Paving ParadiseMonday, August 11, 2014
Most of the people on staff at the church I serve were not only hired from within (meaning, they were already an attender), but came to Christ here.
One of them came to Meck many years ago after a bruising experience at another church.
She and her (then) college roommate were heavy into the party scene. Her friend became pregnant, decided against an abortion, and both decided to rethink their lives.
They went to a church near the campus and, at first, were welcomed. They didn’t particularly "get" the music or the message, but they were eager to try and find out what God might mean for their lives.
A few weeks into their fledgling attendance, it became known that Kristina’s roommate was pregnant outside of wedlock.
Then it began.
They were not greeted with smiles at the door.
No one came and sat next to them in the pew.
People glanced sideways at them and whispered to those around them.
Finally, the pastor approached them and told them that perhaps they shouldn’t be coming to their church. He said something along the lines of "not really being their type."
Floored, embarrassed, angry, confused – the emotions were many – they left the church vowing never to darken the doorstep of one again.
But then Meck came on their radar screen, and they decided to give church (and God) one last shot. They came, and six weeks later, both gave their lives to Christ.
I had the privilege of baptizing both.
Kristina’s roommate moved out of the city after graduation, but Kristina remained.
Over the years I've watched that precious young woman grow up in her faith.
I've seen her meet and fall in love with a godly man.
I had the joy of officiating at their wedding.
God graced her with children, and I’ve had the privilege of dedicating each one. And then seeing them come to faith in Christ, and baptizing them.
Over the years, she felt the call to ministry, and now oversees everything related to arts and weekend services here at Meck, impacting thousands every weekend who were just like her.
She sent me an email just a few weeks ago:
"On my way to the new Mountain Island Lake campus, I drove by the street of that very first church I attended in Charlotte. The church that asked us to leave.
"It’s gone. It’s literally a parking lot.
"I sat in front of it for a solid minute just stunned…Though I’m not sure why. Such an odd combination of having your heart break for God’s church and the reality that God’s church wouldn’t be a parking lot right now. "
A church that really was God’s, dripping with grace toward His sin-soaked children, wouldn’t be just a parking lot.
It reminds me of a story that Fred Craddock once told about the first church he ever pastored. It was a small church in the hills of East Tennessee, near Oak Ridge.
Because of the huge facility built at Oak Ridge, where the materials for the Manhattan nuclear project were developed, this little, sleepy country church suddenly found itself in the midst of a booming population. The town became filled with temporary workers, living in RV's, tents, and make‑shift shelters all over the area.
And here was this 112 year‑old church.
Craddock saw it as a wonderful opportunity to reach out. So after church one Sunday he told the leaders he wanted to start a campaign to invite these workers into the church.
And then he began to hear it:
"I don't think they'd fit in."
"Are we sure that they're our type?"
"What kind of people are they, anyway?"
"They're only temporary ‑ they don't have houses or own property or anything!"
They decided to take a vote the next Sunday. The day came and the first thing that happened was a motion that in order to be a member of the church, you had to own property in the county.
It was seconded, and passed.
And that ended that.
Years later Craddock went to find that church that had given him such a painful memory. He wanted to show his wife the first church he had ever pastored. He found the church building, but it was different. The parking lot was full of cars ‑ RV's and vans, motorcycles and trailers.
And then he noticed the sign out front:
"Barbecue: All You Can Eat."
The church had died. It had become a restaurant.
Craddock turned to his wife and said, "Good thing this still isn't a church, or all these people couldn't even be in there."
Two stories, two churches, two parking lots. Both of them, borrowing from the song by Joni Mitchell,
…"paved paradise and put up a parking lot. "
James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is now available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit www.churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.