Learning to Pray by Leaving our Building
For the last 16 years, I’ve planted and led churches that gather on Sundays in hired facilities. I’ve become well accustomed to the rigours of setting up on freezing cold mornings, packing down in the dark, lost equipment, double-bookings, frustrations with other hirers (why can’t they put their rubbish in the bins), and disappointments with landlords (why didn’t they tell us the power and water would be disconnected?).
And yet, I’m very thankful for the opportunity to join Dundonald Church, which owns its building, just as the church moves out of the building for two years! Let me be clear, I certainly don’t think that churches that gather in borrowed buildings are inherently better or worse than those that meet in spaces they own. But leaving our building has energised my prayers in a number of ways.
Leaving our building reminds us to pray for God to be at work through the church
I’ve noticed a trend. The greater the connection people in church feel to the space they meet in, the more likely they are to refer to the building as “the church.” This is not a scientific study, by any means, just my observation! But being leaving our building has reminded us that the church is the people of God gathered around Christ. The gathering of God’s people here is a visible manifestation of the gathering of Jews and Gentiles taking place in heaven (Ephesians 2:6). And “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10). It’s people who make known the manifold wisdom of God! It’s the transforming power of the gospel at work in people’s lives that declares to the heavenly realms the saving purposes of God. To confuse a building for the church is to strip the gathered people of God of this high and lofty role, when in fact we should be praying that God will enable us to achieve this purpose!
If we’re going to pray that the church will fulfil its God-given mandate in London, being reminded exactly what the church is will certainly empower our prayers. Seeing God’s church clearly also helps us pray for the ministry of other local churches, in Co-Mission and beyond, with whom we’re united around Christ in the heavenly realms. Remembering who the church is, reminds me that when I pray for Jesus to be honoured, the answer will come through the words and actions of people – real men and women, boys and girls, who have been united with Christ. People will be the answer to our prayers for God to be glorified as his wisdom is displayed.
Leaving our building drives us to prayer as we learn to rely on God, and not ourselves
In writing to the Corinthians, Paul identifies the purpose behind his hardships in ministry as the need to develop a deeper trust in God and not himself, “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (2 Corinthians 1:9). Of course, the struggles of setting up a school hall on a Friday afternoon, or the frustrations of waiting in the street while an earlier hirer runs late, don’t compare to the Apostle’s hardships in the province of Asia. And yet they do drive us to prayer, because we’re reminded that we don’t conduct our ministry in our own strength, rather we rely on God. When access to the meeting space is limited to just a few hours each week and when the space itself can be taken away seemingly on a landlord’s whim, we’re driven to prayer! I know in the past I’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that ministry is more or less under our control, and that we don’t really need God. But we really need God! We pray for God to provide – everything! We pray for God to strengthen us, through long set ups, and months-long negotiations over rental. We pray for God to help us meet people, realising that our church is now “invisible” during the week with no physical presence. We pray for God to make us gracious with each other as we struggle with double-bookings – among our own ministries! We pray that God will protect us from distraction and tiredness as we try to figure out how to host funerals, Christmas events, kids activities, and seniors groups in unfamiliar spaces. Through all this I realise that I’m not in control, and I can’t bring about the gospel outcomes I long for. So, I’m learning what it is to be driven to God in prayer, because we rely on him for everything!
Leaving our building prompts us to pray for lost people
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of leaving our building, is the many new people we’ve met; people who are lost, and far from Jesus, and who need our prayers. As we’ve gotten to know new neighbourhoods, we’ve seen afresh that the fields that are ripe for harvest, and so we’re prompted to pray that the Lord of the harvest will send out workers (Matthew 9:38). We’ve introduced ourselves to those who live near our temporary venues. We’ve met staff who work in the spaces we rent. We’ve got to know those whose job it is to clean and unlock the buildings. We meet other hirers, and people who walk in looking lost. And so, as we’ve gone on mission in our new neighbourhoods, we’ve written the names of people we’ve met on “5 Friends 5 Ways” cards, asking God to have mercy on them, and to draw them to himself. Dundonald Church is not going to bring anyone in our new neighbourhoods to salvation. That’s God’s job. So, we pray and ask him to be about his work, giving life and salvation from sin.
Leaving our building teaches us to pray for that which will last
Serving in ministry in someone else’s building is often frustrating in a myriad of small ways; You might stand out the front in the rain when you’re locked out. The heaters don’t always work, and you don’t always know why. Landlords sell their buildings and suddenly your ministry is “homeless.” All of this points us to the reality that we are in fact out of our home. Our true home is a glorious resurrection body in heaven with Jesus, as Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth (2 Corinthians 5:1 – 5). There will always be a sense of homelessness and dissatisfaction as we labour in gospel ministry now, proclaiming the Word of God through weakness. Like Abraham, we look forward to “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). Even great buildings that enable wonderful ministry will one day pass away. We are reminded, then, to pray more and more for things that will last; people, salvation, character, holiness, and the glory of God. Being mindful of things that are temporary, spurs us on to pray for things that are not. Security and stability are not found here, and when property hassles or technical failures remind me of that, I’m prompted to cry out to God in prayer for the things of eternity.
God willing, in 2021, Dundonald Church will relocate into our purpose-built home in Raynes Park. Thousands of hours have been invested in plans and designs to make the space as effective as possible for gospel ministry. Godly men and women have given sacrificially to provide for future generations. And the church family has fasted and prayed, asking God to work through our feeble human efforts. My personal prayer is that when we move back in, we’ll remember how we learnt to pray, through being out of our “home.” Perhaps in Articles in 2021, someone will write of all the ways we’ve learnt to pray by gathering in the more permanent space that God has provided for us.