Reveal the Encounter Issue 4

Thinking about the following months that would follow the church vote to embrace and follow this new vision for ministry brings a mixture of emotions that I can probably never fully articulate.  As I continue to unfold this story, my prayer would be that you can feel and understand the emotions and resulting actions that this local church experienced.  The church may have voted the first part of March to proceed with the vision, but it was May before we were able to officially list our church building for sale because of COVID.  Everything in this world came to a screeching halt over those months and many churches even found themselves questioning if they would still be around at the end.  Thankfully, we only had to make a few adjustments, but the faithfulness of our people kept the church moving.  We listed the property and just 2 short months later, we had received and accepted an offer that would put us exactly where we needed and wanted to be at.  God was moving in our midst and we could feel Him walking beside us during these days.  At the time, we felt that things would be ok and our local church could survive not only this pandemic, but just simply survive.  We began the five months of our conditional period.  For those who have never bought or sold commercial real estate, the buyer always gets a certain time to investigate and research that the property will work for their intended purposes.  So, we were under contract but not yet officially sold.

We knew that we could not wait until the end to start cleaning out a 83 year old facility, so we began the process of cleaning and planning to move.  Over the next months we would clean, pack and plan for the transition.  I began the process of trying to locate a new location that we would rent and begin doing ministry from that was in alignment with our new vision for ministry.  I went on whirlwind property viewing outings with our realtor.  After running all over West Little Rock and looking at any facility within our price range, I finally had three potential properties that I believed would work for doing ministry in this new model.  Unfortunately, none of them worked out for us, so I began the process again.  But again, none of them would work out and we were now getting very close to our move out/closing date.  The amount of times I would go from a good day to a bad day in an instance couldn’t be counted.  Prices were going up in the midst of COVID and we could no longer afford to rent anything in the area.  We couldn’t afford to stay where we were at or buy/rent anything either.  We were definitely in the midst of a deep valley but all the while I was trying to help my congregation see the light on the mountain even when I was struggling at times to.  These were definitely difficult times, but as I look back, isn’t that when hope is at its strongest?

I received emotional whiplash so many times during these months.  To go from a high to a low and vice versa almost instantly will wear anyone down.  We were learning and stretching as a church in so many ways.  We had to relearn that the church is not a building and that believers don’t have to possess a building or meet in a building to call themselves a church either.  I know that this can seem like such a simple concept.  A concept that many of us would agree with whole heartedly within the church, but easier said than done.  It was a struggle and it is still a struggle to this day not thinking about the local church revolving around a location.  If we really stop and think about it, some of the deepest struggles that the modern local church is experiencing, revolve around the attachment to a building and location.  We spend a lot of money and energy into a location when if we really stop and think about it, a location does save us and God is not restricted to a building.  In fact, when the curtain was torn in the Temple at Christ’s death, this wasn’t just about us being able to go straight to God, but about God being able to dwell amongst us.  God’s presence didn’t need to stay restricted to the Temple.  Christ made a way for God’s presence to dwell amongst us and not be confined to a building or just the holiest people.  Yes, we are to be sent out, but let’s face it, how many of us struggle to fulfill God’s mission of helping reconcile this world to God when the building is comfortable and built, designed and decorated just the way we want it.

Back to the story of Rose Hill, I finally had no choice but to reach out to a sister Nazarene church down the road who had a great space they weren’t using that we could setup and leave setup for our ministry needs.  Setting up and tearing down every week was not an option for us.  Unfortunately, this scenario would require us to move our worship service time to the afternoon but overall, it was our best and only real option we had.  In so many ways it seemed like we were just loosing ground time and time again, but we were rediscovering these incredible truths about being the church.  Remembering being the church is about being the hands, feet and face of Christ was both freeing and empowering.  I felt like the Grinch learning about the meaning of Christmas, “His heart grew three sizes that day.”  Certain elements of the local church aren’t bad and they can really add something meaningful to the local church and its ministry, but they aren’t the point of being the church or the glue holding everything together.  We can add things on top of the foundation of the church, but the foundation cannot be lost or forgotten or the whole structure will come crumbling down.

As we moved into our sister church’s facilities, I met with an architect and contractor to see if we could possibly afford to build a new facility.  I knew that this was not necessarily in line with our vision, but I wondered if it could still work and I was simply just getting desperate. I met with them, was given some ideas and guidance on what our options could be and by that afternoon, I had found a property we could possibly afford to build on.  We even went so far as to put in an offer.  The offer was accepted and were under contract on this property.  But, when we did our feasibility research on the property, we discovered that we couldn’t afford to live on the property once we built.  We had all this money that had to be use to build a building or improve a building with and we couldn’t do anything with it.  Let me clarify that statement.  In our denomination, the money from the sale of property has to be used for either the purchase of new property, capital improvements, paying off indebtedness or church plants.

Now I would like to stop here because I have just covered a lot of territory and I know my head is spinning just reliving those 6 months.  Things had been moving so fast and they suddenly came to a screeching halt.  Another case of whip lash!  What would we do?  How would I tell everyone the news?  Was this the end?  Why did it seem like a road block around every curve?  Was I going to have start looking for a new church to pastor?  The questions went on and on, never seeming to end.  I had officially entered into one of the darkest periods of my ministry.  But, as we had already talked about, the journey up and between mountains is very hard.  While I knew that the mountain was out there, while I knew that the journey to get where God wanted us to be at was not going to be easy, knowing and living are two very different things.  I was an emotional wreck!  

But, hope showed up!

Remember, hope is at its strongest in the darkest moments and God faithfully showed up.  Hope rocked our world, not in the way we thought, but it still rocked our world!  I won’t get into all of that quite yet, you’ll have to check in next week for that.

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