It’s strange to be cleaning out a church building. I don’t mean just cleaning up a church, but actually cleaning out a building preparatory to selling it. And of all the people still attending that church, I probably have the deepest (although not the longest) history there. There is the spot where a fellow named Maurice first welcomed me to that little church body who had bought a rundown restaurant to make their own. There are the lovely glass-paned doors that Maurice made for our sanctuary before he went home to the Lord. There is the spot where I wept on Pastor Paul’s shoulder as I gave my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. I stood on that stage-cum-altar for two of my own weddings, and for the funeral that came between them. There is the spot where I proposed to my new wife one Easter Sunday. I preached and worshiped in this place. I took my first baby steps at leading a Bible study in that fellowship room. Oh, how wonderful were those fires we lit in the fireplace there! We broke bread and had worship concerts there. We gave our hearts to ministry and experienced the joy of the Lord there. Sure it was an old, moldy, dusty hulk of a building, but we replaced the windows, rebuilt the stage, and expanded the old dining room to accommodate our flock. And now we have moved nearly everything out. Were it just a tad bigger, you’d hear echoes there.
But a church is not now nor has it ever been a building. Our church is the body of people now sitting in a rec center on Sunday mornings. It’s the faithful kids meeting at our youth group. It’s the handful who attend a weekly Bible study, and the larger group that gather at our Pastor’s home for worship two Fridays a month. The church is the men who faithfully lead us in worship as they continue to work full-time jobs and also work on their first full album together. The church is the people continuing together in fellowship and worship, a group continuing in the teaching of the apostles, a group who regularly greet each other with hugs and handshakes and blessings.
I said a prayer as I left that old building today. I knew I might not ever come back there except for one final cleanup, but I remembered something that happened my first Sunday there. After weeping through a service that made me realize how hungry I was for God’s mercy and love, the Pastor asked me, “So do you think you’ll be back next week?” And I replied, “You couldn’t tear me away!” That was eight years ago. I may be leaving a building behind, but nothing could tear me away from God’s church which I found there. My prayer is that there will always be more people who fondly remember their first time in the church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and who grow in the Lord as I have grown. I pray those folks come to know Jesus in profound ways that lead them to share the gospel just as a loving shepherd once shared it with me in a rundown old restaurant outside of town.