“What’s up with your steeple?”
If that sounds like a strange question for people to ask me, 1) I work at a church, and 2) my church’s steeple has been lying on its side in our parking lot for the last six months. During the summer, we discovered that the steeple was unsafe for our roof, so we had a company come and take it down, thinking that we could just pop it back up there after a quick fix. Well, it turns out that the steeple was damaged; and what was supposed to be a few weeks has turned into a few months as we’ve gone round and round with various people over just who bears the blame for the steeple being damaged.
So, when people find out that I work for my church, they naturally want to know what’s up with the steeple.
I laugh and tell them that that we’re the only progressive traditional Baptist church in Georgia: we believe that everything should be interactive, even the steeple.
The reality is, we’re in legal limbo. We’ll get it resolved, sure, but until then you can drive by and see a hulking mass of fiberglass and steel resting like a felled giant. And after last night’s powerful storm system moved through the area, you can drive by and almost touch the sucker from your car.
See, the wind rolled the steeple towards the road last night. Thank goodness it was tethered down, or else we would’ve had a mess on our hands this morning. As it was, the thing basically turned on its axis, and instead of running parallel to the road, it now sits at a 45-degree angle with the base near the road and the tip pointing to our athletic fields. We have a crane operator coming this afternoon to come and move it to another, safer portion of our property, as we don’t want to endanger anyone driving by.
So, other than the oddity involved here, why am I blogging about this?
Simple: sometimes we let good intentions and good ideas cause havoc. Our steeple was generously donated by some of our members, and was erected to serve as a visible cue to the Grayson area that our church stood, ready to welcome in the spiritually hurt and broken. When placed atop our roof, it made for quite the stunning sight. But, when placed on the parking lot, it became an eyesore – not just to community members, but church members as well. Right or wrong, what was once a proud symbol of our faith became a symbol of our issues.
I’m not suggesting that our church is in a state of disrepair. Nor am I against steeples. I’m not anti-Christian symbolism. I think both are needed in our cultural context.
But symbols send messages, and right now, our message is that we’re a church with challenges. All churches have challenges, because anytime you put a group of people together and ask them to marshall around a common purpose, you get common problems. If you don’t believe that, just take a look at the cubicle next to yours. Or attend the next seminar on “How to Express Appropriate Concern in the Work Environment.”
It’s not a big deal for a church to have challenges. But it’s a big deal when people think churches aren’t supposed to have them, and that’s the real issue here. Church has become synonymous with “holier-than-thou” which leads people to look for the hypocritical underbelly. And since a church is comprised of people, that’s not too hard to find. Thus, when someone sees a crack in the facade, it’s easy to say, “That whole church thing is for the birds.”
Actually, people say much harsher things, but my mom is probably reading, and I don’t want to upset her.
So our steeple on the ground is a physical reminder of a truth that we, like a lot of churches, would prefer people not know: we’re messy. And why do we not want people to know this about us? Because we think that they’ll be less likely to attend if we don’t “have it all together.” The problem is, that’s not what keeps people from coming. People can handle issues and messiness when it’s honestly addressed and owned up to; if they couldn’t, I sure as heck wouldn’t be married or have any friends. What keeps people from coming is the promise of “having it all together” is a false one. Because life, even a godly, righteous, Spirit-driven life, is messy and devoid of easy answers.
So we’re offering a message that life counteracts, and people intuitively know it.
Jesus understood this. “I didn’t come for the righteous, the religious have-it-all-togethers,” he said in my most unacademic paraphrase ever. “I came for the people who were broken and confused, and looking for help. The cure is for sick patients, not ‘well’ ones.”
The church isn’t for the holier-than-thous. It’s for the sinful-and-I-know-its. It’s for the redeemed-and-given-new-lifers. It’s for the let-me-tell-you-about-a-God-who-loves-you people.
This afternoon, a crane will come and pick up our steeple and move it to the back our property. Chances are, it will still be in plain sight to passers-by. And that’s okay. Because if the past few months have taught me anything, they’ve taught me this:
Those people asking me about our steeple are people I can talk with about my God.
Sometimes, owning the mess is better.