, the fellowship hall will work. There are so many possibilities with this building along with many challenges. I admit, it has been hard to keep my emotions in check and resist the urge to mentally move into the building prematurely. The congregation is excited and believe me, I really want this for them, but I am still cautious, because this may be the worst thing for us.
What in the world are you talking about, pastor? We’ve been waiting for this for 10 years. (I can already hear my congregation asking that question).
There are many who think that if we get this building we will start to grow. They believe our stagnant numbers are due to us not being as visible. There may be some truth to the stagnant numbers theory, but we also must be careful. You see, a church cannot take a “Field of Dreams” approach when it comes to ministry in a community. There is no ghostly voice saying, If you build it, they will come. It worked in the movie but that’s not reality.
What needs to happen is the church needs to be the church. We need to live out our faith in our everyday lives. We need to be willing to get our hands dirty. Jesus never set up camp in one location for very long; he moved around and went to the people. Church buildings are great, but they can’t be home. Church buildings are a ministry launching pad not a clubhouse. Church buildings are a place to gather for corporate worship but then you must be sent out, and thus my prayers. I am not praying that God give us this building. (WHAT?!? — Just hang on a bit here). What I am praying for is that God prepare the hearts of this congregation to do the ministry that is required for HIS kingdom to grow. As a farmer needs to prepare the soil before planting so must our hearts be ready. Along with that, I am praying for what Solomon asked when God said to him, Ask what I shall give you. Solomon replied, …Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people? (1 Kings 3:5 & 9) God help me.
Churches with large member numbers in large auditoriums can make a huge difference. Small, country churches can make a huge difference. Churches meeting in tiny downtown store fronts can make a huge difference. Churches meeting the living room of the pastor’s home can make a huge difference. Churches meeting in a tent with a dirt floor can make a huge difference. It is not the location or the building or the size or anything of this world that matters. What matters is the Holy Spirit working in the lives of the people. The church is the people, not a building made of bricks, mortar and wood.
This is not a popular notion with many, and some may even think I am turning my back on this congregation’s dream. Believe me, I am not. I am trying to see the bigger picture. And so, my prayer is for the hearts of the people here; that they may hear the clear voice of God leading them and empowering them to be the church. If this property is going to be ours, then we will need to get off our butts and do some serious Kingdom work, God help us. If people just want to build a clubhouse, then please, let’s abandon this process. Wherever we gather, wherever we worship, we will glorify God. The Church is not comprised of buildings. The Church is the people. So, be the Church, wherever God places You and bring glory to His holy name. Let us pray…
Oh God, give me wisdom to lead Your people rightly. Give Your church faith and courage to follow you wherever You lead. Prepare the hearts of Your people to do some serious Kingdom work for Your glory. Oh God, if it be Your will for Your church to exist in a building, then so be it. If Your church is to exist in a tent, then so be it. Wherever we are to exist, may Your Spirit be with us to guide, strengthen, encourage and to send us out. Oh God, it is all about Your glory. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.