A Love/Hate Relationship

How is it possible to hate and love someone or something at the very same time? It has been said that the opposite of love is not hate, but apathy. So, it is not uncommon to find yourself getting angry, annoyed, and even hating the people you love the most in your life. We invest time, money, and energy into those things that we are passionate about, but that same passion causes us to get angry with the same things we have invested in.

When someone buys a house, we have house-warming parties, we offer words of congratulation, and we generally celebrate with them. But, I was just at my nephew’s home in Ohio – and it was lovely. He has a large pond (big enough to kayak on), a 2-story 3-car garage, a huge lot with a shooting range, and a small, 2-bedroom home. As I walked around the property I was amazed at everything on the property and offered my congratulations.

But I wonder, should we be offering congratulations? Certainly. But, beware, owning a home comes with a lot of work and responsibility. My nephew has to remodel his house, keep the pond alive, mow a huge yard, weed the planters, take care of his cats and dog, and keep things from falling apart. “I don’t have time to hang out with my friends!” My condolences, you own an amazing property!

Invariably the church gets blamed with investing too much time, money, and energy into buildings. I was driving across Kansas yesterday and passed a town where the church was by far the biggest building in town. In fact, its steeple was almost as tall or taller than the town’s water tower! I wondered, how long has that town been participating in a “capital campaign” for their church?

The town in Kansas with the church steeple reminded me of the towns in Europe where the church was the centerpiece of each town. I was in a church in Strasbourg that had been in a 300-year capital campaign. How can a church endure such a project? The building is empty on Sundays.

I used to think that churches shouldn’t own buildings. I thought that churches should invest their resources in ministry – not bricks and mortar. I thought that buildings merely distracted the church from her mission into her neighborhood. I thought that churches with beautiful buildings were not invested into the community at large. I mocked the church who spent a million dollars on an atrium. I criticized the church whose mortgage payment was greater than their pastor’s salary. I ridiculed the church that borrowed money against their property to hire two staff members.

I have since repented – I was wrong!

I cannot look at what other churches do with their building and merely critique or mock unless I find out what the leadership of the church is thinking and what is motivating them. There are some ridiculous reasons to build an atrium – it made a lot of sense when I actually visited the property! I don’t typically agree with spending more on a building than a pastor’s salary – but what if the church is the primary venue for ministry to the community? What if the neighborhood views the church as their primary gathering point and the church community uses the facility to serve the neighborhood? I would suggest that such a building might be worth much more than a pastor! And what about the church that borrowed money? For 45 years people invested into the facility and property in order that long after they were gone off the face of the earth, their investment would continue to be used for the ministry of the gospel. If the building is not effective in bringing people in to hear the gospel, then why not leverage the money given for that purpose to hire a pastor who will bring people in to hear the gospel? Isn’t that what the original giver wanted?

What is the point of a church building? It exists to facilitate the ministry of the gospel. As soon as a church building detracts from or hinders the ministry of the gospel – something will have to give. Our primary mission is to give people access to the whole gospel of Jesus. And, whether we like it or not, the building makes a statement to the city about what we believe about the gospel.

The church building is a place where the church community comes together as one body. There is a good reason why churches build community spaces for “fellowship.” The church should be a gathering place, a fellowship hall, and a community center. The building itself should be a statement and reminder to all, that we are always invited into community with one another and with God.

The church building is also a place where the church gathers to worship. It makes sense that our spaces in our facility are designed to facilitate intentional worship of Jesus. Church buildings for centuries have been designed to draw our attention to Christ – from being built in the shape of a cross, to stained glass, to the communion table, to space for education, to children’s rooms. All are designed to bring our focus to Jesus and our responsibility to always worship Him as God.

The final role of the church building is to be a place where the church can engage in mission and launch her members into mission. I have heard it said many times, and I have said it myself, that the church can no longer expect the world to come to her, she must go to the world. I agree with this, but we forget that our building can facilitate our going to the world with the gospel. Our building is always to be used for the mission of proclaiming the good news of the whole gospel of Christ. It makes sense that a church would design its space in such a way that the city hears, “All are welcome at the feet of Jesus.”

I hope that you will consider our building as a facility for the ministry of the whole gospel of Jesus. It facilitates community, worship, and mission and it proclaims, “We care,” to our city. By owning our building, we communicate that we will remain present in the neighborhood no matter what. By owning our building, we are investing our resources in gospel ministry long after we have exited this planet. By owning our building, we demonstrate the permanence of the ministry of the gospel of Jesus. By owning our building, we ensure that we will always have a launching pad for ministry into our city.

I am grateful for our facility. It is a beautiful, old, intriguing space that we have shaped into usefulness for our mission. I love that the building has character and creates a sense of awe and wonder. But, I hate that we can’t control the light on Sunday morning. I hate that we can’t have a meal together where we can all sit at a table together. I hate that my mom has a hard time coming to church because she’s getting older and the restrooms are hard for her to get to. I hate that the school wanted to use our space for a theater program, but because we don’t have ADA restrooms or access, they can’t use our space. I hate that when it is all said and done it is going to cost our church $100,000 to paint our building. I hate that we have weird electrical issues. I hate that the students think our property is a safe place to smoke various things. I hate that a couple drug dealers like to park in front of our church. I hate that a mom has two choices after dropping her children off, either walk across the stage or around the building. I hate that the older gentleman must either announce to the church he is going to the bathroom or walk around the building.

I love our building. We have a mission field ready for the harvest right outside our front door. I love the bell tower that visually calls our city to worship. I love the stained glass and the old woodwork. I love the high ceiling that creates a sense of wonder and mystery. I love the community we have created through workdays and projects around our building. I love our building because it facilitates the ministry of the gospel.

Congratulations, your church owns a charming, 120-year-old building! My condolences, your church owns a 120-year-old building!

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