There is an old saying when something is futile or a waste of time and money. Doing (whatever) is like polishing doorknobs on the Titanic. I am sure that when that ship went down it had nicely polished doorknobs but they didn’t stay that way long under water. The loss of life and valuables far outweighed the shiny glamour the ship once had.
I am afraid that the Western Church has done quite a bit of that for centuries but especially so in the US over the last thirty-three years that I have been a Christian. I have had the opportunity to live in five states and to minister in a few more as well as a doing a bit of a worldwide ministry via the Internet. Between my personal experiences and interaction with many brethren I have seen some very bad stewardship in the family of God.
1 Cor 4:1-2
1 Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.
2 Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. KJV
While this speaks primarily to being faithful in our ministry of the Word we can certainly apply the principle to all aspects of ministry and church life. We consistently and scripturally exhort the Body of Christ to be faithful in study of the Word, church attendance, witnessing, holiness, tithing, etc, etc. When are we going to become good stewards in the area of buildings and seeking unity by downsizing the Church rather than splitting it?
Ironically, the non-denomination/intra-denominational movement preaches and sings about unity but has been responsible for splitting the Body of Christ more than it has ever been. There are more storefront churches, house churches and various splinter groups than ever before in that last two hundred years and maybe in all the history of Christianity. How that promotes unit totally eludes me. Indeed, it is more a cause of confusion among the unbelievers than it is a uniting force among believers. It is divisive, not unifying.
It is also lousy stewardship in that more money goes into buildings, utilities, hi-tech sound and video equipment and staff than the message and mission. We are building mansions for the bonfire before the new Heaven and new Earth instead of preventing the masses from entering Hell fire or building up the saints to do the work of the ministry.
Acts 17:24 God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; KJV
We preach that the Church is not the building but rather the saints of God in whose hearts and souls God dwells, but in reality we are more obsessed with buildings and glitz than we are souls saved or lost. We still call our meeting houses Old Testament names like tabernacles and temples but instead of only building what is actually necessary like a tabernacle since this world is temporary and quickly fading we build temples that seek to rival Solomon’s rather than building the real church of God; souls. If this world in not our home why do we insist on thinking God dwells in our shrines rather than using the money to get people into the kingdom and training the saints to do the work of the ministry?
Multi-million dollar buildings to worship the King, who came to earth in a stable, lived as the son of a poor carpenter and then ministered as an itinerant without a place to lay His head somehow seems quite incongruous to His life and message.
How many missionaries could have been sent with that money? How many widows indeed could have been supported properly rather than living in the poverty of Social Security? How many kids could have had their tuition paid to learn in a Christian school versus the halls of secular education? How many could have been reached for Christ and then trained by the Church to get out of poverty and off welfare? The lists of possibilities for better use of the many we waste is huge. We fuss about the inefficiency and wasteful spending of our various levels of Government yet we who represent the King of Kings and His government as ambassadors are even worse. Many missionaries have minimal support or still trying to get to the field because the home churches are building mansions that often become mausoleums.
I have not talking about the obvious abuses of air conditioned doghouses, $23,000 marble toilets and the lavish lifestyles of so-called ministers of God but capricious construction of buildings that are more shows of wealth than adequate meeting places. Is it not odd that the early church could get by with just a place to meet for a meal, prayer, study and at least a hymn before they left for home but we need multi-million dollar plants decked to the nines with stuff that does not add to worship or training? It is just plain glitz and a waste of money. It is polishing doorknobs for a house that will be in flames at the end of time if not before if some elements of the culture have their way.
I just don’t see how so many of our brethren around the world can get ministry done and truly worship when they have to meet in abandoned warehouses, shacks or small rooms without all the glitz and technology. They have to sing in hushed tones, not rocking the house with their woofers and tweeters. They actually have to use candles or something else rather than have chandeliers that, in some cases, look pretty but do not give off enough light.
Worse yet they have to listen to a man preach without the advantages of microphones and PowerPoints. They actually sing a few songs and listen to that man maybe for three hours instead of having an hour of praise and worship and then a twenty minute sermon. I once overheard a musician ask the pastor if he could cut his message by five minutes so they could add another song. The Word is supposed to have preeminence in the services, not the band.
Then we design them supposedly to accommodate growth but often have to go build bigger and better somewhere else before they are paid off. Maybe it is necessary and maybe not, but at least design the buildings so that if you must move they could easily revamped by a business. That way you could get a decent price for it rather than having the only people who would be interested in buying it is another church of similar size that might be able to afford what you want.
Ah yes, that does bring us to being logical in the first place. Just recently, I heard of one church that just had to grow or so the Senior Pastor said. They started out with grand plans but had to whittle it way down once the estimate came in. Wasn’t anywhere near what he said the Church “needed” but they built it anyway for $1.2 million and shortly after that the Senior Pastor quit.
When he left so did a good group of the people leaving those left to pay the bills and seek to build the attendance back up. That is tough to do nowadays since we are pretty much a non-church going nation. Many churches have defaulted on loans or struggled just to maintain the building to the point they could not do real ministry or the ministry the building was designed to provide. All they could do is polish doorknobs.
To some if you can get enough people together in one spot and build a multi-million dollar edifice it shows that God is really blessing. Really, ever hear of hear of Laodicea? They must have been packing the house for they were rich and well known. They must have had all the latest programs, the best musicians, the latest fads in building churches, etc, etc. God was really blessing them for sure! Hmm, from what I read in Revelation God was not blessing them at all. It was all a flesh thing. It was the dead church Christ could not get into and He said they were poor, naked and blind. Pragmatism is not sound theology. Just because it works does not mean it is of God. Shucks, even miracles and casting out demons doesn’t mean a person is saved or a true messenger of God. Check out Matthew 7:21-23.
All of our new methods and practices are not spiritual and certainly not good stewardship. Yet, I need to speak to the other side of the coin and look at the poor stewardship of the old established churches. They also seem to practice a form of idolatry when it comes to buildings. I have been too numerous churches who no longer have a reason to exist but to polish the doorknobs of a building.
I once visited a church that would seat maybe four hundred easily. I was told their parsonage might make Tara look like dump. They had twelve people in attendance. They also had an interim pastor who had retired after forty years at another church. He had been there four years. That is a long time for an interim. Some lads that are called to be the Senior Pastor at a church do not last that long. In fact, the average is three years. Were they depressed? Nope! God was still using them because the funds were there to pay the $50,000 roofing bill. That is only one of many that I have seen in similar conditions or worse.
Note that even the good churches in Revelation at one point came to an end. I have a friend who says that churches, like people, have a life span. They are born, mature and die. I am not sure that is how it supposed to be but I do think that there are many in that shape. Some are “dead but too dumb to drop over” as they said when I was growing up.
I have been looking for a fulltime pastorate and have been able to see more than the average Christian, the state of things in the kingdom. There may have been a time in history when having a church every four to ten miles was a bit of necessity. Those days are long gone. People around here drive fifty or more miles to work. They can drive ten or more to church.
Now I am speaking about churches of like faith, not trying to cram everyone into one. The doctrinal cacophony would be a disaster. You can’t mingle that close no matter how badly some people wish it were so. There is only one true doctrine for every issue, not two or seven. Someone is right and the rest are wrong. Amos asked many years ago how two could walk together without being in agreement and the answer was then that they could not and that is still the answer today.
Christ is not divided and He only has one point of view, not dozens. Division was caused by men and we will stay divided until He returns unless we all come to agreement and say the same thing as we are enjoined to do in Scripture. It hasn’t happened in two thousand years and I can’t foresee it happening until the Rapture since the 144,000 in the Tribulation will be speaking the same message.
That being said, we need fewer buildings and more unity among those who are the same. In my search, I came across eight churches in the Dallas area without pastors. The list I found also listed the membership of the churches. I found that it would have actually been easier to combine those churches into four and if I did more research I might have been able to reduce them to two.
Two of those churches were less than three miles apart. The combined membership was 78. The others were of similar size except for two. One had about 180 members and the other 90. They were only seven miles apart and they were the most far apart from each other. The church where I currently serve runs 250 on good Sundays. Four of those buildings are redundant and a waste of God’s money and manpower.
In the spirit of unity and stewardship, I wrote the pairs and suggested they merge by determining which group had the best building, then sell one using the money to refurbish the other one or to use it for other ministry. They might actually be able to call a pastor between the two of them. Only one responded and told me that the list was out of date and they hoped to grow now that they had a young bi-vocational pastor. I wished them well but reminded them that records show that most churches of their type in the area were either stagnated or declining.
Two main reasons will keep them from merging. One is pride. Who will be the one to give up their building and the name? Each will think their church deserves to remain based upon some grandeur or prominence they may have had in the past. The other reason is the ghosts of glory past in the minds of the people. They were married there or their kids were baptized there, etc. God cannot possibly work on their behalf anywhere else. It becomes building worship.
In the end, either the people will die off and the church close anyway or in these days of the new view of imminent domain cities will start taking these worn out small churches to make room for a Wal-Mart or apartment complex or something else that will be paying taxes on that land. I know of one now that will be gone in ten years maximum if the fire department that sits right behind them doesn’t petition the city for the land first. The congregation is small, elderly and without a pastor. They would not stand a chance against the city. Yet, they also refused an offer of merger.
In fact, another church was offended for them that such a thing was suggested. That church was only two miles from the dying one and growing. When it was suggested that they merge with them that pastor did not want them but was mad because someone else was willing to merge with them. Is that good stewardship on either one of their parts? No. It is building worship. Once a building is built it must be maintained forever whether it is falling apart or not or if the members only have five or at best ten years of life left. Let’s just polish those doorknobs!
If you look at the epistles, they were addressed to the Church at Ephesus, Corinth, Colosse, or Philippi not the churches of those cities. Even as huge as Rome was we see the epistle addressed to all who be in Rome as one church not numerous ones of varying names and doctrine. Only when we see an area like Galatia addressed do we see a salutation to the churches of Galatia.
True, they met in various places within the cities for many reasons yet they were one church body. Sometimes it was because they were not able to procure a central meeting place and sometimes it was not wise to meet in one place. It may become like that again in the Western Churches as we get closer to the end. The upside of that will be that form will have to be replaced by substance and better stewardship will be forced upon the church by necessity as the ability to waste money and manpower will be greatly diminished. That almost makes it something to pray for instead of against.
However, in our current freedom we could be more sensible, organized and unified in our approach to church. When I was in college in Winston-Salem there were at least 150 Baptist Churches. Many were able to seat hundreds but were down to fifty and many more were smaller churches with fifty or less members. Times change but the situation where I am at now is very similar.
Even in a city of this size, we could probably do with having one Baptist Church for the SBC and one for us Independents but with four locations on the compass. I realize that there are two branches of the SBC here in Texas and several groups of Independents. The theory still holds. There would still only be a need for no more than four of any group. Each church would be in driving range of nearly 25% of the population let alone the people of the particular groups.
The proceeds from the sales of the no longer needed buildings could possibly fund debt free the four new ones if they were constructed for function rather than form in a configuration other than the traditional church form that could be easily sold if the need occurred.
It would take a major revival to make it all happen but if pride could be put aside and ghosts exorcised we might be able to be about what our true mission is rather than polishing doorknobs on unnecessary or overly glitzy buildings.
We talk about extreme or radical Christianity and even wanting to emulate the first century church, but we cannot do come close as long as we continue to maintain buildings whose purpose is history or build several churches in the same town for every preacher that comes out of the same seminary wasting money on mansions that become memorials and mausoleums. We may be too close to the bonfire to accomplish a lot of change in our stewardship but for the love of Christ and souls we need to move in the right direction stop foolishly polishing doorknobs! Maranatha!!