It's not the years, it's the mileage

It was great to visit Nashville during General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It was especially good to meet the other [D]Mergent writers and hear how their churches and careers have changed over the years.

The future is flexible, but the past is fixed. One of the more interesting sites in Nashville is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Imagine seeing Hank Williams’ guitar, Minnie Pearl’s hat, Elvis Presley’s limo, Porter Wagoner’s Nudie suit, Sam Phillips’ studio gear. But after walking past display after dusty display, I couldn’t help but lament how lifeless all this stuff was without the stars who once brought it to life.

It’s great to see one of Bill Monroe’s mandolins on display, but it’s far greater to see Marty Stuart actually playing one. Many of the instruments on display are cheap instruments you might find in a second-hand store or pawn shop. Their value lies not in what they are, but in who they used to belong to.

I spend a lot of time in church when nobody else is there. Fill the place with a congregation and it sings! You can just see friendships being formed, missions being hatched, children growing up, connections being made that will lead to better lives. Take away the people and it’s just an expensive building.

A church is a congregation, not a building. But the building is the instrument we play, the jacket we wear, the limo we drive. Without people, it’s still a building rich in history and fond memories, but it just doesn’t sing.

The best way to honor those who have gone before us is to carry their legacy forward. Just as they welcomed us in spite of our shortcomings, we must in turn welcome others into the fold.

We may have a roof over our heads, air conditioning, classrooms, a kitchen, and a wonderful sanctuary. Building and maintaining these facilities is a struggle. For churches that fail to welcome new people in, that struggle eventually overwhelms the resources of their shrinking congregations.

They say old guitars sound better not with age, but with use. Something about the vibration of the sound shakes the wood fibers into place. The unused instrument might look better, but the better sound comes from the guitar that has seen a few gigs.

An empty church building might be filled with fond memories or brimming with potential, but it is not a church. An empty pew is a chance to share the Good News of Christ with someone else. It’s a relationship waiting to be formed, a family looking for restoration, a soul yet to be saved. It’s the next note in God’s unending song of salvation.

When a congregation sells a church building, the typical buyer is another congregation. If the buyer succeeds at having church in that location, why couldn't the seller make a go of it? Is the buyer more welcoming, casting a bigger net, or marching forward with greater enthusiasm?

I appreciate that one generation need not be saddled with the debts and mistakes of the previous generation. It might even be exciting to start with a blank sheet of paper. But consider that God sometimes calls us to play new music on an old guitar. Maybe that old building is a gift, rather than a curse. Maybe you can open those doors, turn up the music and invite more people to enjoy the facilities.

Don't put that old guitar in a glass case. Play it; get used to the feel; spend time with it. If we cared more about making it sound good than keeping it looking good, we might be surprised at what beautiful music we could make.

By Joel Tucker