I recently had the delightful privilege of attending the 25th anniversary celebration of Trinity Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Canton, Michigan. Pastored from its inception by my father-in-law, Reverend Bill Moore, the church was founded in 1979 and has enjoyed tremendous blessings from God of growth and ministry throughout the past quarter-century.
As a special treat for my wife’s parents, the celebration committee flew my entire family in from Washington (all seven of us), housed us lavishly at a nearby hotel, and whisked us out from a storage closet at the proper moment in the program. It was a glorious surprise, especially considering how many people were “in the know” — Kathy’s parents were overjoyed.
The congregation was unstinting in their enthusiastic desire to heap honors on Pastor Moore and Cindy — indeed, they presented them with a series of gifts and accolades that awoke a deep sense of “holy envy” in my heart. As I considered the ministry of that church over the past 25 years and all the spiritual “bricks” that built it, I was filled with a yearning that my life would be shown to have produced this kind of eternal fruit.
What are the bricks that make up a church? I’m not talking about the physical building, or even the individual members that exercise their spiritual gifts during a particular time slice in the life of a church. I’m referring to an N-dimensional church — one that occupies the usual three physical dimensions to be sure, but that extends across time and a number of spiritual dimensions as well.
Imagine a church that is measured in “length” in Biblical teaching, perhaps in “width” in fellowship; “tall” in terms of evangelical outreach. Viewing the slideshow of pictures assembled from the last 25 years, I was struck, even stunned, by the large number of lives that have been dramatically changed by the ministry of this church. Marriages saved, relationships restored, griefs comforted, families bound together. Men and women, boys and girls have found meaning, freedom and purpose in an intimate relationship with their Creator.
I think that a church, at least a thriving church, has a distinct vision or driving purpose specific to that particular body of Christ. It will possess a continuous history and often a connection to a larger organization. It may have scars and blemishes. Some churches acquire a disfiguring handicap that can transcend a particular time or membership and stunts growth for generations. Others develop policy and procedural “muscles” that help it to remain vital and to avoid falling into error or apathy.
One of the tributes for Pastor Moore involved a skit along the lines of “what if Bill Moore had not been our pastor?” The parodied Pastor Howitzer and his “my-way-or-the-highway” organizational philosophy threw Bill’s gentle style into sharp relief. Here Howitzer displays the organizational chart for his “Church of the Army of God”:
A few minutes later, the spoof pastor has his secretary do pushups for failing to remember creamer in a cup of coffee — it really helped me to reflect (by dramatic contrast) on the type of influence that this particular pastor has had on this particular church, through patience, peace and kindness.
I fear that if I were a pastor, I would tend toward the Howitzer model, particularly the camouflage vestments. This could be one among many reasons why God has not called me to be a pastor.
In his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes:
“For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work.”
In my mind’s eye, I can picture Pastor Moore walking around the construction site with a set of plans, correcting a crooked wall here, arguing about windows with a foreman there, bringing cold soda-pop to a group of roofers in the hot sun, talking on the phone with material suppliers and generally overseeing the construction of God’s church over the years.
I think of my own life, and the things that I have built and am building that have eternal value. How much hay and straw and wood am I using in my day-to-day activities, as I serve my church, raise my children, build my business? And where can I lay my hands on some gold, silver, or costly stones?
It seems evident that my father-in-law, along with many others, has built with gold, silver and costly stones. Trinity EPC is a vibrant church with a large number of members actively using their spiritual gifts in the ministry of the church. Truly it is an honor and a privilege to be a part of God’s work and to see the result of our labors become so much larger than the sum of individual contributions.