Tomorrow is the dedication day for the new building at the church I attend. (For the five of you who read this who don’t know me well enough to know, I attend Liberty Bible Church. You can see us at www.lbnaz.org). The new building has been a several year project involving lots of plans and finance meetings and work days and the standard blood, sweat and tears. In reality its a 35 year project that started in a living room of a house. I remember. I was five.
The first seven years that Liberty Bible was around there was no building. Or rather there were lots of buildings. We just didn’t own any of them. I watched my parents and a small group of friends move chairs and rent buildings and dream big dreams. My faith sprouted in those days of wandering.
And then. I remember an early morning service on the bare empty land we’d miraculously just purchased. Grandma Gertrude broke ground and we started to build. By the time i was 13 we actually had a room the teens could call their own. We decorated the walls with little folded pieces of tissue paper to make some sort of odd border. Sure wasn’t fancy. But pretty fantastic things happened. We sat around in that little room and talked about the BIG questions. No, not the ones about why does bad stuff happen to good people. More like, “Why do the other girls in Jr. High have to be so mean?” Or “Why doesn’t that boy ask me out”. Those big important questions. One Bible study we did was titled “How not to be a goober”. The theology questions came later but were made possible because we trusted the people in those little rooms. My faith blossomed in a building.
I hear some people say that Jesus wouldn’t care about buildings. I don’t actually agree. But I completely understand why they say that. I’ve stood in Africa and shook my head at the American church and her excess. I will never forget a service in Rwanda at a church where part of the service was spent in a praise and prayer session thanking God that they had enough money to buy a mop and cleaning solution.
If I’m honest, part of the reason I’ll never forget that church is the thankfulness for the mop and partly because I had just had my most embarrassing moment. Nothing will ever top it. Even the Epic event on Monday was not even close. (You can read about it at A Lesson in Rwanda.)
I’ve also toured some amazingly gorgeous cathedrals world-wide and wondered if it wouldn’t be better if the money was used to feed the hungry. But I’ve also stood in those spaces and my soul has sung at the beauty and wonder and grandeur and I think heaven will be similar. My faith has been strengthened in beautiful buildings.
If you’ve read the Bible you’d know that God digs buildings too. Much of the Pentateuch (big theology word for the first five books of the Bible – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) is spent in time where God is telling his people how to build a place for them to worship while the traveled around the desert. And the Tabernacle (another Bible word for the place they worshiped) was a super fancy and super expensive. King Solomon spent a vast amount of time and money building the temple again all at God’s direction.
And then i read the gospels (first four books of the New Testament – they tell the story of Jesus). i see that while Jesus spent much of his ministry binding up wounds and feeding the hungry he also spent a lot of his time in the temple. And his biggest show of anger was at people who were misusing and defiling the building because it was a place where people met God. So I believe God sees the value in buildings. But my guess is that He thinks buildings have value only because people have value.
Fast forward to the next book of the Bible and here the issue of church buildings gets tricky. The book of Acts is all about the building of the church of Jesus. And it wasn’t a building at all. It was people. The group of people who claimed to be followers that hung out and ate and prayed together was called the church. They met in homes. Which is why many people in the Christian community don’t buy the idea that a building is important. But if you read on you’ll see many of those early leaders preaching and teaching and meeting still at the temple. A lot. The big fancy building. Until the persecution kicked in big time and then they met in secret places. Like believers now in countries all around the world.
I completely agree that the church is not a building. it’s the living people who work together and pray and love God and push back on darkness. And building the church is not about a hammer and nails. It’s about discipleship (a church word for helping people learn and mature in their faith) and evangilism (church word for telling other people about Jesus) and about meeting practical needs of hurting people.
But I still don’t think the existence and importance of home churches (or home groups, or small groups, or life groups, or whatever trendy new name the local church calls a group of people who get together to study and pray) negates the need for an actual brick and mortar building….or tent…or coffee shop… In at least some churches. For some groups of believers.
All that hedging aside, what i do know is that Liberty Bible needed a physical addition. We had lots of people added. So we added space. It’s a great space. Lots of room for people to talk. Big nice clean kitchen. Huge storage space for all the Bow the Knee sets that previously were scattered all over the county. Beautiful classrooms. I can’t wait to see the people in them.
Liberty Bible is not a perfect church by any means. We bump heads sometimes and we let people down. We have loose ends and we’ve got blind spots. All churches do. It’s cause they are made of people. And the only perfect person in all of history is the One we follow.
One of my favorite Bible verses is a command from a preacher to the people in his church.
Colossions 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Bear with each other. I think he told them this because he knew that we’d drive each other crazy and there absolutely would be plenty of occasions where forgiveness was necessary. Some of my favorite people are ones I’ve had to forgive. And most of them one time or another have had to forgive me. The ones who haven’t don’t know me very well yet. But i also know that I would not want to do my life without my church. And by that i mean the people. Not the building.
LIberty Bible is not the only great church. I love New Heights and their free clinic. I love Living Hope and their outreach to broken and hurting people. I love that Summit View partners with my daughter’s public elementary school and there are tulips currently blooming by her door because of that church. That stack of shoes in the foyer at Crossroads right now is pretty fantastic. I love our Bow the Knee partner churches. I love our Rwanda team partner churches. I love Starting Grounds and First Evangelical Free and Real Life and Nampa First and Ridgefield Nazarene and John Day Nazarene…..ok i’ll be honest, partly I love those ones because dear friends I grew up with at Liberty now serve at those churches. I love SaddleBack and North Point. I love little churches and big churches and home churches and alternative churches. I love the church in China and Yemen and Israel. The beautiful thing about all these great churches is that they are all so different and yet they are all pointed the same direction. And there is probably a place that would be perfect for you.
But Liberty Bible remains my favorite. Not because its better. Because its my home. Its my family. Its my people. And i love them. At any rate, this group of believers built a building. And we’re pretty excited about it. You can come to our dedication service tomorrow morning if you want to join in the cheer.