I have been called by Bellevue Christian Church to be their pastor and planter. The latter is of course very new territory that has no physical address, and at this time, the possibilities are endless, making vision the first goal. However, I am writing not about the plant but about the exciting existing congregation: Bellevue Christian Church. I met this congregation in person a month after they sold their wonderful physical facilities. The building was too big and too expensive to maintain for this “graying” congregation. The decision must have been difficult and gut-wrenching, but these heroes did just that. This group of Christians did the unthinkable–they sold the building.
Σπλαγχνίζομαι (Splanchnizomai) is the word that comes to my mind when I think of Bellevue Christian Church. The root of this word it splangchna, “pity” or more literally “bowels.” Specifically, it was used to refer to the organs removed in a blood sacrifice prior to the Christian context, when it started being used to refer to being moved to compassion from the gut.[i] As I wrote above this decision was gut-wrenching, and their decision was based on self-care.
Splanchnizomai is the word Jesus uses for the hungry crowds (Matthew 15:32; Mark 8:2). It is wonderful that Jesus refers to this feeling of pity coming up through his “guts.” Thus it should be also when the Body of Christ (Church) should also feel and act. To truly understand compassion it is important that the empathy is from the gut. Even when you are part of the crowd and the Body of Christ, even when it’s about your local congregation, you need to search your gut for the way.
Bellevue acted on this compassion, and left their building. They have funded some great things with the sale, but what is important is this congregation still exists. They are currently visiting a local UCC congregation for Sunday morning worship, which may or may not be a new home, and may or may not be 50% more people to the congregation.
It may have felt like, and still is, a sacrifice for some of the members. It is also self-care. They could have kept the church in the building, renting it out more, developing programs that would attract a family or two. However, in their collective gut they knew what was compassionate. And just as Jesus was moved to feed the thousands with limited resources, they opened up many resources for scholarships, multiple plants, regional ministries, and their own authenticity.
Their own authenticity is going to be their greatest gift to themselves, as well as part of their new vision. Instead of worrying about the building or growing, we will be worrying about our spiritual practices, about each other, and we will grow. However, I don’t know where.