Thursday, February 13, 2020

Where There Is Life, Build Structure

(I'm re-posting this, with some edits, for a pastor-colleague who read my book and has been dialoguing with me about this. What do you think?)

In the movie "Field of Dreams" an Iowa corn farmer, as he is walking in a field, hears a voice whisper, "If you build it, he will come." "He" meant, the farmer's father.

The corn farmer obeys the voice. He builds a baseball field. Then, as the voice promised, the farmer's deceased father came, emerging out of rows of tall corn. Then, in a scene that brought tears to many men's eyes, the farmer and his father put on baseball gloves and played catch. 

I liked the movie. Some Christian leaders applied it to building a church. They latched on to the phrase If you build it, He will come. This time, "He" meant "God."

While this works in the movie, I don't see it working in churches. In fact, I think it's an application that moves us in the wrong direction.

Here's why.

1. Structure does not, in itself, bring life. I have seen and been part of "church programs" that burned people and pastors out. I don't think we need to spend our time sitting in meetings thinking up programs, in the hope that they will be life-giving, and then spend money and time organizing and administrating those programs with the expectation that God will inhabit them. 

To me it's like this. If God says, "A baby is coming," we then prepare a room for the baby to inhabit. But preparing a room for a baby does not in itself mean a baby is coming. Instead, we organize around promise and fulfillment. God has sent new life! We change things to host it.

2. Unless God builds the house, we labor in vain. This is not about physical structures. 

Here God's counsel in 1 Corinthians is instructive. 

God, through Paul (who functioned as a chief engineer, or contractor), laid a foundation for "church." That foundation was: Christ crucified. 

Then, God sent spiritual subcontractors to build on that foundation. The superstructure is made of people. Paul uses "Temple" language to describe it (precious stones, jewels, etc., things that adorned Solomon's Temple). 

Instead of being a physical Temple, we are told that this new Temple is made of people. "Don't you know that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit?" 

God is a Builder, and is constructing a people in whom he will inhabit by his Spirit.

3. Where there is life, build structure. Years ago, God told several of us at Redeemer that we were to assist the Kingdom-building in Bangkok through a ministry called  NightLight International. We heard the call, were deeply moved, and began to organize and administrate. Our corporate experience was bursting with fire and life! To include the organizing and administrating. We didn't have to work at "fund-raising." God was moving people's hearts, and their bank accounts. 

There was Spirit-given life. We tended it. That's where administration comes in.

On "administration": "The gift of administration is mentioned in I Corinthians 12:28. Administration means to govern, pilot, direct or steer. It was used to describe a person that would steer a ship. A person with the gift of administration is a good strategic thinker, organized, has supervisory skills and manages people and projects well. When directions are set by leadership, this person can help accomplish the job efficiently." (From here.)

The church needs gifted administrators! But, again, administration does not bring God's presence.

What shall church leaders do? Here's our strategy.

1. Life is given by God. 

2. Stay connected to God. 

3. Abide in Jesus and you will bear much fruit. 

4. As the fruit comes, build structure - organize and administrate - in response to the life God is pouring out.

When God builds something it's only for the purpose of Himself coming and taking up residence. 

When He comes, He will build it.