I was in an airport the other day that was clearly not functioning as an airport should. Hundreds of people clogged turnstiles and security checkpoints. Children were crying. People were arguing. Fights were nearly breaking out. It was a nightmare. More than a few endured the chaos only to be turned away. Their flight had left without them. They went to all the trouble to buy a ticket, plan a trip, wait in line and at the end of the day they went nowhere.
I’m sure I’m not the first pastor to see in this scene the irony of how we do church sometimes. In one sense, when traveling, the airport is my destination. When I get on a plane and am told we’re bound for Atlanta I assume the pilot means the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and not Peachtree Street downtown. But in a more important sense, Atlanta’s airport is not my destination. No one flies to an airport just to fly home again.
If you could trace my travels on a map between Fort Wayne and Atlanta you would find two solid dots at the airports, a long distance covered in between, but then a whole bunch of squiggles and swirls as I go about doing the things in Atlanta I went there to do. The squiggles and swirls are what it’s all about. They represent my real purpose.
Churches are like airports. We gather in a particular place at a particular time and takeoff together, focusing our minds, energies, and emotions on God above. But the end of the worship service is really when we’ve arrived at our destination. Now the work begins. Now it’s time to start making squiggles and swirls of meaning in our neighborhoods, living into the purpose for which God called us.
A Christian, who understands his mission in the world, knows how important corporate worship is. He knows the importance of not missing a flight (and of being on time!). He cannot get to where he needs to be without the airport. But he doesn’t spend his whole week hanging out in the airport lounge, even if he does enjoy frequent flyer privileges there. Neither does he make it his mission to fight the TSA about their silly rules, forming committees and gathering support for his ideas and opinions. When the plane lands he is eager to look for signs pointing him to baggage claim. There he picks up what he needs to carry out his mission, hails a taxi, and gets to it.
The dots are the anchors. The squiggles and swirls are the mission. Let’s not confuse the two.