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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Small but Exceedingly Wise (2)

"Rock badgers are creatures with little power, but they make their homes in the crags" (Prov. 30:26).

The rock badger is most commonly known today as the rock hyrax, an animal that looks kind of like a guinea pig the size of a groundhog.  Rock hyraxes live all over Africa and parts of the Middle East in colonies in cliffside crevices.  These social animals communicate noisily with each other and coordinate their movements by posting sentries to watch for predators.  The sentries alert the rest of the group when a threat comes near.  Despite their small size (only about a foot and a half long), their inaccessible habitats and sentry system enable them to spend about 95% of their lives resting.  In Israel, land predators almost never touch them.  (Thanks for the info, Wikipedia.)

So, what can a small church learn from rock hyraxes?  The genius of the hyrax is that it makes its home where threats cannot reach.  So the logical question is, where does your church make its home, and can threats reach it there?

The immediate and natural response is to look at the church's physical address and come to one of two conclusions (this is grossly oversimplified).  The one is, "This is a great area for ministry!  Look at all the people moving in!  And it's pretty affluent; I think we can hook some big givers here.  Let's invest in our building and grounds to make it as attractive to them as it can be."  The other is, "This is a scary place for ministry.  People are moving in that are of a different culture, and they're not interested in what we have to offer.  Actually, we don't even live near the church anymore.  Property values are tanking.  Let's get our money out of the building now and relocate to where the potential is greater."

Now in one sense these responses mirror the hyrax.  They both have to do with looking at the surroundings to find the least threatening home.  But here's a question: what if the church's "home" has little to do with where it's physically located?  In fact, what if this way of looking at the church's threats and opportunities guarantees that the church will make its "home" in certain danger rather than in the crags of the cliff?

Where is your church's home?  I don't just mean your address.  I mean, where does your church believe its security lies?  Where does your church believe its identity lies?  What has to be eliminated from your church's life for it to cease to be itself, or to be a church at all?  However you answer those questions, that is your church's home.

Is that home safe from the church's biggest threat?  Actually, do you know what is the biggest, most dangerous predator threatening the security of your church?  The answer may surprise you.  It's God.  Really!  Look at what the author of Hebrews warns:
Take care not to refuse the one who is speaking!  For if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth [at Mount Sinai], how much less shall we, if we reject the one who warns from heaven?  Then his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "I will once more shake not only the earth but heaven too" [Hag. 2:6].  Now this phrase "once more" indicates the removal of what is shaken, that is, of created things, so that what is unshaken may remain.  So since we are receiving an unshakable kingdom, let us give thanks, and through this let us offer worship pleasing to God in devotion and awe.  For our God is indeed a devouring fire (Heb. 12:25-29).
Did you see that?  God is a devouring fire.  He gobbles up whatever is not made to last.  God is the one who uses the shifting tastes of the consuming public, changes in culture and expectations, demographic sea-changes, economic booms and busts, and generational turnover to shake to annihilation all that the church relies on of this world so that only what it relies on that is not of this world remains.  His kingdom is the only thing that lasts; all else will fail.  So the kingdom of God—his will, his way, his concerns—is the crag in the rock.  It is the only safe place for a church to make its home.

It is amazing how churches are prone to define their existence, their "home," by anything other than the kingdom of God.  Addresses, property, and buildings are a perfect example.  So is a fat endowment or a media presence or a charismatic leader or friends in high places.  God grants success to those who put his kingdom first, but ironically, with success, growth, and fame comes increasing temptation for a church to make other things its home and make its kingdom-obedience secondary.

Tragically, small churches often learn exactly the wrong lesson from outwardly successful large churches.  They see the trappings of success and conclude that those are the things that make those churches secure.  Then they either give up in despair or fruitlessly try to emulate them, for example, by their own obsession with how near and dear and lovely their quaint buildings are.  But the small church can become as secure as or more secure than the large church by identifying its "home," its place of existence, as the action of obedience to God that is the essence of the kingdom.  As long as the small church defines its "home" as obedience to God's will alone, God will never devour it.  He will always and only protect it.  It will be safe forever.  The building can burn down and the land be stolen, its leaders can be thrown into prison and the flock driven underground, and the bank account balance can be a big, fat zero, but as long as the church, wherever it is, continues seeking the kingdom first, it cannot die.

Small churches can do great things if they, like rock hyraxes, make their "home" where threats cannot reach—namely, by defining their existence by the unshakable kingdom of God.  It's not our size but our lack of wisdom that threatens us.  How have you seen small churches put this principle into practice?

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting series, Cory. I like this post even better than the one about ants. I recently ordered a book by Mark Dever called "Nine Marks of a Healthy Church." According to the reviews, it is about church health as opposed to church growth. I am really looking forward to reading it. It's sad to me the way people generally assume a church is healthy simply because a lot of people attend there. God uses the foolish things to shame the wise, and He often tends to choose the smaller and supposedly weaker as a vehicle for the magnificent display of His awesome power. People should never assume that God has removed His blessing because a church is not bursting at the seams with people and money. That's never been God's way.