Churches and Sand Castles

I’m seeing pastors, church leaders, and churches struggle with some very real things right now. Things like staff lay offs, bank debts for facilities, paying the utility bills, finding volunteers to man the programs they have…asking questions like…do they have in person gatherings or not, do they go to summer camp or not, do they have their normal annual conference or not, do they allow singing if they gather, and much more. 

These things can’t be taken lightly. They are very real concerns…under this current structure of church.

Yesterday I talked a little about the story of the three little pigs and how this story reminded me of the parable of the wise builder that Jesus talked about who built his house upon the rock instead of sand making his foundation a firm foundation that could stand up against the storms of life.

And as I think about the three little pigs, and the parable of Jesus, and then take a look at the current condition of the American Church…I have to wonder…what sort of foundation did we build our house (our churches) upon if it trembles so easily under the weight of a virus and social pressure? 

My honest take? 

I think our foundation is one of sand, not rock. 

Sadly, more often than not, our “houses” aren’t just build on a foundation of sand, but are completely constructed out of sand and look more like sand castles that we’ve spent years meticulously crafting and building higher and higher, then standing back and admiring our work and inviting people to come see what we did…only to have the tide come in and a small wave come along and wash it all away.  

I think this is why we are seeing unprecedented “church closures”, keeping in mind that churches can only close when they are run like a business and not a church. 

This reminds me of another scripture in the bible…this time from Paul, which is in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 ESV and it says:

10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

What Paul is saying is that while the foundation is important, and in the case of the church and salvation our foundation in Jesus is critically important, the structure that we build upon that foundation is also important.

Paul tells us that a test will come that will test the workmanship of those who built upon that foundation…he refers to this test as a fire…and what each person has built will either survive the test, or be burned up.

He assures the readers that while their work may be burned up, they themselves will still be saved…but their work will be utterly lost.

As I read the words of Paul, and I think about the three little pigs and the wise builder who built his house upon the rock, and I again think about the American Church…I’ll be honest…I’m nervous for her. VERY nervous.

The test (the fire) for our time has come in the form of a virus, and we are seeing the workmanship of so many church planters being burned up and left in a pile of ash. Our foundations might have been right…built on Jesus…but our structures….oh God our structures…were massively flawed.

What makes me nervous isn’t so much that our structures are being revealed as seriously faulty, but rather that pastors, church leaders, and churches are doubling down on these structures and holding fast to their structures as they, like the sand carried away by the wave, slips through their fingers.

Why are we holding tight to sand structures? Why would we not let the wave just carry them away and resolve ourselves to build a better structure…one of gold, and silver, and precious stones that will stand the test of fire and stand the test of time?

I’ll tell you why…pride.

We’re so proud of our sand structures.

After all, we’ve spent countless years building our little castles in the sand (we went to seminary and did studies about our target audience, etc.), adorning them with seashells and other ocean matter (we gathered our church planting team, hired our staff, built our buildings, etc.), inviting people to come see what we have done (inviting people to our Sunday entertainment gatherings where people come and sit and listen to music and speaking for an hour a week) instead of inviting people into a relationship with a mighty God and see what HE is doing (inviting them to come and engage one another and engage God).

We’ve been enjoying ourselves immensely as the masses are entertained and filling our coffers so we can build bigger and better and more comfortable buildings with even more entertaining programs for people to watch. 

But Church…our test is here…2020 has come in and a virus has come along and all that we have worked for is being washed away.

Will we keep grasping at the sand?

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