As a pastor, one of the most frequently asked questions I get is, “Where is the church you pastor?” Largely, it is a question of location or geography…where exactly is the building? An innocent and certainly logical question for the run-of-the-mill conversation. Depending on who is asking the question, my answers range from the United States, to Kentucky, to Monticello, and to just before you get to Sonic. 🙂
Of course there are other ways to address the question. One might try to answer with a description of the health of the church at the present. In other words, it’s doing well or not so well. Another option would be to describe it’s involvement in various ministries with the use of words like committed or uncommitted. And so it goes.
But I would like to revisit the realm of geography for just a moment. Where is THE church in the world?? Spiritually, what is her context? Where has God placed all churches? In many ways we all want our church(es) to be on a bright and shining hill with gold beams streaming out from every possible direction…a lighthouse from which all those who walk, pass, or drive by can behold the glory and sing forth praises for her existence. I can vividly remember sitting in a classroom at Clear Creek thinking I would one day pastor such a church. (I now giggle at the thought). However, the reality is the church has been placed strategically into a battle-worn and dangerous environment…yes…your church too. Spiritually the battle rages on and will continue until our Lord returns.
Years ago, I had the privilege of hearing Derek Thomas speak at The Basics Conference in Cleveland. In one of the small group settings before the preaching part of the conference began, Thomas spoke of the church in the world. He gave an illustration that not only carved a vivid image into my brain, but also engraved a permanent image into my very soul. Drawing from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy (one that I am well-acquainted by the way)…he reminded all of us that our churches here in the world are not up near the pearly gates of heaven. Rather, they are placed just outside the Black Gate of Mordor, the dominion of the evil Sauron himself. Anyone who has seen the movies or read the books should well be able to visualize the dreaded Black Gate from which behind its high and protected walls, evil pulsates with a desire to go out into the rest of the world not only to conquer but destroy. Frodo and Sam all but lost their breath when they first saw the gate.
Thomas had everyone’s attention with such an illustration. I still remember the first time I saw the scene…I could almost feel the evil associated with Mordor and the Black Gate. Now…for a moment, imagine your church sitting out in front of such a place. The feelings here go well beyond eerie. The movie scene itself is frightening…though it is fiction. But our churches are not fiction…nor are their locations as described by Thomas. Mordor and the Black Gate might be Tolkien creations, but what they symbolize is very real. Thomas did not use the illustration to say that “some” churches were placed there. No, his primary point was ALL churches reside there…yes…yours and mine.
We would all do well to consider these things when thinking about our church(es) and where they REALLY are. We all tend to make a fuss when things aren’t what we think they should be. The music, the youth, the nursery, the temperature, and the preacher are discussed as though they were failing auditions on America’s Got Talent. I’ve spent the better part of my Christian life hearing about all that’s wrong with this church, that church, our church, etc. I have to believe Satan enjoys it when the church forgets she’s in a spiritual battle. Surely he grins when churches are so self-absorbed they fail to remember they are just outside the Black Gate and the evil eye of Sauron is always fixed on them. Two hour business meetings over paper towels and hand soap bring little honor to any church’s resume yet many churches have such blemishes which disclose an unforgivable unawareness of reality.
I could say a whole lot more on this and perhaps I will return to this theme again in a future blog. Scripture, as a whole, totally supports Thomas’ depiction of the church in the world. We should not expect our churches to be perfect…nor anyone or ministry to be perfect. After all, we are in a battle…and a serious one at that. The church is placed strategically in the world to proclaim the Gospel in an evil-saturated arena. Churches may try to pretend they are on the hill and everything is perfect. They might even convince themselves that they are somehow exempt from the front lines. They can act as though the evil outside their doors does not exist or does not concern them and continue to dwell on issues such as comfort and preferences. If we could picture a real church outside the dreaded Black Gate of Mordor, then surely we would not think for a moment that the church would not be aware of its surroundings. Let us not forget ours.
Blessings to all. Thank you Monticello! 🙂