If your church burned down what impact would that have? In a smaller city like Toowoomba the fire might make the headlines in the paper. For the congregation it would be an inconvenience, as other arrangements would have to be made for worship and other activities. But hopefully insurance would cover the costs and the congregation might even take on a new lease of life in new, rebuilt facilities. But what about the impact of such a fire on the larger community?
This week I read an article in periodical about a pastor who was rostered to open proceedings with prayer at a local Council Meeting. The Town Clerk asked for his name and the name of his church so that he could introduce him properly to the Councillors. But being an unbeliever he then cynically remarked, “If your church burned down, nobody in town would notice the difference.”
That set the pastor thinking and wondering about how effective his congregation was in terms of making a difference in the wider community. It led him to begin some serious discussions with his leadership and the eventually with the congregation. The article related how that church is now involved in a large low-income public housing complex and how they are helping pick up the pieces of many broken lives. No longer could it be said that if that church burnt down no one would notice the difference.
That article led me to do some thinking too. And it made me wonder if that could be said about our church. My answer is, “No!” and for a number of reasons.
It’s tempting to say, “It’s not true that our church would not be missed if it burned down because the church is always more than a building.” The Church is the Body of Christ. It’s the People of God. The difficulty of course is that this doesn’t really deal with the problem that the Town Clerk was highlighting. He was just saying that in his opinion the church was irrelevant to the larger community. He was suggesting that no one in town would notice if that community of believers just disappeared. And that’s the heart of the issue: do we as a community of people make a difference – even if our building should be burned down?
Here I want to come back to the idea that we are the people of God, the Body of Christ on earth. Our calling is that we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Unless we are talking about a church-full of nominal Christians we are going to make a difference. But the difference we make is like yeast working its way through society in quiet and often unnoticed ways.
There are of course some ways in which we have a very direct influence on our community. It was great last Friday to see our Coffee, Craft and Conversation program up and running with a full-house. If the church had burned down in the week previously at least the seventy or so craft-ladies would have missed us. This past week our Kids’ Hope program commenced again as the mentors met with the teachers of the various mentees. Okay, that’s not dependent on a building – but if the eight KH mentors had all decided not to continue this year, there would have been some upset children – as a letter from Pastor Andrew’s mentee made very clear.
But these are only the more obvious ways in which our local manifestation of the Body of Christ makes a difference in the community. What about the quiet unassuming ways in which our Church’s teaching and nurture enriches the followers of Jesus so that they are encouraged to be a blessing to a neighbour or workmate?
Only eternity will reveal the wonderful difference that the Christian church makes in the wider community.