Dying churches are often clean and tidy. Growing churches, flourishing churches, are often characterised by “situations” and “issues” that require attention. Rosters need to be filled, visitations need to occur, kids are everywhere, there’s a spill on the kitchen floor, someone is playing the wrong chords during worship and there’s body odour in the foyer.
In other words, when real ministry is occurring, one of the things you can expect to see is a bit of a mess.
Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: But much increase comes by the strength of the ox. (Proverbs 14:4)
In the book of Acts, we read of a church that enjoyed a rapid explosion of growth. The result of this growth in Jerusalem was a rain delay in their mercy ministries. The Hellenistic widows were overlooked in the distribution of food (Acts 6:1)
When the problem was voiced, the church addressed it forthrightly, carefully, and biblically, appointing seven godly men to oversee the distribution. What was the result of this godly response? Well, the result was more growth (Acts 6:7).
In other words, if you address the problems caused by growth biblically, the solution is likely to be more problems caused by growth down the track.
This is true of a growing family and often true about a growing church that wants to improve or expand its physical presence with new buildings or the purchase of new land.
Building a sanctuary can be seen in two ways. One way is to see it as carving out a niche, a place where we can go to stop growing, a place where we can nurse along our market share of local Christians, complete with an air-conditioned crèche.
Here, the sanctuary becomes a retreat venue and often a tomb for dead men’s bones.
The other way of seeing such plans is to view the resultant building as a staging area, preparing for the next great advance. One suggests a slow death, the latter is what we want to insist upon, namely, the beginning of birth pangs and a place for furthering the great commission.
In other words, our thoughts on building a building are not simply to ensure our comfort and put an end to the mess about the place but to ensure the mess continues.
No one did a finer job of this than the Lord Jesus.
In coming into the world He turned it upside down. Kings gathered in a panic and sinners ran in all directions. Jesus came as a carpenter to build a new and better temple. An eternal dwelling place for the saints of God. This required, among other things, a lot of noise and a great mess in bringing the old temple down.
It also meant blood spilt for sins, a body bruised for our iniquities and the birth pangs of a new creation.
The purpose of building, whether it’s a new venue, a new ministry or a new family, should not be connected to the idea of retirement or tidying things up but to the idea of gospel advance. Gospel loud. Gospel far. Gospel wide. Gospel growth.