If you drive along the coastline, especially after a rather busy hurricane season, you will see docks that have been damaged by the storm or by time. Keep driving that route and eventually some of the docks are repaired and yet others continue to fall apart. I’ve never understood how someone would let their dock completely fall apart. It seems easy enough to repair, and better to repair them fast before the damage grows. There is one in particular that has been so forgotten about that the walkway is completely gone and the posts look like nothing more than stumps peeking over the water.
Why am I so bothered by these dilapidated docks? Because they are bridges between the land and sea. I can walk out to a depth that I couldn’t reach otherwise. They allow me to take in the smell of the salt air, dip my toes in the water, gather with friends, or get into a boat and set sail. Since I don’t live on the water, I have an outsiders perspective. I don’t take the dock for granted, because I just know that if I could live there… I’d be out there every day. I know this because I remember spending summers on a lake and doing just that. In fact, any time I get a chance to walk a dock or boardwalk, I’ll take it. There is such beauty to be found.
However, to the person that owns the property, there may be a difference of opinion. Maybe they never cared about or used the dock in the first place. Perhaps it came with the property, but since they didn’t own a boat and didn’t like to fish, the dock didn’t have much purpose or reason for them. It could be that the cost of upkeep on the dock was just more than they could afford or not high on their priority list. So the dock is left to rot, the bridge between land and see falls away.
If you spend any time speaking with me about ministries within the church, you will find that I often refer to them as bridges. Ministries are the docks that are anchored to the church and reach out into the sea of our communities. Our leaders, volunteers, and members can step out onto the dock and walk toward a sea where they can be fishers of men. This bridge between church and community, is a pathway that connects the two in a very specific way.
Such ministries (or bridges) are recovery groups, youth groups, children’s ministries, food pantries, women’s ministries, and so on. Imagine the church is a fortress on an island, a refuge from the storms in the world. From this island fortress, are several docks that work as bridges to the sea of people who are in need of Christ, in need of a safe community. There will be those who come running for help, hopping in boats and chartering their way to the docks, rushing in the doors. But, what about the ones who are stranded on the distant shore? They need someone who is willing to get in the boat and come for them. What about the person who was tossed into the sea of circumstance, they can no longer see the shore and they are eyeing the horizon for something to grab onto?
There is a tension between those who are in the body and the leadership about “programs”. A desire from the leadership to not have a church that is “program” driven, where the people come for the message and connect into small groups. However, this concept really works best among those who already have a concept of what church is and how it works. They know the protocol. Visit the church. Become a member. Join a Small Group. It doens’t work nearly as well for the person who comes from an unreached community, where the safe fortress looks overwhelming and intimidating. They are not ready to be swooped up by fishing nets and cast into the throws of the community. Instead, they need a bridge to cross.
On the flip side, we can throw all of our money, time, and resources at programs just because that is what the people want. That is not being a good steward. What we need is balance between having the correct bridges that lead people in the right direction. What good is a dock or a bridge that leads a person down a path that goes nowhere and serves no purpose? Therefore, we can not afford to have programs for the sake of programs, to look busy, or meet every person’s request. Instead, we have programs that serve as a bridge from the community to the church, and the church to the community.
Just as I am saddened to see broken down docks along the coastline, I am equally saddened to see the neglected bridges of the church. Huge, beautiful buildings, where we under utilize the space that God has given us. Rooms that are left to degrade because no one uses them, turned into storage, covered in dust. Those are rooms that should be teeming with life. Bible studies, men’s groups, women’s groups, support groups, etc. What a terrible waste of the gift God has given us, a building, when we let it sit empty and unused.
Then there are the leaders who have been given gifts and talents, but forgotten about and left to wane in the waters. They feel the call to lead, they feel the need in the waters that surround them. Instead of being bolstered up, they are forgotten about and discarded. Eventually wearing down to a point where they are no longer of any use, given up to the sea. Desperately wanting to reach those who are looking for a solid place to land, but lacking the support to do so.
We can not afford to neglect our bridges.
We can not afford to let our buildings go to waste, nor our leaders. We are in a time where generations are falling away from the church. It is a time where the “Dones” are leaving the church in mass exodus. We are desperately seeking how to bring in new members and hold onto our existing ones, but relying on worshiptainment to be the answer. And, completely unaware that as we throw our money and resources into the superficial draw, we are letting our bridges burn to the ground. We create a single pathway into the door, and sadly it is only going to appeal to a certain type of person, with a certain type of need.
When a church embraces the smaller ministries within it, seeing them for what they are… bridges to the community… then we create multiple pathways for different types of people, with different types of needs to cross.
Today, we know that depression is on the rise. People are reporting in startling numbers that they feel alone in this world, disconnected. It seems so impossible, with social media and text messaging keeping us just a key stroke away. Yet, the statistics support that despite our virtual connectedness… we feel alone, we feel lonely, we feel disconnected, and we desperately are seeking to fill that void.
The correct response for the church, in my opinion, is that we need to create more bridges that welcome in different people and meet their needs. Which now, more than ever, includes a need of community and connection. Stop neglecting the bridges and instead give them support, financial backing, and opportunity. Use the buildings we have been blessed with, embrace the leaders that God has gifted with talents and placed in your pews.
Let’s face it, when it comes to Biblical knowledge, we have never had so many resources available to us. I can sit in front of my computer at any time of day and queue up an infinite number of Pastors sermon’s to read or watch. I can learn from the Pastor in my home town, and across the world. I have unlimited access to praise and worship music, online lyrics to follow, and I can even pick and chose the rendition that I prefer. I can customize my playlist to my hymnal preferences, contemporary leanings, or a peppering of the two. Between printed books, ebooks, articles, and resources I can read the Bible, study it in depth, and find the answer to any question I have with just a few key strokes and Google.
However, what none of these things can provide for me is the community that comes with a congregational family. A sense of belonging, community, and family. A connection that has to be fostered beyond the Sunday morning “shake your neighbor’s hand”. In the few minutes before and after service, I don’t have a chance to make real connections with people to turn a church building into my church home. I need opportunities that allow me to get to know others better, and deeper. Places where are not just learning together, but serving together.
It is a hand and hand approach, ministries and the church. So perhaps, it is time we take better care of them.