Seventeen years ago, we pioneered a church. After meeting in schools, hotels and even a marital arts academy (the boxing ring came in handy for marital counseling), we rented a building. It suited us okay except that it was leaky, not handicapped accessible, had no parking (we rented parking from the surrounding property owners) and it wasn't really suited for the activities of a growing church. We dumped a lot of money into it to get it into some semblance of a church building.
Then two years ago, we lost that building because the owners finally sold it. ( It had been for sale when we moved into it. God had kept it for us for a long time.) Upon the sale, we only had two weeks to find another building and move. We live in a Big 10 college town and property rents for around $24-$28 per square foot to start out-and that's for not so hot property as well.
Our congregation are great givers, but even those prices are a stretch because we refuse to cut into our missions budget, plus just about every piece of real estate that is open gets snatched up by the University for one thing or another or sits vacant because it's just too expensive. We had to move into a VERY small building that at one time was a small, 2 bedroom house. It was the only thing we could find and afford on such short notice. Our offices doubled up as Sunday school rooms and then one of those also was transformed every service into a nursery. We had two unisex bathrooms. We had our services in the living room with the "overflow" in the kitchen! We literally had to crawl over one another and practically sit on top of each other. We had to cut the worship team in half and didn't even have enough room for them up front. Just the keyboards and drums were up front. The back up singers and guitar player just plugged in and stood in amongst the congregation. Our people are great and realize that church is not a building and the church grew under these conditions. ( I told you before that we have the BEST congregation! Eventually you will come to see that I am right on with my assessment!) We didn't even have a sign out front because we were afraid that the city would think we were violating some code and shut us down even though we made sure not to exceed the fire code limit.
Well........GOD HAS BLESSED US WITH A HUGE BUILDING THAT IS PERFECT FOR US! And at 1/3 of the going rate with utilities included in the rental price. We are only going to pay a little more than we are currently paying for the small building. All we'll have to do is have the carpet cleaned and paint the sanctuary and office walls to get into it. It has two foyers, one suitable for coat racks and shoe wiping. Then another which will suit our Sunday morning coffee and donut crowd! There is room for Sunday school classes without encroaching on an office, a room for a church office and the pastor's office, a place for a youth room, a huge nursery with it's own bathroom, and then two other bathrooms, one for each gender. There is a kitchen right off the nursery and the foyer we will use for coffee/donuts. The sanctuary is huge. We are going to build a platform for the worship team and pulpit. There is even a covered walk way off the driveway where people can be dropped off and picked up without getting wet. Even better is that it is on the only road between the University town and the county seat, so there is tons and tons of traffic, some brand new neighborhoods, and lots of visibility for our church! We are so excited.
Last Sunday we met the whole congregation there after church to let them look at it to see if they felt it was the right building and the right time. I just kind of wandered around, having already seen it, listening to them chat with one another as they envisioned all that it could be. You see, most of these people have been with us for a very long time so they are builders/workers/visionaries and they feel a sense of ownership and belonging with this congregation. They all agreed, it's been a long time comin, but now that it's here we are ecstatic and looking forward to what God will be doing there!
In thinking about the new building and church in general, I thought about what most ministers refer to as "the corporate body" of a church. Really, the corporate body IS the church. We are spirits that live in a shell called the body. The corporate body is the church that resides in a building. The building is not "the church" just as our bodies are not really us. Our "corporate body" really gets this. I think that this building is part of their reward. And if the building would have fallen through, they would have been disappointed for all of about 5 minutes because that is just the kind of people they are.
Romans 12:3-5 (New American Standard Bible)
3For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
4For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function,
5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
1 Corinthians 12:11-13 (New American Standard Bible)
11But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills.
12For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
If this is true, then we, as Christians cannot think of ourselves in terms of individuality, except for the purpose of ministering to the whole. Yes, we each have different giftings and callings, but we are part of a greater whole and are identified not by our own individuality but by the whole. That whole is Christ. We are His body. He is the head!
Websters defines the word "corporate" as:
1a : formed into an association and endowed by law with the rights and liabilities of an individual :
2: of, relating to, or formed into a unified body of individuals
So when we join a church body, we are, in essence incorporating with the rest of that body. We are "uniting or working into something already existent so as to form an indistinguishable whole; blending or combining thoroughly; giving material form to something."
One example that I read used the the idea of blending waxes together to make a candle. Different colors and different scents are blended into one indistinguishable light. The parts are lost in the whole, never to be identifiable again and only to be spent until extinguished.
Are you a part of corporate body?
Do you see yourself this way, or are you holding onto the "identity" the world says you deserve?
Are you willing to throw yourself into the melting pot of a local body to the point of becoming unrecognizable for the good of the whole?
Are you willing to spend and be spent so that the Body of Christ, identifiable only by it's head, can be known?
Just food for thought.