Last year our part of the world experienced a serious drought. To help with water conservation I set up a plastic rain barrel. This year, with the drought a distant memory, it has been nicely filled barrel with reserves for watering plants and casual drinking for our dog in the backyard.
However, there was one problem that arose. The plentiful volume of water in the barrel also provided an excellent breeding ground for mosquitoes by the hundreds. To solve this problem I bought some pond goldfish for about nine dollars and put them in the barrel. They loved the larvae and ate them up like popcorn. But after three days they ran out so I went to the pet store and bought them some fish food that cost close to six dollars. To protect my investment, I also put an old screen over the barrel to keep the fish from jumping out. Now not only do we not use the captured water for watering plants (because the fish need it) but the screen keeps our dog from her casual drinking.
The above illustrates a phenomena that happens at many churches. It all begins with a crisis and need to be met (the drought and the need to save water). In the process of meeting the need in question a problem arises (mosquito larvae in the water) and a program is developed (my fish in the barrel) to help manage it so the original mission can continue. Unfortunately, though, when the program is successful and no longer needed, many churches are so enamoured with it that they begin spending their time, money and effort in keeping it going (buying fish food and putting a screen on the barrel) while they abandon their original goal altogether (conserving water).
Proof of this phenomena in ecclesiastical circles abounds. Take for instance one particular denomination who championed the Sunday Evening service as an opportunity to invite unbelievers to church and hear the Gospel. Today these Gospel meetings continue even though there is seldom any unbelievers in attendance. Instead of trying a new program or method to reach out to the lost, they have become worshippers of their program. Take also the example of one church that converted their sanctuary into a multipurpose hall so their children's programs would have room to meet. Upon the completing of the nice, new edifice, some in the church sought to restrict what kind of activity could take place in order to protect its nice new appearance. Along the way in their program to build for ministry they had become programmed to sacrifice ministry for their building.
Please don't get me wrong. I'm not against preaching the Gospel when there are people around that have never heard it. And I certainly don't think that church buildings should just be wantonly abused. I just think that when a program has served its purpose it should be put to rest. In the end, to keep doing some ineffective program out of habit, or for the sake of nostalgia, makes about as much sense as putting fish in a rain barrel.
Pastor Tim has retired from pastoring local churches and is now working alongside his wife to help refugees and persecuted Christians.