The church I grew up attending in Indianapolis built a new building about forty-two years ago. I can still remember – not long after it had been built – an evening when my dad, an elder there, came home from a meeting at that new building and told my mom about it, still looking bemused and a little baffled.
His meeting, you see, was with a lady from another church within our fellowship, a church that was convinced that we did everything wrong. She had been told at her church that we had built a bowling alley in the basement of our new building. Ever gracious, my dad gave her a full tour of the new building, assuring her that no bowling alley had ever been planned or constructed there. (There was an extremely long and wide hallway in the basement serving classrooms and a fellowship hall/kitchen which, during the foundation and wall-building, might have looked suspiciously like … a hallway.)
At the close of the tour, he asked the lady if she had any questions. She was troubled that she had been told something untrue, but she had no questions. So he asked her one: “What exactly would be wrong with having a bowling alley in the basement of our building, if we used it to provide good, clean entertainment for the inner-city kids in our neighborhood?” She wasn’t happy about the kitchen being there, but she had no answer to that question, either.
I stand by the wisdom of my late dad.
There are many of my brothers and sisters at my home church, now – and more who have left it – who have been uncertain about whether it was wise or even right to build a Family Life Center with a gymnasium and cafe, along with needed classroom space. Those are legitimate concerns, and there was a time when I shared them. It cost a great deal of money. It costs money to maintain. Certainly the money could have been spent in many other ways – but I should point out that my home church spends about two-thirds of the congregation’s gifts on mission outreach.
To me, the FLC is one of those outreaches. It is built; it has been open a couple of months; it is used wisely and almost constantly to welcome the community – and its potential to do so is just beginning to be tapped.
To me, the sin is not in building an edifice for God – whether it is a magnificent cathedral, double-wide trailer; concrete-block utilitarian modern monstrosity or equatorial mud hut; with kitchen or cafe; with bowling alley or Family Life Center.
The sin would be in building it and not using it to His glory.
Many times I have been guilty of “only-one-way” thinking – and this is just one example. There’s only one way to worship. Only one way to evangelize. Only one way to use a church building. My way.
Or the highway.
And I have often been convinced that my way was indisputably God’s way, God’s only way, when on closer examination … it became obvious that there were some matters which He leaves up to our individual judgment, creativity, conscience.
Individual. That’s an important word. Because His word also makes it plain that when we use our judgment on a matter and later violate our conscience regarding it, that’s wrong. So I’m trying to be less critical of other viewpoints, and more persuasive about God’s trust in us, and in our own judgment.
As chilling as it may seem:
- When it comes to sharing the story of Jesus, we are Plan A.
- There is no Plan B.
- What we bind on earth will (be?/already have been?) bound in heaven.
- From the Garden, through the desert, to the cafe table and volleyball court, God’s people have chosen in their day whom they will serve – and often, how.
I know how my dad chose for his house. Because sometimes my family served in that kitchen. And sometimes we served people who came in off the inner-city streets, and just needed a good meal.
But I should tell you the rest of his story.
To the befuddled woman who had come to see the truth for herself about my boyhood church building and could only be dismayed about its kitchen, Dad pressed yet another question: “You have a water fountain in your church building, don’t you? It’s only there to provide refreshment and pleasure for the people who attend … not there, specifically, to worship God, is it …?”
Dad looked a little regretful when he recounted the story to Mom: “I hope she doesn’t go back and convince them to take out that water fountain.”