The fundraising trail challenges your conventional view of the church. Just a few steps down this path and I’m deeply convicted with the inordinate emphasis we place on buildings. Having served a church with expansive facilities, I know the hours of staff and volunteer time devoted to maintaining bricks and mortar. Our building is 50 years old and is starting to develop some chronic issues. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard, “We could spend a million dollars on our building and no one would notice.” Scary!
I know of once thriving churches that now seem to exist predominantly for the preservation of their structures. The dwindling congregations struggle to support a skeleton staff for their decaying landmarks. I don’t know what happened to these ministries. Sometimes the Gospel departed long before the congregation, but this certainly isn’t always the case. I know at least one solid pastor nursing an antiquated behemoth through its final days of hospice. Every ounce of resources goes into maintenance and there’s just not enough left to clean the haze off the windows and focus on the dying world outside. Sometimes I wonder if it was the splendor and expense of their edifices that turned their gaze inward?
Buildings are so important in the North American mindset. I’ve been amazed at how many people ask if we’re raising funds to build a church building in Panama. (I think I’d better find the people first.) The fact is … we may never have a facility of our own. The idea of meeting in a rented movie theater sounds better all the time. I know it has its own challenges and consumes manpower in other ways, but I’m convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ can thrive without owning a stitch of property. I’m also a bit enamored with the thought of converting the spiritual darkness of a movie theater into a lighthouse for souls. Even if we never build … WE WILL CERTAINLY BUILD! Do I sound confused? Let me explain. Every church can build. Every Bible-believing church has the resources to build. At least in the Acts 20 sense.
If you haven’t read the first two blogs in this series, allow me to bring you up to speed. The context of Acts 20 is the Apostle Paul’s journey to Jerusalem. He stopped briefly in Miletus and asked for the elders of the Ephesian church to meet him there. Paul was convinced that he’d never see these men again. His few words of instruction and encouragement were carefully chosen. Every word mattered. Paul told them about the worth of the church and warned them about church security … now look carefully at what he said about building the church:
Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
These words are not addressed to individuals, but the church. The Greek is plural … now I commit (you all) to God and to the word of his grace which is powerful to build up and give (you all) an inheritance.” Paul was addressing the leaders of the church about what would build the church. God and his Word will build the church!
The real building of the church is done not with bricks and mortar, but through the God-empowered preaching and teaching of the Gospel (the Word of his grace). It’s easy to fall into a materialistic mindset even in the church. It’s tempting to think, “Build it and they will come.” The constant flow of catalogs and “catalogs” parading as ministry magazines tempts us to think, “If we only could afford the latest and greatest … we’d grow.” The Apostle Paul had none of those resources or temptations. He didn’t entrust the fledgling church at Ephesus to architects, sound-designers and funding campaign managers. He said, “I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up.” He had confidence in the Lord of the Church and the power of his Word. Pray that the coming international church in Panama will always keep its focus and foundation in the same place!