I was reading an article on a blog site I stumbled across today called MondayMorningInsight by a guy named Todd. He had this article about a Baptist church organization that sold their building to meet the needs of people. While this sounds incredibly encouraging, I have some follow up comments after the article (which is posted below). Feel free to post comments of your own after reading this article…
What if we sold our building and use the $1 million to invest in people who have needs? That’s the question the people of Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, GA asked. Their answer? Heck yeah. Sell the building!
Here’s part of an article from 11alive.com in Atlanta:
A church in Fayetteville is closing its doors but not its hearts. Rolling Hills Baptist Church is challenging traditional ideas and selling the church and using the money to help people.
It took about a year for the church to find a buyer. On Monday, they closed on a sale to a Peachtree City church. It is now time for Senior Pastor Frank Mercer and more than 100 parishioners to fly free of the four walls that have surrounded their congregation for more than 20-years. “We feel free, free to do what God commands us to do,” Pastor Mercer said about the sale.
The church has a new mission. Instead of investing in the property that consumed most of their budget, they will use the more than $1-million dollars from the sale to invest in people who have needs. “It’s just a way of looking at this property differently,” Pastor Mercer said. “We saw it as an asset we could liquidate and turn around and use that resource to meet the needs of people.”
What if more churches did this type of thing? Do you think this was a wise move? Could your church operate WITHOUT a building?
Upon further investigation, the church organization in the previous article is not actually ditching a building altogether. They decided to rent a movie theater for their Sunday morning gatherings instead. In another article I read, posted by a local news agency, the pastor of the church stated that the cost of renting the theatre and hosting its programs there amounts to about a third of what it cost to maintain the former building the church used. I just wanted to note this detail because the article made it sound as though no money was going to be spent any longer on a building when this is not entirely the case.
Personally, I certainly think this may be a step in the right direction (at least I am hopeful). I do know that renting a theatre is generally very affordable compared to the maintenance costs and ownership expense of a building. However, considering that the national average salary of a Baptist senior pastor ranges between $32,000 and $65,000 anyway (not to mention “bonuses”), I was curious to know if the pastor or staff of this church received any salary increases from this move. Obviously, if two-thirds of the money had just been freed up, then there is (arguably) more money now available to give the staff a raise (at least one could logically presume this). In my attempt to follow up on this story I sent the pastor, Frank Mercer, a direct email asking him if his salary increased… He graciously replied saying, “…our budget is currently divided between ‘operating expense’ and a ‘missional budget’. The idea is to reduce operating expense in order to increase missional investment. As my salary is an operating expense, the answer is no…outside of standard ‘cost of living’ increases, my salary has not increased since the sale of the property. Nor would I expect it to. Outside of myself, we only have 3 other staff members… all of them are part time. None have received increases based on the sale of the property.”
One might also wonder if perhaps the salary should be reduced, since there is no more building to maintain throughout the week. If there is no need for full-time staff anymore, then one might legitimately question whether or not there is a need to pay a full-time salary to a pastor. You all know what I think about this matter as I have written about it before. But I asked this question as well to the pastor and he kindly replied again (and I appreciated the fact that he did not appear to be offended by my inquiry and tried to answer in as much detail as possible… He also did not cling to his title of “pastor” but was pleased to simply refer to himself as “Frank”)… After sharing some personal details about the influence of his father who was a hard worker in the coal mines in addition to being a pastor, he said, “I think that churches and their pastors are going to have to wrestle with this issue like never before.” He followed that by saying that he actually devotes even more of his time now to serving in the community and shepherding than he did before, not less… When the church building existed, he shared that it was easier to look at his service in terms of a profession because he had an office and when 5pm came, he could leave that “job” to go home to his other life. He shared with me that this division dissolved when the building was removed from the equation. I appreciated his transparency in sharing this revelation. It tells me that God is at work in his life and he is growing from these experiences.
That having been said, he does still receive a paycheck, though he was careful to point out that it was the decision of the congregants to continue supporting him in this fashion and he did not insist upon it. He also followed with this statement, “I also think that, while it’s often abused, misused and taken out of context, there is NT precedent for financially supporting pastors and apostles so that they can dedicate themselves fully to ministry…1 Timothy 5 and 1 Corinthians 9 are good places to start that discussion.” Again, most of you know my opinion on these passages as well and there are a few articles on this site from other authors that deal with the typical pastoral opinion on this subject verses what Scripture teaches in context. But that detail aside, I wanted to share the rest of this brother’s comments because they seem to reveal a positive, open-hearted approach to this subject.
Frank Mercer: So, a friend of mine asks “why is it that when God calls a pastor to a new church – it’s always a bigger church with a bigger salary?” Well, I’m one of the really rare individuals who sensed God’s call to go to a smaller church with a much smaller salary. Coming here 7 years ago meant dragging my family through a financial free-fall that I never anticipated when I answered the call. It’s meant simplifying our lives. It meant trusting God for EVERYTHING. And it meant a huge paradigm shift for me. I’ve often said that I came to Rolling Hills expecting to “save this little church” only to find years later that this little church saved me. I could never demand a salary from these people…they are my family. I could never demand more money for my service…it’s a gift. And it’s not even really a gift to them. It’s a gift to Jesus. I consider the cross and know that I can demand nothing of Him that He hasn’t already given. Anyway…what I’m saying is that they have been very gracious to offer me a salary, and I am very grateful to receive it. The fact that they do so allows me to be singular in my focus. But I could never demand it and don’t feel that they should ever be obligated to it. In recent years, I’ve most definitely begun to think about “what else could I do?”. Me and a buddy started a small barbecue business last January. The best of both worlds would be if the barbecue business became a huge success and I were able to support my family with that salary but still really give myself to the mission and ministry at Rolling Hills. We’ll see what happens, but this idea is not nearly as radical to me now as it would have been 7 years ago.
The church does seem to be gaining attention by this new endeavor. Their website is called wheresthesteeple.org and they seem to be making their share of noise about how much more they are like the early church because they don’t have a physical church building anymore. When I hear this kind of talk (about being more like the New Testament) but then don’t see the rest of the New Testament mindset in display, I am naturally suspicious. I don’t want to be overly pessimistic, because I do find it encouraging that there is an intended move away from typical religious practice to a discovery of life in Jesus, fellowship and community, without the hang-ups of an institutional ball and chain. For those of you, my friends, who (like me) are so completely done with organized religion that you sometimes find it hard to see the positives in such a story because you know the tendency of man to hold to his programs, his insititutional mindsets, and religious thinking, I do still believe some measure of grace is in order, especially if we presume that God is indeed doing a work in the hearts of these folks, as appears may be the case. Again, I remain hopeful. My intention with this website is not to convey a message that is caught up in the meeting place, organization or style, but rather to encourage a focus on the centrality of Christ. It is Christ who leads us (successfully I might add) out of “religion” and religious mindsets unto Himself. He is Lord. He is what life is all about! Those who are beginning to discover this freedom must be allowed to discover it. We should pray for them… and I will.
I suppose the hesitation I still have (because of my perspective on these things in general) is that several other things do not appear to have really changed from a denominationally-fixed standpoint (although my correspondence with the pastor was encouraging). This church still appears to be part of a denominational oversight and subject to all of the requirements (and financial obligations) of that parent organization. They are also still, very much, advertising their program (like every other institutional church) and seem to have all the typical components of any institutional church (judging by their website). The concept of a church being a “place” you gather still seems intact, although in word they shy away from it a bit. It may seem to some that all they’ve done is downsized a bit… but I wonder how many of their traditional mindsets have truly begun to change… or is this just another “ministry objective”. This, of course, is coming from an outsider who doesn’t know these folks and I realize that some of my presumptions may be flawed. Like many of you, I’ve watched events like this come and go and religion often seems to win in the end whenever it is not discarded but insted attempts are made to blend it with freedom. It doesn’t blend! Just like a little yeast spreads through the whole batch of dough, so it is when a little religion is allowed to mix with a move of the Spirit. I truly, with all my heart, hope and pray that these people are seeking to follow the Spirit completely – even if that means they leave more traditional mindsets in the dust. I will certainly be praying for them!
From the WheresTheSteeple.org website: People often ask, “so…where exactly is your church?”. My answer is “we’re everywhere”. Our church is not an institution; it’s a missional movement serving in the city square, under the bridge, over the border and on the far side of the tracks. Our church is in the classroom, in the boardroom and in your living room. Wherever you find the lost, the last or the least…we want to be there too. Yes, we gather at Tinseltown Movie Theater on Sunday’s at 9:45 am, but we don’t believe that church is a place…we believe that it is a community of people who are devoted to serving Jesus by serving others. During the week we meet in small groups in people’s homes, sharing life and growing relationally and spiritually.
That last statement (from the church’s website) is well-stated, however, one reason I am leery when I hear about groups who claim to be following the New Testament pattern and moving away from static traditional forms of gathering is because I think, often times, this is just another religious scheme. I find it interesting that, since the “out of church” phenomenon seems to have become more prominent over the past few years (with a lot of people leaving traditional churches to follow Jesus outside the walls), it seems that more and more traditional churches are trying to adopt the lingo and restructure their format to make themselves more appealing to those who are tired of church as usual. The previous article MAY be one such example.
There is also a notable shift toward other church concepts like “emergent” and “post-modern” or “cell groups”, but I’m especially noticing a shift toward “out-of-church” church concepts (or “church outside or without walls”). I am reminded of one church organization that has as its motto, “The Church For People Who Hate Church.” This almost makes me laugh… almost. The church with this motto still happens to be every bit an institutional church just like any other. They have a building, a professional staff and senior pastor, they meet on Sunday, they have Sunday School and a host of programs, they collect offerings, they have a liturgy, and they belong to a denominational headquarters! They are 100% an institutional church, yet they bill themselves as being a non-church church! They even preach against religion while they remain completely supported by and saturated in it. What’s more amazing is that there are thousands of people who don’t seem to catch on and they buy this?
Forgive me if I am putting things too bluntly, but I think the devil sits rather comfortably in today’s church system (and even in parts of the out of church movement as well)! What better way to marginalize the revelation of freedom from churchianity than to get religiously-saturated folks to start using the same lingo and cause them to think they are operating in the same freedom? Please understand, as I have said before, I do not mean to say that every organized group is being misled. Perhaps Frank’s group is evidence of that. And all of us stumble at times and God is merciful and long-suffering. Many times we attempt to serve the Lord in ways that seem right to us, even though our thinking is sometimes still plagued by religious concepts that God did not ordain. I believe there are groups that have pure hearts and that God is leading, despite whatever flaws may exist in their present structure or mindset. Some groups are genuine, sincere and truly endeavoring to follow the leading of the Spirit. Nevertheless, I would still encourage them to give ear to this concern and take a closer look at what’s going on so that the enemy’s deceptive intentions might be thwarted! Organization may have its place, but Christ must ALWAYS have the preeminence and the Word of Jesus ALWAYS supersedes any organizational dictate… or at least it ought to! Those organizations that are not willing to align with every directive of Jesus to His people, should be dismissed and left behind as useless and vain. The problem with a lot of organizational structure is that it is primarily static and immovable. When we consider that Jesus reckons the spirit-filled life to the wind that blows, there is not much room for static religion there! And what is all this concern over religion anyway? The only “religion” the Scripture ever says that any of us need to be concerned with is (James 1:27) “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” What has possessed us to think we need organizations and institutions to govern our spiritual lives and activities?
So, all of that to say this… While my heart hopes for the best; to see more and more people that have been bound up with traditional mindsets, move closer to freedom in Christ, without concern or anxiety over religious formulas and structures, at the same time I remain wary of so many groups that claim freedom, while simply disguising it in another program. That having been said, as followers of Jesus we are neither “in church” nor “out of church”… we are THE CHURCH! We should all be wise to devil’s manipulative tactics, no matter what form they appear. Spiritual pride may infect those of us “outside the walls” as much as those within, so we must take caution to keep our focus on Christ, not merely the structures and organization we see about us. We ought to regard one another according to our spiritual heritage, not organizational affiliation. I think that until we do, we will keep falling into the nonsense talk about us outside the church system versus those inside the church system. I refused to be identified by either category. I belong to Jesus! His people are my family, regardless of the existence of organizations! The greatest encouragement I can give is to make sure HE is your friend and your King so that no other thing is placed in precedence of that critical relationship. Be watchful, for the devil lurks about seeking to deceive BOTH camps (whether inside an organization or out).