Tag Archives: buildings

If we build it, is God obligated to come?

At a BIC General conference, one of the speakers shared a memory. The church used to build a building where they wanted to have a congregation, then install a pastor and challenge him to fill it. “Building first” seemed like common sense to a lot of people — it still does. For instance, even before the Coordinators commissioned Jonny Rashid to lead Hive 2010, members of the formation team were already looking for prospective buildings — they still are.

Maybe it is in the American psyche to think, “If you build it, they will come” – that often makes sense to USonians; look at how Las Vegas gets people to trek out into a wasteland! Before people wanted to build a wall around it, people thought the whole country was built so freedom-loving capitalists from all over the world could come. We built it; they came! Maybe we all experience a little trickle-down empire building. Maybe we’re so materialistic, we end up thinking of ourselves as a destination. We don’t wait for someone to objectify us, we do it ourselves, “If I am fabulous some will love me,” or “If I am built, someone is sure to roll up my driveway.”

There are two huge problems with this mentality, one for mission and one for personal spiritual development.

The kingdom is not enshrined anywhere

On the mission side, Jesus followers need flexibility to do what needs to be done in the guerrilla war we are in against the domination system. The enslaving forces of the world never give up. Some Christians thought building fortress America for white Christians would spare them. But it has not been a great solution, since now so many Christians are in thrall to it! The kingdom of God is among us, not lodged in some building, or enshrined in some method.

Even Circle of Hope, which has some inbred incapacity that keeps us flexible, is having a difficult time, right now, turning itself into the stream of what God is doing next. We are doing it, but it is all too easy to live in what we built last decade.

Related image

We live to build

Same goes for the personal side. For many of us, once we get some faith established, we find our place in the community and we don’t have regular emotional breakdowns, we want to keep things stable. We’re built. We just try not to get unbuilt again. But the enslaving forces don’t give up. Sometimes we can be in denial so completely that we are like the last unremodeled house in a gentrified neighborhood – the world changed around us and we can’t figure out why it is so taxing to live in it.

I think we usually want to build it once, if we build anything at all, and see what comes. It can feel a little daunting to have worked so hard and then need to work hard some more. If one’s illusion is that “I am supposed to build my dream and then live in it,” it is very daunting to discover that is not all there is to it.  But if one dreams about following Jesus, then there is the possibility of a lot more joy in store than just enjoying what you have built for yourself.

In Jesus, the work itself is about living, not about achieving a life. One doesn’t work in order to retire from working, one lives! One doesn’t build in order to get a life, one lives in order to build! Always being on a journey, and often being in something like a military campaign, can be tiring, but it is a pleasant fatigue. And the opposite of fighting alongside Jesus is a killer. Following after Jesus is a lot better than looking at everything you worked so hard to build and realizing that God doesn’t come to it anymore.

I have been thinking a lot about Jesus telling his detractors that “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8). I long for all of us to have that sense of solidity as a people and as individuals — so that whether we have a place or build a place, we are, in Christ. When we are built firmly into Christ, we won’t be lost in building something to compete with the world and we won’t be unbuilt by the domination system coveting our personal property. We don’t need to build it so He will come; He came so we build.

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Life management: Meeting Jesus at the heart of it.

Getting serious about one’s life might start with time management, but it needs to end with eternity. Having enough personal value to keep a schedule of our time is a good starting point that many of us never reach. But we are much more valuable than our schedule and there is a lot more to our time than what is passing by so quickly.

Good management hopefully leads to the greater good

I briefly taught the Leadership Team the other night that time management is not just in one’s mind, as if following the laws of effectiveness will really result in getting what needs to be done accomplished. “Good time management” can also lead to burn out and joyless toil. Lots of good managers are resentful, put-upon people who don’t feel like they have a life, just a schedule. For our purposes in the church (and where else is there but “in the church,” since we are in Christ?), time management is from the heart, not just the head.

I was drawn deeper into my heart to meditate on my time not long ago. I was praying about what I should do. I always have a million things to do, but almost every day I wonder what I should be doing. I was thinking about the limits of my time (for one thing, the social security trust fund is dying when I am about 80, so that’s one limitation!). While I was praying, a surprising word came to me: “keep building.”

I somehow connected that word to Nehemiah and discovered that he probably began the walls of Jerusalem when he was in his thirties, but he kept rebuilding the city until he was in his 80’s, or so Josephus implies.  I did not think I needed to keep building things — on the contrary, I hope I never get into another building project! But as I meditated, I realized what the Lord was telling me was about the process of building, not the results of building.

More things and more buildings could be important, and more well-built Jesus-followers is certainly a worthy goal. But there was something deeper. I needed to be encouraged when it came to the building that builds me. “Keep building” was about the verb, not the noun. The joy in exercising the gifts God gives me feeds my heart. At the heart of me, I am a builder. What is happening in my schedule doesn’t really change that.

Jesus exercising time management

Jesus gives us food that feeds our deepest hunger

I don’t think I will efficiently build things unless I find joy in building. My mind may be kind of useless if my heart is not in it, and even deeper, if my soul is not in it. I don’t think you will manage your time for the greatest good, unless you have a heart that loves the greatest good. The greatest good is God. We are going for being like Jesus when he said, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34). Does saying that mean Jesus was working too hard? His schedule might suggest that. Or is he just working out who he is? What Jesus does doesn’t make Jesus who he is. Neither does merely doing our assignments efficiently and most profitably makes us good workers. We are works of God who need to work out what we have been given to be, like a tree needs to grow.

To use our time well, we need to feel our value and respect the value we bring to the greater good. No amount of scheduling will solve the problems of lack of heart, not hearing from God, and not feeling your true self. Choosing how to allot our time will always be hard, but it is only when our food is to do the work of the One who sent us that we can face the challenges with our jobs and commitments and not just bend under the load of our anxiety or fatigue.

Our twenties and thirties are crucial for developing our hearts, not just our schedules.

I often run into a lack of vision with married couples. They are strangely in their heads, even when they are trying to connect heart to heart. They want solutions, not redemption. They want a road map, not a Guide. For struggling couples, the question is usually less about how to make the little changes in relating that make life pleasant. The question is, “Do you have a heart that intends to present your mate complete in Christ?” Deeper understanding, better behavior and changes in the schedule will definitely improve things. But when it comes down to it, love that comes from Christ saves the world, not one’s love for what someone else is doing. Life is not about being pleased or being pleasing, that’s good, but the greater good is pleasing the Lord and enjoying the food that is eternal. Like Jesus told the woman at the well, “Thanks for the water. But if you asked me, I would give you water from an eternal well.”

What organizes our time? It is a big question when people are making decisions about their lives — and what 20 or 30-something person is not doing that? Are we really going to be like all the people I follow on the freeway who are reading their phone while driving? Even when we are sitting in our prayer chair, we can’t look up from our GPS and be steered by a deeper instinct! Are we more obsessed with taking the perfect next step when we could stride across the landscape, confident that we are eternal? Is time a threat or do we redeem it?  The apostle Thomas was troubled that Jesus was going to His father’s house and he did not know the way. Jesus told him:  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Thomas may have immediately asked Siri for answers Jesus would not tell him! Even so, the truth remains: knowing Jesus provides us with a deeper sense of direction than GPS or a perfectly managed week.

When I get to talk to people about their time and having more heart than mind, they usually want to know what I am talking about. That’s nice. But when they leave the office they often fall back into their rut; they are steered by some “best practice,” or by the invisible hand, or by whatever their friends are into at the moment. I can relate to that. I have been thinking about how to use my time well for decades. But when it comes down to it, what I really need, beyond better technique, is God speaking something  into me that transcends the worries I bring to my day. One day, it was “Keep building.” I’m glad I had devoted time with God in my schedule because that was really helpful!

Do churches need buildings? Do we?

Picture: Not really looking for the building above, but it would not be surprising to find it.

At our Council meeting not too long ago, a person offered a question, “Why do we have buildings anyway?” No one followed up on the question. (Maybe they didn’t even hear it). But I keep thinking about it, since I have raised quite a bit of money for buildings in my day and such a question makes me wonder.

Right now we are considering new buildings. I think questioning whether we should have any makes sense. There are doubts worth voicing:

  • It’s not like our present buildings are full, not really. (More buildings would mean we want even more space).
  • Buildings are expensive and we don’t have that much money. (More buildings means we think we will come up with more money).
  • Buildings are a commitment we have to maintain. (More buildings means we are committed and will maintain them).
  • Isn’t every Christian in the U.S. sick of leaders who are always raising money for a building? (More buildings means more risk of turning uncommitted people into even less committed people).

I think the questions are relevant. There are a lot of pharoahs out there building pyramids with the sweat of peasants. Justin Bieber is building a church. Three hours away the largest United Methodist Church is planning a spectacular new building. There is plenty of room for skepticism. Awe-inspiring buildings are rather low-level appeals to faith, don’t you think?

All that being said, more buildings could imply that we have a church that is “open for business” – the business of including more people in our life and work. We need room to grow; we need workshops. The fact that we have a building to use communicates that we share enough money to do big things – our people understand what it takes to get things done and they pay for it. Sharing a space communicates that our people have a common life and purpose that motivates them to stick with it – buying a building or making a long-term lease means you are doing something that is going to take a while.

We don’t have yesterday’s building strategy

We obviously have a new strategy that is not like yesteryear (or even like Kansas). We are not trying to build the most imposing building on the village square. The religion of capitalism, symbolized by Comcast, overtook that spot in the Philly region years ago. We’re not trying to outdo the false gods at their own game. On the contrary, we obtain utilitarian buildings that are just enough to do what we want to do as a whole congregation. A good half of what we do happens in our homes or in some other public places.

Some people say that we should skip the expensive together-space altogether and just do things out of our homes. That strategy has worked great for the Chinese church. (But see what is happening in Fuzhou, across the strait from Taiwan). Ex-evangelicals are writing their latest books about “house churches” that don’t have big meeting places. We listen to these thinkers and often look like their teaching, but we still think most Americans (unfortunately) think Christians “GO to church,” not ARE the church.

  • We need a public space to meet the public.
  • What’s more, we want to be a village, so we have a village space.
  • Plus, we DO things, like art, music, plays, advocacy meetings, classes, children’s work, counseling.

We need some space to do that 24/7, not just when the baby is sleeping or when we can pay someone else for the space they own.

Our buildings

Right now, Circle of Hope

  • owns two buildings for the church to use (Frankford Ave and Marlton Pike)
  • leases one 24/7 long-term (South Broad)
  • leases time at a building (North Broad)
  • owns two buildings for Circle Thrift (Frankford Ave)
  • leases space year to year for Circle Thrift (South Broad).
  • Gwen and I own two buildings for Circle Counseling, and counselors use a space at Marlton Pike.

Today, our new temporary team for solving some space needs will be out again looking for space to buy or lease somewhere in the Northwest (possibly with a thrift store attached) for our new congregation. Our new Good Business ideas also need space and bring a new possibility for combinations with church planting. We have big ideas for committed people who want to make a big impact.

I think you can be assured that nothing is going to happen too fast, though, since the biggest factor in the process of buying or leasing a building is whether our people really want to do it. Maybe your questions are so big they shut your bank account right up!

In the past, the people of Circle of Hope have said YES with their voices and with their sharing. But, right now, we may have said YES with our commitment to our map but NO with the amount we are sharing. We are not succeeding in meeting our modest goals for our Common Fund. We thought we could engage enough new givers this year to raise our income 10%. We have regular attenders, even covenant members, who do not give ANYTHING in a year, so that seemed like a logical place to raise the income and fuel our ambitions. So far non-givers have not awakened and new givers or regulars who have increased their sharing have not increased our income.

As one of the people who drives the bus, I have my foot hovering over the brake pedal. We don’t need buildings for unconvinced or  uncommitted people to supposedly use, for sure! We can wait for people to get on the bus (or to discover there is a bus and it is about to leave the station!). Maybe people don’t know where we are going right now. Or maybe they don’t know that we are waiting for them to be an important rider! I doubt that I would talk to anyone personally, especially covenant members, who don’t support the unique community and mission called Circle of Hope! This post is designed to help everyone get on board when it comes to our prospective buildings, or at least say STOP!