We finally decided to go for it – last summer – the kitchen remodel. Having lived through several other projects over the years, Rolane and I figured our 45-year marriage could survive another round. Remodels are challenging ventures. A large percentage of contractors won’t even consider them, citing the hassle and low profit margins.
Homeowners approach remodeling with caution, as well. This was made evident to us when we were shopping for our home 28 years ago. The sad state of all the houses we considered revealed the resistance most people have of actually engaging in major home improvement projects.
Home remodeling reminds me a lot of ministry work. As leaders of the church, we function in a sense as contractors hired to help people build transformed lives that increasingly reflect the person of Jesus Christ. At times we are even called upon to help guide projects that include real bricks and boards. But the work of discipleship is where we mostly serve, and through the power of the Holy Spirit we have the awesome privilege of leading people toward spiritual maturity.
As we progressed through that kitchen overhaul, several key features of this adventure came to light. And whether we are rearranging spaces in our homes, or guiding our people through the process of rebuilding their lives, we are wise to consider them carefully. Here are five factors that caught our attention:
I’m not just talking money here – though it is a serious consideration. Remodels bring dust, curious smells and strangers walking through your house. And then there’s the interesting discovery of mold, termite damage, inadequate wiring and plumbing – all of which add to the final bill. In our project, we encountered them all. I could have bought a good used Chevy for what we ended up spending!
When Jesus was drawing huge crowds, he challenged those listening to him with the cost of true discipleship (Luke 14:25-35). Many fell away after realizing the price of being followers of the Savior. As we lead our people into change, be it how we approach corporate worship, arrange the authority structure, expand foreign missions, or decide on a paint color for the new nursery, it is helpful to realize that all such activity involves significant cost. So don’t be surprised if some, even you, balk at the bottom line. This is quite normal.
Once you decide to sign the contract, the fun begins. Now you have to choose a tile color, design scheme, fixtures and settle on where you want the lights and electrical outlets. It’s time to fish or cut bait, as my avid bass-fishing son-in-law might say. For some time Rolane and I considered the cost of this project, but the day came when we had to call the contractor and say "let’s do it."
In leading God’s people, we are often in the place of encouraging them to get on with the project of spiritual growth. Our many sermons, bible studies and counseling sessions have given them a clear idea of what’s involved in following Jesus. But the time comes when we have to challenge them to take up their cross and follow him (Mark 8:34).
I like things done right. I’m a stickler for detail. So having someone else work on our house is an exercise in trust. Of course, good contractors are more knowledgeable and skilled in plying their trades. And if you get in the way too much or try to tell them how to do their jobs – well, you can expect unexplained delays and additional costs. I’m sure there are a lot of ugly kitchens out there that will stay that way because the homeowners are concerned a contractor might mess it up.
Is it possible we ministers delay remodeling projects in our ministries because we’re afraid the quality of construction will be inadequate? We’re talking control here, and maybe you struggle a bit with this as I do. We find it hard to trust others with the business of building up the body of Christ. We sometimes act as if the Holy Spirit is not needed on the jobsite, either! We forget that, “… we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10) And the expectation is that “ … we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by that which every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.” (4:15, 16) We must trust the Spirit to change hearts and allow our people to wield the hammer and saw as the construction gets underway. The final results will be beautiful.
One would think that a good set of plans is all that’s needed when doing a remodel – not! My idea of a counter top profile may not be consistent with what the contractor envisions. And if I don’t want the hole for the sink cut in the wrong place, I’ll have to tell him I want it here, not there. And, you’d be amazed at how easy it is to screw that up (we did, actually).
Working with people demands a willingness to define terms, spell out expectations in detail, labor together over plans and clearly describe any changes in those plans. Leading the church or para-church into growth is no place for an unwillingness to work hard on communication. Assuming, not listening, or working from differing sets of standards is a sure formula for disaster. While it is not always enjoyable wrestling through misunderstandings, good leaders are willing to embrace the process. Proverbs 16:13 observes that “Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth.” (NIV)
Back to my perfectionist tendencies. When the kitchen was finished, I found little inconsistencies here and there. I looked for them, you see. A few things didn’t line up just right, and some of the drawers weren’t quite square. Our contractor fixed them all, to his credit. That said, I think it’s far better to learn some contentment than to fuss over the many things that make this world what it is – fallen. Even Alfred Nobel, the Swedish chemist who invented dynamite, understood that “contentment is the only real wealth." Happy is the homeowner who can enjoy the somewhat flawed results of a pricey new kitchen remodel.
As Christians, our wealth comes from God, who is the giver of all good and perfect gifts (James 1:17). Learning to appreciate these gifts is a piece of our spiritual growth worth pursuing. I think many times in ministry it is too common for us to see what’s wrong with the picture. We endure moody Monday mornings as our focus on problems and unmet expectations take their toll. You’ve read Paul’s thoughts on this when reflecting on the realities of his daily support: “… for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” (Philippians 4:11)
As you make your way through the life-long process of helping people remodel their lives, learn to enjoy the fruit of the Spirit as it is realized through his power and your labor. As ‘contractors for Christ’, let us pursue our calling faithfully and please him, the Master Builder.