by Steve Holt Sr
I’ve been thinking a bit about church buildings & how they reflect our priorities …. and came across this relevant blog by Steve Holt (below)…. but first some introductiory thoughts from me ….
For both churches and individuals, the way we spend our money indicates our priorities. As the saying goes “Let me see someone’s cheque book & I can tell you their priorities”. For churches, the importance of making right decisions with money increases (IMHO – in my humbe opinion), as the church leadership ask/call for people’s money by saying “give to God” – ie the church leadership accept money that is given to God, and presumably spend it on His behalf. (Whereas individuals typically earn their own money & make their own decisions on spending it – hopefully as wise stewards).
Also, in economic terms, when a church decides to spend money on a church building (a new building or upgrading or extending an existing building), they pay an opportunity cost – ie “the cost of something in terms of an opportunity forgone, and the benefits which could be received from that opportunity” (Wikipedia) “For example, if a city decides to build a hospital on vacant land it owns, the opportunity cost is the value of the benefits forgone of some other thing which might have been done with the land and construction funds instead. In building the hospital, the city has forgone the opportunity to build a sporting center on that land, or a parking lot, or the ability to sell the land to reduce the city’s debt, since those uses tend to be mutually exclusive.”
Similarly, if a church decides to spend money on a building (either new or expansion or upgrade), the opportunity cost is the value of the benefits forgone – such things as funding local mission (eg investing the money and using the income to support a local youth worker), funding overseas mission, helping the poor (eg micro-enterprise banks or helping save some of the 30,000 humans who die of starvation every day).
Along with the opportunity cost, the spending of money on buildings is also a ‘value indicator’ – ie it indicates that we value ‘x’ more than we value ‘y’. Hence, money spent on buildings (or expensive sound systems or ….) indicates that the church values these things (& the perceived benefits they will bring) more than the other opportunities that were available (eg mission, saving lives physically).
I’m not saying that spending money on buildings is always or necessarily wrong …. but ….
– in the west we typically have ‘surplus capacity’ in the local church buildings (The NZ Ministry of Education has determined not to expand any of the local Primary Schools where we live because there is ‘surplus capacity’ in the area – hence they use ‘enrolment zones’ etc to reduce numbers in the crowded schools and transfer students to the more empty schools)
– there seems to be a lot of “if we build it, they will come” thinking ….. or “we need better buildings/sound/coffee” to attract people (actually I agree re needing better coffee J ).
– as Winston Churchill said “we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us”. Do we really want to be shaped by our buildings?
– The things we spend our money on show that we value what? Is this really what we value? Is this what we should value?
Here are some numbers from a previous article
– UN studies show that $70-80b US per year would be enough to provide essential health care & education for all the poor in the world. If western Christians gave just 5% of their income towards this, it would solve this problem totally.
– Of all giving to Christian churches, only 5% is spent on overseas missions. ie the church is spending 20x more on it’s own spiritual needs than on the enormous needs overseas. To quote the late Brian Hathaway “this is an outright crime”
– If you are brave enough, look here for more scary statistics from “Fellowship of the Martyrs’. eg
– “US Christians control TRILLIONS in assets while at any given time 200,000,000 Christians starve.” (NZ Christians control billions in assets too), AND
– “Can your church cut (something) out of the budget somewhere? They are dying so that you can have new carpet.”
Finally – here is the blog article by Steve Holt, followed by some comments on his blog & his interaction with the comments. The comments and interaction help clarify what he is trying to say in this blog, and what he isn’t saying.
Have a good week … happy reading
Church is the Problem by Steve Holt Sr
Christendom is in real trouble and it doesn’t even know it.
With only 12 dysfunctional appointees and a few other ragged men and women, Jesus began a revolution that took the earth by storm…for a while. In the century that followed his return to heaven, Jesus’ followers ushered countless men, women, boys and girls into the Kingdom by doing what Jesus did…loving, serving, showing mercy, and living pure, holy, joyful lives. There wasn’t a church building in sight, and not one program for kids, seniors or families. Ample evidence points to the home as the center of Kingdom life during these early centuries.
Then in AD 313-314, Emperor Constantine of Rome made Christianity the official religion of the vast Roman Empire. That appears to be the greatest coup that Satan has ever made against the Kingdom of God. In a series of edicts, Constantine took Christianity out of homes and neighborhoods and virtually confined it to ornate structures. He established a clerical hierarchy, corralled the Spirit of God into a canon to be interpreted only by those properly “educated,” and put in place a religious system that continues to define both Catholic and Protestant expressions of faith to this day, including Churches of Christ. Churches today look and function more like the institution that Constantine established than that which Jesus established. Christians today act more like the programmed, conditioned minions of Constantine’s kingdom than the joyful, generous, self-sacrificing disciples of Jesus.
What God chose to leave boundless, man bound. What God freed, man confined. That which God empowered, man pronounced impotent. Those which God included, man excluded. Where God breathed life, man squeezed it out.
After Constantine, church buildings became the center of religious activities. Liturgy defined worship. Clergy became the experts without whom ordinary believers couldn’t possibly understand God’s message. Church officials were the final authority in all things related to faith. Sinners were exploited and manipulated. The poor and alienated were ostracized. None of this was ever God’s intention.
In the beginning, the Church wrestled the spirit of individual faith away from believers and replaced it with a pattern that would benefit first the Church. Over time, however, Christians have willingly given religious institutions power to interpret all things spiritual and to put the institution’s well-being above the individual’s.
Today, we have a world of weak, ineffective and generally apathetic “Christians” who look nothing like the first disciples who transformed the world often at unimaginable costs. In many parts of the world, Christianity is scoffed at because of its arrogant claims and distorted ideals. I blame Church for conditioning parishioners and members over time to consider first what the Church thinks and does and to ignore God’s call and the Spirit’s work in the individual.
Christians today generally believe that “church” primarily happens on Sunday mornings in a specific location. And church leaders are happy to have them believe that. Believers today have given up a relationship with God for knowledge about God as interpreted by the “learned.” Churches have tricked Christians into believing that money given to God must pass first through the institution to have any validity. Most Churches would have Christians believe that meeting at the church building on Sunday morning is more important than feeding the homeless in Court Square on Friday night.
Every new church building or addition, every church “service” or activity, reinforce what Constantine legislated. Local congregations segregated by race or culture testify to the ineffectiveness of religion to bring all things together in Christ Jesus.
Most Christians have no faith in what God can do in them, with them and for them. Most would never believe that their home could again become the center of Kingdom activity. Most do not believe that God’s Spirit could lead them into “all truth” without an “expert” to guide them. Most believe that evangelism is an activity rather than a lifestyle, and few have any idea what a “disciplined life” looks like. Far too many Christians believe that eliminating sin is their primary calling. Too many Christians see the Bible primarily as a rule book rather than a revelation of what God has done, is doing and will do. Too few Christians truly believe that one can develop a real and personal relationship with Jesus that is infinitely more fulfilling and meaningful than one’s relationship with another person. Too few Christians live in anticipation of heaven rather than seeing today as the opportunity to experience and model life “on earth as it is in heaven.” Like the local Church that provides their spiritual guidance, too few Christians have the faith to move to impoverished neighborhoods where they can lend their resources, skills and blessings to people of a different race and social standing.
Finally, too few Churches and Christians have any idea, let alone plan, for restoring and passing on life in the Kingdom as God intended from the beginning. Christians are living as if things can’t change. In fact, most Christians don’t have any clue as to why things must change. And that might be the saddest reality of all.
Both Constantine’s methods and motives can legitimately be challenged. But however flawed, his actions were a response to the question, “What should Christians do when they find themselves in positions of power?” Christian ecclesiology was already changing before Constantine arrived. As emperor, he had to decide what to do with the political structure, or choose not to be emperor. For whatever reasons, he chose to be emperor, and to Christianize the political and religious landscape, in the process sanctioning what was already becoming an institutionalizing trend. Was he wrong to adapt in this way? Possibly. (He was certainly wrong in a number of other ways.) But to assume so is to pressupose that the house churches of earliest Christianity were mandated by divine design. Is it not possible that the house churches were simply a cultural adaptation modeled on the synagogue, which was itself an adaptation to the circumstances of the diaspora? I don’t doubt that the Spirit of God is alive and active in your house church. But He also acts powerfully through institutions, tradition, and liturgy. Abraham, the father of the faithful, wandered around with his nomadic “house church.” David, the man after God’s own heart, oversaw the expansion of a highly institionalized theocratic political scructure. Most of the sins that you you list above were present in both contexts, but so was the Spirit of God. Is it possible that there is an important role for the house church to play, but also an important role for the institutions that you so malign?
Steve holt Sr said,
Thanks, YDKM, for your thoughtful response and questions.
Believe it or not, I’m not against mainline and for house church as such. I truly believe God can work (and has worked) in a number of ways to bring about his will. He works in good times and bad; in sickness and health; in tragedy and triumph; in prisons, hospitals and parks. It’s not about the type of gathering that believers find themselves. Here are my concerns:
1 – Churches generally stifle the process of God’s call in an individual’s life. For example, in my tradition, one-half of adherents (females) are not allowed to participate fully in the life of the community. In most congregations of my tradition (and other so called fundamentalist communities), believers are discouraged from witnessing, raising hands, speaking in tongues, etc.
2 – Church as we know it is not working. It’s difficult to see that here in the Bible Belt, but truth is, church as we know it is dying. Nothing wrong with dying (Jesus strongly recommends it), but the tragedy is that Churches are doing nothing to adapt to what is happening in our culture, i.e. the rising generations want nothing to do with Church as it is. You spoke of “cultural adaptation.” That’s not happening. Looks like we have folded our arms and said, “If they can’t adapt to Church as it is, that’s their loss.” Good thing God doesn’t have that attitude.
3 – It’s not about house church vs. traditional church or any other gathering of believers. Again, it’s not about the type of gatherings believers find themselves. It’s about how those who profess to follow Jesus act day-to-day. It our lifestyle; our mindset. It’s what we seek first, and what we hunger and thirst for. I find (and I think history and Scripture bear evidence) that individual homes most perfectly provide the incubator for nurturing the kinds of Jesus followers like those who took the first century by storm. Such certainly is not happening in mainline churches. Churches have to protect their interest, and when there is something to protect, God takes second place (at best).
4 – We have been so conditioned by centuries of institutionalization (is that a word?), that we can not even conceive of another form for God’s “called out.” To suggest that our beloved tried and true “Church” with its buildings and programs is no longer effective is blasphemy.
There is a place for Church. And I’ll get to that in the next blog or two. Thanks again, for your thoughts.
Steve holt Sr said,
Oh, one more thing. It matters not “that God is alive and active” in my house church. It matters only that he is alive and active in my life and your life. What will be my mission today? What will be my mood? How thankful will I live today? What will I share with others today?
Tim C said,
I think you have overstated your case. You make it sound like the gates of hell did prevail. Can’t speak for others, but I know that I came to know Jesus partly through the workings of what would be labeled an institutional church. How many others experienced the same? Thousands? Millions?
For such an evil institution, God sure has worked in a lot of powerful ways over the centuries. Yes people have been abused by churches and/or people who were not in tune with God, but how many have been fed, clothed, nurtured, etc.
Could he have done more without churches as we have known them? Only he knows, but I think if the institutional church was so damaging to his plans, he would have stopped it.
Steve holt Sr said,
I’m with you…isn’t it amazing what God has done with the flawed institution known as Church? But, imagine what could have happened if each and every believer since Jesus saw him/herself as a missionary and poured the same time, effort, commitment and money into acting like an emissary for God rather than a “church member.” I pass this little Baptist church outside of Florence, AL every week and see two retired (I assumed) men diligently sweeping, cutting grass, watering plants, making flower boxes, and I wonder what could happen if every believer took that much care in cultivating souls for God. I think of all the hours and dollars spent in just maintaining property, let alone maintaining self-promoting programs.
By the way, I too am a product of a church-sponsored program, converted through the Christian Student Center at Memphis State. But why wasn’t I shown Jesus in my own home or by the 100s of believers in my neighborhood growing up? How many millions, trillions have we (and I am truly with the guilty) passed up on the way to church services over the centuries? How many more people could we feed, chothe and nurture if each of us took our calling seriously?
By the way, God allows lots of damaging institutions to continue unopposed. Don’t get me started…
Tim C said,
So, if people left the institutional church and plugged in to a house church, they would stop passing lost people on the way to that assembly? I guess what we disagree on is I think God is using some institutional churches and some house churches and all kinds of other spiritual communities to advance the kingdom, and that he will continue to use all kinds as long as we are in tune with him. I don’t think God cares where you “belong” as long as you are walking with him.
Cindy L said,
Steve, you and Tim both make excellent points. I enjoy watching the two of you debate this.
We are just in a fallen world. It’s whacked. Nothing works the way it “should” or as good as it “could”.
Opportunities pass by all of us, everyday, unnoticed. I agree with Tim on the point that God uses all kinds, shapes, sizes of communities to do His work. I think one problem is that the “flavor” of church I attend doesn’t give much credit to anything that looks different than it looks. The message seems to be ‘If you aren’t on the membership roll, you need to be. If you aren’t, I’m going to work on you until you are’ as if membership to a church is the goal in Christianity. I think we need to open our minds a little as a group of believers.
Honestly, as the city I live in gets worse with poverty, crime, racism, corruption and over all demoralization, I’m seeing ‘big church’ as a waste of resources.
We spend too much time and money on small things, and no time and money on things that need it so much. Like I said…it’s whacked. It makes me sad.