This past summer as I was preparing for our church's covenant membership series I dropped by the Seattle Central Library, located in downtown Seattle, to do some research on the history of Jesus' people in Seattle. What I found shocked me. On the bottom shelf of an isolated rack, located in a quiet corner of the Seattle Room on the top floor, I found a box. It was largely unmarked. I don't know why I decided to open it, but I did. The condition of the box made it evident that it hadn't been opened in some time. The box, about the size of a small shoe box, was packed with hundreds of 3x5 cards.
The content? Each card represented a church in King County (i.e. the greater Seattle area) that had closed its doors (labeled as "defunct") through 1936. As I flipped through the cards, I saw that in the vast the majority of cases the cause of closure was a moral failure of the pastor. Here, before me, were upwards of 500 cards (maybe more) that served as an illustrative snapshot of churches that were planted and, subsequently, closed for one reason or another -- in this city that I love and is in such need of gospel-centered, Jesus-loving, Bible-believing churches.
that box was sobering, sad -- and, oddly, incredibly motivating. I
thought, "This must be Satan's favorite section of the entire library." I've been thinking about that box ever since and believe there are a number of things we can learn from it:
First, God is unfolding a story that surpasses our ability to comprehend. There is nothing like looking at a box of 500+ defunct churches that were once in your city to make you feel small and, well, humbled - especially as a church planter. There is nothing new under the sun (Ecc 1:9) and one day we too will pass the Gospel baton onto the next generation - and be forgotten. That's a helpful reminder to not take ourselves too seriously, but Him very much so.
Second, the enemy does indeed prowl around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) There is a real enemy and he would like nothing more to have every Gospel-centered church on a card in that box. We are not as strong as we think we are and we are wise to be wary and watchful. Not one of the pastors whose names are typed on those cards began their ministries thinking they would end up in that box.
Third, God doesn't need us but he uses us in his ongoing story as instrumental agents. If there is any evidence that God doesn't need us, it is that box. While it may be Satan's favorite box at the Seattle Central Library, Jesus is sovereign over it. His ongoing redemptive work is not limited by it. He permitted it to happen. It's a reminder that our work in and for the gospel in our neighborhoods is important - even crucial - but Jesus has the last word.
Fourth, we have a lot of work to do. As a flood of emotions washed over me as I imagined all of the impacted people, families and communities represented by these cards, two specific thoughts came to mind. For one, it became even more evident how much work we have to do in our city. There is not just "room" for more churches, there is a "need" for them. There are some great things happening here, but so much more needs to be done. That is motivating. The other, is that there is a need for increasing unity among gospel-centered church in our city. It's ironic, and likely, to think that the only time these churches came together for anything was in this box. I'd like to see that change.
Fifth, even though these churches were closed, for one reason or another, that does not mean Jesus did not use them in significant ways. Churches are living organisms. Living organisms tend to have lifespans - some shorter, some longer. It is easy to think, "Oh, what a waste!" That's true, in part. But, it is also fair to assume that Jesus did significant things in the lives of those involved with these churches prior to or even because of these closures. He is that big - and that good.
"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever." Ephesians 3:20-21
Let's pray for our cities, our churches and our pastors, and ask him to do what only He can. If you're interested in planting a church, particularly in Seattle, contact me.