Thanks to my brother Karl Vaters. He is my guest blogger today and is pastor of Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley. I’m enjoying the break and a long weekend!
Hello Jenny and Pearl readers,
My sister has given me the extreme privilege of being a guest blogger. I don’t expect to do this anywhere near as well as she does, but I’ll give it my best shot. And I’m a preacher, so I’m likely to blog like one. You know what they say about old dogs…
We’re in the middle of a much-overdue renovation project at the church where I pastor. No this is not a plea for money (but if you had a little extra cash, I wouldn’t complain…).
A few months ago, during the design stage of the project, we had one of those thousand little decisions you have to make when you’re building something. This decision concerned a three-foot high wall that will enclose the brand-new patio on one side, and border a brand-new skateboard park on the other.
The contractor was expressing concern that people would be tempted to sit, not just on the seats inside the wall toward the patio, but on the wall itself to face the skate park. He was wondering how to design the top of the wall to keep people from sitting on it.
My response surprised him. I told him to add a ledge to make the top of the wall wider and to make sure the wall was strong enough to hold people’s weight. I think my exact words were “They’re gonna sit there anyway. Might as well make it comfortable and safe for them.”
I know what you’re thinking. “Compelling story, Karl. So when does your sister get back?” But hear me out.
I responded the way I did because of a change the Lord made in my heart several years ago. And it had to do with the very kids (well, a previous generation of those kids, anyway) that we’re building our new skate park for.
I’ve pastored two churches where we’ve had what many consider the “problem” of teenagers hanging around the property looking for something to do. In the first church, over twenty years ago, we were right next to a high school. The school had passed a zero tolerance rule for smoking, which sounds great on paper, but what that meant was that the kids who smoked didn’t stay on campus during their lunch break. Instead, a whole lot of them congregated – you guessed it – in our church parking lot.
The first day they showed up I was shocked and offended. “How dare they do that here!” I thought. “Don’t they know what kind of building this is?!” So I pumped myself full of self-righteous indignation as I marched out of my office to teach these kids some manners.
As I was about to open the door, it was as though a presence stopped me in my tracks and a small voice in my head said, “You know what, Karl? They don’t know what kind of a building this is. But the moment you open your mouth, they will.”
I pulled myself away from the door and walked back to my office where I wrestled with God, my conscience and my self-righteousness for quite a while. To make a long story short, instead of shooing them off the property, I approached the church members and the nearby Bible college about the opportunity we had. In less than a month, and for the rest of the time I pastored that church, once a week there was a group of Christian students and student leaders who set out ashtrays, gave away free pizza and hung out with a growing group of high school smokers in our church parking lot.
I wish I could tell you stories about transformed lives, salvations and broken addictions that resulted from Pizza Thursdays, but I can’t. I don’t know of any. But I do know this: if those former high school kids have ever, in the last twenty years had occasion to think about God, Jesus or the church in a negative way, it wasn’t because of us. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a thirty-something adult out there now whose life has been changed by Christ, and when we get to heaven we’ll find out that it was partly because, instead of yelling at them or putting up “no smoking” signs, a pastor made sure they got free pizza and had a chat with a friendly face.
So what does that have to do with turning a low wall into a seat for skater wanna-bes at the church today? At Cornerstone, where I’ve been privileged to pastor for almost eighteen years now, we had kids hanging around too. But they weren’t smokers, they were skateboarders.
Instead of shooing them away or putting up signs to keep them out, we welcomed them and built skateboard ramps. And sold pizza for fifty cents a slice. And at this church, after more than ten years of welcoming skaters, their friends and their families, we do have some life-transformation stories. Dozens of them. Every year.
The principle is the same for the new wall.
We all want to control the way people enter or stay in our lives. And no one is worse at this than church people. Jesus welcomed the sinner. We shoo away the smoker and the skateboarder. We tell people “this is a church, behave the way I do” or “this is a wall, it’s not for sitting” much like we put spikes on the top of walls, statues and crosses to keep birds from building nests in them and pooping on them.
I don’t think Jesus was a spike-planter. I think he was a nest-builder, even though he knew better than anyone the mess it would cause. He just thought that having people in his life was worth the mess.
And I figure if people want to sit on a wall, we ought to make it comfortable and safe for them. It’s a pretty low price of admission for having more people in our lives.
Every day of our lives you and I face similar decisions, and not just at church. Will we accept people the way they come in to our lives, along with both the mess and the love that they bring? Or will we keep demanding that they come in the way we want, and have less mess, but less love too? By our attitudes, are we putting up signs or ramps? Walls or seats? Spikes or nests?
I don’t want anyone else erecting signs, walls or spikes when I want to be a part of their life. So I’m learning to build ramps, seats and nests when they want to be a part of mine – and maybe if I serve them a little pizza they’ll stick around a while.
I think the mess is worth it.