We have an important conversation before us this Sunday after the budget and the elections at the Annual Meeting. It’s not to be a whole conversation we’re going to have, but the beginning, a good start, as we dive into a complicated relational situation about which people may have a lot of different feelings, thoughts and perspectives.
What’s the question before us? We need to begin thinking now about whether or not we will continue hosting the shelter once there is an apartment building on our property that is housing 30-36 people.
I don’t want to say anything more, as our leaders have carefully designed a conversation to give everyone the same, needed information, the chance to ask questions, and listen to one another so that we can begin to wrestle together with not only why this is coming up now, but the pros and cons of both sides. So we can begin together to move towards a decision, a discernment really, of what we think that God wants of us.
Your leaders at church have put a lot of time, thought and effort into this important conversation. It‘s a difficult one in that it asks us now to decide about a situation many years in the future, all the details of which this far in advance, we surely cannot foresee or imagine.
I was talking about all of this with one of our leaders the other day. I was telling him that another leader had guessed that this conversation will most likely go like the rest of the votes we’ve had about the development project: “a few people will have concerns about the changes or find problems with trying something unknown, but most of the people will trust enough to give it a try.” The person I told this too responded, “This discussion might be different: buildings aren’t missions.”
Again, I trust God and us enough not to fret to much about how the conversation goes on Sunday. It will be what it turns out to be, and then we will figure out where that leaves us and what we should do next. Sort of like life!
But I am interested in my friend’s reasoning: “buildings aren’t missions.” I want us to think about that, as we go into the meeting on Sunday.
WE ARE CHURCH; THEREFORE EVERYTHING IS SUPPOSED TO BE ABOUT MISSION. It makes a pastor smile when church is rightfully remembering to focus on mission. Instead of what is financially efficient. Or how things are done elsewhere, in the corporate world, or in other institutions? Or what we have done in the past. Or even what we want to do. But we are to be aiming for mission: what does God want us to do, and how can we do it best, most creatively, effectively?
BUILDINGS ARE MISSION TOO. I know what my conversation partner meant, and he’s not wrong. But it’s actually better to think of buildings as mission than as the golden calves they can often be for churches. I have known congregations that care more for their buildings than the people their church is to serve. At Old First, we have, perhaps, erred the other way at times: so committed to our service, we have not always kept up our buildings. They are expensive and hard to keep up, particularly when they are old and historic. But, I think, worthy of our care. There are churches who adamantly insist that it’s more faithful not to get so tied down in real estate. Still, as our ministries are currently organized, we are fairly site dependent. And this plan to build along 4th Street isn’t going to change that. In fact, it’s sort of (indirectly, thank God!) going to make us ‘landlords as mission.’ Maybe the challenge of upkeeping buildings is to be sure that you use them in ministry such that they are worth our investment.
THERE IS ALWAYS MORE MISSION TO BE DONE THAN ONE PERSON OR CONGREGATION CAN POSSIBLY DO. I have always told that to young pastors. In order to survive in ministry, you have to make your peace with not being able to do everything you wish you could. The same goes for congregations. God help the churches that can’t figure out what to do in ministry. There is a whole world of need around us all the time. The trick then, is discerning what it is that we are going to undertake as our mission. Yes, yes, Paul said the church should be all things to all people. But that has to be hyperbole… to make a point about the church’s willingness to go the extra mile to meet people where they are. But, still, we have to decide what we are to do. We can’t do everything. Are we to minister to the new people in our permanent, supportive housing, or are we to do that and host the shelter too? That’s the question we’re working on now.
So, let’s talk and listen and reason together, keeping our eyes and our aim on mission as we figure out how to be the church, not just now, but in the years to come…
See you in church,