Jesus has left the building


While the outside of the building was massive and imposing, it gave little hint to the spectacular interior. Stain glass, a huge valeted ceiling, and stone and woodwork that were remarkable in their artistic genius.

I’ve passed this church building numerous occasions during our stays in London. So yesterday to get out of my hotel and get a break from the computer, I hiked the neighborhood and decided to explore this edifice. I found an open door and went in. It was just me and a lady doing some cleaning.

I discovered there are about 130 active members of this congregation in a building that could easily accommodate a thousand. The parish newsletter was even sadder …a ministry that sacramentalizes a dwindling and dying population. Incredibly depressing.

As I marveled at this architectural relic, the words that came were almost audible: “Jesus has left the building!”

From there, I wandered across the street and came across a totally different scene. It was a Saturday morning, open air swap meet swarming with hundreds of people from every imaginable ethnic background. The smells, textures, colors, languages, all made for an incredibly diverse and vibrant setting. The contrast could not have been more stark.

11 Responses to “Jesus has left the building”

  1. Keith Says:

    As I read this, I imagined this:

    “From there, I wandered across the street and came across a totally different scene. It was a Saturday morning, open air swap meet swarming with hundreds of people from every imaginable ethnic background. The smells, textures, colors, languages, all made for an incredibly diverse and vibrant setting. In the midst of the din of the crowd I saw Jesus was standing there. He caught my eye and waved me over to join him.”

  2. alexander campbell Says:

    Hi Sam, (sorry I seem to have lost your email address) you are on yr way to SA - we are currently in Cape Town are you coming this way? We are working for a while with Floyd McClung who you probably know.

  3. Sam Says:

    Alexander: I will be in Pretoria the 8th through the 12th for a NieuCommunities staff conference. Would enjoy getting to Cape Town but won’t be that direction on this trip

  4. Mike Says:

    Brings to mind a book I just started reading….. Maybe it’s a good thing?

  5. Jon Hall Says:

    I had a nearly identical experience recently in Tijuana. I sat in the immense St. Francis of Assisi church in the heart of Tijuana. It’s easily the most magnificent architectural experience in TJ. And it was empty. Doors open with a welcome, but only one other person there, sitting alone, in the front row.

    Directly across the street was a central park. It was jammed with families. Eating. Singing. There was an outdoor art deal for kids going on (and any kid could join in). There were four chess games going, with spectators! Kids skateboarding. Vendors selling. The contrast couldn’t have been more dramatic.

  6. Brian Says:

    The Spirit in me is screaming this in my head…..

    A day is coming soon that the life that is Jesus Christ will return and rekindle the flame that has gone out and fan the embers that are barely glowing, and the whole of that place will be on fire again.

    Lord, let it begin with us. Here we are….

  7. macca Says:

    This is so judgemental. How would those 130 people feel if they read this? I assume as a converse situation that a church full of noise and flashing lights and lots of people is better? How on earth can the numbers of people in a room say anything about faithfulness and all of the things that may be going on in the cosmopolos?

    Wouldn’t a better critique be about the general loss of relevance and connection of the whole Church with western culture? And wouldn’t it be more helpful to reflect on ways of helping these brothers and sisters in their mission and what we can learn from a church that has survuived for centuries and now has to work out how to ministry in a new culture?

  8. Sam Says:


    I would optimistically, but not realistically, wish that the 130 that make up up this remnant would realize the incredible waste they are exercising in hanging on to this relic of a building and would be willing to generously and graciously turn it over to others who would have the vision and skills to use it for kingdom purposes.

    The numbers actually scream out when juxtaposed to what is happening all around this situation. I fail to see this as “faithfulness” in any respect. It is clinging to the past and commitment to an institution and a religious system that appears to have lost its way and has little spiritual vitality to offer to the culture around it.

    Certainly, it is good case study of the general and increasing loss of relevance of institutional Christianity in the West within the context of a rapidly morphing urban culture.

    Would these brothers and sisters be open to “help” in their mission. If history is any guide, I doubt it. The sad part is there is no evidence that they have any mission. There is nothing missional about it.

  9. Jenna Hedley Says:

    This is an interesting discussion that actually raises a whole bunch more issues that probably can’t really be debated in a blog. But it’s got me thinking that’s for sure.

    The whole question is, what happens when Church groups get it wrong/miss the point/loose the plot/however you want to say it (in as non-judgemental way as possible if that’s what you need to do).

    Is it possible for us to ‘get it wrong’ when we have a perfect, omnipotent God? And if we can get it wrong, who’s place is it for anyone of us to dare to say that we may have got it right? or at least nearly there…

    I have wrestled with this idea for some time now. When I read the living word of God (ok, the bible for short) I hear that I need to submit to those in leadership over me – even when they don’t seem to be doing things the way I want them to be doing it. BUT, what happens when those choices and decisions hurt/damage/reject/put off others, not just other Christians, but non-Christians as well.?

    I know we all have diffrences of opinion, theologies etc, and that reading and understanding the bible is not always as clear as we’d like. But in submitting to leaders, does it just mean sitting back and watching things go wrong??

    So I go back to the word, and when I investigate a little more what do I find? I find Paul many times writing to various Churches, and boy he doesn’t mince his words does he? There’s no ‘there there, you’re not really great witnesses and sin is a bit prevalant, but don’t worry you’re saved by Grace and God can pick up the pieces’, Indeed, he’s way more challenging.

    Not withstanding Grace, or God’s love, when you look at Paul, John, James and even Jesus’s own teaching, our belief in him is supposed to make a difference in our life, our faith is expressed in actions, why? Out of our whole hearted, life changing deep rooted love for him.

    But because we are part of the now and not yet, sin is still among us and Christ is often neglected as our the first love in our lives. That’s when things break down, when we don’t live our lives in total submission to him.

    And this can happen not just individually, but collectively – and culturally amongst our chuches. When Jesus is neglected corporately (and primarily when his word is not given the attention it requires) a church body will inherantly face decline. And that neglect may not even be conscious, but as a result of giving too much attention to too few of his attributes, negating the wholistic importance of Christs word.

    Really, can this be true?? One just has to look at Revelation and the letters to the churches to see that it really is possible. We really can get it quite wrong, and I think it really makes Jesus weep. And if we continue to plough on as a Christian but without Christ as our focus, we may well end up making it to heaven as ‘one escaping through the flames’.

    So, what does this have to do with ‘Jesus has left the building’? I guess what I’m trying to say is, he probably did leave, but not cause he’d given up and had enough, but because the people inside pushed him out because he didn’t fit their bill anymore.

    Woah there, stop being so judgemental some poeple may say. Hey, I’m only repeating what I see as biblical possibilities. What makes me right over anyone else? Not saying I am, just that when I read the word I see we can get it wrong, and the only way to get back on the right track, is to immerse ourselves in the living word and get to know our saviour better than we ever have before, find out what’s on his heart and align our paths with his.

    It will have been people like this who started any movement for him, any break away from established churches. Any stirring that caused issues amongst believers happened because a bunch of Christians somewhere realised our focus had slipped, and were not prepared to get stuck with the status quo. And who knows, maybe it was God who prompted them, stirred them, motivated them in the first place.

    The question remains, when things aren’t going well, what do we do? Try and change a body from the inside out or start a new one? I can’t answer that, God seems to give different solutions in different situations. I know that this is the point where love really comes in – the bible says we should do everything in love, but it doesn’t say that that will make it easy.

    And we are in a war, lets not forget that. Our enemy prowls around like a roaring lion and there will be casualties. We need to put on our armour and be prepared to do battle. We must stand, keep up the good fight, and then stand again. There will always be disillusioned, damaged and hurting Christians (not to mention the non-believers). But a bruised read he will not break, a smouldering wick he will not put out.

    He calls us to love oneanother, but he also calls us to love him first and to not compromise in that love. Let’s hope that in the wake of all the challenges brought to 21st century western church we will live out his command to us, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind soul and strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves.

  10. steve spauldinjg Says:

    Hello. Sam. Just wondering what your email is. I was interested in sending you an article or paper I’ve written and used in teaching for over a decade now, on what I’ve called “Word, Work and Wonder” very much in tune with what you’re talking about this week in Malaysia with your staff. I’m life-long friends with John and Birgit Shorack—lived with them for a year in down-town LA while I was wrapping up my studies at FTS, around 1991.

    sms—am currently ‘special assistant to the president’ of OC International, Greg Gripentrog, and have known Bobby Clinton over the years, and still keep up with him through people like Dean Carlson who is VP of ministries here at OCI.

  11. Sam Says:

    Steve: You can reach me at

Leave a Reply