In the summer of 2009 I had a brief stint with the Examiner.com as the Baltimore Baptist Examiner. This was a piece I wrote for them. Alot of people asked me who the builder was. I used to say he is no one specific, a commentary on contemporary pastors chasing the mega-church model…but reflecting back on it, I now realize how much of me there is in the story.
The Builder – A Parable of the Contemporary Church
There was this one time when I went with a group of people to an empty plot of land. A professional builder was there. He jumped up on a stump so we could all see him; and, once all eyes were fixed on him, he began explaining for us his vision for an amazing house. The builder was excited and animated. His eyes were wide with hope. Across his face ran a giant smile; and he motioned wildly with his arms as he spoke.
The house of his vision was huge; four stories. He pointed out to us where each door and window would be. He outlined the garage, described the plants in the front yard, and spoke sweetly of a little cobble stone walk that wined from the street to the front door. He told us in wonderful detail what the entry hall would look like and how a large marble spiral staircase would rise from the first floor to the fourth. With enthusiasm the builder gave us a tour of the house, walking us through how each room looked in his mind. There were fire places and inset bookshelves, oak doors and chandeliers, monstrous bed rooms and walk-in closets; and the kitchen…well lets just say his vision of the kitchen would make any chef drool.
We were so excited. The builder had worked us into a frenzy. We couldn’t wait to get started building. Then the builder jumped down off the stump and ran over to his pick up truck. From under a tarp in the back he pulled tons of shovels and hammers. We lined up single file with electrified anticipation. The builder handed each one of us our own shovel and hammer. Once everyone was equipped with the tools the builder raised his own hammer in the air and shouted with joy, “Let’s do it! Let’s get to work!”
Those of us that had used shovels before began digging. We were slung dirt like people possessed. It felt wonderful to stick the blade of our shovels deep into the earth, pry it up, and fling the dirt over our shoulders. Before long we each had wonderful little holes going.
Others were not familiar with shovels; but they had used hammers before. Placing their shovels to the side, I saw several of them drop down to their knees and begin hammering away at the ground. They banged away at the dirt with fantastic furry. Others ran to the closest trees and began hammering away at the bark. They all laughed and laughed. They were so excited to take part in building the majestic house.
There were a few, not familiar with shovels or hammers, who did not know what to do. Several of them went and stood next to others that were working and tried to mimic their movements. It didn’t take long before they were hammering and digging as well. Others simply sat down on the ground and watched what was happening. Not knowing how themselves, they seemed content to observe others working.
The builder ran from person to person showering each with wonderful words of encouragement and reminders of what the house would look like when we were finished. “What an amazing digger you are! Where you’re digging right now, that will be the front door! Can you picture it? It will have a great glass window, a mail slot of gold, and a big brass knob!”
Moving to another the builder said with enthusiasm, “And you! You are working right where a gigantic tree will stand! There’s going to be a swing hanging from one branch right here! It will be so wonderful.
And I must say, now that I’m standing here watching you; you are an extremely talented banger. I’ve never seen anyone hammer with as much enthusiasm as you do! It’s amazing! God must have given you a special gift for you to bang like that. I don’t even think I could hammer like that and I’ve been using hammers for quite a long time; it’s my job you know. Keep it up! That tree is going to look incredible!”
After a working for a while people started getting tired. One by one, they would stop their digging and hammering and look around to see how the big project was going. There were lots of small holes and damaged trees. If they were to strain their eyes and stretch their imaginations they might be able to make out the beginnings of a foundation. This inspired some to jump back to work, digging and hammering with greater gusto than before; but it discouraged others.
I watched as one girl, seeing that her hammering was not having the impact she hoped, sadly dropped it to the ground. Wounded, she rose from her knees and with tears building in her eyes began to slowly walk away. That was when the builder intervened. “Wait,” he exclaimed to the girl. The builder ran up next to her and put his arm around her. Gently he said with loving confusion, “Don’t leave. Tell me what’s wrong?”
Tears were now freely running down her face. “I so wanted to build the house,” the hurt girl explained with sobs, “but the tools just aren’t working.”
“I see what you mean,” the builder said with genuine empathy. “Why don’t we try a different tool?” He bounded back over to his pick-up truck, reached under the tarp in the back and pulled a brand new shinny cordless drill. The girl’s tears disappeared and her eyes grew wide with excitement.
“Wow,” she exclaimed breathlessly. “Can I use that tool?” she said with amazement.
“Absolutely,” the builder said proud of himself for finding such a wonderful tool. “Surely this will get the house built!”
Quickly others dropped their shovels and hammers as well and made their way to the truck. The builder handed everyone that wanted one a new shinny cordless drill from under the tarp. Before I could say, “lickiedy-split” there were drillers standing along side the hammerers and diggers. They loved their new tools. I could see the joy in their faces as the buried the drill bits deep in the ground. They became even more excited when they pulled the drill up again to reveal a small hole in the dirt. Their new joy invigorated everyone and we all returned to work with excitement.I could hear some older workers mumble to themselves, “I don’t like those new drills! They make to much noise. I like my good old shovel.” But even these grumpy naysayers couldn’t deny the energy that had returned to the field.
This scene repeated itself over and over again. Someone would get frustrated with the lack of progress. He or she would drop their tools and begin to walk away. The builder would chase them down and hand out a new tool that would revitalize the group; but with each new tool the builder grew less and less enthusiastic.
Finally, people started to leave. New tools would not keep them working. They were tired and burned out; frustrated that the tools they and the builder they had placed their hopes in had failed to deliver. I could see the builder pained each time one of his workers left. He loved them dearly and didn’t understand why they no longer wanted to build the house with him.
After a long while, when there were very few of us still digging away, I saw out of the corner of my eye the builder stop. Not thinking that anyone was watching, he dropped his shovel and hammer and sat down on the ground. Quietly looking around at all the small holes and damaged trees he silently began to weep. He looked defeated and tired. I could hear him faintly muttering to himself, “I just don’t understand what went wrong. It was going to be such a wonderful house.”