“You know that trick where a person pulls the tablecloth off of a table set with fine china, leaving everything standing as if it hadn’t been touched?”
This was to be our final staff meeting as a team. Dr. Jim McCoy had been at First Baptist Church of Weaverville, N.C., since 1997; his retirement meant the coming Sunday would be his last as our pastor. Our administrative assistant was expressing her feelings regarding the inevitable transition.
“Well, I feel like the cloth is being pulled out from under us, but we’re all just going to crash to the floor and break!” We laughed at the image, but also felt it was an apt approximation of our reality.
This time in the life of our church has brought to mind a memory from my childhood. I was 12 years old, and my Southern Baptist preacher daddy was called to leave our church in Wilson, N.C., to take a pastorate in Goldsboro, N.C. At the time, Daddy said something like, “Some say they’ll leave this church after I’m gone. I sure hope they will change their minds.” He was obviously troubled, but I was puzzled by his concern.
“That should make you feel good, Daddy, not bad! It’s because they love you so much that they don’t want to stay after you leave.”
“But that’s not right,” he told me. “The church is bigger than my ministry. What are people going to do, move to a new church every time their favorite preacher leaves? Then what would happen to the church?”
My Daddy does love church, despite its makeup of broken, messed-up humans. He believes in the work God does through the church and has spent most of his 80 years in church leadership. Daddy taught me early on that ministers are not the heart and soul of the church; God is. When we place all of our hopes — or fears — in a single individual, we renounce God’s sovereignty over the Body of Christ. Of course, no one would admit or even believe that they had voluntarily appointed a human as head of the church. I don’t think any of us really even want that. We just forget. We forget that God will still be God even when our beloved leaders are called away from us.
I think that one reason we forget is that we do not particularly want to remember. Raise your hand if you’d just as soon stick with the status quo. Yep. Me too. Change requires so much energy, doesn’t it? Creating new relationships and repairing broken ones: that’s tough stuff. If I can forget that God is in control, I can stay sad and distant. I don’t have to do the hard work that church asks of me. I don’t even have to pray or anything. I can be a mopey gelatinous blob of inaction.
Whoa. There’s a mental picture for you. I don’t much care for that image of myself. And since I don’t actually want to see myself as a virtual version of Jabba the Hutt, I guess I need to consider another path.
That’s what we must do, isn’t it? If we want to witness the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, we must make the choice to be living, breathing members of the Body of Christ. That means we must get busy. We must commit to prayer and Bible study; we must worship throughout the week, not just on Sunday morning; we must dedicate ourselves to acts of service and to relationship building.
It won’t be easy. We may not like it, at least in the beginning. But God is a patient and loving sovereign with an infinite supply of grace and mercy. All we have to do is be willing to be formed and reformed into God’s image, and pretty soon, the church will start to look a lot like the Kingdom of Heaven.
Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer!