The Chain that Keeps the Church from Flying

After everyone agreeing in the comments with my post yesterday, I was tempted to say something that we would all agree on. It felt good. Then, I decided against it.
But sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong (1 Pet 3:15-17 NASB).
Peter says that we should live in such a way that those who revile our good behavior may be put to shame. We should suffer for doing right rather than because we have strayed away from him and have begun to do wrong.

Are we focused on having good behavior? Too often I think the church is a place where we are focused upon good words and teaching, but it stops there. We are not a loving outpost revealing a glimpse of the kingdom of God to the world, and the biggest obstacle that prevents us from being that relevant outpost is our financial commitment to the buildings we meet in.

What would the church be able to do financially if it didn't sink all of its money into buildings? In 1990, the churches in America were valued at $232,965,150,000. "Church building debt service and maintenance consumes about 18 percent (this was in 1986) of the $11,672,316,000 tithed to churches annually." (From Going To The Root by Christian Smith.)

Christian Smith created the following scenario:
"Imagine these churches investing all the money from the sale of their church buildings into trust funds and each year spending the earned interest (let us say 9 percent) on missions and ministry. What could churches do with that money? Suppose Christians spent only the interest earned on the invested money (not taking into account money not spent on debt service and maintenance, which could also go into service projects). We could comfortably do the following every year, year after year:

  • Support translators to translate the Bible into the three thousand languages and dialects presently without a Bible translation ($135 million)
  • Feed five million starving or malnourished people every day ($1.82 billinon)
  • Start and fund seventy-five Christian colleges and theology schools in eastern Europe and Russia ($375 million)
  • Support three hundred Chrsitian candidates running for office in the Senate and House of Representatives who would work for consistent pro-life ethic policies ($150 million) (I didn't say I agree with every one of these - Regan).
  • Send one hundred thousand "tent-maker" missionaries to China to teach English and spread the gospel to their Communist students ($250 million)
  • Send six hundred thousand underprivileged children to Christian summer camp ($180 million)
  • Finance new water and sewer systems in one hundred thousand Third World villages, eliminatin the caus of many deadly diseases ($100 million)
  • Finance fifteen hundred counseling centers to provide low-cost Christian counseling to families and individuals in trouble ($600 million)
  • Print and ship to Hong Kong one small library of basic Christian books for each of the forty thousand underground house churches in China, to be smuggled in by "tent-making" missionaries over time ($15 million)
  • Fund a Christian environmentalist political lobby to work for the proper care of God's natural creation in government policy ($80 million)
  • Supplement the incomes of five thousand neeedy retired ministers ($50 million)
  • Build, staff, and supply fifty ghousand Christian elementary schools in Africa, Asia, and Latin America ($700 million)
  • Supplement the incomes of one quarter of the 5.2 million handicapped and elderly Americans who live below the poverty line to raise them out of poverty ($4 billion)
  • Support severnty thousand church-planting missionaries to unreached peoples to plant and nourish indigenous churches, almost doubling the number of missionarires on the field today ($1.5 billion)
  • Offer $10,000 a year of child support assistance to every teenager who is considering having an abortion because of lack of financial support, assuming 25 percent accept it ($1.0875 billion)
  • Supplement basic medical supplies to eighty thousand Third World hospitals and clinics ($350 million)
  • Give financial aid to cut the tution of eight thousand Christian college students in half ($56 million)
  • Finance ten thousand Christian leadership training centers in the Third World ($400 million)
  • Set up an interest-free, revolving loan fund to help one hundred thousand Christians every five years finance solar heating, inusulation and/or weatherization for their homes ($800 million)
  • Support twenty thousand orphanages in Brazil, providing shelter and food for over one million children ($450 million)
  • Send ten thousand Third World Christian leaders to Bible college or seminary ($210 million)
  • Finance a Christian peace academy to research realistic ways to reduce international military conflicts and the threat of nuclear and chemical war
  • Support ten thousand inner city evangelistic and social action ministries ($290 million)
  • Finance theological and pastoral training for eight hundred thousand nonprofessional church leaders ($1.3 billion)
  • Provide food, clothing, and basic housing for two-thirds of all homeless Americans today ($5 billion)
  • Financially help churches in transition from meeting in church buildings to homes and public halls ($267 million)"
Okay, I know it is a pipe dream. Every church in America won't sell their building and begin to focus on using their money for directly meeting the tangible needs of the church, the community they live in, and the people in need around the world. But imagine if some of the churches did. We could begin to discuss the best ways to use our money in loving ways instead of ignoring the subject because we are too financially strapped to do the things that actually matter to God.

I think it is impossible for a church to love in tangible ways and not change themselves or the world they are loving. I can picture the impact such a church would be able to have on a small community like Antwerp. The town and its people would never be the same. Christ would be revealed through his church and lives would change. This might touch a little too close to home if you are from my church in Antwerp (I really don't think anyone from the Antwerp church reads my blog regularly), but it is something I have been teaching for years. I'm not trying to pick on anyone specifically. Most churches have this problem.

Take a moment and imagine a world where this has been actualized, a world where the church is known as the most loving group of people in a community rather than an irrelevant institution that meets in that pretty building down the road. A world where people know that when they have any sort of physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual need that the church is the place to go to have those needs met. I can see it. I get excited about it. It is the reality I long for. I would love to live in that place, but then I'm pulled back with a harsh thump to reality. A reality where it seems like we aren't even trying to be a light in a darkened world. A world where we're content to use on money on internal maintenance and educational issues and send our service project money abroad. We seem to refuse to get our hands dirty. We live in a church that is ridiculed because we are irrelevant, not because we are loving.
For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong (1 Pet 3:17 NASB).
The church needs to start doing.

Watch out for the potholes.