In the summer of 2004 Sara and I visited believers throughout New Zealand. Here is an incredible story of what happened when a group of people simply followed what Jesus had put on their heart to do. He won’t lead everyone the same way, but you have to love how these were able to follow his lead together.
Fairlie is a small farming village in the center of New Zealand’s South Island. For the last two years I had heard about some believers whom God led to give up the religious structure they had become part of to live as the body of Christ together in this region of the world. It was 1986 and some of its leaders felt like God was asking them to give up the structures that constrained their life together, which included not only the institution but also the building where they met. After weeks of praying together and considering this leading, the people unanimously agreed that this is what God was saying to them.
They agreed to lay it all down and let God lead them. The building they used was quite old and after donating all the furnishings that were worth anything to the denomination’s district they were leaving, they offered the building to the fire brigade to burn as a training exercise.
The neighbors objected, however, to torching the large structure so close to their homes, so in the end they dismantled it. They took some of the remaining furnishings, like the offering bags, out to the country and burnt them. Then one day some of the brothers descended on the building with chain saws. As they walked in that day to the main meeting room they asked where they should begin. They all looked at each other and in the same moment said, “The pulpit!” With relish the sawed it in half, kept going across the stage and eventually dismantled the entire building and hauled it away to the trash heap.
Sara and I laughed and shook our heads in awe as we heard that story while meeting with about two dozen or more of these people. They had not done these things frivolously or in rage at ‘the system.’ They had simply felt those things, as they had used them, had become an offense to God and he wanted them to get rid of them. They never said anyone else should do the same, they simply went on and learned how to be the body of Christ without all the trappings of institutionalism. After they disposed of the building they found some amazing doors open in the community. One man from the village was talking to one of the former leaders shortly after these events, “I feel like I can really talk to you now.” They had no idea how much their baggage had turned off the very people God asked them to reach.
In the nearly twenty years since they have thrived in God’s life together as his people in this community. It has not been easy, nor has it been without challenge, but many of them talked of how their relationship with God really began to grow when they removed the crutch that the institution had become. Not having everything planned out for them anymore, they had to listen to God and do the things he put on their heart. Now they are people who live at peace with God, in fellowship with each other and available to unbelievers in ways they never had when they were so busy maintaining their structure. Even the children from those days have continued on with the simplicity of living in God and loving each other in the process. What joyful simplicity and what an incredible life they’ve gone on to share together!
They are also affectionately known in these parts as ‘that lot.’ The whole community knows about the congregation that dismantled its building and stopped meeting every week on a regular basis. They also know they have lived on as passionate believers. Without all the machinery to maintain, they have been more available to help care for the families and neighbors.
“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24-25) As long as we hold tightly to the things we think we must preserve, we’ll miss the incredible doors God would put before us every day as we simply live in him and follow his ways. True life is found in giving up, not in holding on, as we follow wherever God leads us.