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Our Humble Building

by Pastor Jack

First, I want to make it clear that the thoughts I share here are my own and don’t represent any kind of official position of the church.

I think it’s safe to say most folks would consider ours a humble church building, at least relative to most other church buildings in the area. It was built in 1983 not for beauty or impressiveness, but for economy and functionality. From the beginning our sign said, "Meeting Place of Gainesville Presbyterian Church." The church is not a building. It is a body of Christ’s people.

I have to confess, though, that I used to be ashamed of our building. It’s humbleness seemed like it must be a turn-off to a lot of folks in our area. Most people in the Gainesville area live in homes much nicer than our church building. However, my perspective has changed over the last decade or so.

First, I began to think about the way so many Christians attribute religious significance to church buildings. And even those of us who don’t go along with the more extreme versions of this error often have a remnant of it in our thinking. The fact is that there are no church buildings in the New Testament. That doesn’t mean church buildings are wrong, it just means they are not an integral part of what it means to be a church. Jesus makes it clear in His comments to the Samaritan woman at the well that in this New Testament age worship is not a matter of place, but a matter of people’s hearts: "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we [Jews] worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:21-24) In the Old Testament there was a beautiful tabernacle, and then an even more glorious temple. In the New Testament, however, the only temple is an invisible/spiritual one made by Christ with living stones (i.e. Christians, see 1Pet.2:4-6). I can find no hint of guidance in the NT that a church should worship in a lovely, much less a fancy, building.

Just as those who are ‘into’ church buildings are often affected by this mistaken carry-over from the Old Testament, so, it seems to me, many American Christians are affected by materialism in the way they think about their church building. Just as we think nice houses make us look good in the eyes of others, so we take pride in a nice church building. Just as the New Testament urges us not to be preoccupied with what we look like on the outside, but to concern ourselves with a good heart and good deeds (1Tim.2:8-10; 1Pet.3:3-4), doesn’t it seem that churches ought to concentrate on the inner reality of Christ in our hearts, relationships and way of life rather than what our buildings look like?

Capping off the transformation of my perspective was the experience of traveling in 2010 on a mission trip with a few others from our church to the bush in Kenya, where the people live in huts and walk miles to get water. Often a small congregation there meets for worship under a tree. Once they can afford to rent or buy a little piece of land, they use sticks and grass to start piecing together a shelter which is more like the "forts" our kids build in the woods than something we’d call a building. Even the long-established churches have buildings which are little more than four block walls and a tin roof. And yet the people there were so proud of and thankful for their buildings! Well, when we got back, I looked at our church building with new eyes. Suddenly it looked so nice, even beautiful, so much more than adequate. Now it seems to me that Christ might find the stick shelters in the Kenyan bush more beautiful than the majestic cathedrals of Europe and the elegant edifices of America. Now I’m thankful for our building. As far as I’m concerned, humble is good.