Two and a half acres in a brand-new developmentit was a gift from God. The Mission's congregation, thrilled with finally being able to build a church of their own, put their backs and their pocketbooks into the project. The neighbourhood was just beginning to grow, and the demographics experts guaranteed that the city was moving out to meet them. The new church, clearly seen from the highway, was the first driveway off the main road into the subdivision. No one could miss it.
The experts were right. Houses began to pop up all over. The congregation built the first stage of their multi-phased project and eagerly looked forward to filling their auditorium. The leadership sat down and made plans. Parents move to the suburbs to provide a healthy environment for their children. So, The Mission planned for summer programs and after school activities. A new community meant people looking for new relationships, new ties. The Mission worked through the possibilities of a Welcome Wagon program. It would be easy to watch out the church windows in eager anticipation of the next moving van rolling down the main street. Then, of course, there were Men's Breakfasts, Mother's Mornings Out, concerts, and barbeques on the grass beside the parking lot. The Mission decided it might even give door-to-visitation a shot. Reaching the lost became top priority, especially since the lost would soon be right on the doorstep of the church.
The community around the property began to grow. So did The Mission. The shiny new pews began to fill. Unexpectedly the growth did not come from within the community but from others outside the area. Disgruntled believers from other congregations in town saw The Mission as a place to do things righttheir way. The "upwardly mobile," came looking for something as new and shiny as their ambitions. They also liked to be, well, mobile, moving from church to church as their spirits demanded to be replaced by others of their species. There were even a few who, burnt out by too many years being the ten percent who did the work of the other ninety percent, came looking for some place where it was possible to say "no." Everyone came with his or her agenda. The original members of the congregation happily received all who entered and busied themselves with assimilating the newcomers. Or was it more like being assimilated by the newcomers?
One fateful evening, at a business meeting, someone suggested it was time to change the church's name. After all, he argued, the congregation was no longer a "mission," was it? It was firmly embedded, financially prosperous, and elegantly located. The pews and the coffers were full. Everyone was happy and comfortable. It was decided by an almost unanimous vote to rename the congregation, The Retreat. The few holdouts looked longing out the windows and prayed.
The community around the new "retreat" exploded. New streets were carved out of the bush. Almost overnight, more houses sprang up. Across the highway, a school was built, and right beside it, the glory of all suburbiaa strip mall appeared. Behind the mall, rows and rows of low-income housing mushroomed.
Every Sunday the parking lot of The Retreat filled with cars. Except, of course, in the summer when everyone was at the lake. Easter was also a little slim. The great exodus to some warm, exotic winter watering spot took its toll. Christmas likewise. The current ten percent only had enough energy to minister to the other ninety. Those early plans for outreach turned brown with age, left behind in a battered filing cabinet in the furnace room. Who had time to look for moving vans?
The church put up a chain link fence around the property. The delinquents-in-formation from across the highway surely could become a threat to the congregation's personal security, not to mention to all the expensive equipment and furnishings cherished within the building's four walls.
The idea of building a community basketball court to reach the youth was buried under the asphalt of a bigger parking lot for the commuters. Several members complained to the municipality about the noise from lawnmowers on Sunday mornings. The stutter and roar was disturbing their worship. The band cranked up the volume, much to the annoyance of the neighbours who apparently could sleep through the sound of the lawnmowers, but had a hard time with drums, guitars, and two trumpets. The resulting bylaw served to encourage relationships in the community as well as electrifying the fence would have.
However, The Retreat remained content with itself. Eventually, no one in the community bothered it, and it didn't bother the community. Both went their separate ways: one towards an eternity without Christ and the other ? Well, it's not for me to say, but if you listen carefully, you might hear a voice from heaven saying: "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So because you are lukewarmneither cold nor hotI am about to spit you out of my mouth"*
*Revelation 3:15, 16 NIV.
Lynda Schultz is a freelance writer currently serving with FEBInternational, the overseas arm of the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada. She works in resource development and discipleship in Caracas, Venezuela.