Pete read a section of the newspaper that caught his interest to me, and it set my little brain's hamster wheels grinding about something I've been pondering for quite some time. A local church (I don't remember which one, nor do I really care) is seeking permits to begin construction on a building expansion plan that will include an administrative wing. Not only did that just *sound* weird, but what really made us choke on our cheap coffee was that this project is supposed to cost $6.2 million! For an EXPANSION project??? Pete's first thought (as was mine, initially) is that the congregation we're with now is stressing over a roadway expansion project that the city is doing that will be taking 20 parking spaces from our front parking lot. That loss will be a good half of our biggest parking lot, and the city is only offering $20K in compensation for the land they're taking. The only land available to us will cost us in the neighborhood of $100K, and it's only a third of an acre. And yes, the congregation is getting a bit stressed over being kind of *forced* to purchase this land at a time when we really need a new roof and an internal overhaul on the rest of the church building.
SIX POINT TWO MILLION DOLLARS???? My head started spinning thinking about what the REST of this church building must be like!
A few weeks ago, I drove past what had to have been the biggest, most opulent church building I've seen in the U.S. (let's not mention those German cathedrals!), wondering to myself if that--the flashy building, the "my church is bigger than your church" feel truly is what brings people in? If the doctrine being taught from the pulpit and the love being lived by the church is the same, then why are these big, flashy church buildings filling up while the older, more well-loved buildings lose their membership year after year? Is it really the church building that keeps the membership up? If it is, shame on us as a body, across the board, for letting it get to that point.
Another even more humbling fact came to memory last night whilst I was still pondering this $6.2 million administrative wing.....if that amount of money would pay for (five times over) everything that my congregation could think to repair or add to our existing building to get it where it's "acceptable", then what of that $100K for the land we're purchasing? You always hear that one man's trash is another man's treasure....one church's administrative wing could be another's entire building--and then some! In our spend-happy culture, $100K doesn't really seem like much, until you put it in a global context. Then it just becomes humbling...and a tad humiliating.
A dear friend of ours and brother in Christ, Philippe Dela, is a native of Togo, Africa. We met him back in 1997 during our first tour in Germany, when he was just a student at the language school in Frankfurt. He already knew French, English, German, Belgian, and his native tongue, but his dream was to learn sign language so he could return to his homeland and open a school for the deaf that would also bring his people the Gospel. Philippe had (and still has) such a heart bent on serving God no matter what the cost, so he never even considered how long he would have to work to get this ministry started. Ten years later, through tear-filled eyes, we got to see the fruits of Philippe's labor and how powerfully God had worked through this wonderful man. The Messengers of Silence School is now fully functional, and graduated their first students last year. There is an onsite trade school where the students work to produce lovely hand-woven bags and hand-sewn clothing that are sold to benefit the school. The girls also learn how to do hair so that they may eventually enter the beauty trade if they are fortunate enough to find a need for such a worker. This school is for all ages, and all ages come face to face with the Gospel during their studies. Also, thanks to Philippe's efforts to get electricity to the school (so among other things, the workers can work with electric sewing machines instead of foot-powered models.), when his work is complete, electricity will be supplied to the entire VILLAGE--not just the school! You know what's truly amazing? Philippe does this all on a budget of roughly $5K per year. And his own family (a wife and two school-age children) sacrifice the things most people would consider standard necessities of life so that every extra penny of his own meager income can go directly to the school in Togo. To see the tears in Philippe's eyes as he speaks of how the Gospel has spread in that village...it's truly priceless. We Americans could do well to seek that type of zeal. It truly hurt Philippe's heart to learn that his biggest supporting church, the Wiesbaden church of Christ (a predominantly military congregation in Germany) was shrinking so fast that the support would be dwindling to nothing, because Philippe knew that the Messengers of Silence School was SO close to becoming self-supporting!
So....back to that little numbers game.....how much do you think it would take to get a ministry like the Messengers of Silence to where they'd need to be to support themselves? From what Philippe explained to us, $20,000 would buy enough land for the church and school to provide food for themselves. $50,000 would put that little village on the map--complete with electricity and maybe even running water, plus a school supported by a self-sufficient church with enough farmland to let the village glean from the Lord's bounty as well!
I wonder if they'll "need" an administrative wing or 20 more parking spaces? It's no wonder Philippe said he felt as if the church in the United States had lost its focus. All those dollar signs cloud our vision!