“Have you not seen how I have cared for you?” was what I heard from God as I tried to convince Him my timing was far better than waiting for His provision. The church I pastor has been “homeless” for almost two years. We are what many refer to as a “church in a box.” All of what we need for our Sunday service fits into a 5-by-8-foot trailer that we haul back and forth each week to a community center. We set up, have church, and tear down within three hours. Most of the time, I feel energized and ready to take on this task, but I occasionally want church to be easier. I assume some in my congregation feel the same.
In my experience as a Christian, though, easier isn’t what we are to expect if we are living a transformed life to be more like Jesus. In 1 Peter 2:4–5, we read, “As you come to him, the living Stone — rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him — you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
We are spoken of as living stones that constitute the spiritual temple where God dwells, and we offer sacrifices acceptable to Him. This is awesome, both in the splendid sense of the word and in a deeply humbling way. The God of the universe dwells within us! What more could we want? Frankly, on the day God and I had a conversation about His timing, what I wanted was a building to house His church.
When I was appointed as lead pastor at New Vision Fellowship, most everyone at this church felt disconnected from one another and burned out in their area of ministry. We were in a holding pattern waiting for a deep-seated need to be fulfilled, but not having a clear direction. God’s immediate message was that we needed to stop talking about being a church and actually start being the church — even giving from what we felt was our point of deepest need.
We needed direction, growth, hope and new life. We discovered anew what was expected of Christ’s church: action! One of the keys to filling this deep need is found in James 1:27: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” God made it clear to us there was only one requirement if we wanted to resolve our feelings of deep need, and that was to be obedient and follow wherever He led, and where He led us was into the world.
God led us to a safe house for young moms, 85 percent of whom have come out of human trafficking. These young moms arrive at the safe house when they are pregnant and can live at the house for up to a year and a half after their babies are born. They learn how to plan and prepare healthy meals, parent, trust and live in a safe and healthy home environment. Our church didn’t come in with our Bibles to teach Bible studies. That is an important part of the mothers’ lives, but not what God asked of us. We came in to tackle the to-do list: deep-clean bedrooms, sanitize the kitchen, babyproof the house, plant flowerpots, clean gutters, pull weeds and clean the garage.
We continue to serve at this house every other month. On opposite months, we serve other community organizations. We do this hard work because these young moms deserve to know they are valued, and, because they are valued, they deserve to live in a nice, well-kept home. Our own need for direction as a church was met by offering provision to others. This fulfilled the description of true religion and began to bond us together as a church body.
Soon after beginning on this newfound call, we realized the church building we owned would have to be sold. Financially, we were in a mess. Because God made it clear to us that His only requirement was obedience and to follow where He led, we sold our church and moved out to go into the Promised Land. Two things were accomplished through the loss of a building: We are debt-free. We can grasp with clarity that the church is not the building; the church is the “living stones … being built into a spiritual house.”
Throughout our first year of being a church with clear purpose, God also brought us great financial provision of our spiritual and financial needs — far beyond what we could have ever imagined to ask for in prayer. His message was that as we are trustworthy with the little, He will trust us with more.
On the day I found myself trying to convince God that we needed a church building, He clearly reminded me of the transformational power that has occurred as we have gone from a people with deep spiritual needs who were without direction and connection to a place of great provision because we are being the church of Jesus Christ. We are still awaiting our new church home, wherever and whenever that may be, but it turns out that is not what we need to be the church of Jesus Christ.
Carlene Nisley is the lead pastor of New Vision Fellowship in Beaverton, Oregon.2