By: Steve Holt Sr.
When I was in my mid-teens, Dad decided to build a motel. He had built houses before, but this was his first venture into a project of such magnitude. I watched as the Iv’ry Tower Inn took shape from the ground up to become the premier “motor hotel” in our small but growing town.
Since our family traveled a lot, my dad took notes at every motel we stayed in to record those amenities and features that stood out so that he could incorporate them to enhance a traveler’s stay. For examples, the Iv’ry Tower was one of the first motels that featured an “endless loop” hot water system so that travelers would not have to wait for their bath water to warm up. He selected the best mattresses he could find and replaced them at the first hint of sagging. There was always free, fresh coffee in the lobby. The motel’s restaurant was the first in the area to feature Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken. And the $3.99 all-you-could-eat Sunday brunch buffet was the best in town.
I started working at the motel when I was about fifteen years old doing a variety of odd jobs, one of the oddest being driving through the parking lot of our biggest competitor, the Holiday Inn down the street, counting the cars and reporting my findings to dad.
There were many nights when the Holiday Inn had twice as many cars as the Iv’ry Tower, and on other nights, we had a few more cars than the big “franchise” hotel. I often wondered why anyone would want to stay anywhere other than the Iv’ry Tower. We had the best service, the best amenities, the nicest swimming pool, and the best restaurant. We cared for the traveler. Our rates were better. It was the traveler’s home away from home, offering all that anyone could possibly want and need while on the road.
I remember becoming quite angry when anyone suggested that the Holiday Inn was the best motel in town. I mean just because the place had world-wide recognition, was part of the number one motel chain in the world at the time, was considered by some to be the only place to stay when on the road, was easily recognized by the “great sign” out front…none of that mattered. Dad’s place was a better idea because it focused on the comfort of the individual traveler. “If they only knew…” I would lament.
If they only knew.
My affections for the Iv’ry Tower Inn were, to a much lesser degree, pretty similar to my love for God’s church—greatest idea ever! The church—the repository of the redeemed—was made to perfectly fulfill a human being in virtually every way, designed to nurture, encourage, guide, and protect. It is a place of grace and latitude, receiving its charter from none other than the Loving Shepherd, Jesus, himself. Among fellow saints, weary travelers receive the strength and provisions to continue the journey. With locations around the world, pilgrims are nudged forward, often carried the last mile or two when the going is too tough for some.
I envision a community that, when working as it should, enjoys the “favor of all the people,” as it did when first born. I imagine a community to which people flock—like the ark—for refuge and safety.
Why, then, are people settling for less in a traditional religious institution that calls itself “church”? If people only knew, they wouldn’t be lured away by the name recognition and familiar design of institutional churches with their fancy buildings, large congregations, elaborate music, hip preachers, and programs for every demographic. Rather, they would find what they seek—and so much more— within the comfortable confines of God’s purposed group.
It’s not that institutional churches are all that wrong, it’s that they are so far from being all that God wants for his community. In God’s family, every voice is heard, every gift is encouraged and used, every need fulfilled. In God’s family, the direction for the group is determined by listening to the voice of the Father together and joining God in his work, together—no child is left behind.
There are wonderful, godly folks who choose the institutional brand of church. And they aren’t bad people for doing so. They’ve just settled for less, and I’m truly sorry for them. They’ve opted for the known, the safe, the secure, the familiar, and in most cases, the comfortable. It’s like their attitude is “Oh well, we’re here; it’s not so bad. So, let’s just stay with what we know.” And they never come to know what they are really missing.
Through his family, the multi-faceted wisdom of God is laid bare for all to see. Here, the world gets a glimpse of how people, so different from one another, co-exist and move toward a common goal. Here, the world gets to see all the ways God does his work of loving, feeding, guiding, and nurturing human beings. Here, the wisdom of “little ones” is esteemed as highly as the “learned.” Here, scripture is not just talked about; it’s lived out. Here, the needs of those not yet in the community are tended to as purposefully as those in the community.
God’s design holds the possibility of a “vital family within easy access of every person on earth.” God’s group is easily reproducible. It is simple, transportable, and fluid. God’s church can function fully with as few as two and clearly demonstrates the maxim that “less is more.” It costs nothing but blood—his blood—to maintain. God’s church is the only great leveling presence on earth where human beings find equality, purpose and meaning. Only God himself determines membership.
If only they knew…