I have a relative who has a car he loves so much that after he bought it new, he took it home and put it in his garage up on blocks so the tires wouldn’t go flat. He bought a custom-made cover to place over that car, so it wouldn’t get dusty … and it has sat there for 30 years!
He loves it, he uncovers it and walks around it sometimes, and once or twice a year he turns it on and revs the engine up (from up on blocks with the garage door wide open) to make sure the car still starts in case he ever needs it. But he never drives it. To drive it would mean that he would risk the rock that cracks the windshield or the gravel that nicks up the paint job!
I guess it’s possible to love the vehicle so much that you forget to love the drive.
Cars are made to take to the open roads, to roar up steep hills and sweep down through curving roads into valleys at twilight, with the twinkling lights of the welcoming towns below.
They are made to power us safely and powerfully through storm or heat or snow, enabling us to take the journey that we could never otherwise take.
We love cars because we love the journey! Their purpose is wasted sitting in the garage!
To be honest, I felt strange being taken out to his garage on the day that he showed us his “baby.” Sue and I were younger at the time, and we could have desperately used a car that worked reliably—even an old one! It was hard for me to wrap my mind around keeping a car as a sparkling monument to the road less traveled … because the car never traveled!
Just as cars don’t exist to remain covered in a garage, garages don’t exist to be time capsules—leaving vehicles in suspended animation as the decades come and go.
Are you already guessing where I am headed?
Many of our church families treat their church buildings like my uncle treats his garage. They take the amazing church with all of its power and place it in the church building where it’s kept safe from anything bad … even though that means that it never fulfills its purpose.
They invite people to come into their church building so that they can see the church and admire it. But I wonder how many times the unchurched people visit and feel unaccountably uneasy. “If this is so wonderful, why is it kept in here?” they wonder. “Why aren’t you using it out there?”
We want the world to know that the church is alive and well; and if we can get people to come into our “church-garage,” it is possible that they will conclude that the church IS alive. But it is doubtful that they would conclude that the church is well if it only operates in the garage during certain visiting hours.
This question unsettles me: Why did the church that I pastored in Kalamazoo triple in size after our “garage” (church building) burned down? And why, when the new “garage” was completed, did we gradually level off at the new, larger size? Did we somehow, imperceptibly, return the car to its garage?
I wonder occasionally what size we would have become if we’d never built a new “garage.”
There is a rhythm to owning a car. You mostly drive it, and you occasionally maintain it. And that is the rhythm that God intended for the church … that it would be mostly active and performing exploits out in the needy world, and occasionally return to the garage for a little maintenance.
It is a sad thing when people forget what a car is made for, but that is nothing compared to the sadness of a church that has forgotten what it is made for!
Pastors, let me challenge you to get the car out of the garage and out on the open road. Yeah, she may get a few bugs on the windshield or a few dings in the parking lot. But there is no greater joy than realizing the power that the church has under the hood to change our world for the better.
Yours for the love of the journey that the Lord has called us to take …