There was once a dry land, arid and harsh. People scratched out a hard living in this hostile world. The only clean water was dew that some collected and sold in the city square. Then one day a Man appeared next to the dew sellers. He said, “I have come to bring free water for all who will drink of it.” And with that He walked away. Some of the people followed Him. He journeyed to a great mountain that was made of solid rock. He split the rock and water flowed from it.
The people rejoiced to have something they had never even imagined before – pure water flowing freely and abundantly. There was even enough to bathe in – and more to spare. Soon an oasis sprang up with trees and bushes and grasses with grains and berries and fruit. The Man said, “Build a house for me, and for you, here on this rock.” And the people joyfully did.
Right away some of them ran back to the city and told their families and friends – and even any strangers that they met – about the water pouring from the rock, and the great house they were building, and the green oasis.
Many followed them back to the mountain to see what they were talking about, and many of them were so amazed that they forgot about their old lives and homes in the dry city and settled down right away to live in this new green place. There was abundant joy and peace, and everyone shared everything they had with everyone else. “We feel born again!” they exclaimed.
But after a while and over time, some of them started to think about their old lives in the city, and some even began to wistfully long for it – like stars had gotten in their eyes.
“But how can we leave such a beautiful place as this?” They asked each other.
Then someone had a thought. “Let’s divert the water and take it out across the desert half way to the city where it won’t be so inconvenient to reach.”
“Yes, and then we can live in the city and just journey to the water whenever we want to visit it or need it.”
So it began. But it was hot and hard work digging a trench in the desert. And they quickly started to feel that because of their hard labors that they now had a right to the water – as though they owned it, as though it was theirs. So when they built a building to house the water, they did not build it as a home, they built it as a fortress to keep people from helping themselves to the water – and they only built it with enough rooms for themselves.
“This is what the Man intended.” they told the people. “We are the His Keepers and He now expects you to pay for the water too.”
Their system worked well and lucratively, so lucratively that from time to time an outside group would form and storm the building and proclaim themselves the Keepers. But despite the new faces, the deal remained the same. That’s how it went.
Then one day people stopped coming to get the water. New water-makers had appeared in the city and they were charging less and delivering the water directly to people’s homes. Sure it tasted terrible and only made them insane with thirst (because it wasn’t really water) but it was cheap and convenient, and what’s more – it was seductively labeled “New.”
“We have to do something about this,” said the Keepers, “or the people will stop coming for our old water all together. They’ll be thirsty, and what’s worse – we don’t have any other way of making a living.”
“We have to go toe-to-toe with these water-makers. We have to fight them on their own ground!”
So they moved their building into the center of the city, and dug a ditch for the water to flow into it. Same as before.
But there was a new problem. The ditch ran for so long through the desert that most of the water was either evaporated by the scorching sun or sucked into the dry sand. Hardly any made it all the way to the building in the city. Just a little seeped in.
“Oh dear, what’s wrong!?!” They wondered. And then they wondered who to blame. “The Man must have decided to stop sharing the water so abundantly. Maybe He’s just not able to anymore, or maybe He’s run out.”
And then they realized, “There’s only barely enough for us! What will we give the people?” So they brokered a deal with the water-makers. They licensed the Man’s name so the water-makers could brand their product as His. Of course, they carefully inserted one drop of real water into each bottle so they could still label it as genuine.
But still fewer and fewer people were bothering to come to the building and get the water – and more and more of those that came were only tourists. It was just too inconvenient to fuss with when the water wasn’t really much different from what they were already getting delivered right to their homes.
“Crap.” said the Keepers, “It’s not working.” And they decided that in order to compete directly with the water-makers they would have to spend the last of their resources to build a modern network to pipe their water directly into people’s homes. “If this doesn’t work – we’re finished.” They said, “Then we will know for sure that the Man has abandoned us, and we will have to give up and find a new way – like the water-makers have.”
As we go about building a NextGen church, we have to careful that we don’t just take what we already have and label it as new, and we have to be sure we don’t dilute. People are thirsty and asking for what’s pure and true. We need to seize on this amazing opportunity to lead them back out across the desert to the oasis, and to the house on the rock where clean, living water still flows abundantly. But first of course, we have to find our way there!
“…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Jesus
I have a feeling that when we get there – if we get there – we will find many of you already ensconced. Most of you oblivious to the fact that you are God’s Church, universal and incorruptible, set fast on the Rock, fulfilling His will and meeting the needs of others in the simple small ways He loves, as His living water flows through you.
“Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’”
The church as an institution may have wandered off-course, but God’s church – the body of His believers – is doing just fine. God does not fail. He church is alive and well and growing strong. Look at the hearts around you, and you’ll know it’s true.
Is there a way to realign the dying institutional church with God’s living church of the humble and “righteous?”
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.