There are some things people can speak about simply because they know what they’re talking about. There are some things that each individual has experienced that have taught him or her a valuable lesson. These are the things they share with others. They can speak freely and well on the subject because it’s touched them personally. They get passionate about it. They want to warn others.
This, for me, is one of those things. Keep in mind while you read this post that I do, in fact, know what I’m talking about.
Let’s start off with a little history about me. When I was five years old, my family moved. It was only a few towns away, but it was far enough away that we had to find a new church. I don’t remember how long it took (I was only five, after all), but we found one, a nondenominational church I’ll call ECF. That was the church I grew up in.
Now, if you’ve ever been to church, you’ve probably heard the saying that church is not the building, it’s the people. Well, I know that very well, because ECF did not have a building. We met in a middle school on Sundays and in another church building on Tuesday morning for Bible study. We rented everything, from the baptismal to the tables to the building we met in. Still, I have very fond memories of going to church and AWANA there. (Also, one of my best friends lived literally right across the street, so I got to go home with her after church very often.)
When I was about eight years old, our small church finally got enough money to build its own building. We selected the plot of land (obviously I had nothing to do with any of this process) and construction began. By the time I was nine, our church was finished, and we had our own place to meet. Now, my friends and I would laugh, because it was technically only half the building. We still didn’t have enough money to finish it. Now, there was enough to meet in (it had walls and a ceiling and everything), but the whole plan for the building wasn’t finished. It didn’t even have a sanctuary; the adults met in the gym. Still, it was a lot better than anything we’d had before.
Not long after we started to meet in our new building, our lead pastor was fired. To this day, I don’t know the details surrounding that. Something about his wife–something she wouldn’t repent of. But, it’s not my place to know, and that’s not what this post is about.
That pastor had started ECF. He grew it out of nothing, and to suddenly be without him left the church in the lurch. They searched long and hard for a new pastor to take his place–and I don’t remember any of that. I spent my time upstairs in the Sunday school rooms, singing worship songs and playing games with my friends.
Eventually our church did find a new pastor, and there are two things I remember about him: 1) He was tall. I remember tilting my head back and looking straight up just so I could see his face. The guy was huge! 2) My parents didn’t like him.
On Sunday mornings our family would go to church, my brothers and I would head upstairs for Sunday school, I’d sing a few songs, do a few crafts, chat with some friends, come back down to find my parents, and we’d all head home while I sat in the backseat and listened to my parents complain about our new pastor. I didn’t understand any of it at the time, but when I got a little older and a little wiser, I asked my mom why they never liked him.
Short and simple: He didn’t use the Bible. He wouldn’t ask the congregation to flip open the pew (er, plastic chairs; we didn’t have pews) Bibles and look up verses. He said things the Bible didn’t say, with no basis at all. People sat. People listened. Some people got annoyed.
One by one, families left the church. Right after I turned eleven, it was our turn. I left the church I’d be attending for six years, and all my friends, all the memories, everything. And yet, it wasn’t as painful as I thought it would be.
Our search for a new church wasn’t an easy one, but it was helped by the fact that we moved one year later. In hindsight, I believe that our family leaving that church was God’s way of helping prepare for the move–two states away this time. I love the church we attend now (800 miles away from our old church), but that isn’t the point of this message, so I’ll get back to ECF.
ECF no longer exists.
Not long after we left, it was bought out by a larger (and by larger I mean massive) church, and ECF became a satellite church. More and more families from the original church left, and new people–different people–came in. Those who previously attended didn’t like the new pastors as much. I remember my mom saying many times that it seemed like no one was left; everyone in that building was new.
Even more recently, however, the church that bought out ECF disbanded. Wow. For a while now that building has sat, not doing anything, not being a church or anything else. I have to wonder what it looks like on the inside now . . .
Earlier today I looked up the church out of curiosity. I found an article from about three months ago, stating that the city had bought the building from the church that bought ECF. The city plans to use it for community colleges, as some kind of satellite campus. I started crying.
I have nothing against colleges; in fact, I’m happy that the building will be put to–very good–use instead of being left to rot. But why did this have to happen at all? My childhood church no longer exists, and why?
Because someone strayed from God. Because the leaders of our church took their focus off the Creator and onto the created. Because we strayed from His design, and we took matters into our hands instead of letting God take care of it.
How can we get a new pastor?
How can we pay for our new building?
How can we keep new people coming through our doors?
Our pastor didn’t teach the Bible. That’s why my parents left. That’s why so many others left. He wasn’t rooted in the Word of God, and because of that, no one else in the church was either.
We come to church to be rejuvenated with the Word. We come to meet with fellow believers and to be strengthened in our faith. But how can we do that when we’re not focused on the very Center and Founder of our faith?
It seems that while building the church, the leaders forgot something very important: the Cornerstone. Not a cornerstone; I’m sure the building would do just fine in an earthquake. The Cornerstone.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellows citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
– Ephesians 2:19-22
It might have done the leaders of ECF some good to read that passage. Maybe while they were putting up a physical building to meet in, they should’ve also been concerned about the spiritual building of the believers–which is the place where Jesus really resides.
I remember when I was about eight or nine and coming into the building before it was even open (my mom had to do something in the children’s section there). We couldn’t go out into the hall because it was still all wet where they were putting down tiles.
I remember peering over the edge of the balcony into the hallway, the place where all the adults gathered and talked after service. I was looking for my parents and hoping they weren’t talking to anyone, because I was ready to go home (all my friends had already left).
I remember meeting there for AWANA, for Bible study, for Sunday school, for VBS.
I remember exploring the halls and finding all kinds of secret rooms.
I remember daring my friends to go inside the elevator and call the fire department when it broke down with the doors open on the second floor.
I remember setting up chairs and unlocking doors before AWANA started, and being the first there to meet my friends when they came.
I remember playing dodgeball in the gym, and teaching younger students my “trade” of collecting the balls that rolled to the back.
I remember the Christmas celebrations, and the warm feeling of sitting in church while snow came down outside.
I remember making friends, losing friends, meeting boys, teasing boys, playing games, eating snacks, singing choir songs, butchering choir songs, helping out, sitting around, jumping rope, throwing balls, capturing flags, getting hurt, sneaking around, and just plain having fun.
As Ecclesiastes says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” I wouldn’t be at that church now anyway. We would’ve still moved. I would still have had to move on.
Still, what’s sadder is that our church body no longer exists. We were completely scattered. Friends lost touch, people drifted apart, and we lost the community we created every Sunday morning. It was tragic, and, frankly, didn’t need to happen.
Church leaders: Keep your focus on God. Don’t ever, ever let Him drift out of your sight. He is your one goal, your one purpose, and the only thing you should strive for. Ever.
Congregations: Keep your focus on God. Don’t ever, ever let Him drift out of your sight. He is your one goal, your one purpose, and the only thing you should strive for. Ever.
The same thing goes for both of you–for all of us. If our focus is on God, we’ll stay strong in our faith. If not, we’re going to drift away. That might mean that churches will break up and fall apart, like mine did. Maybe it means one person leaves the church for good, and that can be just as tragic. It’s on all of us to keep our focus on God, and to help those around us do the same.
I say this all as a warning. I don’t want something like what happened at ECF to happen again. It was very sad to see, and even now, years later, is continually breaking my heart. Don’t drift away from God. I was too young at the time to understand what was going on, but it affected me. My friends and I all moved on in different directions because of that. When you fall away from God, everyone around you is affected
So stay strong in God, and, no matter who you are or what your position is, encourage your church to do the same. That way, when it’s all over, you will be able to say: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
One last thing: Remember how I said earlier that the other half of the church wasn’t built because we didn’t have enough money? To this day, and under three different owners, the other half of the church has not been built. And now, under the city, it probably never will be. I suppose you could look at that and say that our church was never whole. There’s one other way I like to look at it, however, and it’s summed up with this verse:
Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
– Proverbs 19:21
I used to stare at the model of the church building–created before it was even built–and wonder when the other half of it would go up. Now I’m thinking it never will. I made plans, our leaders made plans, but they never happened. Why? I’m not one to say. Maybe one day I’ll know. Maybe not. It’s probably not even important. It just shocks me that two of the owners of the building never thought to complete it. They had the money, unlike the first owner. But now the great green plot of land where the building would be erected is full of goose poop and weeds. Apparently it wasn’t meant to be–and only God knows why.
Only God knows why ECF fell apart. Only God knows why I can never return to my childhood church. Only God knows. Maybe it was to teach a lesson. Maybe some of those reading can resonate with what I’m saying and take it to heart–I’m sincerely praying you will.