We were seventeen months into our church plant when our mentors drove in from Dallas for a four day visit. We were starving. We were starving to be seen and heard and known by people who loved us no matter what we were capable of doing. We were starved for deep conversation and gentle correction and we needed specific direction in a church plant that we felt wasn’t going to make it.
Just a few months prior to their visit, we had moved our church gathering from the house into the local YMCA. We had seen some growth and the house set-up had proven to be too much to handle for our 16 adults and 19 children. Our church was limping along and things were messy, but surely we could make it work. We had fifteen years of church work under our belts and a core group of faithful attenders who were giving and showing up and serving our community. We even had one guy on guitar. What else was there?
We were on the back deck, on day two of their visit, and after hours of listening to our mindless dump of thoughts and questions and fears, it was our turn to listen.
“It’s not yours,” he said. “And if you don’t learn to hold it loosely it will become your idol. This church belongs to Jesus.” He had his palms up, resting them on his knees. “You care way too much about what happens with it.”
Nineteen months later, that is the only thing I remember from their visit.
Fellowship does not belong to us. It belongs only to Jesus.
In the last few months, I’ve spent an unhealthy amount of time pondering the thought that Fellowship is not ours. In my head, I’ve always known that, but in my heart remains a remnant of hope that we can fix it or make it work or see this church flourish.
But it’s sideways thinking, really, to believe that if we work harder, love fiercer, serve better, create more worship experiences, and spin more plates in the name of Jesus that we have the power to build a church.
We never planted a church believing that we could actually build it. We’re church people and have been Jesus followers since grade school and we know the truth.
Only Jesus can build a church.
But in the thick of planting the Gospel and seeing little to no life change, we began to believe the lie that we weren’t doing enough or at least not doing it (whatever it is) right.
And we took on a burden that was never ours to carry: We tried to build a church.
We spent two years laboring in vain and using every church growth trick in the book. We even tried things that aren’t in the book. The Man and I toiled and fretted over people leaving and the people staying not moving towards personal growth. We launched initiatives and have been like clapping monkeys you wind up and then turn loose.
And the only thing we ever built was a three ring circus with two tired conductors trying out the next thing.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Give Jesus back His church. As if it were ever ours.
But that’s what we did.
We opened up our hands and let Him have it and you know what happened?
Jesus didn’t shoot off fireworks or throw party or kill the fattened calf.
He just sighed and put His arm around us and whispered one thing:
Go do what you love and belong to me and I will build My church.
And you know what the Man and I did?