What You Won't Find In A Christian Bookstore


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…

Dave

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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?

Todd

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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).

God bless!!!

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7 Responses to We Don’t Need No Stinking Church Building!

  • Thanks Dave for reminding me in your conclusion that I shouldn’t let the institutions or organizations make me prejudice toward fellow believers. As I am also against the institutions I will endeavor to rather pray that God unites us and truly sets us all free, whether in- or outside the institutions. I do however share your stance against the deception of the institution.
    Regards Jacob

       3 likes

  • Hey Dave,

    Just got finished reading your past and I think you are 100% right on and I don’t think you are being pessimistic at all. We as believers need to look at things for what they are and I believe you’ve done a great job of it with this story.

    That being said, thanks for your reminder that we are indeed the church. On my website, I posted an article last year about the very subject of who the church is. You can read it at http://www.generationchrist.net/church.html.

    God bless brother.

    Landus

       2 likes

  • Hey Landus, great looking website! Thanks for the article link. I look forward to reading it. Thanks also for your comments.

       0 likes

  • Right on bro. Thanks for hearing my heart on this! God bless ya!!! 🙂

       0 likes

  • Hey Dave! Loved reading your articles, and I too am in agreement with your observation! God Bless Ya! 🙂

       0 likes

  • I have to say that when preachers today continue to talk about how the New Testament gives them the right to take a paycheck for their service, I wholeheartedly believe they are speaking from either a distorted understanding of the text or they are deliberately avoiding the issue by referring to a few out of context references. The precedence that Scripture sets is that ministers serve WITHOUT CHARGE! Paul said:

    2 Corinthians 12:15-18 – I will gladly spend myself and all I have for you, even though it seems that the more I love you, the less you love me. Some of you admit I was not a (financial) burden to you. But others still think I was sneaky and took advantage of you by trickery. But how? Did any of the men I sent to you take advantage of you (by using clever schemes to trick you out of your money)? When I urged Titus to visit you and sent our other brother with him, did Titus take (financial) advantage of you? No! For we have the same spirit and walk in each other’s steps, doing things the same way.

    So it’s absolutely clear that Paul not only pointed to his own example, but the example of the others who were also out there ministering. He said that none of them took advantage of them financially by clinging to some “right” because they were ALL of the SAME SPIRIT. They all did things the SAME WAY!

    Paul further warned:

    Acts 20:29-35 – I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you. “And now I entrust you to God and the message of His grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those He has set apart for Himself. “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

    THIS was the precedent Paul set, to NOT charge for ministry! He warned people that those who would later coming seeking profit for their so-called ministry were WOLVES! Now, in the next verse, look at the precedent Paul set for ministry. He speaks in no uncertain terms. He even uses the strong word of commandment:

    2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 – And now, dear brothers and sisters, we give you this command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: STAY AWAY FROM ALL believers who live idle lives and don’t follow the tradition they received from us. For you know that you ought to imitate us. We were not idle when we were with you. We never accepted food from anyone without paying for it. We worked hard day and night so we would not be a (financial) burden to any of you. We certainly had the right to ask you to feed us, but we wanted to give you an example to follow. Even while we were with you, we gave you this command: “Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.” Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in other people’s business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.

    Can it be any clearer? The New Testament precedent is to minister FREELY! People chosing to give gifts is another matter.

    So what about 1 Timothy 5? Most preachers I’ve talked to, love to use this as their example for taking a paycheck for preaching. Sigh… First of all, the passage starts off talking about older folks in the community. Elder men and women (particularly widows). Paul reminds the believers to make the widows their top priority in caring for their needs because they may be in the most need. Then he refers to the older men among them that “rule well”, or in other words, those that have shown a greater measure of spiritual maturity and watch over the others, caring for their spiritual wellbeing. These, he says, are worth of “double honor”. Preachers often love to say that double honor means either “double the cash”, “wages” or a salary, but guess what folks? Honor in the original Greek here means HONOR. In other words, give respect to those who serve in this way. Then, in the next passage, Paul very specifically quotes Jesus on this matter. Jesus, in fact, doesn’t even speak of a right for this kind of “worker” to have his own house! In stead, he serves willingly and stays with whomever will take him in and eats whatever is set before him.

    Matthew 10:8-11 “…freely it has been given to you, freely give. Take no gold or silver or copper in your pockets; Take no bag for your journey and do not take two coats or shoes or a stick: for the workman has a right to his food. And into whatever town or small place you go, make search there for someone who is respected, and make his house your resting-place till you go away.”

    See that? Jesus says that you received from Him WITHOUT CHARGE and so now you are also to GIVE WITHOUT CHARGING! The Gospel worker is not to worry about money or a paycheck. Instead, he accepts hospitality and eats what is set before him. The worker is worthy of his FOOD! His actual physical needs for sustenance are being referred to.

    Furthermore, Jesus is not talking about a static professional pastor, but a Gospel preacher, who is willing and ready to move place to place and who trusts the Lord fully for his provision. How preachers get a “right to a paycheck” out of this is beyond belief. Granted, they have been trained to think this way. It’s not very comfortable to think in terms of what Scripture actually teaches on this matter!

    But what about 1 Corinthians 9? Paul makes very specific reference to the right to eat (to have the necessities of life) for their service in traveling and preaching. I repeat – TRAVELING. Paul is not speaking to some kind of static position like a professional pastor as we know it today. He is referring to apostles like himself; those who are called to travel and preach. He says that those who have a genuine call in this have a right to general sustenence, BUT his comments do NOT end here… Again, Paul directly refers to the same words of Jesus as I quoted earlier. Paul is being 100% consistent! Then Paul says this:

    1 Corinthians 9:15 – Yet I have never used any of these rights. And I am not writing this to suggest that I want to start now. In fact, I would rather die than lose my right to boast about preaching without charge.

    Paul continues as he talks about he feels God has chosen him for this work, which invalidates him from any right to receive compensation. In other words, he is bound to obey the Lord no matter if it means he’ll have his needs met or not. He is happy to obey regardless of any reward in this life. He continues by saying:

    1 Corinthians 9:18-19 – What then is my pay? It is the opportunity to preach the Good News without charging anyone. That’s why I never demand my rights when I preach the Good News. Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ.

    The same preachers who use these passage to justify their right to a paycheck COMPLETELY IGNORE THE REST OF THE PASSAGE AND UTTERLY DISMISS PAUL’S DOCTRINE, WHICH PAUL SAYS HE RECEIVED DIRECTLY FROM CHRIST!!!!

    Paul regarded those who stayed put in a place and busied themselves with the affairs of others on spiritual things BUT WHO DID NOT GET A JOB AND PAY THEIR OWN WAY as BAD EXAMPLES!!! He commanded them, in Christ’s name, to get a job and get to work!!!! He never told them it was ok to sit there and collect money from the others. If they lived among the others, they held the same responsibilities as the others; to work for their food! This was also Paul’s example:

    Acts 20:33-35 – “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”

       2 likes

  • I agree with everything you just pointed out in your last response Dave. Businesses are about people making money but families are about people serving one another out of love and then we all help each other when there is a need. The Bible constantly speaks of us as brothers and sisters, denoting a family, not a business or an institution.

    It blesses me to see your stance on this issue as I see way too much merchandising going on in the name of Jesus today. Helping others to carry out the work God has called them to is biblical but merchandising is not.

    Keep speaking up brother. You are blessing more people than you will ever know, including me.

       2 likes

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