By Ken Baker
(From the October - December 2017 issue of VOX.)
I looked up the word “resources” in an online dictionary and it gave me a couple of choices. It means “1. A source of supply, support, or aid, especially one that can be readily drawn upon when needed. 2.The collective wealth of a country or its means of producing wealth.”
Is that either/or, do you think?
The thing is, the first explanation suggests people and the second suggests prosperity. When you need “support or aid” or something vitally necessary you might either think of people who can help or of your “collective wealth.”
Who you gonna call?
In The Message (Matthew 10:9-10), Jesus offers some counsel before sending his disciples out on the road: “Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don’t need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light.”
The phrase “travel light” always makes me think of those budget airline policies that insist that every passenger rid themselves of a growing list of “inessentials” before boarding the plane. It’s a powerful parable about all the clutter that we inadvertently allow in our lives. Chuck out all the stuff you don’t need. Get back to the essentials.
But what are they? Well, it’s you. You’re the equipment. A mouth ready to speak. Feet ready to go. A heart on fire for Jesus. How much more do you need?
PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS MORE IMPORTANT THAN PROJECTS
I remember receiving a Prayer Request for a projected mission trip with an appended PDF file of all the sound equipment necessary. The cost ran into thousands.
I don’t want to sound whingy or critical. Things have to be paid for, and many reputable mission organisations encourage their people to fundraise their way forward to enable their own participation. But…
(Incidentally, I’m beginning to wonder if Eugene Peterson, who wrote The Message had had one of those prayer circulars too).
But, it’s just a question of balance, isn’t it? How much is too much? What is my gameplan for what “church” should look like?
And second, it’s a question of priority. The people always come first, before all the stuff.
And third, it’s a question of simplicity. The more you load yourself up with that stuff, the slower you move, and the less mobile and urgent you become.
Take, for example, the resource of a building. It is really handy to have a place of your own to meet, and it beats having to cart microphones all over town and cajole “volunteers” into setting up from 7am in the morning. On the other hand, the building quickly sucks up money for maintenance, time and emotions of pride sneak in, and words like “excellence” come to mean fancy carpets and we get signs saying “No biscuits in the sanctuary.” Other buildings may be a cross between a museum and a fridge … but that’s the point isn’t it? Good or bad, hot or cold, the building can become an end in itself.
For the first few centuries of Christianity, believers met in private homes. We hear of Lydia’s house (Acts 16), Priscilla and Aquila’s house (Romans 16; 1 Cor 16), Nympha’s house in Laodicea (Colossians 4) and Archippa’s house (Philemon 2).
And in China today, the house church has been one of the ways God used to multiply the number of Chinese disciples from a few thousand in the 1930s to, by some estimates, more than 80 million believers today.
If the tagline is true, that “you are the equipment” then it’s worth thinking down this track. It is a biblical model. It’s based on a family ethos rather than a business ethos. People more easily get to know one another in a small group. Smaller groups can lead to increased accountability to each other. Everyone participates and ministers so people grow in using their spiritual gifts. Highly trained (and expensive) pastors are not required in order to lead large numbers of people. And there’s no need for huge, costly projects.
You are the equipment.
Money can go towards evangelism, community service, or mutual support instead of being sucked into building maintenance and expansion. And carpets. And, as they have discovered in China, house churches are low profile and thus, better able to withstand persecution and oppression.
There’s a whole paradigm-shift involved here: Do we make nice buildings and hope people visit or build nice people who go visiting? It’s time to re-source the church. YOU are the equipment.
Ken Baker is a writer and pastor living in Bandon, County Cork.