Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Shameful Waste

I had an interesting experience today. A Facebook "friend", as opposed to a real friend, who happens to be a pastor posted this article about church sanctuaries that have been upgraded and beautified. If you clicked on the link you'll see pictures of ornate sanctuary spaces that are quite beautiful.

My response was to point out what a waste of money it is to enhance worship spaces where fewer and fewer people are gathering and that such expense does absolutely nothing to advance the Gospel. I hoped for a little conversation about how we Christians choose to spend God's resources. Instead the pastor deleted my comment and unfriended me. It seems apparent glorified sanctuary spaces are very important to him and dissenting opinions are not welcome.

Rather than mourn the loss of an online "friendship" I decided this was an opportunity to expand on my comment here and explain why, in my opinion, dedicated sanctuary spaces are an abomination rejected by God and harmful to the commission Christ gave his followers. Scripture is quite clear that at Pentecost the outpouring of the Holy Spirit meant God is bodily present in every follower of Christ. Further our bodies are the temple of God meant to be active and effective for our Lord Jesus Christ wherever we find ourselves. Further still this presence of God is to be daily making an impact amongst those in need in the world. Whether that's need for comfort, clothing, housing, food, or any of the countless other needs present in this broken world.

That over time the church has retreated inside buildings and invested literally trillions of dollars over the past two thousand years to deck out these spaces with gold, silver, ornate rare woods, carvings, artwork and more is a travesty. A careful reading of the account of David's plan to build a temple reveals God's rejection of such a plan. The temple in Jerusalem was rejected by God. The fact Solomon went ahead with it anyway...with the help of Satan and his minions (let him who has ears hear the truth) simply confirms what an abomination temples truly are.

God did not and does not want buildings built and assigned as his residence. A residence for God is a place we visit giving rise to our misbegotten notion God can be visited and, more erroneously, contained. Dressing up such spaces and calling them sacred make them no less abominable. Look at the whole story. Temple rituals and prayers were rejected by God as noise and a stench in his nostrils. We have simply recreated mini temples a million times over all over the world.

I'm not saying the church doesn't need gathering places. I am saying the places we gather are of no consequence to the advancement of the Gospel. God comes and goes with us, those who are filled with his Holy Spirit. If the gathering places are of no consequence then investing ridiculous amounts of money to decorate these spaces is an absolute waste of God's resources imparted to his Church for the sake of spreading the Gospel. The creation of God is far more majestic and awesome than any creation of man. I am pleading with the church to stop building ornate boxes for God and calling these spaces sacred. They are an abomination to God, a waste of God's resource and a distraction from the vital work the Church has been called into.

One final note. Where your treasure is there your heart is also. Pouring treasure into a worship space entices us to sit in that space waiting and hoping others will show up. They won't. Fewer and fewer people are coming into our worship spaces. The most ornate cathedrals of Europe are quaint tourist attractions but nearly devoid of worshipers and worthless to the advancement of the Gospel. Get out of your space and take God with you. Out in the world is where he really wants to be.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Last Chance - New Year

As 2016 moves into the final days I'm discovering I haven't posted anything here for the entire year! There's no way to go back in time and remedy that so I'll just post now knowing I didn't miss 2016 completely.

What a year this has been. There's no shortage of commentary on the horrors of this year from the number of celebrities who have died to the U.S. presidential election. But you won't hear anything from me about those topics here. This is a blog about church and 2016 wasn't so hot for churches, either.

The Christian church in the U.S. continues it's long, slow, steady decline. Fewer and fewer people are involved in church as it is traditionally understood. Giving to churches is down (but then so is giving to most charities this year). The nones and the dones have been in the press as identifiable groups that have separated from church.

Recently I had coffee with a church leader who is trying to sort out what the future looks like for his church. He's asking a lot of good questions about the purpose of church and where church fits in 2017. I'm encouraged by discussions like this and the fact people are having these discussions more often and with more urgency. Nothing spurs meaningful, soul-searching conversation quite like impending death.

In 1990, a year before his death, my father had a medical episode that nearly ended his life then. I was summoned to his bedside and spent a week working with doctors to find a way back for him. During that time we had the deepest and most honest conversations about the choices he'd made, the regrets he had, and faith. Neither of us was sure he'd make it out of that hospital room alive so there was no pretense or posturing. Just good, honest conversation.

Is it possible 2017 is the year the church in the U.S. realizes it may be on it's deathbed? Every year more than 4,000 churches close their doors while only about 1,000 new churches open. Along with that about 2.7 million churchgoers become inactive on an annual basis. All this according to the U.S. Census Bureau as reported in an article on Having worked in and around churches my whole career and active in church since birth I can say with confidence churches are the slowest to change of nearly any organization in the world. The lumbering bureaucracies of government come close but I'll argue church is still king when it comes to refusing change and holding on to failed methodology until long after their futility has become obvious to everyone else.

We can all recite experiences backing this up and I could give you examples of conversations I've had in just the last month or so of churches actively chasing people off with the way they do things. In the distant past people irritated with their church just hung in there and complained a lot. Then things shifted and they would leave to find another church. Today they don't wait long and they just leave.

What if we Christians in the U.S. treated 2017 like it was our last chance to have an honest conversation with the church before it dies? What would you say to the church if you dropped all pretense and posturing? What would you say to church leaders if they came and asked you what the purpose and place of church is? And what if they actually listened?

A final note: I'm intentionally spelling church with a lower case 'c' because it's not the Church that's in trouble. The Bride of Christ is alive and well all over the world accomplishing great things. Followers of Christ are as vibrant as ever and often active and effective outside the restrictions of the church. Comment here and contribute to the deathbed conversation with the church. I'm not sure the church will listen, but that shouldn't stop us from talking.