These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit—but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.
But if you just use my words in Bible studies and don’t work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards. (Matthew 7:24-27 MSG)
Building on the wrong kind of site is complicated by the choice of shoddy building materials. Some in the church have used things to erect fast-build structures that look impressive and sturdy, but aren’t meant to last:
- Abuses of power by toxic leaders
- Covering up sin
- Forging an unholy alliance between nationalism and faith
- Focusing on building an organization or reputation
- Neglecting life-long discipleship
- Compromising orthodox belief to attract people
- Unhealthy attachment to our particular tradition (“but we’ve always done it this way”)
COVID-19 is a superstorm. As it blows through our world, it is exposing our shoddy construction practices is exposing our idols and showing what has been built on the sand. The question before us right now is whether we’ll attempt to gather up those old building materials that have been scattered by the storm in order to rebuild on the same sandy foundation – or whether we’ll recognize that some of what we’ve been doing simply isn’t worth saving, and do the humbling, hard work of building on Rock.
In these early days of this pandemic, I’ve seen many churches treating the time away as a bookmark, a placeholder until we can go back to our regularly-scheduled program. No one in this world was really prepared for the invasion of this invisible enemy, and in those early, hopeful days of imagining that maybe COVID-19 could be contained, trying to tread water for a few weeks until it was safe to return to “normal” seemed a logical emergency plan. I do not envy the decision-making responsibility of good church leaders who are trying to create church services and learning opportunities on the fly, while navigating increased pastoral needs, and trying to decipher and apply a whirlwind of public health recommendations and regulations. Those things are necessary for the short-term.
But I am praying that many congregations and denominations will engage in some big picture thinking and prayer for both repentance and discernment. If we are called to be pilgrim people, where might God be leading us next? If we can’t rebuild on sand, then we have the opportunity to leave those shoddy building materials behind and build on a foundation that will withstand the storms forming in the distance, just beyond our ability to forecast them.
We will see If we are willing to leave behind the idolatrous building materials and unstable sandy site. When then goes with us? Here are a few of my hopes:
- A renewed commitment to love God heart, soul, mind, and strength – as individuals and as a church community.
- Fewer full-time people in paid vocational ministry.
- Fewer C.E.O. leaders, more shepherds.
- Fewer church buildings, particularly those of mega-church/shopping mall size.
- Simplicity, creativity, and beauty.
- An ongoing focus on healing and reconciliation – individual, relational, racial, and social – for all ages and life stages, as an expression of a kingdom-focused culture within the church.
Not everyone currently sitting in our pews or standing behind our pulpits will want to make this particular pilgrimage to a new building site to do the difficult work of building a house on the Rock. Many will want to try to recapture their good ol’ days, or will succumb to the temptation to join the strange new religion being birthed out of politics and a power-focused nationalistic “Christianity”. I am afraid we may be in the birthpangs of that new religion, and I am certain adherents will have no problem at all using the stock of shoddy building materials piled on that sandy building site to build a garish monstrosity that’s a museum containing past glory.
I can’t predict the future, but I am praying for all of us, that as the storm blows, we will find ourselves freer than we have been to follow. He never intended us to build a museum of faith on a sandbar. We are his living building materials: “As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4,5 NIV)
What is your prayer for the church as you look to her future?