Friday, January 16, 2009

Edifice complex


A few years ago I visited a church in the Midwest. They were presenting a proposal that day to encourage the congregation to consider buying a new piece of property in another part of town. Their building had been built in the 50’s and was aging and failing to meet their current needs. Since we here were going through building plans ourselves, I was interested in the process they were going through to get the congregation on board with the proposal. I sat behind two ladies who were talking loud enough to be heard by myself and others around them. It quickly became obvious to me they didn’t like the proposal at all. I also caught on that they were long tenured members who had been involved in the building and financing of the building they were already in.
What saddened me was how willing these two were to broadcast their dissatisfaction with the direction the leaders of the church were trying to go. They seemed to be trying to stir up dissent in others by what they were saying so loudly there in the pew. I was saddened by their outbursts; saddened for the work the leaders were trying to accomplish; saddened to see that such a spirit of faction was alive and well in that church. And you must know that I’ve seen that kind of thing often before and since that time.
I’m certain these ladies saw themselves as pillars of their church. But on that particular day they looked more like boat anchors than pillars to me. Let me explain my metaphor. Pillars serve the useful function of holding an edifice upright and stable against anything that might come against a building to attempt to knock it down. Boat anchors are also useful to keep a boat still in the water while the people in the boat are fishing or doing something that would require the boat to stay stationary for a limited amount of time. But it is not the purpose of most boats to remain stationary in the water forever. Boats were meant to move from place to place. The ladies talking loudly in church were hoping that their church would remain stationary forever. They were more interested in their beloved, and aging building than they were in the ministries of their congregation. They had an edifice complex that blinded them to the purposes of their own church's ministries.

I'm proud of the worship center our congregation just completed almost 5 years ago, and I'm hoping we will get several decades of use out of it. The 1.1 million dollars we raised and spent was well worth the investment, and the building represented our dreams and aspirations for this time in our church's life. But as useful and aesthetically pleasing as the building is, I hope we never allow ourselves to fall so in love with it that we can never bring ourselves to leave it behind if our congregation would ever be better served elsewhere or with a different edifice in the place where it stood. Buildings are tools, just like shovels and rakes. Admittedly, a building is a very large and expensive tool, but still a tool just the same. Let us not, for the sake of a beloved building, stymie the future development of our ministry at any point in time. Just a thought. Ed

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