Friday, June 5, 2009

Church - Part 3

Two words about church: buildings and budgets.

We are told that the church in its very earliest days gathered in homes or met in hidden places. As the church grew and expanded, the decision-makers figured out that a meeting place might work. This was given special credence when the Roman Empire offered its approval. In time, church buildings appeared and some even came to be described as cathedrals. But an immediate problem developed, in that people began to associate the understanding of the nature of the church with the location of the church building.

As I have raved on other occasions, I believe the expression “going to church” has been one of the most devastating and erroneous features to ever hit the church. We go to a building and at that site we may do a variety of things. But we do not GO to church. Rather, we are the church going… to our house where we gather with our family, to school, to our job, meeting with friends for a meal or cup of coffee, sitting with someone in a hospital waiting room, speaking up and speaking out against that which cripples, holding tight someone who is frightened, being present when there is laughter or tears, spending our moments listening, reflecting, pondering, standing beside an open grave and meeting on Sunday morning for study and worship. In all these instances and many, many more we are church. In those situations, we may or may not speak of God. We may or may not pray (out loud). There may or may not be a sense of the spiritual in the air. But we are the church….the very Body of Christ….and being in a certain building that perhaps has a steeple has precious little to do with an understanding of church.

All of which leads me to rave on. If we are to speak of budgets, then there is a sense of stewardship about this matter. Where is the stewardship found in the construction of exceedingly expensive buildings that, at best on most weeks, are open on two or three occasions? A few congregations are beginning to see the seriousness of this and offer their buildings for a variety of meeting opportunities through the week. But all too many fall into the trap of the congregation that formerly housed a developmentally disabled group in its basement area only to formally eject them when they found that the walls had been “scuffed.”
My cynicism also believes that many building efforts are also motivated by a sense of entertainment for those who wish to “come” and participate, giving rise to the need to compete with other churches in town in the effort to show that “there’s no business like show business.” It would be an amazing thing if many churches banded together and, instead of building gyms and providing chandeliers and elaborate furnishings, they pooled what it would cost and gave it to state prisons for the establishment of the best counseling and substance abuse treatment services imaginable. Talk about the church GOING!!!

But I doubt that is ever going to happen. We do need our appearances and comfort zones.

And about budgets in general. Why do we have them? Yes, I know and agree that people need to be responsible and that includes the church. We do need to be good stewards of our financial gifts and it is just good business practice to have and follow a budget. BUT THE CHURCH IS NOT A BUSINESS. Too many have never moved past that idea. Church is an endeavor of faith.

There are always some, for their own personal reasons, who are unwilling to make a pledge to the church (or to any other need, for that matter). In these hard times, others are concerned about making a pledge they may not be able to honor. And don’t even get me started about the “prosperity gospel” and how if you will only tithe, God will reward you four-fold (or whatever percent it is). That is simply garbage and as far removed from the idea of sharing one’s life and goods as one can get. Why must we always attach a reward factor to every thing we do?

Why not try this. Decide what you will spend in a year…….in administration, education, missions, for building and grounds. Think about it. Pray about it. Let it be a challenge that perhaps makes the church a bit uneasy. You could put down some figures for basic bookkeeping necessities. Then, don’t take any pledges. Just follow the dream.

Yes, I know that is outlandish and unthinkable. And yes, I know even more that it might become an excuse for some folk to not give at all. (Do they really need an excuse?) I will agree that it is not sound business practice. Could it be an act of faith? Could it stretch the congregation into deeper transformation? That after all is something of what church is about.

And, it just might…………


  1. Hey Gary, I am very much enjoying your writing and the comments of those who choose to respond. Much of my recent reading has explored this subject of " the church" vs. the idea of spirituality or getting in touch with God. It seems that all religions start as a response to an experience that was truly transformational for those who were involved. As they tell their stories and share their experiences they do the best they can to put into words that which cannot be explained in words. Then as the groups form and it gains momentum, more of the original experience is lost. When it gets written down and then becomes "official" it loses even more. Then it becomes a human institution, and often institutions wind up being more about the continued existence of the institution than they are about the original transformational experience. I think I know that you and I both believe that something extrodinary happened to those who followed Jesus in his day, but what? I also believe that there are many in "the church" who are very well intentioned, but cannot see the water in the fishbowl in which we swim. So let us seek in our search for God that enlarges us and asks more of us. Let us become as conscious as we can of the way we are exploring our religous life, and let us always remember that its not really about us, but it is about "the other".
    Many Blessings,

  2. I feel this way too Gary. I feel the "church" is a community of members who believe in Christianity. Christianity is not a secret society even though some people may have a tendency to try to make it that way. It is a way of life that involves every part of my life, often in a very public way.It isn't a hobby or something that only belongs in my private life. It affects every aspect of my life. it needs to shine with kindness,forgiveness,and concern for the weak and poor. This way of life can be risky cause not everyone agrees with these beliefs. it can never be a private way of life and should affect the way I see, think, and act. Non-negotiable.