I joke a lot about the classes seminary did not offer. I do not do so as a way of insulting my education (which was incredible) but as a way of reminding myself that you don’t go to school to learn what to think but how to think.
Still, there were some classes I wish they had offered. I wish they had a class on how to paint church rooms in a way that offends no one, though I am not sure anybody has mastered that. It would have been nice to take a course on how to purge your membership list and a lesson or two on making great potluck courses also would have been nice.
But more than anything, it would be really nice to have taken a class (or even achieved a minor) in how to organize, clean, and get rid of stuff inside a church.
I have now had some form of official ministry responsibilities in 4 churches and at least 3 of them seemed to be cathedrals to the gospel of junk management. It all started when I was a junior in college and I walked into a gigantic room at my local church. It had been the kid’s church at one point in time but at that moment it was piled completely with junk, one large pile that stretched from wall to wall and from the floor to the ceiling.
I asked the children’s pastor about it and she firmly explained that “some people” insist the church not collect junk but they are wrong. Instead it is unethical to throw church stuff away because, “you never know when you are going to need it.” Throwing away something useful that belongs to God is poor stewardship.
Needless to say, she moved onto another ministry assignment a month later and one of the first things I asked the new children’s pastor was, “Can I throw away all this junk?” He gladly obliged.
A few years later I ended up a senior pastor of a small church with a gigantic facility. While I was interviewing, I toured room after room that was packed with junk, useless things that nobody would ever need. We spent an entire year cleaning it all out.
Now I have just taken over the pastoral responsibilities for yet one more assignment and, sure enough, the parsonage and church building are both packed with junk before my arrival.
It seems we have bought into a shallow and non biblical view of stewardship that says God is glorified by how much stuff we accumulate in our ever expanding buildings, not by how many stray and lonely people we welcome into our loving communities.
If the idea is to build a large building and then stuff them with junk for Jesus than we are certainly winning. We may not be able to take any of it with us when we cross from this life to the next, but at least God will be so “glorified” that our mansions in glory will come prestuffed with old curriculum, televisions from the 1960s, flannelgraphs, blackboards, christmas lights and fake flowers that smell like Lysol. I can’t wait to die and move in!
At the same time I am reading Henri Nouwen’s, “Road to Daybreak.” I plan to review it when I finish it but this afternoon I read a brief part about a church in Morienval, France. The building was built in 1050AD by a group of nuns. It has three rows, a clock tower and a semicircular choir loft flanked by two elegant towers. Nouwen prayed the vespers there during Advent one year. He did so with nuns and monks from the area. He left the service all ready longing to return because as he put it, “the church was built for prayer” (p. 80).
That sentence made me wonder what our church buildings are built for. . .
And there has to be a sermon in there somewhere, but good luck finding it beneath all that junk.