There have been two memorable fires in my community this year.
The first was at a restaurant called Hunter’s. People loved that place. The parking lot was always crowded and there was always somebody telling me something like, “Man, that food ain’t good for you but it sure does taste good.”
Since the fire there have been several fundraisers to try to get Hunter’s reopened.
Hunter’s has been missed.
The other fire was at a place called The Isabella House. The Isabella House was this huge house that was once very beautiful. In the late 90s it served as a restaurant but over the past two decades it became an eyesore. People in the community asked for something to be done about it. The fire department eventually set it on fire for training purposes.
During the fire, there was nobody walking around outside with picket signs chanting, “Save our House!”
The Isabella House has not been missed.
The Isabella House isn’t missed because it was a monument. It once served a purpose but it eventually became a mere reminder of what it used to be. Hunter’s was missed because it was on mission. It was still serving a purpose.
In the church, much of what we call “the Lord’s work” is nothing more than monument building. What if the programs, meetings and numbers we like to brag about all went away one day? Would the community around us even notice a difference? Could it be that one of the reasons why many American churches are experiencing a decline is that they have lost their mission and have settled instead for monument building?
The most doctrinally sound theological system can become a monument when it does not lead us to love God and love our neighbor.
Multitudes of baptisms can become monuments when they are divorced from discipleship and compassion.
Even the most sincere local church becomes a monument when its sole purpose becomes just keeping the doors open.
A church on mission is much different. Rather than seeking prominence in the community, the church on mission finds ways to move towards the community for the purpose of sharing the gospel (Acts 17). While monuments are typically built around a human personality, the church on mission remembers that Jesus Christ, not the pastor or the oldest member is, “the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). And instead of dreaming about the good old days, the church on mission remembers that the good old days haven’t happened yet (Revelation 21:22-27).
Most monuments usually don’t last very long and none of them serve any purpose other than being looked at. There were some pretty impressive monuments built in Genesis 11 and Daniel 3 but you won’t be taking the kids to see either one of them for vacation this year. If we’re not careful, we could find ourselves like the people from Shinar or King Nebuchadnezzar and look back on all of “the Lord’s work” we have done only to find a big pile of rubble.