The movie Left Behind came and went last month. Did you miss it? Oh no! Well come January, you'll be able to catch it on DVD, which may be entertaining just to see what kind of movie garners a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 2%. Ouch.
For anyone unaware of the mega-bestselling books, the Left Behind series is a fanciful account of the rapture, which is a strain of end-times theology based on a misreading of I Thessalonians. The idea is that the righteous people will be carried up to heaven so that God can come down and open a can of whupa** on the unbelievers.
(I have a pastor friend with a parishioner who believed in the rapture... he was always tempted to go to her house with a set of clothes, lay them out flat on her porch, ring the doorbell and run. Thus proving that if the rapture were a real thing, he'd be one of the heathens left behind, eh? Along with yours truly, since I crack up every time I picture it.)
Rapture theology is not a big part of my tradition. I know Presbyterians who've read the Left Behind books, but generally they read them as entertaining fiction, not as sound biblical interpretation. Because they aren't.
Still, I am tempted to pray for the rapture... at least, a rapture of a sort.
In my work with NEXT Church, and having been a colleague to many folks in ministry these 11 years, and as a pastor of a small church, I know a huge number of congregations that are struggling with aging facilities they can no longer afford. Rather than being tools for ministry, these buildings are money and energy pits.
As for Tiny Church, we're blessed with a functional building that's the right size for us, an absence of debt, and an endowment we can use when repairs or capital improvements are needed. And still, we have been locked in conversations for a long time about what to do with our aging kitchen and aged building. I had my fifth anniversary at Tiny last month, and these conversations predate me. We are an engaged congregation with many strong leaders, but we lack the capacity to do progressive, forward-thinking ministry AND make these upgrades. It's a burden---and it's a burden thousands of congregations share.
So, I daydream. I daydream that all the church buildings would be raptured, leaving behind the communities of faith who used to inhabit them, who would then be compelled to ask themselves, "Who are we without these buildings? What do we now have the capacity to do that we didn't before?"
A colleague serving a small congregation, burdened by a large unwieldy building, said a number of years ago, "Sometimes I pray that the building would burn down." She was only half kidding. I know churches that have burned and rebuilt. One hopes and assumes that these new buildings are right-sized for the resources of the congregation, and better reflect the ministry as it is now. But building rapture would be better. Because there's no building-rapture insurance that I'm aware of. There would be no payout from GuideOne or State Farm. There would be no new organ to replace the old one, no brand-spanking new facility that is a great tool for ministry now but has a decent chance of being a millstone for the congregation of 50 years from now.
There would be a tremendous period of grief, of course. Buildings are sacred spaces and containers for memory. And there would be congregations who peter out, maybe because they lack the vision for a church without a building, or because they realize that the building was the only thing that united them.
But some churches would find ways to move forward. They would rent spaces and meet in homes, schools and businesses. They would discover gifts and capacities they never knew they had.