Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Temples and Shrines

More from Earl & the AG Pastors:

why spend so much money on your building?
I don’t care about the place we meet. It is so unimportant.
I’d rather you spend the money on impacting the community,
not new carpet, or a building campaign.
please do not spend $5 million dollars on dirt.

Sometimes I wonder if God looks at our multimillion dollar church buildings in North America and sees them as graven images. While we defend them as necessary for our worship, He might see them no differently than the golden calf the Israelites built to aid in their worship.

In some ways the buildings themselves represent what is wrong with the church, separated by walls, enclosed in fortresses, and isolated from one another and the world. As the latest, greatest church in town launches a building campaign, the folks down the street struggle to maintain their monstrosity of a building with a dwindling budget.

I think about what it might have been like if the followers of Jesus had never split into sects, each building a monument to their particular doctrine. I know this is in the realm of fantasy now, but what if all of that money and effort had gone into our mission of reaching the world with the gospel?

Some interesting comments from a reader at Andrew Hamiliton's blog:

it might seem crass, but when looking at who benefits most from our big church buildings it would be a far stretch of the imagination to imply that anyone other than the regular attenders of the building were the majority benefactors.

so encourage members to pay an annual fee - maybe it could be 10% of their wage/income.

but when teaching on biblical tithing and offerings, funnel the money to its intended purpose - the poor, the outcast, the widows - to feasts and festivals where none went without and where all had their needs met - especially those who wouldn’t expect to be included - and then we might start to see the church’s true mission - the proclomation and advancement of the kingdom of heaven come “on earth as it is in heaven”.

but that’s just my point of view.

Comment by otherendup


David Cho said...

Fancy church buildings are but a tip of an icebergs. I remember driving by a very large and fancy retreat camp with a friend. His sarcastic remark: "Aren't you glad that Jesus died for us so that we can own this awesome facility?"

Cindy said...

We're right on the same track, Grace. My next installment of Idols on the Altar on my blog will be about Images in the Church. I've taken a while to get to this point in the article, but for me, this is where it all lands.

Michael the Forgiven said...

I have mixed emotions about this subject. I am offended by gratuitous excess which is designed to impress humans about the importance of the ministry. At the same time I think of organizations like World Vision.

In talking to a friend whose father was a senior executive in that ministry, I learned that they do not skimp. They do not waste money, but they also believe that if you are going to do something for God, you should do it well. Their buildings look like normal corporate offices. They do not look like starving nonprofits. That would harm their ability to raise funds to help those around the world who need their help. It may not be right that this is the way the world operates, but what is, is.

Is God honoured by building that looks and smells cheap because all the funds are being spent on ministry? Perhaps. I think it all depends on the heart of the decision-makers.

But what about people, especially nonbelievers, who are interested in learning more about God, or that ministry in particular? It would be easy for them to feel that Christians believe God wants us all to live in poverty, to drive beater-mobiles, to wear distressed clothing, and to not waste money on grooming. Toothpaste, deodorant, soap, and toilet paper cost money that can be given to the poor who would otherwise die.

Of course I am taking this to a ridiculous extreme. I am certainly not advocating American excess, but I am no more offended by that than I am by false humility that some exhibit in their gratuitous poverty. The desert fathers certainly had a lot to say on that issue.

It's all a matter of the heart. But, honestly I think that it is so easy to view "American" as "normal". Our lifestyle is so abnormal. But that reminds me of the bumper sticker: Change is good. You go first.

Pam Hogeweide said...

The thing that bugs me about the big building syndrome is the Empty Building Syndrome. I think facilities are great, we all like to meet in a comfortable shelter with adequate plumbing and heating etc...I'm sure poor pastors in third world countries would love it if they had a decent building to house their ministry. Buildings are useful. Buildings cost money. What I wonder about is that many church buildings, for the most part, sit empty most of the time. I wonder about this. I once led a mommy/baby group that met in a Presbyterian church. I noticed that other community groups used the building, too, non-church groups with no spiritual agenda. We used this building for free for years. I was thanking the minister of this church on one occassion and his reply to me was, "Why have this perfectly good building sit empty all week? We are happy to serve those in the community with it." What a cool perspective!

Grace, I would love to hear your thoughts sometime on overpriced conferences and speaker fees...

grace said...

Thanks for your comments.

I am as opposed to the poverty gospel as I am to the prosperity gospel. I think they are both self-righteous and wrong.

Trying to determine what is extravagant is pretty subjective. I've often heard it said that most of us consider anything above what we personally have to be excessive.

I like the bumper sticker Michael.

I agree that buildings can be a necessary part of ministry, but I think they have often come to symbolize personal kingdom building.

Pam, my questions about conferences and speaker fees are in today's post, at your request. My personal thoughts are sometimes cynical and skeptical of the motivation.

I understand the time and expense involved in hosting a conference, and believe those involved should be compensated for time spent away from their families. I wouldn't want to be the one saying someone shouldn't get paid for what they do.

However, I can't see Jesus or Paul hosting a conference with registration fees. Obviously, my thoughts about this are still somewhat unclear.