Brick and Mortar a Disciple Doesn’t Make
The Brick and Mortar Conundrum
Over decades of attending fellowships that meet in brick and mortar facilities one thing has become painfully obvious to me. While there are many activities and events sponsored by local fellowships, the one thing these fellowships are not doing, for the most part, is obeying the last command of Jesus Christ. When you think of “church” what is the first thing that comes to mind?
If it is a building then you are not alone. I am compelled, at this point, to draw a distinction here just to insure there is no misunderstanding with regard to what I mean by the term “church”. The term “Church” is not a term that means building, a place or a religious event. God’s church is not, never has been and never will be a building, a place or a religious event. In the Bible, the word that most appropriately defines the church is the word ekklēsian (ἐκκλησίαν). The word ekklēsian is from ekklēsía, a compound word from ek, “out from and to” and kaléō, “to call” and literally means “called out from” the world to God. This is the word that Jesus used to define exactly what the church was to be. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus used a play on words to describe the foundation and future of His church. “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”. Jesus certainly was not talking about buildings but people. That being the case I will refer to these as buildings rather than churches.
1Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified. 7And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” 8And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone. 9As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, “Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man has risen from the dead.”
The important thing to note is the reaction of Peter in verse 4; “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” What was Peter’s instinct? “Let’s build something” Right! But what was God’s response? In verse 5 God replied; “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, ‘This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!’”. Interesting, God told Peter “Shut up and listen”. The reason that church fellowships build worship facilities is to provide the human’s carnal desire for stability, a comfort zone, a place of permanence. According to ChurchLeadership.org more that 4,000 church fellowships will close the doors to a building each year. Why?
A startling statistic may provide part of the answer. The ECCU (Evangelical Christian Credit Union’s) conducted a study of annual budgets and found the majority of the financial resources of church fellowships were consumed on themselves. The vast majority of church fellowship financial resources go into maintaining brick and mortar, managing “programs” and just keeping the doors open. Only 3% of church fellowship annual budgets is spent on evangelism/outreach and a paltry 3% was spent on local/national/international benevolence. That means that 94% of the budget is used to maintain the “brick-and-mortar” institution.
Over the course of the years I have seen more divisiveness and church splits, more unhappy and grouchy people, more people leaving fellowship and more selfish controlling behavior over brick and mortar than any other means used by the adversary to divide church fellowships. Often times new fellowships hurry to tie the ball-and-chain of a building around their leg. Recently, I visited a fellowship that was going to sell their old building and buy a new one because the old building was just too costly to maintain. The question that I really wanted to ask was; “How long it would be before the new building would be too costly to maintain?” In one case I was a deacon and my wife was the chairman of the “Building and Grounds” committee. Badgering and complaints reached a degree where she no longer even wanted to attend services on Sunday. It seemed that most everyone felt compelled to provide information on anything that was perceived broken or anything they felt needed to be changed. Opinions about everything from the type of salt for the sidewalks to the type of lighting in the women’s bathroom became the points of focus as opposed to worrying about the thousands of people driving back and forth in front of the building who could be perishing in their sin. As an aside, one thing I have learned is the opinions are like armpits. Everyone has more than one and a lot of the time they stink. At great expense, both monetarily and spiritually, we both suffered harm and ultimately left the fellowship. I have heard countless stories just like this and the one question I now ask is; “How much is spent on sharing the gospel versus maintaining the institution?” A simple but very important question!
Brick and mortar requires a certain level of financial resources be maintained and over time those costs grow. Church fellowships have many times been compromised over giving to maintain fiscal solvency. More sin has been overlooked because pastors and lay leaders are afraid to call out sinful behavior because certain folks give large amounts of money. Countless times I have seen instances where sinful nature was skirted with kid gloves because the person involved was a “big giver”. Is it any wonder, then, that organized religious organizations are closing their doors every day? Is God pleased with what has become a Sunday Christian mentality? Is He pleased with the fact that we, and the world, associate faith with a building rather than Him? Is He impressed with our brick-and-mortar monoliths or our brick-and-mortar mentality? Is our example so compelling that people flock to the doors of our brick-and-mortar monoliths?
I believe that I can safely say the answer to all of those questions is a resounding “No”! The most important question is this; “Is building worship facilities what Jesus commanded?”
Let’s look at what Jesus commanded and some examples that He set.
Just before Jesus ascended into heaven He gave all of us a command:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20).
In this passage Jesus gave a a command with three instructions and a promise:
The word “Go” is poreuomai(πορευθεντες) literally means “after going” or “as you are going” which indicates that we must first go out, depart, travel or journey. To be clear, the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a “Go Ye” Gospel.
- Make disciples – spread the gospel (John 3:16, 19:21, Matthew 24:14). Be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16).
Baptize them – in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The word baptize is not a translation but a transliteration which literally means immerse (Acts 2:41, 1 Corinthians 12:13, Romans 6:3).
Teach them – all the I (Jesus) have taught you (Ephesians 4:9-16).
Lo – I am with you always
Jesus promised before his death that he would send the Holy Spirit to guide us. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.” (John 16:13).
Jesus set the example of “going out” in Luke 9:1-6.
“1And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. 2And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to perform healing. 3And He said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. 5And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ 6Departing, they began going throughout the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”
There are several noticeable things about what Jesus did in this passage:
- He called them
- He gave them power
- He sent them to proclaim the gospel and heal
- He instructed them not to depend on the things of man
How did they respond?
- They departed
- They went throughout the villages
- They preached the gospel and healed
Jesus repeated this process in Luke 10:1-20 using exactly the same process with seventy people. He “appointed (called out verse 1)” seventy, “sent them out (Under His authority verse 1)” and told them not to rely of the things of man (verse 4). No mention of building worship facilities but lodging with those who received them until they moved on to another city (verse 5-7).
Sound familiar? The “Great Commission” did exactly the things listed in the first group. But is our response in any way comparative to the second group? The very thing that Jesus commanded them not to do is the very first thing that we always seem to want to do. Rather than going out and depending wholly on God, we build a facility and hope people will come in. Rather than leaving our comfort zones and “departing” to share the gospel wherever we go trusting wholly in God, we build a monolith and hire highly educated people to entice those in the community with worldly credentials and status. We’re permanent, we’re here to stay, we have the best and brightest to lead us in our pious efforts.
The only response to Jesus last command should be that of the disciples. Jesus called them, they responded. Jesus empowered them, they received it. Jesus sent them out, they went. Jesus commanded that they not take along the things of man, they left them behind.
When they followed Jesus in obedience, they “departed”. Under His authority, they went. With the boldness of a disciple, they “preached the gospel and healed”. And, they did it “everywhere” they went.
In Acts 9:10 Ananias acknowledged God before God told him what to do. Then what was the command? In Acts 9:15 the command was “Go”. Even though Ananias knew why Saul was coming to Damascus yet he went. Jesus did not promise that we would be received everywhere we went and that we would not be rejected or experience trials and persecution. In Luke 10:3 Jesus told the seventy that “…behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves” but the command was still “Go;”.
May our response always be that of Ananias “Yes Lord”. May we “Go” under His authority and “preach the gospel” “everywhere” we go. We must always remember that “Brick and Mortar a Disciple Doesn’t Make!”
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