prominent, historic, downtown church pledged $115,000,000 to underwrite a portion of the cost associated with the construction of a new sanctuary.
That is a staggering number, possibly the most ever pledged by any group of church folk.
That's just a lot of money.
This development forces a question into my mind. Sorry, I can't stop it or turn it back. So, here it is:
What's a church for anyway?
Certainly, the contemorary church has become an institution, a cultural force, a haven for people of a certain mindset. When budgets and buildings and staffing and programming reach a certain level, the church takes on a life well beyond the simplicity of a group of people who believe in a person or accept the outlines and claims of a story, a narrative.
Churches can turn inward, become self-serving. . .you know, sort of a country club for people who share a common belief system and worldview.
Inside such a system it is not hard to justify the expenditure of huge amounts of money on real estate and improvements that serve, almost exclusively, those who accept the belief system or embrace the version of the story being promoted at one location or another.
Trouble is, it becomes fairly easy in such a system to turn away from the core values, the clear directives of a very radical Messiah.
Paying for a building can take the place of growing as a world-changing follower of a homeless, extremely poor, amazingly challenging, anti-material spiritual guide like Jesus. Oh, be sure of this, we can confess his name while abandoning his clearly delineated priorities. The program we devise to serve him can easily become a self-serving system shielding us from the real dimensions and demands of a Lord we too easily claim to accept without much if any thought of the cost associated with lining up with him.
One hundred and fifteen million dollars is just one number. Spending $4MM on a church built during my watch as a pastor seems no more justifiable.
If people of "the Way" really pursued the master of the path, the world would be in a far different place and amazing resources would be freed up to flow in kingdom directions.
For some reason, I'm thinking of the poor, the pressed down, the marginalized, the outcast. . .I'm thinking of a very different expression of faith, one that could change lives, save families, reshape cities and relieve suffering. Jesus had a thing or two to say about those matters (read St. Luke's Gospel for a quick reminder).
One thing is certain: a change in direction by the American church could reap wonderful results.
But frankly, I'm not holding my breath.