Irving Bible Church is participating in a Day of Service on Saturday, March 25. We will be building 5 homes for Habitat for Humanity, and doing clean up projects at Cornerstone Mission in downtown Dallas and Sam Houston Middle School in Irving. We'll also be renovating 3 buildings for Brighter Tomorrows, a battered women's shelter. Now, with all of these wonderful opportunities to serve, you'd think there would be no controversy on the part of our congregation. Well, you'd be wrong. Controversy is stirring.
You see, on the weekend of this Day of Service we have decided to cancel all of our Bible Studies. We have 25 classes that will not meet that Sunday, even though the service project is on the Saturday before. Apparently many of our class leaders think this is a bad idea, and have expressed their frustration early and often regarding this issue. We have listened, but we aren't going to budge. I couldn't be more disheartened by this controversy.
IBC is a large facility with ample classroom space. We meet in a lecture hall for all 4 services on Sunday, and we have countless Bible study opportunities throughout the week. But on one weekend per quarter - that's right, 4 weeks out of the year - we ask our people to cancel their classes and participate in a wonderful service event. It's our chance to not simply "do" church, but "be" the church. Instead of being praised for this awesome chance to serve the community, we are bombarded by emails and phone calls from sour parishioners who see this as lowering the priority of their precious class time in favor of a service event that won't attract even a fraction of the people who attend Bible classes.
They're right. This Day of Service won't be near the draw that our classes are. We'll only get 1/4 of our congregation to participate. Most will stay home for various reasons, many of which are legitemate. Others will only be angry that the class time they normally enjoy won't be available to them for a week.
How is it that, in a building of constantly booked classrooms and lecture halls we find that people question our commitment to Bible study? If there's anything we prioritize over and above all else it's Bible study. The thing that gets lost in the fray is service. Service is the fruit of our Bible studies, yet we only seem to get resistance when we implement out-of-the-box ideas to help encourage it. I really don't understand.
Let me give you an example of the two kinds of mentalities that prevail among our Bible studies. I have one class of about 12-15 people who meet on Sunday mornings. They were enthusiastic about the projects and decided to participate with Brighter Tomorrows. They loved the idea of meeting off campus for a time that would, no doubt, strengthen their bond with each other and give them an opportunity to be Christ to the residents of this battered women's shelter. Every person in their class signed up to help, and they did it with joy in their hearts.
I have another class that averages 80 people each week. This class is known for its quality teaching and friendly environment. Most people would call it a great class, yet they only signed up a whopping 5 people to help with the Day of Service. Predictably, they have griped and moaned about the decision to cancel their class in lieu of the service projects.
My hope with canceling these classes is that they will know that they missed something that day. It simply won't do for me to know that 75 people who couldn't lift a finger to help might mosey on in to class that weekend and feel that they are in God's will and haven't missed a thing. It won't fly with me to know that they had a wonderful Bible study but never realized that they missed out on the most important part, the application of the Word of God. To me, their faith without works is worse than dead, it's apathetic. Even death isn't worse than not caring.
Kevin Costner, in the movie "Open Range" says a line that cuts right to the heart of our fat American churches. He looks at a man and his two sons who are scared they might be killed if they do the right thing and says, "There are worse things that can happen to a man than dying." There are worse things for the church as well. When we fail to serve and place a higher priority on learning than doing we are worse than dead. We are under the illusion that we are alive when in fact we are ineffective and without power. We are only window dressing. We look good, but we're useless.
I'm not sure there's anything worse we can be guilty of than that.
Let me also say that IBC is, in general, one of the most amazing service organizations that I've ever been a part of. We are not, however, immune to having problems and being selfish. We're full of people (and I'm one of them) and wherever we are, issues like this will arise. I think we do it better than most, and I'm so blessed to be a part of this wonderful church. Maybe that's why this is so upsetting.
Please know that these are my personal views and do not necessarily represent those of Irving Bible Church (although I'm sure the powers that be at IBC are right there with me!).