First Things First

By Rick Grover

I’ve been learning a lot lately about gutting homes and “rocking them.” (No, this isn’t some abbreviated lyric from a Queen song.) “Rocking a house” is a term used, at least in the New Orleans area, for replacing drywall in a house after it has been gutted. If you’re still confused, then never mind, just keep reading.

Since I am not in any stretch of the imagination a handyman, I had to come up to speed very quickly on this entire process. After all, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, there are about 150,000 homes that need this particular constructive effort.

Lessons Learned

Here is the process:

First, remove all the wet stuff—couches, pianos, appliances, toys, clothes, personal items, pictures, heirlooms—every bit of it. Be sure to use gloves, a respirator, and a hazardous materials suit.

Second, tear out the drywall. Here’s where some brain is needed along with the brawn. If the mold isn’t too bad (nontechnical for toxic growth ascending to the ceiling), then you need to remove only the lowest four feet of drywall. Then commence to pull, rip, tear, and dispose of this contaminated material.

Third, rip out the floor. Yes, I suppose this could precede item two if needed.

Fourth, wash everything down with a power washer. Since everything is ruined anyway, don’t worry about getting the house wet. This is the good kind of wet, not the bad kind (aka “flood”).

Once all the “gook” (another technical term) is removed, the house is ready for step five: apply bleach. Actually, down here they often combine a special mixture of bleach and a product called “Joe Max,” named after a handyman, I’m sure. Once everything has been bleached, it needs to dry for about a week.

Then and only then is the house ready for step six: rebuild. This, of course, is where people like me step aside and let the professionals take over. Electrical and plumbing have to be checked out, everything has to be reinsulated, and then “re-rocked” (there’s that word again). Finally the drywall has to be “mudded” and taped—or is it taped and mudded? Then sand, paint, and refloor, refurnish, and re-. . . . You get the point.1

First Things First

Now, if you are still reading this, you are probably wondering if there’s a point to this house gutting/remodeling scenario. Here it is: if you are going to rebuild a home that was flooded, you have to put first things first. Some homeowners, unfortunately, haven’t followed this process, and, for example, they install the drywall before the electrical is inspected. Consequence? They have to tear the drywall out and start over again.

Isn’t that the way it is with planting a church, starting a new ministry, and pursuing personal spiritual growth? We have to put first things first. And if we don’t, we often have to start over again.

I am a church planter, and like rebuilding a home the wrong way, there is the temptation to walk before we crawl, because we want “insta-church” that becomes an overnight success. But most things in life that last take time.

One of the amazing things I’ve seen from the effects of Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf States is the number of trees felled by the powerful winds. When a tree is on its side, the entire root system is exposed, and most trees have very shallow roots. They lack the deep roots that cling to the soil when the winds blow. A storm comes, the gale rushes through, and down comes the tree.

Long-Term View

When a new church is planted, it needs to be planted with a long-term view. The roots need to grow deep. For roots to grow deep, a church planter must put first things first. A seed must be planted in the hearts of people. It must be watered and receive the warmth of the sun. The new sapling must be nurtured and developed. You get the point.

Why do we struggle to put first things first? For me, at least, it’s because I want things to happen quickly! That’s usually the way I even say it—emphatically. I grow impatient. One of the temptations in church planting is microwave theology. I have a friend who likes to cook Stouffer’s skillet meals. In case you haven’t had them, they’re good—real good. Open a package, dump contents in a skillet, add water, heat, and—presto—you have a gourmet meal.

Church planting (and all of ministry for that matter) is not Stouffer’s skillet meals. You cannot add mailers/marketing, “hot” worship, trendy clothes, cool graphics, and—presto—give birth to a church. That’s microwave theology. A church is a body, not a clone. A church is the real deal, a living organism (say that fast three times). Even if large crowds attend (don’t worry, I’m not anti-big), the challenge is still to put first things first.

Before you hang drywall you need insulation. Before you put in insulation, you need your electrical inspected. Likewise, before you have leaders you need to have Christians. Before you have Christians, you need to have converts (to Christ, not to you). Before you have converts you need people who are spiritually open to the unchanging message of the good news of Jesus Christ.

And guess what? This takes time. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t quit. Jesus’ earthly ministry lasted three years, and when he went to be with the Father, there was a congregation of 120. But those roots were deep.

So, let’s put first things first in our ministries. While leaders can envision a completed house or a strong, healthy tree, that house and that tree didn’t appear overnight. Someone did the hard work, day in and day out, and the result is a house that stands strong and a tree that doesn’t blow over with 135 mph winds.

I want to be a part of a church that stands strong and doesn’t blow over. So I want to keep planting while others water; God will make it grow. And I believe you want to do the same.

That’s why we need to put first things first in our lives. How are you doing in your prayer life? Thought life? Personal Bible reading? Quality and quantity time with your spouse and kids?

How do we expect to grow a church if we’re not growing ourselves? So here’s the challenge in case I’ve failed to make the point: put first things first. Life, ministry, planting churches, and rebuilding homes go so much better when we do.


1Disclaimer: This description is used as illustrative material only and should not be applied in a re-constructive effort without qualified supervision . . . like a handyman.

Rick Grover is lead minister with Journey Christian Church, a new church plant in New Orleans, Louisiana. He is coordinating a national Katrina relief and rebuilding effort for Christian churches/churches of Christ for the Greater New Orleans area.

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