In the mid-1950s First Methodist and First Baptist Churches in my town both had 50 year old buildings that were showing their age. Ministry styles had changed over that time and the buildings that suited the congregations at the turn of the century did not fit so well any more. The churches faced a question: Do we keep our old building and renovate, or do we build a new one?
First Baptist Church tore down their old building while my congregation, First Methodist, renovated theirs (and added an education building). Now, after another 50 years, we’re 8 years out of the most renovation of what is now a historic building. It is a beautiful sanctuary, still showing many of its original features: the display pipes on the organ and the stained (and painted) glass windows are most prominent. At fifty years, you might decide to change buildings. At 100+, the building is permanent.
I sometimes wish we had settled for temporary rather than permanent beauty. Many will say that I lack an appreciation of architecture. That’s probably true. I do appreciate our building. It’s nice to not have to set it up for every service and take it down after every service. But the permanence of the building, beautiful as it is, forecloses some possibilities for creativity on the part of the current generation.
What would happen if instead of being so heavily invested in permanent beauty, we were able to rely on temporary beauty? Maintaining this historic building will always take significant resources.
Even more, the beauty, permanence, and huge investment in our building anchors us in an attractional ministry style. Many of our people have developed a heart for ministry. With our building, however, it just seems natural to expect outsiders to come here. We put on special events, we advertize, we invite. Yet few come. Oh, sure, folks from other churches will come to some of our events outside of “normal” church hours. But non-church people? We see very few. I see adoption of a more missional approach to ministry, an approach that takes ministry away from our property as essential for our future. But we’re so heavily invested here, that it’s hard to think that way let alone act that way.
If we could make a shift to temporary beauty, holding our building more lightly and loosely, we might be able to stimulate more creative thinking and acting in ministry. That’s what I’m praying for.
Maybe a good place to study and contemplate is the relationship of Jesus and his disciples to the temple in Jerusalem. Surely it is possible to learn to hold the things of this earth — the “things that can be shaken” — lightly, without giving them up altogether.