Sunday, September 26, 2010

On churches and their buildings

Why does it seem like the construction of a modern facility almost universally causes trouble for a congregation? I witnessed this first hand today. My wife and I are new to our congregation - we don't know its history, what led to the construction of the church's present building, or what it was like before. We don't judge or condemn anybody here for anything - the pastor is a good man, he cares for the congregation very much. He doesn't tickle their ears, he preaches sin as sin, repentance for what it is, and also preaches the goodness of the gospel of Christ and the salvation therein. I don't think anything is wrong with the pastor. He gave a frank description of the church's financial situation this morning. He said something very good when he was talking about their difficulties: "you know, maybe we don't need this building. If you guys don't think it's worth paying the mortgage for it, and if you aren't bringing co-workers and friends here to listen to the gospel, and it's not turning out to be the ministry tool that we intended it to be, then there is no reason to be here." He said this with difficulty, but he had given it, and the congregation's heart up to the Lord, and I believe that this same Lord will take care of him, even if the congregation is holding back what they should be rightfully giving to the Lord, if that is what is happening.

Hilary and I somehow independently came to similar conclusions about church buildings. For some darned strange reason, if a church retains the true gospel in its preaching, but simultaneously builds a church that caters to attendees, it almost universally seems to tank. Churches that cater to attendees and also preach health and wealth do very well. Churches that don't cater to attendees, and stay faithful to the word (examples: Mars Hill, Efree, Christ Church, etc) also do very well. But when churches simultaneously try to preach from the word and pamper people, things just take a quick dive south.

Hilary and I saw some pretty ridiculous things while visiting local churches. We've seen church buildings that must have cost many millions of dollars build, with only enough chairs in the sanctuary to hold about 200 people (though, probably only half that at most were actually there). We've seen a pastor in what looked from the outside like a megachurch preach to about 50 people, while a giant screen 5 feet above his head was projecting his image as he taught. The ridiculous part was how small the room was.

I saw this in State College as well - a large church that was losing people because it insisted it needed a new, even bigger and better building. I remember thinking one Sunday as I listened to the pastor speak from the word, that I could hardly hear anything he was saying because the place was so darn distracting. Everything about the church was literally built to say "I'm here to make you feel comfortable."

I am convinced to the core that when churches make it their aim to be a welcoming place their potency disappears. The very act of attempting to be relevant makes them irrelevant. By all means, be welcoming, but I'm just saying, when churches make it their focus to be welcoming, or even hip, trendy, relevant, etc., and still preach from the word, my limited experience seems to indicate that nothing good comes of it.

Back to State College again - there was one church there that was really thriving. Pretty much everyone from that church I met had a thorough knowledge of the scriptures, was involved in bible studies, prayer and had a vibrant faith. And gosh, I would have given my right hand to go to that church but the sermons were all in Chinese. Still, I visited the church occasionally and these are some observations I made, that I still remember:

1) They didn't heat their church any more than was needed to keep the pipes from freezing. This sounds trivial, but the fact that I needed to don my down parka because I was going to church touched me to my soul. It meant that I was going to a gathering of believers who were gathering for a purpose greater than themselves.

2) They had no band. They had a few singers stand before the church and lead the congregation in some simple hymns. "Ridiculous!" you say? "How can a church in our day and age expect people to come if we don't have trendy and hip musicians playing the latest worship hits?" Jesus told the woman at the well that the people in God's kingdom will worship in Spirit and in Truth. Playing with fervor and singing passionately, waving your hands and having 10 pedals with epic sounding effects doesn't make your worship any more blessed than singing songs written 1700 years ago by church fathers. God has been surrounded by a chorus of ancient Seraphim with voices like thunder for eons. Nobody is going to impress him with their guitar licks. God knows the heart. I'm not knocking rad guitar effects but God said that he desires those who worship in spirit and in truth, and when we stop worshiping and start admiring musicianship we've missed the boat. If you can worship while your jaw is dropping in amazement at that incredibly talented bassist, then you yourself are pretty talented at multitasking. The point is, a worship band is meant to be nothing more than an arrow pointing at the greatness of God, and the second it stops acting as such it becomes empty, no matter how incredibly well choreographed it is.

3) They didn't buy a building until they saved enough money to purchase it. The pastor here, God bless him. He was clearly suffering, but he did not try to weasel money out of anyone. I remember going to church one sunday in Seattle, and the pastor screamed at the congregants and with-held communion from them because they "weren't giving." Apparently 10% of the congregants were shouldering 50% of the burden, and the other 50% of the burden wasn't being lifted at all, causing the pastor a lot of stress. Debt is a major stressor, but for some reason we still get into it all the time. As one fairly high ranking official in the Navy said, "America is built on debt. Capitalism is founded on debt. It's just fine if you are in debt." The problem is, debt causes emotional havok and I think pastors, if they are committed to a church, can shoulder the brunt of it.

So basically, this model church was doing just what it should be doing - loving and pointing to Christ. Holding up Christ as greater than themselves. And, they nipped the issue of finances in the bud, so it couldn't cause problems in the church.

I'm not against churches meeting in designated buildings. I did grow up in a really fantastic church that met in a furniture store, and I have to consciously suppress the furniture store = good, modern church building = bad mindset, though I am not against church buildings in principle. But I've seen churches suffer enough times after getting their wish that it just makes me wary when a church sets its hope on a newer, better building. If your church is getting a new building, I'm not saying they are doing the wrong thing. There's plenty of good reasons for a church to buy/build a building. But a newer, better building or more welcoming environment is not the answer to a declining number of attendees or a lifeless congregation. When a church stops glorifying Christ and starts focusing on the congregants, then a major and disastrous inversion has taken place.

Saturday, September 25, 2010


Today is my dear wife's birthday!

She is turning 24, but she still has a few hours left
She thinks 24 is old, but it's not, and she will be forever young in my eyes
Josh and Paula came from Pensacola...
There's my sister!Our wonderful neighbors/friends the LaFolletts hosted us for a small party [Megan - the cake was super awesome, and just what Hilary wanted but never guessed she'd be getting.] I apologize for not posting photos, I wasn't as snap happy today as I should have been, and most of the photos I did take were blurry.

I couldn't have asked for a more suitable help-meet. The more I get to know her, the more I love her, and realize how blessed I am that God led me to her. Thank you Jesus

Sunday, September 19, 2010


Hilary and I had our first ultrasound on Friday. By bouncing high-frequency sound around in my wife's tummy, we were actually able to look at our baby. Little hands, legs, arms, body. We get to call her "her" instead of "it." Having a pregnant wife, a baby daughter, knowing that you are going to be the parent of a future toddler, teenager, wife, mother, grandmother is one of the most surreal and wonderful experiences possible. A pregnant wife is beautiful.

We're getting settled in but we're still a long ways from feeling like life here is "normal." Summer is technically over and fall is supposedly on its way, but that season doesn't have the same meaning down here. Instead of being blisteringly hot and humid the second the sun peaks above the horizon, you can stroll rather than dash between havens of air-conditioned safety. In fact, I mowed the lawn yesterday afternoon. It was a very interesting experience.

First, it's been probably 3 weeks since it was last mowed, so the grass was a little high. Why did I wait 3 weeks? Well, I was trying to find a good deal on craigslist. I used to think good deals were the norm on craigslist, because it's where everybody is dumping their garbage. I think it may used to have been like that, but now it's populated with adds like "BRAND NEW COUCH FOR 400 DOLLARS!! WE BOUGHT IT ONLY ONE YEAR AGO, EXCELLENT CONDITION!!! MUST SEE!!!" and "52 inch TV! I paid over 1600 dollars for this baby 5 years ago and now I'm practically giving it away. 800 firm." I finally gave up and bought a new lawn mower from Walmart yesterday. The landlord priced out lawnservices for me but I couldn't stomach the bill. I'm paying off my own lawnmower in about a month in a half by doing it myself so I don't feel bad about giving up the hunt for a used one.

The grass in florida isn't the same as the grass in the northwest. Floridian grass blades are thick, rubbery, juicy, paler, and the home of myriads of biting and bloodsucking things (that's a bit of an exaggeration, but I found a pinhead sized tick crawling up my leg on one back yard excursion, and have gotten several chigger bites already). Afer mowing, for the heck of it I grabbed a handful of the clippings and squeezed. About as much water came out of it as a wet rag. Still, I enjoy having my own yard here, enjoy seeing all the strange critters that live about our place. Every week I check up on the toad that lives by our airconditioner, we have a large 5-lined skink camping out in our garage, we named the green anole that lives next to our front door "Joaquin" (I was inspired by a walking stick crawling up the wall), and the other day I spotted another megalo-millapede and a bunch of very strange looking praying-mantises crawling around our back patio at night.

Oh yeah, and one of the coolest critters of all are the ghost crabs. I found out about these little fellers from Jon, and managed to actually catch a few. They're translucent crabs that only come out at night. They perch about 10 feet from the water, picking through the sand with their claws looking for something to eat. when you shine the flashlight on them or get to close they suddenly whiz towards the water, and they are fast. 10mph top speed according to Wikipedia, that's pretty fast for a crab smaller than a biscuit. Anyway, if anyone comes to visit us maybe we can go hunting for ghost crabs.

Some nearby hair-cutting place just opened and was doing a promotional - $3.00 for a job. I needed a haircut so I got one, and all I can say is that you get what you pay for. After about a week Hilary couldn't take it anymore, so we bought some haircutting scissors and a comb for a combined price of about $6.00. She gave me one of the best haircuts I've ever had, so I don't think I'm ever going to get my haircut anywhere else from now on.

Work is really enjoyable. My boss is great, and I love what I'm doing. Granted, the government can be a little slow, and the bureaucracy is... um... astounding. But if you take care of all the extras you can still get a lot done. In the last couple weeks I've actually been very productive. It helps that I'm running two 64 bit machines, one of which has 4 chips, each with 2 cores and 16 GB of ram (the other only has 8, so I use it for my less intensive operations). Actually, to be frank I'm somewhat surprised that the performance increase isn't better than I thought it would be. It's good but it's not 10 times better, maybe like... 2 or 3 times better. Still though, I like what I'm working with, and things are going well on that front.

John Lang put the Lord of the Rings on Hilary's Ipod. We are halfway through the Two Towers now, and our gas-bill is suffering because we are constantly trying to find excuses to drive somewhere and snag a few more minutes of LOTR. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the movies, the books are far better and I can understand why some people were miffed. Peter Jackson completely failed to capture the nobility of several key characters. Theoden possibly got nerfed the hardest, but Gimli, Aragon and, well, hmm... actually pretty much everyone got portrayed poorly now that I think about it. I'm only halfway through the series, and I could spend an entire post on this. Maybe I will after I finish the books.

Anyway, that's a bit of our life right now. Hopefully I'll have more pictures up in the not too distant future.