A Sad Conversation Recently Semi-Overheard
In the restaurant recently, I overheard a conversation between a gentleman I took to be a pastor, and another fellow I couldn’t as easily place. But the pastor, in the brief snippet I overheard, was explaining the number of financial commitments that the church had to things like building maintenance, heating and cooling, mortgage, and the like—and how those financial commitments kept the church from doing a lot of ministry it otherwise could.
Which leads me to a point I’ve been meaning to make for some time: I’ve come to believe that it is almost always a bad idea, at least in 21st-century America, for a church to build a building. Unless I change my mind—and I may, because I acknowledge exceptions to the above statement—I’ll never give another dime of my money to a building program. I say this for several reasons:
- In God’s name, American churches and Christians have squandered—and no, I don’t believe that to be too strong a word—untold billions of dollars on brick and mortar.
- There is a new and healthy sense of what church is really all about that is starting to gain a foothold in America, and I welcome this new conversation wholeheartedly, because it entails in part a recognition that owning property and buildings is, at best, a mixed blessing for the church. At best. At worst, it has greatly hindered the cause and work of Christ. I don’t back down from that statement. Frankly, I’d go a step further and suggest that the same could be said, at least in many cases, of “professional clergy” (and for 25 years, I were one, and may well be again. There, I said it.).
- How much good could be done for the cause of Christ if we viewed our given churches, not as enduring institutions, but as movements that may come and go, but which would serve God “for such a time as this”. The death of a church may be, in most instances, a sad event, but there are many churches that are dead and don’t know it (and thus ought to close), and many others which will do so over the next few decades. I fully expect to live to see a time when we will have scores of once-beautiful church structures dotting the landscape, serving as bars and theaters or rotting in the sunlight, because of a combination of at least two things: one, God’s people getting a better grasp on what church is supposed to be, and two, because the American public (and millions of professing Christians) will be increasingly turned off by churches that don’t gain such a grasp.
Look, I’m not against churches of any size, from mega-churches on down, gathering together to worship on Sundays, and I recognize that there need to be gathering places for such groups. Fine. Rent one. Renovate one (invariably cheaper than building from scratch). Put up a tent or meet under a bridge. Meet in a parking lot when the weather’s nice (it’s been done). Go the early church route and meet in homes (something Biblical about that one, huh?). Take your pick.
But agree with me that it’s sad to hear pastors lamenting the fact that all sorts of financial commitments keep the church from more effectively…being the church.