Monday, September 5, 2011

It's the Water that's Important...not the Pipes

As a home owner, pipes have taken a more significant place in my life. A broken pipe is bad news. It has occurred to me, however, that the reason pipes are so important to me is that water is important to me. In fact, we don’t really think much about pipes until they break, but we think about water every day.

I am coming to see that much of what we give attention to in church leadership these days are pipes. Most of the programs, principles and practices of church growth and mission are really just pipes–conduits of living water. Whether they be small groups or Sunday school; seeker services or traditional services, mega-church or micro-church–they are really just different pipes.

Ministry pipes are of great significance, for without them we would have no way of bringing the life-giving water to a thirsty world. Some pipes are better than others. Some are stronger, some are more resistant to corrosion, some have a greater capacity for increased volume, but all pipes basically serve the same function–channeling water. All our methods are basically for one function–getting God’s word into people’s lives. We may disagree on which pipes are better, but we must agree on the purpose of the pipes.

A bad pipe can be very damaging. When a particular pipe is leaking you need to patch it or replace it. A rusty pipe can even pollute its contents, and so can a method of ministry that begins to take on the authority and permanence of God’s word itself. The water can be clouded by the faulty pipes and can cause sickness. My friend Wolf Simson says, "Programs are what the church does when it no longer has the Holy Spirit." A pipe is really good or bad based upon whether or not it connects people directly to Jesus rather than some other person's expertise.

My problem is that I tend to see the pipes as an end in themselves. Our methods are often seen as the needed ingredient to bring success to our churches. However, pipes are never an end in themselves. Water is the main thing, the pipes are to facilitate the getting of water. What would be the point of pipes that never tap into a water source? Often we design a ministry system thinking that it is going to be the final ingredient to prosperity for our church, but pipes don’t satisfy thirst…water does. In the same way, we can’t see our great strategies and plans to be the solution to our ministry, only a channel for the solution. 

Someone once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” People need pipes because people need water. We can’t live for more than a few days without water, but people have lived lifetimes without pipes. The power is in the wine, not the wine skins.

For example, meeting in a home rather than a church building is not the solution for the western church. It may be the best conduit for the solution–the longest lasting, greatest volume and cleanest–but it is not the solution.
“If any man is thirsty,
let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scripture said, From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”
--John 7:37-38

If I were designing a new system of pipes, I would start at the water source. Is our method connected to the source of God’s blessing? If when you turn the valve on nothing comes out, there is a good chance that the pipes themselves are fine, they simply aren’t tapping into the water source. Are we guilty of believing in the pipes rather than in Jesus–the source?

There is a very critical relationship between pipes and water. With perfectly good water and bad pipes, the water is wasted and even damaging. Likewise, perfectly good pipes are useless without water.

When the plumbing system of your church is working properly thirst is quenched and souls are cleansed. What is fascinating about having good pipes is that they go unnoticed, and even unappreciated. When a thirsty soul comes to your door for a glass of water and you give him the clearest, coldest most refreshing glass of water he has ever downed, it is doubtful he will remark, “My what nice pipes you have!” One test of good pipes is that they go unnoticed.

In fact if your pipes are drawing attention to themselves chances are there is something wrong with them. Pipes are designed to go unnoticed, they are not the main thing but a channel for the main thing. Pipes are hidden under floor boards and behind drywall. They are best if they are forgotten, useful, but forgotten none the less.

Too many of us are investing ourselves on celebrating our new and shiny pipes instead of using the water they were meant to bring. We go to seminars on how to break the 200 gallon barrier, read books on joints and valves, or listen to tapes about the benefits of copper over lead. We even advertise our pipes (as though anyone would choose a house because it has pretty pipes). We often need a reminder that pipes, while of great importance, never satisfied our thirst or washed our hands, only God’s precious gift of water can do that.
“Everyone who drinks of this water (H2O) shall thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I (Jesus) shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”
John 4:13-14


vessel of mercy said...

The Holy Spirit pipe runs from the Throne of God with the Water of Life continuously to the heart of every believer.

Chris said...

there's a great (similar) story in Al Hirsch's "Verge" about a company who saw themselves as the best drill-bit makers in the world, but the new CEO says "no, your mission is to make the best HOLES in the world" and they go on to invent laser drilling ... great analogy!