I have been a Christian for nearly fourteen years. I became a Christian in December of 1996, and after being pointed to the Civic Center church of Christ in downtown San Francisco by some good brethren in Hayward, CA, I experienced a relationship with a congregation that has left an indelible mark upon my heart and faith.
Being a Christian in San Francisco was not easy. For that matter, being a group of Christians worshipping on the second floor of an aging office building, without sufficient parking, no stable membership since San Francisco is so transient, nor space of our own because every possible city-wide event was thrusted upon our doorstep (Gay Day, Bay to Breakers, etc.) was even harder. Battered around and with many things to discourage us, we kept upbeat and held fast to “the Head” – Christ – because much good was accomplished through us (Col. 2.19).
While I was a member of the Civic Center congregation, events lead us to uproot from San Francisco and begin meeting fifteen minutes south in Pacifica, CA, with other brethren already there. We were meeting in the Pedro Point Firehouse, a simple events hall with a small stage and a piano. But what I saw in our few years there was not simple and by no means was it of small importance.
Seeing Their Faith
Every service was full of energy, you could just feel that something was at work – it was the people of God. For every Wednesday or Sunday service, we arrived early to help out with setting up the chairs and the classrooms. I can still hear the metal chairs “cling” and “clang” as we pulled them out of the storage and placed them into position. The image of cubicles being erected to create Bible Class spaces, and cream denim drapes being hung to create walls for the other classrooms still linger clearly in my mind.
Like an ant colony, the members brought something to the services. Some members came with coffee kettles for the fellowship meals, others brought song books, others came with their Bible class material, others brought people, and many brought food to spare for those who could not bring anything. Still, others brought joy and good cheer to the worship assembly. The “hustle and bustle” before services was truly a sight to see with the eye of faith.
Working Together in Love
I could see principles of biblical instruction weaving together into congregational chemistry, and it was breathe-taking. I could see the beauty of Nehemiah 4.6, where God’s people were completing the walls of Jerusalem and the text says, “for the people had a mind to work” (ESV). And work we did! Not only did we have to set up the “church” we had to tear it down after services were over. By the time we left the firehouse, the congregation was a well lubed working machine.
It is one thing to read the instruction of 1 Corinthians 12.12-27 and to realize that we individually contribute to the totality of the work of the church; it is another thing to see it practiced. It seems to me that sometimes we believe we bring “nothing” to church because we cannot afford food for the potluck, provide a large contribution check, or even contribute comments in Bible class. But this is a problem of perception, because every one of us contributes to the atmosphere of the congregation when we smile and interact within each other’s lives.
By lending a hand in the preparation of elements for the communion, or by sharing news and mentioning people that need prayers we are working together as one body in Christ. By simply arriving early for services and demonstrating that the Lord’s church comes first (Matt. 6.33), one can have an amazingly powerful affect upon the brethren. Spiritual gestures that appear small to eye should never be disregarded as meaningless. As the Lord said to Zechariah, we should not dare to “make light of small beginnings” (4.10 NET).
So while there were no longer the challenges from the “big city” jabbing us from every side, worshipping at the firehouse brought its own challenges; and yet still, together in faithful solidarity to the Lord we persevered. Much like how Paul described the Macedonians, “but first they gave their own selves to the Lord” then to the work of the church (2 Cor. 8.5 ASV). There is nothing more powerful than devotion to the Lord’s work: its teaching, its fellowship, and its worship (Acts 2.42).
In my reflection, what encourages me about that time is that despite persevering through difficult times, and working through the natural problems of a church, the brethren often took advantage of those opportunities (big or small) to build a dwelling place for God.
A Congregational Admonition
We have the same task before us. God be with us in Livingston, California, as we strive to do the Lord’s work! We may not always have the best situation in hand, and we may not be perfect people, but by the power of our Heavenly Father we are one in Christ and being built on the right foundation to be a dwelling place for God:
So then you are no longer foreigners and noncitizens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, because you have been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit. (Eph. 2.19-22 ESV)
We are God’s dwelling place in Livingston, California. It is always within our grasp to do the Lord’s work, and his work is not in vain (1 Cor. 15.58; Gal. 6.9-10). May God bless us as we strive to labor together in the vineyard of the Lord.
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!” (Psa. 122.1 ESV)