Sixteen years is a long time. It is a long time to pass while doing something easy and comfortable. If feels like three times that long when it is spent doing something uncomfortable and difficult. Having church in a rented facility is uncomfortable and difficult.

On June 1, 2018, after 16 years of building on a new church facility, the saints of Kootenai Community Church moved into their long-anticipated home. I am still not over it!

To put this whole thing into perspective, it might be helpful to consider those 16 years in light of a few other related facts. When we moved out of the old church building in March 2002, George W. Bush was President of the United States. It was less than 2 years into his administration. We would be in the school for 6 years of Bush, 8 years of Obama and then 18 months of Trump. Our building program spanned three different Presidential administrations.

On June 1, 2018, I had been pastoring Kootenai for 21 years and 6 months. That means that 75% of my pastoral ministry has been spent in building a building while meeting in a school. Since I am only 46 years old, this building has occupied one-third of my lifespan. My two youngest children do not remember attending church in the old church building (Ayden was 2 months old and Liam was born after we moved to the school), and my oldest two children only have the vaguest memories of the old building. My youngest daughter was 16 when we moved into our new facility and this is the only “church building” that she has ever known as her home for worship services.

Since I measure eras of my life by the books of the Bible I preach, I find the following facts fascinating. When we moved out of the old building in March of 2002, I was preaching in Ephesians 5. After finishing up Ephesians, I preached through 1 Peter in 43 sermons. After 1 Peter, we tackled Acts from February 2004 until June 2007, totaling 160 sermons. Acts was followed by Philippians which lasted until March 2009 (73 sermons). We had a brief study (relatively speaking) in Jonah of only 17 sermons, ending in July 2009, and then came John. Yes, John. From August 2009 through July 2016 we studied John in 306 sermons. Ecclesiastes lasted 47 sermons, from August 2016 to November 2017. We started Hebrews on November 27, 2017, and had our first worship service in the new facility on June 3, 2018. The first sermon preached in our new building was from a text completely unrelated to building programs or new facilities – Hebrews 2:1-4. Ephesians, 1 Peter, Acts, Philippians, Jonah, John, Ecclesiastes, and Hebrews, as well as numerous guest speakers, special sermons, and mini-sermon series for Christmas and Easter, occupied us during those 16 years.

Nearly half of our building process took place in one book – John. John and Acts together comprise nearly two-thirds of the time it took to build the building. On a side note, John accounts for one-third of my 21 years in pastoral ministry.1

kootenai-schoolOver the course of the 16 years, we have moved 5 times and been in 5 different locations. We moved from the old church building to the school, to an office building in Ponderay, to the Funtastics building in Kootenai, back to the school, and then into our new facility.2

I didn’t bother to keep track of how many times we had to “set up the church” and then tear down again, but it was in the hundreds. It was around 850 Sundays (minus summer months) that we have been “mobile.” The set-up crews composed of various people over the years worked at least 7-800 times to make sure it was all ready to go by Sunday morning.

Sixteen years is a long time! But it was a long time filled with some great lessons. Here are a few I have gleaned, provided in no particular order.

It is not necessary to compromise your convictions to build a building.

When we first began to seriously consider moving into the school and start a building program, we had earnest discussions amongst the elders and other spiritual leaders about the danger of temptation to compromise. Some expressed the fear that the need for money to finish the building would cause us to compromise the message, the strength of our teaching and preaching, and our biblical convictions in order to draw people in. More people would mean more money. In order to get more people, we would need to compromise and tone down our commitments to sound doctrine and deep, hard expository preaching. It certainly was a very valid concern and not one without precedent in other building programs.

I don’t believe that KCC compromised anything. We never strayed away from hard doctrines, divisive topics, or unpopular positions. In fact, it would be difficult for me to count the number of people who have left because we DIDN’T compromise on some of those issues.

A long, drawn-out building program does not need to detract from the main focus.

This was another concern raised at the beginning, and again, it is a valid concern. How many times have we heard about churches that start off well, then begin a building program, and before you know it their entire ministry, their entire focus, their entire budget is about nothing but the building. Pretty soon, the philosophy of ministry is driven by the need to get into the new facility and not by fidelity to Scripture. It is not difficult to forget to keep the “main thing” the main thing.

Our slow progress may have been the very thing to keep us from getting distracted. It’s easy to remain focused on the important things when so little is going on with the building program. Because things moved slowly, there was not a lot to report week by week. We were able to take it slowly and not feel like we had to talk about the building every time we gathered together for worship. In that way, I think the length of the building endeavor was a blessing to our church body.

Some Christians do not understand what the “church” is.

It never ceases to amaze me what some people look for when they are searching for a new church. Some people never even visited us because we met in a school. It’s not that they objected to us renting a public facility, but rather, they wanted someplace that had its own building. Meeting in the school cafeteria just didn’t feel “churchy” enough for them. Some people visited KCC while we were in the school, but never stayed for the very same reason. Many of these folks, with whom I have had this conversation, have ended up settling for unsound doctrine, weak preaching, and unbiblical leadership, just so they can have the feeling of a “churchy” church.

Some folks didn’t stay because we didn’t have convenient parking, conventional Sunday School classrooms, or places to hold midweek activities. Some folks left KCC after a number of years simply because it was “taking too long.” They didn’t have the patience to see it through. They simply did not understand that the church is not a building, it is a people. Consequently, they missed out on the joy and blessings that God has given to us for our patience. Not only that, they missed out on learning some very important lessons along the way.

God’s people are generous, and God is faithful to provide through them.

It never ceased to amaze me through the years to see the hand of God’s gracious provision through His people just when we needed it. Before we even thought about building, or even knew that we would need to, God abundantly provided over and above our budgeted needs month after month for years. That money was saved while we didn’t even know what we were saving for. When we had the opportunity to buy the land at a fantastic God-given price, we had just enough money in savings to purchase the land and buy the equipment needed to move to the school.

When we didn’t think we had enough people and resources to even get off the ground, God stunned us by His provision through our very first “Consecration Sunday.” We raised enough money to get the building designed, and start working on the foundation. Just about the time, we ran out of money, the Hope Bible Chapel closed its doors and gave us their facility. We were able to sell that building and the land for $425,000. That was enough money to purchase the concrete slab, the steel building, and get it constructed.

Through the years, just when we needed it, God has provided the workers, the money, and expertise. We have received gifts from God’s people in large amounts and small from all over the country; some who have visited our church while on vacation, some who moved away from our church to other places, and some who just knew of our situation. All gave generously over the years.

God’s timing is perfect, and His provision is faithful.

ed-barba-short-hariEd Barba looks better in short hair!

Yes, it is true. When I first met Ed Barba, his hair desperately needed to be cut. His long, black, flowing locks made Fabio look like Bruce Willis by comparison. Sometimes he would gather it all together into a ponytail or a “man bun” for special occasions. Rapunzel would have envied the crown of glory that Ed managed to grow.

Then Bonnie Mauck had a great idea for a fundraiser. It involved raising money (for the building) and shaving Ed’s head. He has never grown it back out long, and the world is a better place because of it.

God can accomplish His purposes in spite of any limitations.

Even without a building program, we would know this. That statement describes everything that God has done throughout human history. But it was certainly a blessing to see it unfold right before our own eyes.

For 16 years we were at the mercy of others. Every year we were dependent upon the graciousness of the public-school system to allow us to meet in their building. Our contract was renewed yearly. During that time, our nursery, Sunday School classrooms, and our security were far less than ideal. Children sat on the floor in the hallways for Sunday School. The nursery was right in the middle of the entryway.

During part of that time, we had Awana in a grossly undersized building. All our big events had to be at the school. We had to arrange for renting other facilities for anything that was not a Sunday-morning worship service. We had no place to do conferences or any kind of special events. The amount of equipment, chairs, and Sunday School supplies was limited by the trailer that housed all our equipment for those 16 years.

Yet, during that time, we continued to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The saints that comprise KCC used their spiritual gifts in serving and ministering to one another, our Sunday School and Awana ministries flourished, and our church body thrived.

The body at KCC is a serving, sacrificing, and adaptable group.

Meeting in the school was a lot of hard work. It took a lot of effort for a crew to shovel out the snow around the trailer and move it over to the school every week for set-up. It was a lot of work to shovel out the school and unload the trailer in the worst and harshest weather that North Idaho has to offer. It was a lot of hard work to pack everything up each and every Sunday, load it back in the trailer, and take it away. It was a lot of work to sweep, mop, and clean the school after every use.

Being mobile makes everything more difficult. Sunday School, the sound system, music practice, leading worship, special music, the nursery, and cleaning the building were all more difficult. Even preaching and teaching in that environment was more difficult.

Yet, the believers of KCC were willing to call a school cafeteria “home” for 16 years. So many were willing to endure that pain, work, and frustration. Why? I believe it is because they understand that the church is not a building but people. The building is irrelevant. The people are not. I do hope that this is one lesson that we will not lose sight of now that we are in our own new facility.

Conventional Wisdom is wrong.

Conventional wisdom says that any church building program that goes more than a couple of years will never get completed. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Conventional wisdom says that any building program longer than five years will split the church. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Conventional wisdom says that doctrine and preaching must be compromised in order to draw people in to fund a building program. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Conventional wisdom says that a church without its own building cannot thrive. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Conventional wisdom says the church must go into debt in order to build a building quickly. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

Conventional wisdom says that within one year after a building program, the senior pastor will resign and go to another church. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Conventional wisdom says that people will not put up with the difficulties and challenges that we have faced. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Sixteen years is a long time! When everything is more difficult, it seems even longer. Yet, I’m not sure that in the end I would really have wanted it to be any different. It is difficult for me to even express the awe and wonder that I feel, the overwhelming sense of gratitude to our God, every time I walk into this facility to work or worship. I stand amazed.

What would this church (the people, not the building) be like if we had not had to endure those 16 years? That is a question I cannot answer. I am certain that it would not be as good. That much I know. I can say that with certainty because God worked it out this way for our ultimate good. If there were a better outcome, a better path, God would have taken us down that one. Whatever that other path would have been, I’m glad we did not take it. 16 difficult years was worth it! It was all for our good!

Even if the only thing we were to get out of it was Ed Barba in shorter hair, it was still worth it!

Footnotes

  1. Before moving over to the school, between December 1996 and March 2002, I preached through 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, Nehemiah, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Ecclesiastes (Yes! We did this twice!), Habakkuk, Haggai, Malachi, and 1 John.
  2. We had to vacate the school for 1 year while they did expansions and renovations. They were sad to see us go and thrilled to have us back.
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