Churches filled with pews, carpeted floors, wooden pulpits, and backdrops of a gorgeous landscape, all held between four walls and a roof — my image of the church since I was a child. But during the last few of our 13 years pastoring our former church plant in Orlando, we decided to exit the building and began meeting in homes and parks.
Maybe those experiences, convictions, and decisions led by the Spirit prepared us for Croatia. We now understand what church truly is — not a steeple, large parking lot, and accessible bathrooms — but us. We are the church.
Every night I take my kids to a beautiful, newly constructed playground near our house with a small soccer field, basketball court, rock climbing wall, and play area for toddlers. Constructed only one month before we arrived in Croatia, some say it was built just for us to connect with the community. Whenever we go, we are greeted with hugs, laughter and joy. My wife and I are usually the only adults present, so children constantly ask me to play or create a game.
There are days when we cannot make it, but you can be sure that the children come knocking at our door asking if we are going to the playground that day. Sometimes we provide snacks, and at times we buy pizza for up to 30 to 40 children. We sit on the steps by the basketball court as they tell us about their day and teach us Croatian. We laugh, give counsel, lend a listening ear, and every once in a while, I have to break up some fights. Those kids are beginning to see us as more than just visitors from another country but as examples.
We do not have wooden pews. We have concrete steps. Instead of a steeple, we have a basketball hoop. Rather than a mural backdrop, we have a view of the beautiful Adriatic Sea. We traded our church building for this beautiful playground, a glorious heavenly court.