We Do Keep Building Them
OK, maybe not like this one. Not a lot of gold and silver, but plenty of polished marble, fine woods, beautiful carpet, perfect red bricks, etc. The best, of course, as that'll show God's glory.
Or will it? I mean, how could anything man-made reflect the glory of the God Who spoke the universe into existence, and Whose glory is only minimally described in the staggering description He gave in His response to Job and his buddies after He'd (apparently) had enough of their rationalizations.
Check Job 38 & ff. for details.
I'm writing this about 10:20 on Tuesday morning, and had planned to do some other stuff this morning. Other things were on my agenda, but God interrupted me a few minutes ago on the back deck, while Peg and I were having that last cup of morning coffee. What He pointed out to me was something like this....
For starters. I'd read an article .. actually a blog post by Jason Kearney this morning .. and it impressed me enough to print it out to read to my class next Sunday. And no, I'm not speaking against Sunday School, but I always want to challenge my students to see everything they do as part of their faith life, and their service to God, and not just something they do. In this case, go to Sunday School in the hour before the church "worship service".
Anyway, the article got me to thinking about buildings. I reflected that, in the Old Testament, God had Moses build a portable facility in which Moses could set up a Holy of Holies as they wandered around in the desert, so God could come down and meet with them via the high priest. It needed to be portable as God hadn't deeded them the land they were supposed to occupy.
Now, after they took title to Jerusalem and surrounding territory, God had the Israelites build a temple, including a permanent Holy of Holies, so God could come meet with them there. That figures, since they were now in their homeland.
Along comes Jesus and establishes the Master Plan for the redemption of (insert your favorite adjective, depending on whether you're a calvinist, arminian, or whatever) mankind. And, in the process, He drops a HUGE clue as to the nature of true worship, and the real nature of what the church is to be like, when He tells the woman at the well that one of these days, starting right then (apparently), they're going to worship God NOT in the physicality of God's creation (the mountains) OR in ANYTHING man has created (the temple) but rather in Spirit .. and in truth.
Some time after Jesus had left, come back briefly, and then ascended that penultimate time, God even tore down the temple which Jesus referred to as, apparently, having outlived its usefulness. And I don't see anything in the New Testament saying the church ever built another temple in which to meet. Which, of course, we do all the time.
I have heard that nobody ever wants to buy a drill bit .. that thing you stick into the end of a drill so you can drill holes. Nobody wants drills .. what they want is holes. They only buy the bit so they can make the holes. I suppose the same rationale applies to lawn mowers; who wants a noisy machine that you have to feed, care for, and then spend weekends fouling the air with, when what you really want is a manicured lawn? If we could figure out an economical way to do that by finger-snapping, we'd never buy a mower.
The bible tells us that, as the Body of Christ, we're supposed to do some things. Some of those things can only be done collectively, in a practical sense. Assembling ourselves together, prompting one another to love and good works, preaching and hearing the Word of God, things like that. So I guess we need a place to meet, but I have to wonder if that means we are supposed to spend millions to build a huge building, more to maintain it, so we can meet there. And I also wonder if thousands of us have to meet in one place to do it.
I've heard it said that the most under-used facilities, in the world, are churches. Schools meet six or eight hours a day, five days a week, for nine months a year. Churches meet for maybe six hours on Sunday, one or two on Wednesday, and that's pretty much it in most cases. Well, there's ongoing activity there for a few people, but that's mostly aimed at keeping the machine rolling, so to speak. And, when that topic (underutilization) is raised, the usual answer (that I've heard, anyway) is "OK, let's use the building some more". So, using the building .. since we invested so much in it .. becomes the purpose of some new plans? Isn't that backwards? Us becoming a servant of the building?
Buildings are like those drill bits and lawn mowers. We don't need them. What we need is a place to meet. However many of us need to meet together at one time. And I'm with Les Puryear on this ... we don't need to have thousands there to meet the way they did in the New Testament.
I have heard it said that, when a church builds their own building, the ministry turns inward. They take their eyes off the community and put it on the space inside the four walls. And I really think that's largely true. And maybe, if so, it accounts for the fact that the church today looks startlingly little like the one I see in Acts. Both in structure, and certainly in impact.
Isn't impact what it's about, in the first place? If so, I agree with Max Lucado (I think it was) in his statement that the ABC's of church growth .. the measure of our effectiveness .. are now Attendance, Buildings, and Collections. He said they'd almost assumed the status of a new trinity of sorts.
I do know this: the way we .. particularly Southern Baptists .. have been doing it has produced a body (16.5 million ,we still keep claiming) of which we cannot find 2/3 of the people, and in which 15 or 20% of the people do 80 or 85% of the work and give that much of the money, and over half do and give nothing at all.
What's our goal, in the SBC? To have 25 million members, of which 8 million attend, and we cannot even locate 13 million? If it is, all we need to is keep on keepin' on. We'll get there.
And He may just do that.