An Empty House

An Empty House November 28, 2012

A Tao of Christmas shopping, from a wannabe minimalist:

So, i buy most of my kids’ clothes at consignment sales. Also sell stuff there, so i almost break even. I go to this one sale twice a year (because it is at my church and i get to shop early!) While i’m shopping for clothes, i also keep my eyes peeled for good toys at super cheap prices. I buy a few here and there, so by the time Christmas rolls around, I buy each kid one new thing, and i’m pretty much done. They get about 4 gifts each, and i have spent less on my family than my congregation spends on the family we ‘adopt’ for the season. This, if you ask me, is how it should be.

This year, i’ve picked up my usual few things here and there. The only thing my daughter has asked for is a dollhouse. Sure, no problem. Santa can swing that. Found one (on Amazon, so i did not have to brave Target or the mall) and ordered it. $37. Done.

Except…it got here last night, and i opened it, excited to see what she would see on Christmas morning, and guess what? It came with exactly NO FURNITURE. I’m sure the internets would have told me this, had i read the fine print. Quick trip back to Amazon tells me that buying the furniture for the house would cost more than the house. And by more than the house, i mean more than the house in which we live. Guess we’ll be getting creative with cotton balls and popsicle sticks to make tiny beds and tables!

Mom fail, yes. But also and excellent parable of congregational transformation. If you are in this line of work, I don’t have to spell it out for you. “If we build it, they will come!” And yet, not even a chair for folks to sit down once they get there. Much less a fully-formed mission, vision, or sense of community… You know that story.

I think many churches have long gotten over thinking that they can REALLY just build a million dollar stadium, open the doors, and expect the neighbors to roll in all 1950’s-like and ready to write a check.  However…many of us still try to take this approach in more subtle–yet just as backward–ways. “If we start a youth group, then we’ll have youth.” “Start a young adult ministry, then we’ll get young adults!” “Let’s have all-ages Sunday school again, and then people will come to Sunday school.” “Let’s start an alternative worship service, and then the alternative people will come” (guilty). “let’s have a great big church rummage sale! When people come to buy our junk, surely they will feel the love of Jesus.”

My friend Dawn preached a (much more eloquent) sermon on this latter point. If your church rummage sale really IS a great ministry, fine. But let us never confuse true outreach with getting rid of our junk. And let us never confuse a big, new, empty house with a blank slate for mission.

Of course, the right kind of space, the right program, or the right sort of gathering can serve as an open invitation to the life of faith. But to build, buy or create something whose sole purpose is to grow itself…well, it’s just backward. Not to mention costly.

I’m preaching myself a bit of a sermon here. I like to consider myself a forward-thinking leader. Trouble is, I often get ahead of ‘what is,’ in the quest for that which might be. I want to build the thing before we’ve got the people to build and support it…before we’ve even got a chair for them to sit on. Lesson learned. Again.

Meanwhile, let this be one more reminder to us all, as we gear up for Advent-proper, that there is nothing about shopping and spending that does not lead to MORE shopping and spending. You buy the outfit…you need the shoes. You buy the bike…you need the helmet. You buy the house…and well, you’d just better hope that grandma and grandpa will buy the daggone furniture.  Cause this santa is done shopping, and ready to wait. And wait, and wait, for whatever is coming, in the Spirit’s good time.

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