April 25th 2010 was a big day in the history of the Lawson Rd Church of Christ. On this day the church raised enough money to allow the commencement of a building project that has been 20 years in the planning!! Praise God.
My sermon for this occasion attempted to frame the new building as a monument honouring God. Normally, when I hear this kind of discussion it sounds to me like idolatry. But I was prompted to consider the account of the Israelites building a memorial to God’s faithfulness as they entered the Promised Land. The fact that God told them to do it pretty much takes care of the idolatry question I guess.
This story reminds me that a pile of rocks (or a building) can tell a story; and we control which story it tells. a new church building can tell a story of individual generosity, or it can tell of the years of God’s faithfulness to a congregation. We bear the responsibility of choosing the story.
Dan Williams reminded me recently that as important as congregational history is, people don’t join a church because of its history. People come to church because of what it offers in the present and future. While I agree with this, I believe that churches also need to tell stories of God’s activities. Sometimes those stories will be personal testimonies. At other times, the stories will be of God’s involvement in congregational ventures. The stories of God’s presence in our past provide reasons to enter the future with confidence we don’t go alone.
For the Israelites, the pile of stones reassured them of God’s commitment to them as they prepared for the enormous task of claiming the Promised Land from the Canaanites. Likewise, for us, a completed building project should energise the church to continue their time, money and energy commitments to fill the building with people transformed by the power of the Gospel of Christ. The building is a tool, not a trophy.
While I generally regard church buildings as a necessary evil at best, and a satanic, money and energy black hole at worst, I know that they can be used by God. Like the Israelites we must ensure our buildings don’t become idols. Rather God calls us to tell the story of our pile of rocks: a story of God’s faithfulness. It’s a story that begins in a garden, climaxes on a cross, is memorialised in stone, and that transforms lives.
Because of limitations in our faith, we need reminders of God’s faithfulness and commitment to us. I pray that we can always remember the story God wants our church buildings to tell.
- What’s your general attitude toward church buildings? Are they a blessing, or a curse?
- Do you have personal memorials in your life that remind you of God’s presence and work within you?
- Can memorials actually detract from worshiping God? Does this apply to the Lord’s Supper?