If You Build It, They Will Come: 3 Ways to Counter the Worst Line Ever for the Church

This line comes, of course, from Field of Dreams, the 1989 film with Kevin Costner. Great line, good movie, horrible model for the church.field-of-dreams-movie-review

The line, and this line of thinking, infected the church (in North America) in the late 80’s. The problem then was that it worked. Buildings were built, programs were programmed, and they came.

But even though they’re coming less and less (see here), the church is often still desperately attached to this line. It’s time to drop it, leaving it to collect dust with other relics of ministry in the 80’s, like cloth zippered Bible covers, song lyrics on overhead projectors, screen-shot-2014-02-05-at-6-23-25-pmand kitschy t-shirts that mirror pop logos.

Because, no matter the decade, the church is to have the interest of Jesus. And Jesus is not interested in them coming, but in the coming kingdom.

Now, that’s nice, but it’s just another line if not attended to with deliberate action. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Look to the gutters. Within a particular community, who is on the periphery, on the margins, to whom no one is listening? In one of my favorite Jesus stories, a blind man named Bartimaeus gets Jesus’ attention by yelling out his name (Mark 10.46-52). Even though there was a vast crowd around him, and even though he was on his way to Jerusalem in the last chapter of his life, Jesus “stood still” and listened for this cry for mercy, much to the chagrin of the crowd, including the disciples. This is the role of the church within a community: to be those who listen to, and see, those who are in the gutters, whom everyone else is ignoring. Serving that crowd will never win us accolades from the crowd. So be it.
  2. Leaders developing leaders. In this post-build-it-and-they-will-come era, if church leaders are not leading so as to strengthen and equip others leaders, they are not really leading. The old way was bricks, mortar, and shiny programs. The new way puts those things at the bottom and people at the top. Of course, this way is not really new, for it was how Jesus did it. His message: “the kingdom of God is at hand”; his method: 12 men over three years, with particular focus on just three of them. Pastors, ministry directors, elders, et. al., who are your 12? Who are your 3? Three years from now, if you step away from wherever you are at, will your legacy be only what you did, or what your 12 or your 3 are now equipped to do? Lead so as to contribute to that which remains.
  3. Pray first, build second. Let’s be honest, church buildings are still ok, and churches need programs. The primary things that need to be built, though, are deep and habitual structures around prayer. “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Psalm 127.1). If church leaders concentrate on building a culture of prayer within their communities, then what we are called to build cannot be in vain, for it will be tied to the kingdom. This commitment must be held in earnest, otherwise it will be eaten away by the continued cry to do something, build something, get bigger, get better.

What else? I am a learner in this, so would love to hear your suggestions, below.

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