What is your idea of a local church and it’s purpose?
This question brings many different answers and opinions in our day and age. For example:
Many people view local churches as community centers
a. Beautiful buildings for weddings, etc. even if you are not a member of that church or denomination
b. They are used for voting centers and community gathering points
c. Gyms or other activity focused centers
But is this idea of a local church valid according to Scripture? The answer has to be no because the church is never pictured as a facility or building, but rather as the called out ones of God.
This idea of church as a facility or community center has in effect been a hindrance to the gospel. Let me read to you the statement from one large church about their family life center:
“The Family Life Center is a 70,000 square foot facility that offers a wide variety of amenities to suit your fitness needs. Complimentary exercise orientations are offered to every new member of the Family Life Center. Visitors are always welcome to come by for a tour of the facility.”
This facility contains a full gymnasium, weight rooms, racquetball courts, game rooms, tennis courts and a pool.
I am seeing more and more of this in our society and I think that it makes sense for us to consider the effects. As a pastor I am really struggling with this. While one group of saints struggles to keep their local church doors open another local church is building a 70,000 square foot athletic facility.
Let me contrast this with a blog written by Dr. Barry Carpenter:
My son and I bought luggage today. We will carry 4 checked bags and 2 carry-on bags to the Philippines. I spread the bags out on the living room floor and began to think about what is essential for the next year or 2 of our lives. Two of the bags will carry ministry essentials and things we will give away. That will leave each of us one checked bag and one carry on- roughly 80 pounds each. If I could reduce the fruit of all my labors in life down to 80 pounds, what would I keep? What do we need?
On Saturday I will take everything I own and put it in my front yard with a "for sale" on it. I realized even if I sold everything we own it will not be enough to support us or pay for our relocation. We currently have only about 20% of what we need to relocate and to live on. This is really shocking to me as we are asking for one-third to one-half of what most missionaries live on and a great deal less than the average American lives on. And almost half the money is not even for us but for the support of the ministry.
At least once or twice a week someone will ask me "What if you don't get enough support money? What will you do?" I used to answer "I don't know. We are still praying." But now I know. Now I answer "We will suffer even more." I do not say this with piety or nobility. It is not said with a "stiff upper lip" nor with my chest poked out. Rather, I hang my head and whisper "We will suffer. The ministry will be hindered and the message of the Gospel will be restrained and we will suffer." The reality is sinking in.
People also ask me "Is it safe where you going?" This is hard for me to answer. On the island on which we will live and minister it is not safe. To the west are the Muslim separatists. They have closed four house churches last year by killing the pastors and lay leaders. To north are Maoist rebels who recently raided the Del Monte plantation and killed people. Hundreds of people die on the island every year from typhoons, hurricanes and mudslides. Robbery, murder, tribal warfare, disease…No it is not a "safe" place to be.
I have been awake since 2:30 am this morning thinking on these things. Is it wise to take my son there? What will I do when we come back and we will have nothing? How will we survive on such a small amount? What if we are killed? What if I lose my son? Should I even go if I cannot fulfill all the plans we had for ministry? You see I am not a brave man nor a man of great faith. I am just a little, foolish and fearful man. God what should we do?
I thought of the words of Peter and Christ's response from Matthew 19. "Then Peter said to Him, Behold we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us? And Jesus said to them, Truly I say to you. that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne. you shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life."
I have never seen this passage so clearly before. Who would trade the paltry trinkets of this world for the throne of glory and eternal life? Oh, how foolish! Christ tells us to count the cost of the cross. Those who seek to save their lives will lose it and those who lose their lives for His sake will have life eternal. Oh the joy to say with Paul "I count it all dung for the sake of the cross of Christ."
Please do not pity me and my son. We are not worthy of your pity. Pity the poor church in America and those who fill her air conditioned walls and sit on padded pews under the illusion of safety. I feel sorry for those who have CDs, escrow accounts, and tens of thousands of dollars in the bank - so fearful to let go of it that they may never get it back. Have they not read the story of the man who hide his talent in the ground? I pity them. I am so sorry for those who will never know one instant in their lives in which they were fully satisfied in Christ alone. Oh, rapturous joy to know Him and be satisfied in Him! Oh how humbling to be offered the chance to risk all- knowing that all is really nothing! Great piles of earthly dung! HA!
"Let goods and kindred go- this mortal life also"- for it is NOTHING in the joyous light of the One who hung upon the cross for me! Hallelujah!
What a brilliant outlook, forsaking everything in order to be obedient and follow the Lord.
There is a growing issue in the American church culture that proclaims aesthetics over humility and that building size is an indicator of success.
To give you an idea here are a few recent examples: --
I once had a woman come to me and say that if "we wanted more people to come to our church then the flower beds needed to be kept up better." Is this true? Have we come to the point in America Christianity where church attendance is dictated by how well the lawn is manicured and not by the gospel that is preached inside?
Over the years we have had several families leave our congregation for similar reasons. In each case the members left because another church had a better children's ministry or youth ministry. Never did they indicate that they were not being fed spiritually, their sole purpose in leaving was driven children's entertainment and events.
A couple of years ago I was attending a conference at a local mega-church and I walked away being greatly grieved and distressed. The foyer was elaborate and the furniture in that room alone probably exceeded our annual church budget by one hundred times. The silk flower decorations probably cost as much as we take in annually.
This is a struggle for me... how can the local church validate spending millions of dollars on facilities while gospel preaching goes unfunded? Why will a local church take on years of debt in order to build the nicest facility in the area?