Old And Abandoned
On my way to work this morning I had to go by a post office in a small town to mail a bill. Since I had to turn off the main highway to get to the post office, I decided to just take a back road for a little ways and then intersect the highway and continue on to work. As I eased down the road I noticed two or three old store buildings on the east side of the road near a railroad track. I let off the gas and tapped the brake and slowed down a little more just to take it in. I didn’t stop but I should have. As a matter of fact, I may just return home by that route and stop next time.
The old buildings were evidently old store buildings from the distant past. The shape they were in and the way they were built echoed a time that is well past and gone. I do not know what kind of stores they were, but they had that “store front” look. I wondered if it was dry goods, groceries or perhaps a dress shop. I will find out later, but my mind raced. This little town was once a boom town. It was a hustling and bustling place. If you weave in and out of her streets there are houses still standing tall and erect, boasting of wealth in its day and the prosperity of its people. There are some, however, that have succumbed to the elements and to neglect. It always saddens me to see a building wasting away, especially one that stood back a hundred years or so ago.
Most would probably think the town was dead and just needed a funeral. But, it is not so. It is no longer a thriving business center, but it is still filled with people. Some are farmers. Some are business people in the area, though they are few. Some choose to live there and work elsewhere. While some have retired and just live quietly remembering how it used to be. Amazingly, there are still some young people who make their home there and embrace the drive to work in other places. There is quality life, even among the look of death.
If searching for a place to live, most people would probably reject this little town. “There’s not enough to do here,” they might say. “It’s too far from Wal-Mart,” others might think. Some might even say,”How could anyone live in this `God forsaken place’.” But they are wrong. There are a lot of folks who recognize life at another level.
Life in a small rural town typically has a higher quality. The people are not as busy doing busy things just to say they’ve done something. They spend more time on the porch and around the dinner table and actually think it is a high value in life. They take time to watch flowers grow and play games with the children and grandchildren. Instead of rushing off to soccer practice thirty miles away, they just kick the ball in the yard… and sometimes in the neighbor’s yard… and that’s ok. Sure there is work to do, but somehow, it seems to blend into a natural satisfaction of life in general. Life is good. I’d even venture to say it is better.
We often get the idea that bigger is better. And, perhaps there are times that this philosophy is true, but not always. We think of churches like that. In almost every religious paper you pick up these days there are articles about dying churches. It is true that some are dying out. But, it is also true that some are dying down, just like this little town. There is evidence of a more flourishing time, just as it was across that track this morning. But that does not mean it is dead nor does it mean that it will cease to exist. The church cannot die. It is given life by God Almighty. He gave it His breath. He empowers the weakness of humans to show strength in this world. Congregations may die out here and there, but the church will never die.
There was once much more going on in the little town nestled along the railroad track. There was more to do and people were busy keeping busy. There were more “issues of life” to deal with than there is now, but life was not necessarily better. We have churches full of busy people wanting to stay busy doing “stuff” because they do not know how to settle down and take life at another pace and another quality. People who live quality lives can do more in a few minutes to minister to the needs of a community than busy people can ever do. Churches that are small should not be looked down upon as if God has not blessed them. You will often find quality ministry among the relatively few in higher measure than you will among the busy bunch. It may not always be so, but I would not count on it being the other way around.
It does not matter whether a church is large or small as long as the people understand that real ministry is not just being busy and having a lot of activities with which they must keep up. Quality people do not live trying to relive the past. There is no one in the little town trying to reopen the stores. They embrace the past and hold on to the present and the future. The present, in a town or a church, can be seen by all of us. But the future is up to God and His working. We cannot see it. We might try and plan it, but it can come out altogether differently that we plan. It is not in our hands.
So, what’s the point here, you ask? Enjoy the past. Relive it in your mind and tell you children and grandchildren about it, if you must. But, above all, embrace the present. The present is what God has given us and the future is still in His capable hands. If we could only understand that we are already gifted by God to do His work and if we would quietly and continually do what He has gifted us to do, all the threats or thoughts of a dead or dying church would disappear. God is in control. Anytime we reverse that statement and put us in control, then we need to worry about dying. Ministry happens all around you. Let it happen through you.