When Is a Building Not a Building?
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Psalm127:1
This month Southport Presbyterian Church achieves a milestone: the completion of our Ministry Center. All along, we have said that this venture is not about “fancy redecorating”, that is, making a space lovely and comfortable for ourselves. If that were the case, it would not have succeeded. That fruit would have died on the vine.
The Psalmist expressed this same idea: all our labor would be in vain if we have not kept our eyes upon God and God’s desires for the ministry of Jesus Christ in this place. And now the Center stands, gracious and welcoming.
Let me remind you of a few things this Ministry Center stands for.
It stands for patience and perseverance. The dream began long before I came to Southport Presbyterian. The first phase of that dream was a new sanctuary, dedicated in 2006. Perhaps we all wondered, at one point or another, whether the end of that dream would ever become real. Well, it has. We were convinced that with a secure and hospitable place to worship and work, God could use us more effectively. That conviction kept us going. We had some disappointments and set-backs along the way. But we did not give up. Challenges strengthened our dedication. I hope we hold on to the lesson of patience and perseverance in all that we do in the days ahead.
The Ministry Center also stands for consensus and inclusion. This was not a project of a “favored few”. It was congregation-wide. Everyone who made it happen. Here is a little story:
When a small team of us went to the presbytery to ask for their endorsement of our project, (the endorsement was necessary for us to get our funding through the Presbyterian Investment and loan Program), the Chair of the Presbytery Finance Committee asked me how our smallish congregation could raise as much money as we did. He wanted to know if a couple of people had “deep pockets”. I told him, “No, everyone had a part in it; some people have been baking cakes for fifteen years to make this happen.”
It is a modern story of the boy who shared his loaves and fishes. Gifts multiply when everyone is included. When everyone matters, everyone has a voice, and everyone does their part, miracles happen. I hope that we hold on to the lesson of consensus and inclusion in all that we do in the days ahead.
Last, the Center stands for vision and mission. In the book of Proverbs it says, “Where there is no vision, the people will perish” (29:18). When we began to dream and plan, we had to imagine a church, different from what we were then. We had to believe in something that we could not see. Without vision, we are not looking for what God can do, and we are not responding to what God calls us to do. We are not trusting God’s future. That is how churches die. Yet Southport believed in a vision and trusted that God would carry us through its realization.
The vision combines with our mission. This project was huge, yet we refused to let it define or limit our mission. Ministry did not go into paralysis while we waited. Diverse ministries flourished, because a church is not a building. A church is a place to gather, grow, give, and learn. I hope that we hold on to the lesson of vision and mission in all that we do in the days ahead.
This has been our motto for building a Ministry Center, and it has been my daily prayer, that:
As the building grows, our ministry grows: Deeper in faith, Broader in service to others, Stronger in unity.
Thanks be to God.
With prayer that your Advent season brings you Hope, Love, Joy, and Peace,