Last week Rev. Fred Leasure, my counterpart from Western Pennsylvania, was talking with our board about a number of issues around church finance, stewardship and UM Foundations. He had 10 great bullet points and one of them really stuck with me.
Seek the Kingdom, not the Castle.
He was saying that churches should not get too wound up on nice buildings, but rather they should put their resources toward Kingdom Work.
My memory banks went back to a statistic that Jessica Vargo, our Conference Treasurer, shared at Lakeside. Our churches spend 34% of their budgets on buildings every year. This includes mortgages, utilities, property insurance, taxes on the parsonage and related upkeep. All told, our churches spend $35.7 million in these areas. That’s a lot of money.
Am I opposed to this? Not necessarily.
It depends on what happens in those buildings.
On our way to church we pass several other churches. One of them, not United Methodist, has made some interesting investments in the building. The church now has large landscaping mounds next to the road. At about six feet high they provide a buffer and privacy for the church. And where the driveway cuts through those mounds they have installed a pair of gates. Other than Sunday morning I have never seen those gates opened.
Seems like a moat and drawbridge for a castle, doesn’t it?
I don’t know how much they spent on these improvements, but I am opposed to every nickel of it. These improvements, whether intended to or not, tell the community they are not welcome.
A building needs to be a tool for ministry. If we spend $35.7 milllion to make our buildings more welcoming, I’m all in favor of it. If we buy paint every year because the afterschool program for neighborhood kids scuffs up the walls, it’s money well spent.
Too often we try to be good stewards by protecting the building, making sure that the carpet and paint last forever. Let’s shift that paradigm. We don’t serve communion with the goal of maximizing the leftover bread and juice. We offer it freely and enthusiastically, symbolic of how Christ did the same for us.
Let’s set a goal to have as many dirty fingerprints as we can in our buildings. If we’re not repainting fellowship hall every year demand an explanation and hold people accountable.
Our buildings should be a tool for kingdom work, not castles to our own glory. If not, we’re wasting a third of our collective budgets on the things.