“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1
In the fall of 1972 I arrived in Laguna Beach, California, to begin my work as pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church of Laguna Beach. A fellow pastor told me before I arrived that I would find a physical building and a small budget with which to build, but the work would primarily be new church development. On the books there were 950 members, but many of them had fallen into inactivity, moved away, or simply lost interest. The first year we removed 200 names from our membership roll and reduced the number to around 700. The budget for 1973 was $158 thousand, half of which was to come from the preschool income. The church owned a huge piece of property at the center of the city and it was in disrepair. Some utility bills had not been paid. To make matters more challenging, I was 35 and my wife was 31. We were the youngest members of the church, with the vast majority being over 70. I did not know whether I had come to build a church or to bury one. I soon realized the magnitude of the task. It was staggering!
As I analyzed the situation I came to the conviction that the first building I needed to do was of people. To do that we needed to develop a shared vision of what God desired for us to do at the center of Laguna Beach and ultimately to ever expanding circles of influence. There would be no chance of restoring the church facilities without a converted and transformed people who would supply the gifts and resources we would need.
I slowly accepted the truth that if the Lord did not build a dwelling place for himself at the center of Laguna Beach, that it would be humanly impossible for me to do it. Like King David in 2 Samuel 7, the word I received from the Lord was that he was going to build his own house. Like the Apostle Paul in Corinth, I began to more fully understand that I was simply a servant of the Lord, totally dependent upon God to do what only God can do. I was called, like Paul, Peter, and Apollos to be a faithful steward and servant of the good news of the gospel. (1 Corinthians 3 & 4) Repeatedly, I was drawn to the Apostle Paul’s description of himself and his work,
“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:10-11)
For nearly 36 years I have labored together with other pastors and many gifted people to faithfully build upon this foundation laid by Raymond Brahams and Dallas Turner. I have developed great admiration for these two servants who pastored this congregation from 1925 to 1971. Without the labors, prayers, and giving of a multitude of committed Christian disciples we would not have inherited our mission, our people, our land, or our buildings.
The members of Laguna Presbyterian Church are about 700 in 2008. A number of years ago an expert in church development and redevelopment told me that the staff and lay leaders of LPC would need to work twice as hard as any other church in the Presbytery of Los Ranchos just to maintain. He identified the geography, the people, the culture, and the diversity of this south coast of Orange County as the reason. He reminded me that this was not the Bible Belt. He also affirmed me and said that if he could place me and our staff in a parish inland from Laguna Beach that we would build a large congregation. I confess, he took the wind out of my sails, but also helped me to focus on the work at hand, the coastal parish of our congregation.
I learned that it is the pastor’s calling to hold the vision of the congregation on behalf of the people and to use every opportunity to interpret it. To this end we have engaged in mission studies every five years to make sure that we stayed on track with where God was leading us. Our vision has been to build the people of God into the temple of God.
“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you. God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
To the church in Ephesus, Paul wrote, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
The Apostle Peter issued this invitation,
“Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:4-9)
So here we are at the corner of 2nd and Forest Ave. in downtown Laguna Beach, Ca. in 2008. How time flies when one is busy with meaningful work and love! Our operating budget is nearly $2 million per year. We have worked to disciple hundreds of adults, youth, and children. Our mission outreach extends around the world. And at long last we have developed the courage to face the foundational needs of our land and buildings. They represent our mission base. They are the buildings and grounds upon which and in which the living temple of God gathers to worship the Lord, to be taught the Bible, to join in fellowship, and to be trained for mission outreach in Laguna Beach and to the ends of the earth. What would our city be like without the presence of LPC at the center? What would the implications be for the work of God’s kingdom?
Four years ago we began to study the needs of our buildings and to develop a master plan for their restoration and rebuilding. At first we believed the sanctuary only needed cosmetic work. Then we faced the truth. Our beloved and beautiful house of God, in which the living stones of God’s temple have worshiped since 1928, needed major fixing. This means a new foundation, new steel, new sealing from water, a new roof, a new bell tower, a new infra-structure for electricity, lights, heating, cooling, sound, pews, etc. Our task force has progressively labored with awe at what we discovered and what this is going to cost to establish LPC at the center of this needy city for the next 100 years.
It is going to cost somewhere between 10 and 12 million dollars to do what must be done for us to save and to preserve our sanctuary building. I decided some time ago to take this journey with this congregation and to not pass on to the next generation of pastoral leadership a building that was uninhabitable and inadequate for the worship needs of a new generation. I see this building upon the foundation of Jesus Christ as one of the defining moments of LPC’s history. The children, youth, and adult members of LPC of the 21st century will look back and celebrate our generations stepping up to the challenge for their sake.
But it is not just for the sake of the next generation that we act. We build and give in obedience to the claims of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is no accident that we have come to this moment. The Spirit of Jesus desires to dwell at the center of our city in the hearts of the living stones of the temple of God. This house of God is made up of people whose life together is symbolized by the sanctuary building in which they worship the living God. Here God dwells among us. What this means is that our building together is a sacred obligation of Christian discipleship in obedience to the Lord to whom we belong.
I believe that before 2008 is finished we will have received approximately $5 million toward our goal. That leaves a goal of $7 million. The greater challenge is that we need to receive the additional $7 million over the next year and a half. If we do not, the interest payments on our line of credit for $7 million will so stress our operating budget that our entire local program and mission could be compromised and severely weakened. We do not want this to happen!
I invite you to open our church website at www.lagunapreschurch.org and to see the Open Door restoration pictures. They reveal the magnitude of this project and its necessity. Each time I look at those pictures of the deconstruction of our sanctuary for the sake of its reconstruction, I think of Jesus’ words in Luke 14:
“Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
“Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” Luke 14:27-35
This is our vision and our challenge. We will need the gifts of members and non-members to make this happen. We do not know from where the resources will come. Both large and small gifts will be important. I believe that there are persons in our community who have been ministered to at a wedding, a memorial service, or counseling, or through worship, who if they were moved by the Spirit, could make a major gift of $1 million +. Could it be that you are that person, family, estate, foundation, or corporation? To meet our goal it will take equal sacrifice by every one, rich or poor. Let me ask you to ask yourself the question of how important it is for the south coast of Orange County to have a lighthouse of God’s love, truth, and justice at its center?
I would love to have the privilege of visiting with you about this challenge and to explore how you might be the answer to the call of Jesus Christ.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Jerry Tankersley