If any of you email me after this reminding me that no church is perfect, saying pat and twee things like ‘If ever I found a perfect church and joined it, then I would immediately be making it imperfect’ , or similar obvious stuff like that I will block you and then track you down to write ‘I know!’ in crimson gloss all over your front door.
I know that no church is perfect, I know that in our weakness God will still do His work, I know that there is love in my church. I know all these things. I am grateful to God and to every person within that church. This church has become my family. Take that as a basis for this:
There is change happening in my church – talk and discussion, planning and vision for an outreach into our town, an outreach to the thousands who don’t know the love of God. We have a small church building with no possibility of expansion, while our ministries are growing apace and could grow even more if we had the facilities they need. There have been meetings over the last year to discuss the possibility of moving to another building, keeping this old one but having a new centre of activity. It’s not a mile away, it’s not half a mile away, I doubt if it’s even a quarter of a mile away, and yet this simple idea, this vision of reaching out to people who don’t yet know God, is destroying the family I have come to love.
If we move venue it means work and expense, losing our comfortable routine, trying new things, risking mistakes along the way. But it will also mean a great big God filled adventure. No decision has yet been made, and it will be made by the membership as a whole, not by any management committee or powerhouse within the church. We are praying for God’s guidance, but somehow we are sniping and campaigning without it.
A small core of already influential people within the church is working hard, determinedly, to influence others. In every meeting they are silent, but even as they walk away they pause on the pavement to protest and grumble, saying things that should have been aired in the meeting. Already they have driven people away from Bible studies, because the Bible stayed unopened while they aired their grievances. I’m sorry for them , that they feel so vulnerable and afraid but their dis-satisfaction grows and grows, feeding on itself.
It’s not just about them – it’s about me, too. The bitter complaining is an infectious thing, and now I am complaining about the complainers. I don’t want to be like this. I know that they don’t want to be like this. I want to look forward to tomorrow with excitement and joy. We pray every day for unity as our little congregation is split in two…..
Something has gone badly wrong.
Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept. He would look over this little town and weep. Why don’t we? Why are we so concerned that our little lives should continue smoothly and comfortably? Why don’t we weep for the lost who we’re not reaching?
I’m looking back not two thousand years now but a few hundred – in the early 18th Century Lancelot Brown became one of the most famous gardeners in history because he embraced growth, looked for change, wanted to improve and affect the world around him.
To the wealthy landowner he would say ‘I can make your land beautiful. I can drain marshland, and create good pasture for sheep and cattle, I can re-route rivers and streams, and I can make lakes teeming with fish. I can give you wonderful woods and plants where there’s only scrubland at the moment. I can make a home for deer and birds and all sorts of wildlife on your land. And this will improve the lives of all your workers and villagers for generations to come.’ Lancelot would say ‘Your land has great capability for improvement.’ and that’s how he got his nickname ‘Capability Brown.’
The landowners must have been entranced by all his promises, his vision.
But Capability would give them the rest of the story too, unvarnished, ‘ You will never see the beautiful panoramas I’m going to create because there will be nothing but mud, and digging, and replanting, and pipework, and tiny miserable scrubby little trees for your whole lifetime. Everything I’m promising you is in the future. Your children will have it all, but you… no, sorry. You’ll lose the comfort you have and you’ll have to put up with mess and change and confusion and massive expense. ‘
Maybe , then, the landowners hesitated. Maybe Capability said ‘But we’re not doing it for you. This is your gift to your children, and to your children’s children, and to their children. The work we do today, the discomfort and annoyance and expense we have today will be our gift to everyone who follows after us.’
Sometimes what we do isn’t for us. When Jesus died on the cross, he didn’t do it for himself, he did it for us, two thousand years later. Sometimes the right thing to do is not about today.
I want my little church to be Capability Church. A Church for today and for tomorrow and for all eternity.