By J.D. Davis
Senior Pastor, Dublin Baptist Church, Dublin, OH
Focal Passage: Nehemiah 7:1-8
I have had the privilege of being a part of helping to start two new churches. I have arrived early on Sunday morning and set up folding chairs in a gym for the morning worship and stayed to take them down and put them away. There were a lot of inconveniences along the way, but there was also a special sense of excitement and fellowship. With both those churches, the first Sunday in a permanent building was a spiritual milestone.
In our Sunday School lesson this week, we find that Nehemiah has completed the building of the wall around Jerusalem. The building project was complete, but the work of forming community had just begun. Planting churches and building new church buildings is hard work, but it is exciting work. The issue for any church family is the same as what Nehemiah is facing. It is one thing to build a church and another to build up the church.
In Nehemiah 7:3 we read “I said to them, “Do not open the gates of Jerusalem until the sun is hot and let the doors be shut and securely fastened while the guards are on duty. Station the citizens of Jerusalem as guards, some at their posts and some at their homes.” Nehemiah is setting up security protocol to keep the enemy from entering the city. Notice that it is not just the duty of the guards to protect the city, but that all the citizens are called to serve. Likewise, it is not just the ministers or the deacons who guard the unity of the church, it is the task of every member.
It is exciting for the last brick to be laid, the last piece of carpet to be put down, and for the note to be burned. However, the building only houses the church. The church is made up of the people. Those people must be diligent to keep watch and keep out the things that threaten the unity of the body.
When a new church is meeting in a school or a theatre or some other rental type place, the energy and focus is upon doing whatever it takes to reach people for Jesus. With high energy and narrow focus there is a unity that develops among those key members who sacrifice so much for the purpose of the church.
When the church building is complete, people settle in and begin to declare their space, their class, their style of music, their special ministry, and their place in the pew. A church can lose its narrow focus and expend its energies on developing desires. Suddenly the sacrifice is lost and the unity is threatened. It is disheartening to see a church who at one time was focused on doing whatever it took to reach people for Jesus become a church focused on getting everyone else to do whatever it takes so I have what I like.
Beware, for it takes all the citizens of the church body on guard to keep the enemy from getting inside the gates. Gossip, dissension, selfishness, pride, and the good ole boy system can allow the enemy to enter in the gates. Just like the citizens of Jerusalem on watch for the enemy, so church members need to be on watch to protect the unity of the church.
Nehemiah is a great book for leadership and one thing Nehemiah knows is building the building is much easier than building the body. But Nehemiah would also tell you the building serves the body and the body is more important than the building.
— Davis is senior pastor of Dublin Baptist Church, Dublin, Ohio.