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Is the Church More Like an Old-Fashioned Hardware Store or a Home Depot?

Pastor Kevin Miller writes:

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were chore day. Often my dad would say, "C'mon kid," and I'd hop in the station wagon, and we would drive down the street to Hooper Wolfe's hardware store. Hooper Wolfe's had an old wood door, painted white—except where the paint was worn off near the handle. You walked in, and you could hardly move. There were two narrow aisles. The counters were filled with merchandise, shelves were overflowing, and stuff was hanging from the ceiling. You'd think, No way am I going to find anything in here.

But you didn't need to. As soon as you walked in, Clarence from behind the counter would say, "Help you today?" My dad would say something like, "I want to hang a light out back."

Clarence would come out from behind the counter and ask questions. "Where you going to hang it? Over the patio? Well then"—and he would start rummaging through shelves until he pulled off just the right light—"you want a light like this. And don't use these bolts here; they're good for indoor stuff, but for outdoor, you want something galvanized."

"Your wall is brick, isn't it?" Clarence asked. (Even though our town was small, I was impressed he knew what our house was made of.) "Well, to run the conduit through there, you want a masonry drill bit at least ¾ of an inch. If we don't have that in stock, you can get one over at Miller's Lumberyard." Then Clarence would pull a flat carpenter's pencil off his ear and get out a little piece of paper and sketch it all out. "The conduit goes here … and make sure you don't mount the light too close to the soffit."

Today, when I have a project on Saturday, I head to Home Depot. Unlike Hooper Wolfe's, where you had to parallel park on the street, there's an ocean of parking. And inside, Home Depot is huge. The ceilings are 30 feet high. Home Depot has forty times the inventory of Hooper Wolfe's. It all looks great under bright, argon lights.

There is a guy in an orange apron—a block away. If you run him down, he's likely to say, "Sorry. I usually work in paints. I'm just covering in electrical because someone called in sick." So you're pretty much on your own.

A similar thing has happened in the American church. We have programs that are amazing, with Disney-level quality and technological sophistication. But something's missing: Clarence. We all need a Clarence, someone who knows more than we do and who will guide us to grow in Christ.

Throughout the Bible this is the primary way faith has been passed on. Moses trains Joshua in how to lead; Eli trains Samuel in how to pray; Jesus teaches the apostles; Timothy's grandmother Lois trains up her daughter Eunice, who trains up her son Timothy; Paul calls Titus his "son" in the faith. When it comes to helping people grow into spiritual maturity, the Bible gives us "the Clarence Principle": the older teach the younger, and those more mature in the faith guide those who are newer in the faith.

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