Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Buildings vs. Evangelism?

A long time friend of mine got a bunch of us preacher-types involved in an email discussion last week. The topic he tossed out was whether we believed the church spent money on facilities and staff salaries that could, and maybe should, be going to evangelism. At the very least, the premise was that the church spends too much money on buildings and staff - especially when compared to evangelism. I added my email to the discussion, but here are some thoughts that I didn't totally share.
There are few things in the church that members become more myopic, if not struck with selective blindness, than when it comes to church buildings and staff salaries. I can't tell you how many times through the years I've heard the "righteous indignation" of members who ranted about how much is spent on "administrative costs, employees, and facilities" rather than "the really spiritual" stuff like mission work, benevolence, and local evangelism.
First, I have to avoid the temptation of seeing this as a personal attack on my ministry, my value to the Kingdom, and a slam on our church family. Deep breath - count to ten - pray for guidance and patience!
Second, it's a fact, people judge the church, its staff, its office, and its facilities by one standard, and that is "What have you done for me lately?" If they don't see or hear about what happens, and/or it's not important to them, then it doesn't exist. Many members have no idea how much goes on at their building every day, or what their church office does for the church, or what their staff and elders are doing. They only know the building is used for a couple hours on Sunday, the preacher only works on Sunday, and the elders only have meetings. Be careful laughing at that. I feel confident that Satan laughs at it constantly. He loves it when members view God's work through selfish eyes.
Third, church facilities are not a waste of money and space if they are being used to teach God's Word, edify members, support the hurting and the needy, building love for one another, and are seen by the community as a force for good, a place for healing, and a place to connect with God. Yes, we're often not very practical or utilitarian about what we build, and yes, we tend to follow cultural and traditional models of what a church building should look like, but when they are humming 24/7 with good works that glorify God, they become tools not temples. And I have never seen my office staff do work that was "purely administrative" or self-centered. Everything the office does is to support this family of believers and the ministries we're involved in. In the business world facilities and offices may not be "the work of the company" or what the company produces, but that isn't true for a church family. As far as staff and staff salaries go, that's too big a subject for this blog. I'll just say this, if a staff person isn't worth the salary agreed upon with the church leaders, they should be lovingly removed. God said the laborer is worthy of their salary. It's up to godly people to evaluate and decide if that's true.
Finally, at least for this blog, evangelism is always available to use as a guilt whip. The most spiritual person on the planet can be made to feel guilty about needing to do more. Let me ask this question: If we took the hundreds of thousands of dollars we spent on our facilities and staff salaries, and got rid of all of it/them, and used the money for evangelism, would we really have a lot more conversions? If members where not being taught by capable and inspiring ministers, and we had no central location to connect with our community, rally the family, and build one another love, would we have more baptisms each year? I love "house churches"! We call them One Another Groups, but it's wonderful to get together with a larger family and give, praise God, and be encouraged - and pool our resources as a church family to carry out the Lord's work.
More money won't increase evangelism. Sharing the Gospel increases when godly people have a passion for Jesus that they can't hold back. It doesn't take more money for every member to be the witness for God that He called them to be.

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