I try not to be so negative. Really, I do. But when my phone rings, I just can’t help it. When my phone rings, I expect there to be someone on the other end telling me that the world is on fire. Maybe it’s just my sin nature. Maybe it’s part of being a pastor and hearing a lot of really bad news. It’s probably some of both.
A few weeks ago, my phone rang.
Before I even saw who it was, I got scared. I hoped that the world wasn’t on fire.
My fears could not have been more ridiculous.
The lady on the other end was a friend and a member of the church that I pastor. She wasn’t mad about a stain on the carpet. Nobody parked the bus in the wrong spot. No one had died.
She was calling with another need. A need that was not her own.
People from my church spent most of the summer delivering meals to families in our community. These families lived in a trailer park and were barely getting by. They were poor. The summer months can be a hard time for poor families. At least when school is in session the kids can get fed five days out of the week.
Not during the summer.
So our church partnered with the county school system and other churches to deliver meals to families like these. It was a good thing. But to the woman who had just called me, it wasn’t enough.
She wanted to know if it was alright if she helped our student ministry lead a week-long Bible study for the families in that trailer park. What a difficult decision for me to make right there on the spot. I agonized over this one. I fasted for three days. I sought counsel.
I said yes.
And last week people from our church spent their nights making bracelets, teaching Bible stories, eating chicken sandwiches and playing kickball with kids in a trailer park.
I’ve been married for almost eleven years. My wedding day was a bit unusual. There were heavily armed men involved. Not many people can say that there were guys with machine guns at their wedding. Yet another thing that Ted Nugent and I have in common.
The heavily armed men were there because I got married on an Air Force base. That’s what happens on Air Force bases. People work really hard to keep strangers out while also protecting what’s inside. That’s how it should be on bases.
Sadly, the same scenario plays out in a lot of churches. Guns may not be involved but people still work, whether directly or indirectly, to keep strangers out and to protect what’s inside. That is not how it should be in a church. Unless you want that church to die.
Budgets and sound systems are important. But it is very easy for things like that to be all that a church cares about. As a result, such churches become centered on themselves only to wonder, a few years down the road, why new people don’t come anymore.
In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul urged the believers to keep that scenario from playing out with them.
He did so by reminding them of their foundation in Christ.
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, Philippians 2:1 (ESV)
Funny things happen when a church realizes and acts upon its foundation in Christ. People start getting along. Fights over carpet color and flower placement are suddenly seen for the foolishness that they really are. When Christ is the foundation of a church, that church will be unified. Not perfect. Not always agreeing on every thing. But unified.
That’s how Paul finishes his sentence.
complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Philippians 2:2 (ESV)
But unity in a church should never be an end in itself. God is not glorified in a church where everyone is on the same page but no one is on mission. Unity always exists for a greater purpose. That purpose is mission.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4 (ESV, emphasis mine)
It’s interesting that Paul did not say, “each other.” That would justify a church where we all get along just fine in our gospel bunker as we await the return of Christ. But Paul did not say, “each other.” He said, “others.” Twice.
That means that a church must not function as a base.
Instead, it must be more like a hospital.
Hospitals, the good ones at least, are ready when sick people come to them. And when the people are too sick to come to them, hospitals, the good ones at least, are ready to go get those sick people.
Is your church functioning as a base or a hospital?