Lately, I’ve been thinking how it would make us feel if our local church suddenly closed? I’m not being pessimistic, just thinking aloud so I can be more grateful for the wonderful things God has allowed me to have in my life. Yes, wonderful things like Harrisonburg First Church of the Nazarene.
Here’s kind of what got me thinking this way. In the past three months, two of my most favorite restaurants in the world suddenly, yes, without warning, shut their doors for forever. One was The China Jade in Harrisonburg and the other was The Fish Hook on my native Harkers Island. Now, while I surely do miss the good food served at both of these fine eating establishments, the most painful sadness for my soul is the loss of the relationships related to these restaurants.
At The China Jade, Annie and Jackie Ling and their three young children along with their waitress, Jennie, all became very dear to my heart. I wept when I got the final word (by phone from Annie) that their business would actually close the first day of January, as opposed to late May, as they had first thought. While they are moving back to their homeland, China, I rejoice for them, but have a hurt in my own heart.
And then, there’s The Fish Hook on Harkers Island. Part of the joy as I journey back and forth to visit my Mom and Dad in North Carolina, has been eating out for a meal or two at “Mrs. Faye’s Famous Seafood Café” (known to outsiders as The Fish Hook.) A few months ago, Mrs. Faye’s cancer returned and within a matter of weeks she was gone. Because the business rested totally on her shoulders, it closed immediately with her passing. It was just this past December that I stopped by for a few of Mrs. Faye’s marvelous meals and even delivered to her a Christmas gift – a framed photograph of the nearby Cape Lookout Lighthouse. She was so excited to hang the image on her restaurant wall. But now, it’s already been taken down. I hope a family member will enjoy the print. I mourn Mrs. Faye’s quick exit from planet earth and while I will miss her the most, I do also admit that not having access to her fried oysters and clam chowder is a loss as well.
Then there’s the local church. You know, our local church, “HFCN”. “What if our local church suddenly closed?” What if on the next Sunday you show up for worship, the doors are chained and signs on the door indicate that our local fellowship is no longer a present ministry, but only a past memory? Would it matter?
One thing that has been very difficult for me as a pastor over these past 20 years, is the way busyness has all but eroded church commitments in the hearts of some church people. I remember saying 20 years ago to the little band of Nazarene believers who met on Roosevelt Street: “I pray the future will find the local Church of The Nazarene to be the center of our lives!” These days, it seems too often that rather than most people planning their lives around the life of the local church, the local church just gets planned around people’s lives -- if it’s convenient. People in surveys have indicated that if they attend weekend worship 1.5 times per month, they count themselves as committed to the local church. Are we okay with that statistic?
Finally, I am realistic. I know how busy life is and how priorities have shifted, but I fear the price we will pay in the future for these present changes could be spiritually and relationally catastrophic. Remember, that our local church only asks people for 3 things: (1) Worship with us on Sundays. (2) Pray about joining a Life Group. (3) Find your place as a team player in our Volunteer Culture. (Question: Is that really too much to ask?)
How I want to see our local church grow over these next 10 years for Jesus’ sake! Will you join me? How about this Sunday? We’re OPEN! My message title this Sunday, March 30 is: “As It Was in the Days of Noah!”