Among the Challenges…

we face in Orthodoxy here in the United States is the idea that infrastructure is the goal and end of the mission of the church and not the servant of that mission. We pride ourselves on beautiful temples that are used a few times a week at best and spacious offices, halls, and classrooms, that mostly sit empty. That we possess such things is  too often considered a sign of the health and wealth of a parish and often the clergy of a parish are judged by their skill in growing and maintaining infrastructure.

The problem with this is that we are not called by Christ to build infrastructure so much as we are called to build a Kingdom. How many of our parishes are actually hobbled in the building of this Kingdom because time, money, and resources are expended in the care and feeding of infrastructure over and against doing the things that Christ actually asks us to do? How many poor are not fed? How many prisoners remain unvisited? How many sick are not tended to? How many places is the good news of Christ not heard? All because we’re so busy keep largely empty spaces funded and intact?

One of the ways a parish can measure its actual, as against perceived, impact in a community is to ask a simple question. “If our parish were to close tomorrow who, besides the members, would miss it?” In answering that question a parish can discover whether they are simply a group of people with nice facilities or a meaningful part of the movement that is the Kingdom of God, active and alive in the world around them. This can also be sobering because for many of our parishes the unclouded, truthful, answer will be “We’ve got a lot of nice things but we really don’t mean much to anyone outside our doors.”

The hard truth, though, can be very liberating as well. When parishes see themselves not as institutions whose energy is directed towards maintaining that institution’s infrastructure but rather as a mission station of the larger movement that is the Kingdom of God they can see all they have, and there’s nothing wrong with having resources per se, in its proper context. Crucial, powerful, dynamic, and wonderful changes can happen when a parish says “How do we use what we have to reach out to the world? How do we channel our resources to do what God wants us to do?”

In the case of buildings we need to ask “How can we sanctify all this space for the advancement of the Kingdom of God and the blessing of the world around us?” In the case of programs and resources we need to shift them away from maintenance for its own sake into growth, charity, and the advancement of the Gospel. In doing this our infrastructure becomes not an end in itself but a powerful tool for the glory of God and a servant of the actual mission of the Church. And as we do this we may discover a joy, passion, meaning, and life in our Faith that we thought had long disappeared.

 

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