Friday, June 6, 2014

If we build it, will they come?

If you build it, they will come….

Remember that line from Field of Dreams?  A man has a vision.  It captivates him, he cannot let it go – or rather, it will not let him go.  It propels him on a journey, with much hardship and the danger of losing all he has.  Ultimately, he realizes his vision, builds his baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield in the middle of nowhere, and they indeed come - from everywhere, inexplicably drawn, a line of cars that fades off into the horizon.

If you build it, they will come…

For a long time, we in the church have acted as if that’s our mission statement.  And so we built. We build a new education wing. We remodeled the sanctuary, in some cases enlarging it, sometimes building a new sanctuary and converting the old one into an attractive multipurpose room. We built bigger and better churches, with well laid out brightly lighted parking lots.

Because, if you build it, they will come…

We continued to build. We built program after program. Small groups. Praise bands. Youth events with  fun and faith intermingled.  We built bigger and better VBS programs. We built programs catered to newlyweds, young families, families with teens, divorce people, addicted people, elderly folks, men’s groups, women’s groups – – – you name it, we built a group for it.

If you build it, they will come…

And they did.

Fast-forward 20, 30 years. The new sanctuary is only partially full. Rooms in the education wing of been converted from classrooms to storage. The small groups dwindled and died out. The youth events got smaller and smaller, until now there’s just a few youth, when they don’t have something else that conflicts with it.

And we long for those days – where we built it, they came.

So we think maybe we don’t understand what “it” is today. We deliberate, and we talk, and we look around at our culture, and we say, “If only we had ….” And we flock to seminars with new programs, new ways of doing things, new ideas all promising to teach us what that elusive “it” is. 

So we can build “it,” and they will come…

But they don’t come.

We don’t understand why. Most of us in the church, in the pews on Sunday morning, are old enough to remember those glory days but when all we had to do was open our doors, or announce a new program, and people came. We remember those days when Sunday was sacred, and church attendance was almost mandatory, even if you personally didn’t really believe one way or another.  We remember how going to church, or Wednesday evening Bible study, or the women’s circle, was an important social event in our lives. It was a way of connecting the world around us, with our community, with our friends, with our families.

On the other hand, we do understand why. We ourselves are busy, overscheduled. We’re tired on Sunday mornings.  We understand the effort it takes to drag ourselves out of bed and go to worship. We understand the lure of other activities – there’s so much more to do on Sundays, be it catching up on work-work or housework, going to the kids games, watching the little sports on TV or maybe relaxing with a little shopping, taking a trip to see scattered family, or a weekend vacation.  We have so many places to be, so many things to do, so many people to see. 

They don’t come – and we assign all kinds of reasons for it, and we lament the dwindling numbers in our pews, the empty Sunday school classrooms, and the lack of younger people at women circles.  They don’t come – and we talk about how faith plays less and less of a role in our country, how people just don’t believe anymore.

They don’t come – and we continue to look for that elusive “it” that we can build, so that they will again come…

Maybe we need to consider that we have the direction wrong.

Maybe we need to consider that instead of expecting “them” to come to us, we need to think about going to them.

After all, Jesus told us to “go” and “baptize and teach” and “make disciples.” 

So what if we changed our paradigm?

What if instead of building it, so that they will come – we go, and build.

We go, and listen. We go, and build relationships, getting to know the people and the community where God placed us.

We go, and learn.  We go, and take what we’ve learned about the people around us, and what their hopes and their dreams and their fears are, and what particular needs of our community is and found ways to be Jesus to them, to meet them where they are, to serve them, to heal them, to love them.

What if instead telling them all the reasons (very good reasons!) why they should come, we go and show them the difference that believing in God makes in our lives.

Go and show.  Go and teach.  Go and make disciples. 

What if that day on the hillside, in those final moments on earth with his disciples, Jesus was giving us a vision?  A vision that captivated those first believers on that hillside.  A vision that so captivates them that they could not let it go – or rather, it would not let them go.  It propels them on a journey, of hardship and danger and losing all they had, with confrontations with rulers and beatings and prison and sometimes even death.  Ultimately, this vision is so grand so captivating, that the people they encounter are inexplicably drawn to it and then they go off on their own journey…, a line of witnesses that extends across the world, through the centuries, to us today.

I wonder if the Great Commission isn’t as much of a “to do” list as a promise: “go,” and if you go, I go with you, to empower you, to teach you to love with God’s love, so that through you, I will “make disciples.”

I think there’s a reason that Jesus didn’t promise, “If you build it, they will come…”

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