By Pastor Shaun LePage
History happens every day. Most of it is forgotten, but some remains. Some events find a way of enduring in the memories of people. Some history is permanently important to some people, but completely unimportant to others. For example, can you name the “Independence Day” of even 3-4 other countries?
My family and I recently visited the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. As you know, Laura’s books are popular all around the world. But think about it — she just wrote a few stories about a fairly normal family in late nineteenth-century America. If she hadn’t written that history, no one would know anything about the Ingalls family. Millions of other people from that same era are completely forgotten today.
If you visit a tiny Catholic high school in Joplin, Missouri, you’ll see a banner hanging in the gymnasium. It reads “4th Place in State, 1981”. I was on that team, but I can’t tell you the names of the schools who won first, second and third in 1981 — or any other year in any other high school state tournament ever! But, it was such a big deal to our tiny 1A high school, it has become a legendary part of our history that inspires every basketball team of every generation of that school.
Some history is so important, one generation does all it can to make sure future generations never forget. As I write this post, tomorrow is Memorial Day. To many, it’s just an extra day off from work, or a time to get together with friends and family to grill hot dogs. But a previous generation set aside the last Monday of every May to make sure we remembered history — something monumentally important that happened in their generation. Do you know what it was? The loss of their sons. They originally called it Decoration Day — a time for the nation to decorate the graves of those who had died in the Civil War. Later, the name was changed to Memorial Day and all those who died defending the freedom of this great country are remembered in a special way.
Today we held our final worship gathering in the building our church has owned since 1992 — 23 years. That’s history! It doesn’t matter to very many people. There will be no national holidays. No media reporters covered it. We did not erect a monument for future generations to remember this day.
But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter.
It does matter a great deal. It matters to us. It matters to our children. We have a lot of great memories from so many years of getting together in that building. That shared history matters.
But, it should matter for other reasons. It should matter even to those who aren’t part of Community Bible Church. It should matter to all Christians who love the church — the Body of Christ. Why? Because it represents at least two things that are far more important than the sale of a plain little building in Kansas.
The first is simple and yet so important to remember: The church is not a building. We’ve shared a lot of great times together in the building we’ve all-too-often referred to as “the church.” But why were they great times? Because the church is so beautiful? Because it has so many cool features and architectural components? Hardly. We have great memories because of the times we — the church, the people who own the building — have spent together. By selling our building we will accomplish some important things. One of them is to remind ourselves in a profound way that the church is people. When we remember that, we have a much better shot at keeping our priorities straight. When we keep our priorities straight, it’s actually possible that we’ll stay on task with the mission Christ has given us: the making of disciples.
The second is not so simple. It has led to much conflict and confusion and division: The church must change. Much has been written on this and the chorus of voices in agreement on this subject is loud and strong. I won’t belabor the issue here. But, the point is that selling a building is a big change. A very big change. It creates extra work. It’s unsettling. It’s emotional. But the changes we’ve been making in order to realign ourselves with the way of Christ and His Apostles represent the kind of changes churches around the country will need to make if we hope to reverse our ineffectiveness. If we hope to reach the people of our culture. If we hope to strengthen a weakened Church. If we hope to raise up the needed leaders for the next generation. The stakes are high and I believe the Holy Spirit is leading us to return to the simplicity and purity of the earliest churches. Buildings aren’t wrong. But, they’re not usually necessary and are often a distraction from the real work God has given us to do.
History is happening right now. The days ahead are uncertain in many ways for our little church. But, I’m convinced we will look back on this day as a crucial step in the journey God has been orchestrating for us. Perhaps some will see today as a funeral. In one sense, maybe it is. But I encourage you to remember the words of Jesus from John 12:24 — Jesus was talking about His death and resurrection in context, but vs. 24 presents a general principle from nature that applies to our situation:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
If this day — our final day at 906 N. 1464 Rd. — felt like a funeral, then I believe it’s like a funeral for a grain of wheat. For a grain of wheat to produce the way God intended it to, it must die. So today it’s okay to mourn. But don’t stay there too long. I pray you’ll see the sale of our building as I see it — a “planting”. The sowing of seed.