In Matthew 16:13-20, we find an exchange between Jesus and his disciples. In this conversation, Jesus asks his followers what people are saying about him and who they are saying he is. After the disciples answer this question, Jesus then asks who they think Jesus is. Peter steps to the front and, speaking for the group, says “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, responding to Peter, replies “Blessed are you Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.”
Peter had gotten it right! He understood who Jesus was! Jesus goes on in his reply to Peter to say “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” I am pretty sure Jesus was not talking about a building in this statement. Jesus was talking about a group of people that he was assembling to proclaim the gospel and to do good works. However, when I look at the Church today, I am left wondering if we care too much about building buildings. Has that become our goal?
When I read news articles that report that many churches today have more debt than they can afford to repay, I wonder how we have gotten into this problem. I recall a conversation that took place at a pastors’ conference I attended about a year ago between two seasoned leaders. When asked about priorities in ministry, one pastor stood and addressed a gathering of fellow pastors and said that he always counsels churches to focus on securing land and a building before it calls additional staff personnel beyond the senior pastor. His logic was that staff people cost money and that money could be saved to buy a building. After the building is secured, the church can then worry about additional staff people.
A second pastor, after listening to the first, stood and responded that this is exactly the opposite approach that he would take. He stated that his priority is always people and staff members are more important to ministering to the needs of people than buildings. In fact, he thought that renting space (in his case a school gym) was much more cost effective and allowed the church to allocate its money to much more important ministry needs than a mortgage or building maintenance.
What should we do? In today’s world, I see churches building multi-million dollar facilities with state-of-the-art technology. Is this necessary? I suppose if you want to compete with the church down the street it is. But is this an example of where the church has lost its focus?
It’s true, we need places to meet. It’s also true that not every church is in debt or in a state-of-the-art facility. Some churches have even begun to meet in homes rather than traditional church buildings. But the majority of Christians are currently meeting in churches that meet in buildings that are church-owned. How do we know when the facility we have is sufficient for our needs? Can a church survive in today’s world if it refuses to adopt the “bigger and better” mentality that drives our consumeristic mindset? How do we best manage the money that God has entrusted to us as churches?