A Shell of a Church

“So why did you want to see me, Charlie,” said the elderly man after the preliminary social amenities were completed.  “It’s been what, 25 years?”  His tone was friendly, but his face showed disappointment.

“I wanted you to see what we have happening here.  Thirty-five years ago I received my call to ministry in your church when you were preaching.  The church helped me get to seminary.  Now look at this monument to the gospel.  That’s part of your legacy.”

The elderly man sat quietly for a minute.  Charlie said it with pride, but it was a pride that was assumed, sort of like a role.  He was supposed to be proud of his accomplishments because he was supposed to be.  But behind it there was something else.  Concern?  No, fear was more like it.

“So you called me again after 25 years of silence because you wanted me to see this campus?”  It was a beautiful campus, several acres, more than $20 million in budget every year, a lighted cross that could be seen for miles around, thousands of worshipers.

“Well, that was part of it.”

“A very small part, I suspect.  You can’t call me at 11 PM, sounding panicked, and tell me that you need to see me as soon as possible, and then expect me to believe you wanted to show me the campus.”

Charlie looked at him for a moment, then chuckled.  “I never could deceive you, could I?  I still can’t.  Look at this.”  He pulled out a sheaf of papers and slid them across the desk.

The elderly man looked at them.  They were worn and dog-eared, but he could see the date on the front page and it was only two weeks ago.  Somebody had been spending a lot of time with these papers.  The title read “Survey of Attitudes and Values” followed by the name of the church.

“Why don’t you sum it up for me.  I was never all that good with figures,” he said.

“Well, it’s not good news.  It tells me that my church members are pretty much  like the neighborhood.  They’re concerned about the same things, they have the same values, the same divorce rates, the same views on major moral issues.  People who worship here are as likely to support abortion as those who don’t, for example.”  He paused.  “Actually, they’re a bit more likely.  They give a bit less, they serve a bit less, they’re as likely to be divorced.  It goes on and on.  There’s no good news.”

“And this surprises you?”

There was a minute or so of silence.

“You think it shouldn’t?” asked Charlie.

“I think there is always a reason.”

“I’m guessing there would be a different result at the old home church, not that there are enough members to do a proper survey.”

“I don’t know what a survey would show.  I never had one taken.  I doubt we could afford it.”

“Well, it’s a small church.  Here we need to have a way to measure our success.”

“But your problem is that it’s not success that you’re measuring.  Do you have any problems with your church budget?”

“Other than the normal, no.”

“You have all the buildings you need?”

“Well, we have some new projects going.”

“Your church is growing?”

“Certainly.”

“So why did you have the survey taken?”

“I wanted to know what impact we’re having on people.”

“You’re their pastor.  Can’t you tell?”

“There are thousands of people here.  I can’t possibly know them all.”

“And you thought this,” he picked up the survey, “would help you find out?”

“Yes.  I was wondering if we needed some new classes, or perhaps counseling programs.  Things to help people find their values and live up to them.”

“Did you really think those things were going to work?”

“I don’t know.  I was concerned before the survey was taken.  Since I read it, I’m feeling even worse.”  He paused.

“What is it that you feel?” prompted the elderly man.

“I feel like this is a shell.  Like God isn’t here.”

“Good.”

“Good?”  Charlie looked puzzled.

“You are still able to listen to the Holy Spirit.”

“But this is discouragement!  Surely it’s the work of the enemy!”

“It would be discouragement if it wasn’t true.  If it’s true, it’s conviction.”

“So do you have any suggestions?  Anything I can do?  I’ve been thinking about new classes about the basics of Christianity.”

“No, I don’t think that is what you need.”

“Then what?  You were my mentor.  You’re the only one I can turn to.  The only one who doesn’t expect me to have everything together.”

“No, that’s not true.  There is One other.  And I think he has some advice for you.  You may not like it.”

So be zealous, and repent! – Revelation 3:19b

Unless YHWH builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. – Psalm 127:1