It's unfortunate that we don't build churches connected to graveyards anymore. What a profound reminder of the reality of the gospel. Pastors are in the business of death and life. But more so, I think a graveyard might be a helpful reminder for pastors like me.
After cleaning up the lifeless paper coffee cups, collecting all the left behind items, and locking up two hours after the worship service concluded, "nice to see you again, pastor" echoing from the community of tombstones puts things back into the right perspective. It changes the conversation on the lonely walk to the car. Start and stop dates carved in old stone has a powerful ability to cause a pastor to consider his personal vital signs of health as he's getting ready for another emergency counseling session with a couple that probably won't change but "really need to talk with the pastor." And every time I might ask, "what's the point?", encouragement to keep going would whisper in from the outside yard.
A graveyard really puts things into perspective. Paint colors don't mean much when there's a graveyard on the other side of the wall that needs painted. Those five extra minutes the pastor robbed when he preached long might be forgiven as families rush past a graveyard trying to beat the Methodists to Cracker Barrel. The topics like salvation and hell may be more meaningful in the shadow of death. And nobody can say death is a punishment for sin is just metaphorical when tombstones lean over to get a better view into the windows.
The other thing we miss when we worship in a warehouse instead of a graveyard is the reality that many great saints have gone before us. The cloud of witnesses is a large cloud; and when there's a graveyard outside the front door, we can see that some of that cloud lived and died in our communities. We stand on their shoulders. If we are church planters, we are not likely the first. Someone had to plant that 75-year-old church. That should force us to be grateful. No wonder Christians forget how to be humble! It should be no mystery why we believe we are the best and most special Christians in our community. Some of us could stand to have an ol' timer walk us over to a grave marker and say, "This guy here gave a lot of prayer, money, and time to set a foundation with the hope that you'd be a believer today. Maybe his out dated methods, songs, and flannel board deserve a little respect?" Having a graveyard outside might change the way a lot of Christians act and think.
I pastor a church that just finished converting a warehouse office into a worship space. We lease it and there's no graveyard outside. We don't even have a steeple or a prayer garden. No stained-glass. Nope. None of that. Just a bunch hip stuff wrapped in brick and commercial steel. But I don't need the steeple or the stained glass. Those things are really nice but they might be a relic of the past. However, I sure would love having a graveyard right out side. I think that would dramatically change the way I care for God's people. And I have to imagine it might help the church take the gospel a little more seriously each and every time they walk past that graveyard on their way to church services.