To rank things is human. Every night David Letterman offers a top 10 list. College football has its top 25. To be in the top is to be the elite.
We even rank sins. Murder, rape, assault and armed robbery usually draw the heaviest penalties in our society.
Among church folk the top sins are usually sexual, although homosexuality gets more attention than adultery because it is practiced by a smaller, less influential, less affluent population.
One sin that never makes anyone’s top 10 list is church buildings.
Buildings as sin? Aren’t buildings a sign of how well a church is doing, how much God is “blessing” a church? When we consider construction, aren’t we supposed to go over the top because it’s “for God” and “God deserves the best”? After all, we build “for the glory of God,” right?
Two churches in Alabama recently announced building programs. One is spending $54 million while the other will try to hold expenses to $45 million. That’s almost $100 million for two churches to show how much they love God, or how much God has blessed them.
If we ask Jesus which of these churches loves God more, will he say the one that spends more?
In his book Twenty Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch, Tony Campolo supposes Jesus needs a car and has enough money to buy a BMW. But Jesus would buy the cheapest Ford and use the rest of the money to feed and clothe the poor.
Church buildings are status symbols in our society. They reflect the character and prosperity of the congregation. The design says whether the church is traditional or modern.
Yet, Jesus never mentioned them, nor did any of the New Testament writers. Buildings would not make Jesus’ list of “ministries” no matter how long it became. See Matthew 25:31-46 for the list Jesus gave.
How do we justify spending so much on edifices when the Lord commissions us to provide basic needs for the poor? Some say buildings are necessary to house “ministries,” but we minister to the poor and needy in metal buildings while we worship in far more expensive surroundings.
Most churches spend exponentially more on their buildings than they do on missions and ministries combined. Churches indulge this self-gratification while people in the shadows of our elaborate structures starve to death or freeze from lack of decent clothing and shelter.
What will Jesus say to us when we stand before him? “Blessed are you because you built with marble and mahogany?”
Mike Mitchell is a husband, dad, pastor, oil seller and mission educator in Fort Payne, Ala.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Mitchell’s column is part one in a four-part series about church building projects. Part two—”New Age of ‘Cathedrals’: Reflecting the Image of God or Man?”—is also included in today’s content. Look for parts three and four tomorrow on EthicsDaily.com!