Sunday, March 8, 2009

Where Will I Have My Funeral?

Several years ago, I served a church that was dying. It was a slow death and had been in process for 20 years before I came as preacher. Several factors contributed to the dying, most notably: (1) the town was losing its population, particularly its younger people; (2) a large city was nearby, and the bigger churches there had much more to offer, and so many younger families were attending there; and (3) the building where the church met was, for all practical purposes, hidden from the community and much too large for the small congregation using it (it is hard to attract new members when their first sight of a church is of 40 members spread out in an auditorium that seats 300!).

I offered a suggestion: build a new building on the main highway through town, preferably on the end of town closest to the large city, and in the direct path of the many families who were now going there to worship; and to build a new building that was small enough to comfortably accommodate the existing membership, but inviting to newcomers and with room to grow.

Now, I am not usually a proponent of church building projects. Churches tend to spend too much money on facilities, sacrificing funds that should be spent on reaching the lost and serving the needy. But, when a church gets to the point where its facility hampers growth, something needs to be done. Whether we like or not, a building is often the first impression people from the outside have of the church. And, in the case of the church of which I speak, the utility payments to keep the large and outmoded facility running ate up half of the monthly budget. A building project, it seemed to me, would give this church a new lease on life. A new building would not be an end-all-be-all to the church's problems, but it would be a great asset and something to build upon.

I still remember the response from one man in particular. He was a good and faithful man; one of my favorite brothers that I have had the privilege of knowing. But, his statement caught me off guard. He asked simply, "But where will I have my funeral?"

Perhaps I read too much into his words, but it seemed to me this brother was much more interested in the legacy of the church building and in his own self-interest than he was in the need for the church to grow. And, sadly, I don't think he is alone.

Where will I have my funeral? Didn't Jesus once say, "Let the dead bury their own dead"? He spoke in response to the man who answered Jesus' invitation to follow by saying, "But, I must first go bury my father" (Luke 9). Jesus' response to the man could be taken as cold-hearted, but our Lord was simply saying that there are matters of more importance than our self-interests and the mundane things of life. Jesus' response was a call to action, to figuratively put down the plow and get about the serious tasks of advancing the Kingdom in this world.

Now, I am not suggesting my request for a new church building was the wisest course of action. Maybe there was another solution. But, let's not paralyze ourselves into non-action because of our self-interests and refusals to step beyond what is known and comfortable. Let us be bold. A world filled with the lost is before us. And, our Lord has called us to action.