The doors of the church building closed one final time. The members said their goodbyes and departed, sadly making plans for where they would attend in the future. No one thought it would happen to their church, but it did and it was time to move on. The paint faded and peeled. The windows were broken or stained. The walls that once echoed with songs of praise now only heard silence.
Would we be missed if we were gone?
This fictitious story was meant to help us understand that churches close permanently all the time. And with those closures come very real consequences for the surrounding community. Or at least there should be. If your church left the community or closed its doors for good, would anyone care or notice? I know the members of a church that closed would definitely feel the loss, but would it really affect the community? Does the church have a big enough impact on its surroundings that if it were gone, a huge void would be created?
The truth is, some churches are actively providing ministries and outreach that drastically help the communities around them. And that is exactly what the church is supposed to do. We are a vehicle by which people can come to know Jesus and learn how to effectively serve Him with the abilities they’ve been given. For instance, an accountant by trade could use their knowledge to offer money management classes so that others can learn not to be chained to poor financial decisions. Maybe a group of divorcees could offer a ministry to the community to help counsel couples on how to deal with real marital issues they may be facing. Even if your talent is just being an encourager, you could use it in the community by volunteering at a local nursing home or classroom. We must ask ourselves, are we truly being Jesus in our communities, not just preaching the truth, but being servants and meeting people’s basic needs?
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
I love this passage because it reminds us that being a Christian is not just about preaching the gospel. Being righteous is not the only requirement to honor God. We can help with social problems and teach the gospel and they don’t always have to happen simultaneously. Sometimes a pressing physical need arises that needs attention before we share the gospel with others. In fact, the true meaning of the gospel is really shown through acts of service. The love that Jesus showed on the cross can also be shown when we sacrifice to take care of others. Jesus goes on to say that if we don’t take care of these obvious needs around us, then we are essentially turning our backs on him as well (Matthew 25:41-46). It means we can hole up in our churches and only focus on ourselves and be counted lost in the eyes of God if we look past the needs in the world around us.
I know that can be tough. We are called out of the world and instructed to be careful of our associations (John 15:19, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18), but we are also sent into the world as well (John 17:18, Mark 16:15). It doesn’t take long to look around and see some very desperate needs. We definitely live in a hurting world where many have lost any sense of hope for their lives. If the church doesn’t make every effort to meet those needs, who will?
I want to leave with the same question I posed at the beginning of the post. Would we be missed if we were gone? Would the entire community be affected by the closure of your church or would they barely notice? I suppose it depends on our ability to love with our words or love with our life, and I believe that Jesus calls us to not only speak the gospel with our words but to live it out as well.