Once upon a time, there were four small churches. Even though each church building sat empty most of the week (with Sunday the notable exception), each church had substantial expenses for its building– insurance, maintenance fees, utilities, etc. This seemed like a waste of resources and not the best use of the members’ tithes and offerings, so the church leaders got together to explore an alternative.
The alternative was for three of the churches to sell their church buildings and have all four churches share the one remaining building. This would not be a merger because each church would continue to operate as a separate church community; the only change would be to coordinate the sharing of the use of (and expenses related to) a single church building.
As the discussion progressed, it quickly became apparent that one issue would need to be dealt with upfront; namely, if the four churches shared one church building, how would weekly Sunday services be coordinated? As a starting point, the leaders agreed to have designated blocks of times for worship services as follows:
- Sunday morning
- Sunday mid-day/early afternoon
- Sunday late afternoon/evening
- Saturday evening
So now the big question was, “Which church group would get to have Sunday services at the ‘normal’ time on Sunday morning?” Several methods to solve this dilemma were suggested.
One church leader (the one with the church building that would not be sold) suggested that since his congregation would be sharing their building with the other churches, his church should get the best time slot, that is, Sunday morning.
Another church leader thought that was unfair. In the interest of fairness, he suggested they hold a lottery to assign time slots. The third church leader thought it would be even better to set up a rotation schedule, so that each church had a different time slot over a 12 month period. That way, each church had the ‘best’ time slot once a year and that slot was shared equally by all four churches.
The fourth church leader had been noticeably quiet during the discussion. When asked what method he preferred, he shook his head and answered, “None.” He explained that all these suggestions were based on human logic. Instead, he had been asking himself, “WWJD?” (What would Jesus do?).
He continued, reminding the other leaders of what Jesus had said:
“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” (Matthew 19:30)
“Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve… “ (Luke 10:43-45)
He recalled how Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, saying, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you . . . Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:14-17)
Last, he read the words of the Apostle Paul:
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interest of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus . . .” (Philippians 2:3-5)
The fourth church leader was convicted by God’s Word, but he did not stop there. He put the conviction and his faith into action, declaring that his church would take the least attractive and most inconvenient time slot.
The other leaders were stunned. They, too, were convicted by the Scriptures. They realized that the fourth church leader’s words were wisdom, and his heart was most expressive of the heart of Jesus. In contrast, they had been focused on “doing church” rather than on “being the church.” After repentance and prayer, the discussion changed drastically, for each church leader offered for his church to take the least attractive time slot as a permanent time for worship.
Now the leaders were tripping over themselves, each equally striving to humble themselves and take the most inconvenient, unattractive time slot. They did this because they saw how prideful and self-serving they had previously been, and they longed to elevate their fellow brothers and sisters by blessing them with the preferred time slot. Now, instead of coveting the “best” time slot, they wanted the “worst” time slot in order to put their faith into action, to truly live what Jesus taught: Be a servant, least among others, sacrificing for love of others, all as a token of praise to God.
In the end, the churches did not end up selling their buildings and sharing one building. Instead, the leaders went back to their congregations and preached by word and example this timeless lesson from Jesus. The congregations took it to heart and they, too, began to put their faith into action and began to live as Jesus taught.
As a result, each church grew and grew until the church buildings could not hold all the new members. Now the issues facing the churches were the exact opposite of what they had started with, but no one seemed to care. In all issues, the choice was always clear: humble yourself, take the least attractive act of service or position, do what no one else wants to do, and do it all for the Lord. It turned out that what the churches had needed to change all along were not issues of administration and maintenance, but a change of heart.
Epilogue: This story was prompted by a simple question asked by an unbeliever: “Why do all these churches have their own buildings that sit empty 90% of the time, except on Sundays? Why don’t a bunch of small churches get together, sell all their buildings except one, and share that one building for services and events?”
I did not have a quick answer to the question. Why, indeed? If churches did this, the money now used for maintaining the church buildings (a substantial percentage of any church budget) could be used instead to advance the Great Commission. Under the premise that each church would continue to operate as a separate church community, why not share one building (and one set of expenses for that building), freeing up time, money, and talents to increase evangelism, outreach and service projects, and support of missionaries overseas? Wouldn’t this be what Jesus would do, what He would focus on, rather than paying for a building, utilities, insurance, grounds keeping, etc.?
Contemplating this question, I had to admit that the reason this is not done is that, for the most part, churches would never be able to agree on how to administer issues like Sunday worship time, use of the building, etc. This realization is a sad, but honest observation of the entire collective of churches as a whole, known as the Church.
The Church is not a building, but a group of people that together make up the body of Christ: “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Therefore, the behavior of the Church is always a reflection of the heart status of the body of Christ. The harmless question asked by one unbeliever led to this sad, but honest realization that the heart of the Church, for the most part, does not reflect the heart of Christ, the one who died for her1. Like the fourth church leader, may each Christian who reads this be convicted, repent, and put his or her faith into action as Jesus taught.
- “…just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. . .” (Ephesians 5:25)