I’ve filched this quote from Don Miller’s Blog
In a culture where professional ministers are tempted to use
people to build churches, David Gentiles used the church to get to
Don’s context is an obituary for a man who loved and was dearly loved and I don’t want to take anything away from that. David Gentiles sounds like the kind of pastor (and man, for that matter) we all wish we knew. But in the middle of the celebration David’s life and of Don’s memories of him, this quote spoke volumes to me because it’s what I’ve been saying all year. In a way, while 2009 was primarily all my Masters’ Degree the thing that has had the biggest impact on me personally is all about church. In short, 2009 was the year my thoughts about church underwent fundamental change.
For the last 10 years I’ve loved a church whose focus is ‘Build the Church’ but the biggest paradigm shift that happened for me (and not coincidentally that got sparked by Don’s book ‘Blue Like Jazz’), and the primary reason I now worship somewhere else is because I have been unable to shake the conviction that if we ‘Build the People’ the church will come rather than the other way around.
If our primary focus is on building the church, on having more numbers, on having more souls saved, the very people we hope to touch become secondary to the institution and we lose sight of the incredible value each member has NOT because they are a member and because they contribute, but because the are valuable to their Maker and by extension should be valuable to us all.
If we love, people love in return, if the place where they find love and acceptance is the church then they will love the church, if they love the church they will serve. On the contrary if the church expects service, if the love we offer is conditional on what our people do for the church (or how they look, or how old they are, or how clever…. etc. etc. etc.) rather than being unconditional and offered on the basis of their value to God, then it’s only a question of time before something gives.
I read Don’s obituary for David and I’m challenged to be the kind of person that David Gentiles was, and I’d never even heard of him before today. I’m challenged to live in such a way that the people with whom I come into contact leave me feeling as though they’ve been loved, and I’m challenged to be a part of a church that puts people ahead of programs.
You know, the way Jesus did.
2009 was the year I started to see things differently, and it broke my heart in ways I never anticipated. My heart breaks still for those who’ve felt the sting of being discarded because they no longer are considered to fit in the church they were so committed to building. It breaks for those who’ve built themselves out of a position, those who have aged out of one. My heart breaks for those whose memories of their pastor are vastly different than Don’s of David, and it breaks too for those pastors who’ve become so caught up in the vision they’ve lost sight of not only the people who are helping bring it to pass but also lost Jesus’ view of their sheep, their people.
On the eve of a new year and a of new decade, I still pray “may your kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” but I can’t help suspecting that the kingdom we’re waiting for probably looks a lot less like our image/skill/talent focused world and that the churches therein look a lot less like our concert halls and stadiums and a lot more like our living rooms and cafes, like darkened doorways, like city parks and shopping malls.
You know, like Jesus saw them.