I've never met a pastor who didn't agree in some measure with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian during WWII. From his cell in the Flossenburg concentration camp, he wrote, "The church is only the church when it exists for others."
Every pastor I know speaks well, stirringly even, of serving and blessing and winning those outside the church walls. But let's be honest, it's difficult at times to reconcile our speaking with our doing. If action is the fruit of conviction, if "by their fruit you shall know them," then the conclusion is inescapable: many pastors and churches could not care less about their communities.
I call this "Roof-tile Syndrome."
I derive that from Mark 2. Jesus is speaking inside a house, and "some men" bring a paralyzed man to the place, carried by four of them. They're trying to get their friend to Jesus. But a crowd knots the door, creates a barricade of backs. There's no getting past them to reach Jesus. So the men take the building apart. They rip open the roof and lower their friend through the hole. Jesus, seeing their faith (these are some men), forgives the paralyzed man, and then heals him.
And, of course, controversy breaks out among the religious folk.
Roof-tile Syndrome is when we are so caught up in the preaching of Jesus, we turn our backs to the needs of those still outside the building. We become barriers and not gateways. It's when we care more about keeping things intact than about restoring lives that are shattered. It's when we're more upset when stuff gets broken than excited when the broken are mended. It's when church gets reduced to the preaching of Jesus so that we fail to notice that we're seeing very little of the forgiveness and healing of Jesus. It is when we are so fearful about upsetting the religious folk (or homeowners) in our midst that we stop taking risks to get people to Jesus.
It's when my program, my office, my title, my privilege, my influence, my comfort takes precedence over others' needs.
It's when the church exists for itself; to hell with the rest of you.
Years ago I was invited to speak at a small church in a semi-rural lakeside community. I arrived a half-hour before the service, and the building was still locked. So I drove down the town's main drag, which the church was on. There, between the main street and the lake, were thousands of people gathered for a community-sponsored half-marathon. A local band was already playing on a flatbed. Coffee kiosks were doing a booming business. Runners were stretching, limbering up. The local radio station was giving live color commentary.
It was a festival.
I drove back to the church and found the building open. A church deacon met me at the door, took me to a small office and, before we prayed, told me how upset he was: on Friday, the church's parking lot had been freshly paved. On Saturday, someone ("probably one of those people here for the marathon") had driven an RV into the lot. Turning it around, they'd creased the soft asphalt.
The deacons had called an emergency meeting for Sunday night, and the outcome would likely be that they'd use the church's savings (they had over $50,000 in the bank) to hang a chain across the entrance of the church parking lot and prevent any further damage.
I decided, there and then, to preach Mark 2. I stood up, read the text, and asked, "What roof tiles do you need to break? What are you willing to suffer the loss of for the sake of reaching the thousands of people right outside your door?"
The parishioners sat unmoving, unmoved.